Teen takes on tobacco companies after cancer kills mother

Jamie with MP Fiona O'Donnell and the anti-tobacco message

Jamie with MP Fiona O'Donnell and the anti-tobacco message

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A TEENAGER whose mother died from cancer is taking his battle to improve Scots’ health to the tobacco giants by campaigning for plain cigarette packaging.

Jamie Walker, 17, had just enrolled in secondary school when his mum, Helen, passed away and he is now leading calls to ban glitzy branding from tobacco products.

The Answer is Plain campaign, run by Cancer Research UK, aims to homogenise tobacco packaging by removing the striking designs.

The former head boy at 
Preston Lodge High School, who previously lobbied Holyrood to set up a national fund to make cancer-fighting drugs more accessible, is urging people to sign up to a petition prohibiting attractive packaging.

“We must protect our children from the dangers of tobacco,” he said. “I don’t want children being subjected to clever marketing techniques from an industry that has to recruit 100,000 new smokers each year to replace those who die from smoking.”

Mr Walker, an ambassador for Cancer Research UK, said studies backed by the charity and carried out at Stirling University had demonstrated that distinctive packaging appealed more to young people.

He spoke of his own harrowing experiences that drove him to take on MSPs over cancer treatments and now tobacco branding bans.

“My mum didn’t smoke or drink but in 2007 she fell and broke her hip,” he said. “When she went into hospital they found cancer in her bone marrow which spread to her breast.”

She fought off the illness, only for it to return three years later.

“I was just 12 and had started high school when she died,” he said. “Having to watch my mum die in such a terrible way made me mature earlier than I should have. I wanted to make sure that no-one should have to suffer the way my mum and my family have, which is why I’m campaigning like this.”

The Cancer Research UK campaign has won backing from East Lothian MP Fiona O’Donnell, while Mr Walker has also been in contact with Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and West of Scotland MSP Jackson Carlaw.

Ms O’Donnell, who met Mr Walker at Westminster, said: “It is shocking that despite a ban on tobacco advertising, young people are still being lured into a lifetime of addiction because glitzy packaging makes cigarettes look appealing.” 

• A petition to support the ban can be found at www.
theanswerisplain.org

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com