My job's a real lifesaver

Phil Rimmer is assistant to Clive Bates, the director of ASH, Action on Smoking and Health
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I know how difficult it is to give up smoking and I also know the rocky road which leads you to smoke. I gave up five years ago having, unusually, started smoking in my mid-twenties. I can't put my finger on exactly why I picked up the habit, I guess it was a combination of stress and pressure and the fact that so many of my friends were smokers.

I know how difficult it is to give up smoking and I also know the rocky road which leads you to smoke. I gave up five years ago having, unusually, started smoking in my mid-twenties. I can't put my finger on exactly why I picked up the habit, I guess it was a combination of stress and pressure and the fact that so many of my friends were smokers.

I was working as an election agent and had my first cigarette at a party after a particularly difficult campaign. I tried giving up twice. The first time I moved to cigars, which was a bad idea because when inhaled they are even more harmful. The second time I quit was when I developed a terrible cough having smoked 150 cigarettes in two and a half days during a conference. Giving up seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.

Before I came here, I was working for a small peace campaign. After 10 years I was ready for a job change and relished the idea of being presented with the opportunity to help others give up smoking. I'm the only ex-smoker in this office and I suppose the fact that I used to smoke might make it seem a little hypocritical to be working here, but on the other hand, it's part of my motivation. It was important to Clive that I had quit for some time, yet was not a rabid anti-smoker. He was not interested in recruiting fanatics. There is no point in screaming at people or lecturing them, the evidence is bad enough on its own.

Even though I was an ex-smoker, I was still surprised to learn, on arriving here, of the number of diseases smoking can cause. I was also struck by the sheer unpleasantness of the tobacco industry. The arms industry is completely repugnant to me, but the tobacco industry is even worse. Every aspect of it causes damage, right back to the pesticides used to spray tobacco crops. As Clive often says, tobacco is the only legal product which, if used exactly as the manufacturers intend, will kill you. Yet the lengths the industry will go to to cover up this damage never ceases to amaze me.

In addition to helping Clive, my job is mostly about keeping an eye on the tobacco industry, sourcing information and providing assistance to health workers and members of the public. Our overall remit is to reduce the death and disease caused by smoking.

Actually, smokers don't criticise me for working for ASH, indeed, nine out of 10 smokers tell me they want to stop and ask for advice.

There are only six of us working here, but it's the biggest organisation I have worked for. I was impressed by Clive from the moment I met him. I think it would be arrogant of me to speculate about what motivates him, but he clearly is very committed. I like his enthusiasm and friendliness, as well as his ability to get down to business, rather than faffing around the edges.

Once he trusts you, he will let you get on with the job. Working for a small campaigning organisation means being a David up against the Goliaths of a multi-million pound industry that can afford to keep top lawyers on their payroll. You need to be very practical.

Clive has described himself as over-stressed. He tends to be very blunt, which has its advantages, but can also be scary. If he sees something which he thinks is stupid, he will tell you so and query why you did it. If he's not convinced that you are right, he will keep revisiting the subject. But I need to be kept on my toes. Although I'm the same age as Clive, I'm not the kind of person who wants to be a director, but I still need to feel that I am making a contribution. I couldn't imagine working for a large company.

Every effort helps the campaign, from buying the office Biros to offering advice to a parent who is concerned that their child has started smoking.

Drive and talent are the most important qualities for a voluntary organisation. There's never room for complacency.

We are an open-plan office which tends to get noisy and very busy. I like it, but I can see how it would drive others to distraction. Having no office PA as such means we all help Clive. Everyday, I handle our external e-mails and the post before getting on with my tasks which include constant updating of fact sheets - our front line information tool. I also constantly answer calls from people requesting information, be they organisations or members of the public calling with smoking-related health concerns.

Last year we ran a campaign informing people on how smoking can cause impotence and received a flood of publicity from all over the globe. It prompted one of the strangest calls I've ever had: a man was worried that his unborn son would be born with a smaller penis. People also call with donations, having lost a loved one through smoking.

We tend to work on a number of subjects at a time, highlighting, for example, the additives used to make cigarettes more addictive. Last year was a good year for us, particularly after the Government launched its White Paper on tobacco, "Smoking Kills".

The ongoing legal wrangle over whether tobacco companies should be allowed to sponsor Formula One racing is another big issue for us and one I think we are going to win this year. But there will never be one great victory, just lots of little ones. I wouldn't call it a war because there are only deaths on one side.

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