Up In Smoke – The Joys of A Lingering Death


Watching patients suffer or die from preventable disease tends to color a physician’s thinking. Meet Joel Dunnington, MD.

A radiologist at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and consultant for the Texas Medical Association’s Council on Public Health, Dr. Dunnington is an outspoken tobacco opponent. His views on the most preventable cause of premature death and disease in the United States may seem radical to some. He openly calls for holding executives, board members, lawyers, and lobbyists associated with the tobacco industry accountable for crimes against humanity for racketerring, conspiracy, and murder. He also speaks with sorrow and outrage about the toll tobacco-related diseases take on the patients he treats.

“I see people who can’t swallow, they can’t talk, and they have artificial tubes between their airway and esophagus so they can speak,” he said. “I see these folks every day. Twenty-five percent of patients who come to M.D. Anderson do so because of smoking.”

Many physicians have walked in Dr. Dunnington’s shoes and can relate to the harsh consequences of tobacco. Christopher Ruud, MD, president of the Texas Society of Medical Oncology, is among those who have witnessed the ravages of lung cancer. Even with advanced treatments, smokers diagnosed with the disease face a grim reality. “What’s more compelling for smokers is to find out they won’t die a sudden death, but that in fact it’s going to be a lingering death,” said Dr. Ruud, chair of TMA’s Committee on Cancer.

The Texas numbers are appalling. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimates that tobacco kills 24,200 adult Texans every year. Secondhand smoke and smoking during pregnancy account for 2,420 to 4,300 deaths per year. The organization projects that 503,000 children living in Texas today will ultimately die from smoking.


Editor’s Note: This is a portion of an article that appeared in TexasMedicine, December 2007, written by Crystal Conde. TexasMedicine is a publication of the Texas Medical Association.

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