One in two men and one in three women reading this interview will suffer from cancer in their lifetime.
Elisabete Weiderpass's mission is to try to avoid it, but she has an archenemy: the extremely powerful and "morally dirty" tobacco industry.
The doctor heads the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization based in Lyon (France).
Covid has killed 4.6 million people, but tobacco kills another eight million each year without alarm bells being raised, as if it were inevitable.
Weiderpass, born 55 years ago in Santo André (Brazil), urges governments to be brave and ban smoking in all crowded public spaces, including outdoors.
Smoking less than one cigarette a day also kills
The Brazilian researcher reflects by videoconference in a perfect Spanish learned at the age of 18, when she moved to Peru to study Latin American literature, in a fit of youth. His favorite writer, the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, published an article in EL PAÍS that today makes the hair stand on end: “Memories of a retired smoker”, from 1983. The Nobel winner reported that he had smoked 80 cigarettes of black tobacco in 14 hours. "The only way to quit smoking is not to smoke anymore," García Márquez warned in this newspaper. He possibly made the decision too late. Weiderpass recalls that the Colombian genius died in 2014 from lymphatic cancer, with metastases in the lungs and liver.
A few months ago you shared on your social networks an article by
that talked about the dirty war of Philip Morris - the manufacturer of Marlboro - against the World Health Organization.
The report mentioned maneuvers to keep young people hooked on tobacco.
What do you think of this strategy?
noted, it is a disgrace.
It's a classic tobacco industry strategy, developed since the 1950s. They know they kill people, but they don't care.
Morally it is one of the dirtiest industries.
They are horrible.
There is no reason in the world to use tobacco.
It only serves to make the industry money.
Philip Morris, as the first tobacco manufacturer, are you the number one enemy of global health?
The tobacco industry, in general, is enemy number one.
It is the industry of death.
Death is its product.
Half of the people who pay for their products die.
They sell death.
"The tobacco industry sells death"
At the beginning of the pandemic, several scientific studies appeared that suggested that smoking was good against the coronavirus.
The British Medical Association magazine revealed in June that the authors had financial ties to the tobacco industry.
There were hoaxes about tobacco, but the reality is that there are more hospitalizations and more deaths from covid among smokers.
I cannot confirm this specific case, but it is a typical
The tobacco industry pays scientists to do their studies.
The most lethal cancer in Spain is lung cancer.
It kills about 23,000 people every year.
You say in your talks that 90% of lung cancer deaths could be prevented.
Tobacco is the main cause, there is no doubt.
You defend the rise in the price of tobacco and its prohibition in all public spaces, even outdoors.
Yes, because it is very effective.
If it is more expensive, people consume less.
And if you ban smoking [in public places], people consume less.
You have to make it as difficult as possible.
Why do you or your baby have to breathe in a carcinogenic substance if someone smokes next to you at a bus stop?
Your right as a non-smoker is not to have these harmful substances near you.
"Why do you or your baby have to breathe a carcinogenic substance if someone smokes next to you at a bus stop?"
Are you talking about banning smoking on the street?
In public places, yes.
And besides, it is very dirty.
People throw cigarette butts everywhere and that also pollutes the environment.
If street smoking is prohibited, where would a smoker smoke if he needed to?
In their houses, in their garden.
It's not my problem where they go to smoke.
But, in public places, where there are people, no.
I am not very concerned about the rights of smokers, I am more concerned about the rights of non-smokers, who are the majority of the population.
Where is your right not to be exposed to carcinogenic substances?
Tobacco is extremely addictive.
In Spain, one in four adults smokes.
If smoking is banned on the street, millions of people would be junkies with the jumpsuit, right?
Twenty years ago, people smoked inside restaurants and it was said that, if it was banned, no one would go to restaurants.
And it wasn't true.
The restaurants are still very good and people do not smoke inside.
It is a change of mind.
So you defend that it is necessary to prohibit smoking in the street?
Especially in places outdoors with people, such as bus stops, restaurant terraces and cafes ... If you don't smoke, but there is a smoker on the terrace next to you, the smoke reaches you .
We are not talking about taking away the rights of smokers, we are talking about giving the general population the right not to absorb carcinogenic substances.
In Australia, for example, smokers cannot smoke on the beach or in many other public spaces.
They practically have to hide to smoke.
Why are you going to go to the beach one day with a child and there must be someone by your side smoking?
It is not normal.
There are many countries that do not allow smoking at bus stops and similar public spaces, because the most important thing is the rights of the non-smoker.
When you talk about banning smoking in public spaces, do you include places like Gran Vía, in Madrid, or the Champs Elysees, in Paris?
I am not a specialist in international law, so I am not qualified to say what is possible and what is not possible in Spanish law, for example.
But, with my public health goggles, I'd say governments might consider minimizing exposure to all carcinogens.
“I believe that the university has to be tobacco free.
Why allow students to smoke in college? "
Bar terraces, bus stops, the beach ... What else?
Schools, of course, and universities.
I believe that the university has to be tobacco free.
Why allow students to smoke in college?
They are the future generation.
College campuses should be completely tobacco free.
The entire education system without tobacco.
And all workplaces.
Why expose workers to carcinogenic substances?
Are you referring to prohibiting smoking even in the outdoor areas of companies?
Yes, of course.
Why should a company make life easier for the tobacco industry and work against the health of its employees?
Four years ago, Philip Morris created the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which promotes smokeless tobacco.
Is it an alternative to traditional tobacco?
No, it is another industry strategy to continue making money with a new generation in which traditional tobacco is no longer so acceptable.
We do not know the effect of years of e-cigarette use.
They are a chemical cocktail.
Why are you going to buy a chemical cocktail and stick it in your lungs for years?
We do not know if, in 10 or 20 years, in addition to cancer there will be emphysema and other lung diseases.
Playing with that is criminal, especially with the younger generation.
It is an industry strategy to make money, nothing more.
“We do not know the effect of years of e-cigarette consumption.
They are a chemical cocktail "
The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World has appointed a former top executive of the World Health Organization, Derek Yach, as president for a million dollars a year, as revealed by
This is ugly, right?
It would be a typical case of the strategy of the tobacco industry.
And other industries, such as pesticides, do the same: they pay scientists who sell themselves for money, to give the impression that their priority is health.
But it's a lie.
It is a
, nothing more.
Would you go to Philip Morris for a million dollars a year?
No, of course not.
It's a matter of principles.
Before being signed by Philip Morris, Derek Yach worked for PepsiCo.
Coca-Cola follows similar strategies.
It seems that there is a plan by the sugary drinks industry to influence the health authorities.
Do you think that the sugary drinks industry is the new tobacco industry?
Yes. We have a worldwide obesity and overweight epidemic.
One of the big problems is the soda industry, drinks with a lot of sugar and without other nutritional components.
are exactly the same as those of the tobacco industry.
They are highly skilled professionals and have developed a strategy that works wonderfully: in many countries people drink more sugary drinks than water.
"In many countries people drink more sugary drinks than water"
Sometimes it is cheaper to buy a Coke or a Pepsi than water.
Yes. And they are empty calories, without any nutritional contribution. There is a global pandemic of type 2 diabetes and it is directly connected to the sugary drinks industry. And it's not just sugary drinks, there's also the ultra-processed products industry. 80% or 90% of the things they sell in the supermarket next to your house are ultra-processed. You look at the ingredients and see up to 20 chemicals in a packet of potato chips. You don't buy a food, you buy a chemical cocktail. If you give it to a person as a child and for 20 years, we have no idea what will happen. We are animals, with a digestive system adapted for hundreds of thousands of years. And in the last 50 years we have completely changed to a meal with chemical cocktails. We do not know the consequences. We started to see cancercardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's. There is a high probability that nutritional change, ultra-processed foods, added to pesticides and the whole process will influence until the package of potato chips arrives at your house.
Do you think that cola should indicate that sugary drinks kill, as is done with tobacco?
It is not that they kill directly, because you cannot die from having a cola.
What happens is that you increase overweight and obesity, which lead to systemic inflammation.
And, most likely, this systemic inflammation is the direct or indirect cause of many diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Sugary drinks should not be consumed, the body does not need them.
It's a cultural thing, they barely existed before the 1950s.
"You should not consume sugary drinks, the body does not need them"
You published a few months ago research with data from Sweden that showed that women who lost more than 5% their weight had a 50% lower risk of breast cancer.
It is huge, but you have to understand that a scientific article is not a universal truth.
In this analysis in Sweden we see that, but this study has to be repeated in other populations.
The data suggest that maintaining a low body mass lowers the risk of cancer.
There are tumors that arise by chance: when your cells multiply, a cancer appears.
You die of cancer by chance.
About 40% of cancers are preventable with what we know today, but there is still a percentage of which we do not know if there are risk factors or if they are genetically determined.
When having cancer one can have a feeling of guilt, when perhaps it has just been a coincidence, a cell that has multiplied badly.
These tumors that appear by chance have even philosophical or religious implications.
Yes, it is very important not to blame people.
Even a person who smokes may think that smoking is his or her autonomous decision, but I don't think so.
It is a psychological addiction, but also a biological one, caused by a substance with a
meant for you to buy cigarettes when you are 13 and become addicted. You are a victim of an economic system where there are industries, tobacco in this case, that want to transform you into a consumer of a product and give them money for the next 60 years of your life. The smoker should not be blamed for 20 cigarettes a day. And the same is true of all cancer patients: it is not their fault that they develop cancer. There are many circumstances. Who smokes today? The poorest, people with less education, without sufficient discernment to understand that tobacco is going to kill them. And the same goes for sugary drinks: if you go to the supermarket to see what people buy and how they are dressed, who buys sugary drinks? The poorest people, who do not know that this should not be bought.There are some social determinants of health that are very important.
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