Monday, November 21, 2005

SMOKE'in HELP - part II

It has been a while since I had a comment posted! Assignments were plentiful, and I was darn lazy to do anything about it sooner! Weeeel, I am done with writing about the conflict in Rwanda as part of the conflict resolution class (perhaps the class should be called political science? But that’s for another blog). I am also done with the first draft of a theatre assignment that requires an analysis of dramatic styles in two of Tennessee Williams plays, “the glass menagerie” and “a streetcar named desire”. The last one was harder!

It was good to see the comments that came in about the issue of smoking culture, research supporting tobacco companies, and the general lack of no smoking in HELP. I had to think twice about responding to the comments, and decided to have a separate entry. This is because, …. Read on…

Firstly, I would like to answer (or try to) some of questions that KJ brought up. I wouldn’t know if there were many junior psych students in the research. However, I did spot a few well known, seniors! I know that some of us flatly refused to get our selves involved and quit. But, I also know that some seniors continued!

As for my comments on implications of conducting research, that aids tobacco organizations, by junior or senior students would be:

1. It would minimize the negative stereotypes that are held by students. Negative stereotypes and negative attitudes smoking should rightfully be encouraged. There should be no reason to be ashamed of it either. If university is a facility of learning, then you risk teaching students the wrong values. It is generally accepted (and I am not going to cite) that smoking is harmful to health.

2. Psychologists SHOULD be a positive influence on human behaviour. Any form of training, that undergraduate psychology students experience, should be one that fosters the development of ‘positive’ values in them. Teaching them that getting involved in tobacco marketing research is NOT positive, as it will encourage them to be more accepting of smoking. Think cognitive dissonance (I am not going to explain that term. Look it up!)

3.There is a breech of national policy. It is the Malaysian government’s intention to ‘reduce’ or ‘eliminate’ smokers. This pledge was made at an international level (Hence USM VC's comments last week). Encouraging research would result in an ambivalent attitude towards government policy.

As for psychologists taking oaths, I don’t know if we have to! I do know that medical doctors do take oaths promising to value the ethics of their profession. I would like to know if any such oath taking would be done in my clinical school. Ephez is right in pointing out that the inherent variability in the fields of psychology would result in different attitudes towards oath taking and its subsequent practice/adherence.

However, this should not be seen as an excuse. That lack of an oath is no reason why any psychologist (industrial or otherwise) should behave in ways that harm society at large. People dealing with other people need to be held accountable for their behaviour. Psychologists, regardless of their work setting, influence human behaviour, and should not make “the lack of an oath” and excuse.

Further, every professional organization that hires psychologists (or confers their status) have their own ethical code of conduct. Adhering to an ethical code, is as equally important as “just taking an oath”.

The issue in HELP (Dr. Deb, this should answer your question), arises not because of the decisions that the head of the department of the centre psychology made. Instead are due to the decisions that were made the head of University. The head of the University is an economist (that does not exempt him from practicing ethics). Further, the centre for psychology (my defence to them) was not responsible in organising the research project. However, it is disappointing that members of staff from the department (psychology) acted as coordinators/consultants/etc. I believe that these specific members who represented the centre for psychology should have been sensitive in following ethical guidelines.

I also want to clear out a comment made by mythsn_legends. HUC’s management DOES NOT nor DID NOT ‘promote’ tobacco products in campus. I am ‘accusing’ them of supporting marketing research (conducted by a 3rd party advertising company), that is geared towards creating a product placement strategy for BT. My argument is that, regardless of the financial gain that HELP stands to gain from the partnership fostered with the ‘advertising’ company, it is WRONG to do projects without considering the implications of the research findings. In this case, it would equal supporting a giant tobacco company.

Should psychologists support organizations that cause harm or bring no good to individuals and society at large?

I was thinking of a really sarcastic way of replying, but… will stick to a NO (in large font) for now. Reasons, science should be about taking people forward. Its about development and not the destruction of man kind. I applaud you for being brave enough to take your stand in saying NO, and for those of you who asked the many provoking questions.

I am not too sure if “all sorts of rules” about no smoking would really solve the issue unless, some meaningful amount of enforcement is undertaken. Even the simplest of all laws can be broken, when those in authority fail to enforce.

I would like end this blog entry by calling out to you (psychologists or not) to come forward as a student body, to communicate a clear cut message to society.



Interested? What you waiting for? Get active in your university! Or email me if you will support this drive in HELP.


Steph said...

Right on man!

But, I find your message at the end of this entry is rather unrealistic. I think, yes, one can reduce cigarette smoking but to ban it, it is really not as easy as it seems. Maybe may just want to have fewer smoking area.

You can't stop a 75 year old lecturer whose been smoking throughout his life to stop smoking, can you? His life will be shorten instead if he stops at that age:p

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

I teach at a university and chase away any smokers I see. Fortunately, where I live, people are very good about following the rules for that...for other rules, well...


Fuzzy said...

I do agree that it'll be hard to crack an outright ban on smoking completely in Universities in Malaysia. The best we can do is to really limit the places they can smoke.

As much as smoking is bad for bla bla bla, I still recognises that it's a right of an individual to smoke and surely as a psychologist you must realise the need for an avenue for them to smoke on.

Still, statement no.1 should get plenty of support.

astrorat said...

Dear Steph,

Thanks for your support! I find the message very realistic as I am starting a petition that will try to force my Uni to ban cigarette smoking on campus. I kid you not! And I hope that student bodies from other universities pick up the message! I want to make the message clear. Smoking is bad for health and I shall not tolerate anyone who pollutes my environment/space. Its true that the 75-year-old lecturer whos been smoking all his life. But, that does not give him the right to puff his smoke on my face (a non smoker), even though its good for him.

Dear Dr. Deb,

Thanks for that supporting comment. I truly hope that I am able to kick start a culture that looks down on smoking. I don’t think that a soft approach would work, as I find that its sending an overly tolerant message.

Dear Fuzzy,

It’s a good idea to provide designated smoking areas. Problem however is that, management of some universities (like mine), provide smoking zones that are relatively close the non-smoking area. They expect smoke to fall crashing to the floor I guess.

And its very correct to say that a smoker has the ‘right’ or ‘privilege’ to smoke. Its declared in the universal declaration of human rights! But, since Malaysia never signed that document, I doubt it really applies ;) but, if you insist other wise, then surely, non-smokers have the same right to a clean environment no?

As psychologists, my aim would be to provide an avenue to quite! Hence the creating of ‘quite smoking’ intervention programs in college. Providing a place to smoke, is essentially encouraging the act :)

mythsn_legends said...

I will definitely support the drive of the statements #1 and #2.

I respect others' decision to want to smoke BUT I hope they, in return respect those who are not smoking and also the fact that we are sharing the same environment. It's bloody annoying when the smoke gets into the building and stinks the place up (especially level 1 in HELP)!!!