I have an interesting story from the 80s to tell about a tobacco company during my NHS days. They had devised a new type of cigarette, which they claimed had the potential to be less harmful and funded a clinical trial of it at the hospital I worked in. The trial comprised of having volunteers doing a lung function test, then smoking either a conventional fag or one of the new ones at random, then having the lung function test repeated. Since the medical physics dept were involved with most other departments in one way or other, it didn’t take long for the smokers in the physics department to learn about this trial and volunteer for it. The thing was, the Respiratory Medicine department had been given a large stock of fags for the trial and anyone able to sweettalk the technician tasked with doing the tests, could usually persuade her to let them have the rest of the packet to take away with them. I need to explain that the lung function test was carried out by blowing into a spirometer, a device that can measure the volume of air you can forcibly exhale in one second (FEV1) and the total volume of air you are able to expire (FVC), which is different to lung capacity. At the time, spirometers were large and very expensive mechanical devices, which would only be found in major hospitals. A graph of the blow, known as the flow/volume curve would get plotted out and look something like this. From the graph it’s possible to calculate meaningful values for FEV1 and FVC, to compare against normal values and give an indication of which of a range of respiratory diseases a patient who is short of breath might be suffering from. Anyway, we had a very bright electronics whizz kid who was a heavy smoker and took part in the fag trial. To him, the way spirometry was being done with the expensive and cumbersome mechanical device seemed ludicrous, when it could be achieved more simply and at lower cost with a hand-held electronic device. He went home that night and designed it. It revolutionised spirometry and the treatment of lung diseases. Instead of a spirometer costing £20K, his first version sold for £500. These days you can get them at much lower cost. I went for a general health check up at my GP surgery a fortnight ago and had a lung function test carried out. As well as using his inexpensive electronic spirometer to test for lung disease, a GP is likely to use it to test the lung function of smokers and be able to show them how smoking has been damaging their lungs, then with a bit of luck, convince them to stop smoking. How ironic is that? It's probable my colleague would never have invented the electronic spirometer, if he hadn't been adicted to smoking and that tobacco company hadn't wanted to find some sort of evidence that their new fags had health benefits.