OPINION: It could be 'you' or maybe not

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

I have one of those damp-start-of-winter coughs at the moment. On the school run this week, I was taken aback when the car radio trumpeted out first a woman having a coughing fit then a warning she may have lung cancer, and finally the name of Macmillan Cancer Relief and its helpline number.

I may be being unduly sensitive, but it's not subtle as radio commercials go. What worries me most, though, is the ethics of it. I have never been convinced that frightening people is the best way to educate them. I spent my school years being terrified by the Christian Brothers with their leather straps and it was not any sort of positive incentive to learn.

Then there is the basic problem with these "it could be you" campaigns.

Rather than engaging public concern for those with lung cancer, it is saying be aware of it because "you" may get it. It is another facet of our self-obsessed times.

A GP friend was particularly irked about the ad when I mentioned that I was worried about my cough. "You don't smoke. You've never smoked.

Didn't it mention who was in the high-risk group?" I don't think it did.

If there was any qualification, it was in the small print at the end and passed me by.

I'm old enough, of course, to remember all those great public health campaigns - from Jimmy Savile going "clunk click every trip" through to the Aids iceberg of the late 1980s. We still have them apparently, though they are less flamboyant and less visible, save for the annual Christmas drink-drive warning.

Given that lung cancer is our biggest cancer killer in this country, you might have thought it was a prime example of something the state should be bringing to our attention, but instead it has been left to Macmillan Cancer Relief in this, its first lung cancer awareness-raising effort.

In the end I suppose, it matters less who pays for it and how they do it than if it works, but that will take a good few years to evaluate.

If I'm still here, I promise to check it out.

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