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« From prisoners to patients | Main | It was 20 years ago today »

Government to target smokers and ‘problem’ drinkers 

A ten-year plan to help the NHS meet key targets is being launched tomorrow.

It includes proposals to tackle smoking, obesity and ‘problem’ drinking.

According to the MailOnline:

Heavy drinkers, smokers and fat people are to be targeted by a wave of adverts demanding they overhaul their lifestyles, the Health Secretary today revealed.

They face being hit by Facebook adverts telling them to cut down on their bad habits and get fit.

While patients in hospital for illnesses linked to heavy drinking could be given a 'stern' talking to by doctors which could last up to 40 minutes.

Conscious, perhaps, that elements of the NHS Long-Term Plan sounds like yet another nanny state initiative, Health Secretary Matthew Hancock has been quick to pre-empt that line of attack.

He has ordered health bosses to put an end to the 'nanny-state' nagging of the whole population to adopt a more healthy lifestyle.

Instead he wants them to focus on the core group of people who place the biggest burden on Britain's over-stretched NHS. 

Speaking on Sky News this morning he told presenter Sophy Ridge:

‘What I don't like in these areas is punishing the masses for the problems that only a minority have ...

He ruled out introducing a minimum pricing for alcohol to tackle problem drinking - saying he does not want to 'punish' most people to drink in moderation.

He said that it is 'perfectly healthy' for most people to enjoy a 'nice pint' and only those who drink to dangerous levels should be targeted. 

That’s all well and good, but who defines a ‘problem drinker’ or ‘dangerous levels’? The government, of course!

According to the NHS website:

The current UK guidelines advise limiting alcohol intake to 14 units a week for women and men. This is equivalent to drinking no more than 6 pints of average-strength beer (4% ABV) or 7 medium-sized glasses of wine (175ml, 12% ABV) a week.

Those guidelines have already been amended once (it used to be 21 units a week for men) so who’s to say they won’t be lowered again, creating more ‘heavy’ drinkers.

Meanwhile, following a pre-announcement announcement, it was reported yesterday that:

Problem drinkers and smokers who end up in hospital will be helped by dedicated new services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

As far as smokers are concerned:

Every smoker admitted to hospital will be offered NHS support to quit.

That’s right, every smoker. No matter if you’re in hospital for a non smoking-related illness or procedure - a hip replacement, for example - you will still be targeted for smoking cessation ‘advice’.

But wait. You don’t even have to be a patient to be singled out:

Partners of pregnant women will also be encouraged to kick the habit to give new mums the best chance of not smoking again.

Invited to comment, I issued the following statement on behalf of Forest:

“It’s stressful enough being in hospital without the additional pressure of being hounded to stop smoking.

“Pressing smokers to quit, especially if they’re in hospital for a non smoking-related reason, is an invasion of privacy and tantamount to bullying.

“No-one should be lectured about their lifestyle while they’re at their most vulnerable.”

I was quoted by the BBC, Daily Mail and Independent, and last night I was on LBC. I was due to appear on Five Live as well but that got postponed. I may be on tonight instead.

The BBC headline read, ‘Hospital patients who smoke or drink to be helped to quit’, while the Mail declared, ‘NHS goes to war on cigarettes and alcohol’.

As you can see, the tone of those headlines is very different. What is clear however is that while the government may draw a line between ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’ levels of drinking, anyone who smokes is to be treated the same.

When the Health Secretary says he wants health bosses ‘to focus on the core group of people who place the biggest burden on Britain's over-stretched NHS’, he clearly includes all smokers in that core group.

Like most politicians he ignores the fact that many smokers live long and healthy lives and are NOT a burden on the NHS.

He also ignores the inconvenient truth that smokers make a huge net contribution to the government - and therefore the NHS - through the exorbitant taxes they pay on tobacco.

Punitive taxation, smoking bans, denormalisation. Haven’t smokers been punished enough without being targeted for further discrimination, irrespective of whether they have a smoking-related illness?

I laughed when I read that he doesn’t want to 'punish' moderate drinkers because he wouldn’t be human - or a Tory politician - if he didn’t have an eye on the thousands of middle-class, moderate drinkers in his constituency, and nationwide.

Smokers, in contrast, represent less than a fifth of the electorate and are mostly working class from lower income households. For a Conservative government, the risks of upsetting confirmed smokers are minimal.

That said, I wouldn’t be too worried by this latest plan. Governments like to be seen to be proactive and grand announcements like this are par for the course.

In reality most hospital staff are either too busy dealing with more immediate problems or, like most people, they’re not inclined to nag other people to change their ways.

A comment posted on the Friends of Forest Facebook page last night read:

I was a patient for 10 days at a Portsmouth hospital and nobody approached me about giving up. Out of all the nurses, doctors, consultants, surgeons and specialists treating me only one of them mentioned smoking. Even now with regular check ups I'm never judged by the consultants because I smoke, only by the same pesky nurse.

I wonder if these health fanatics are living in cloud cookoo land believing their ideas are being used or it's all designed to frighten us. I smoke, I was treated for cancer without prejudice, so from my experience I would say don't worry too much about discrimination. I was but I was proved wrong.

I suspect this is the norm in most hospitals and GP surgeries where smoking, drinking and obesity have not yet been politicised to the extent they are in Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff.

Disease prevention is a worthy aim but this is not like typhoid, cholera and other public health epidemics that could affect the mass of the population.

Smoking, drinking and obesity are private health issues and while I agree that people should take more responsibility for their own health, governments must accept that in a free society people have the right to make choices that may be detrimental to their health without being unfairly targeted or punished.

We’re not automatons and the freedom to smoke, drink more than the recommended units, eat more than is good for us and shun exercise are all part of the rich and diverse society in which we live.

If the NHS can’t handle that then politicians should be honest and abandon the pretence that the NHS treats everyone equally regardless of race, creed, colour or lifestyle.

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Reader Comments (6)

The Temperance Movement is alive and well. The moral coercion is disguised as healthism but the underlying biases are the same.

Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 20:52 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

“ ... only those who drink to dangerous levels should be targeted.”

And, as anyone who smokes knows only too well, that very generalised term – “dangerous levels” – is a highly moveable feast, isn’t it? How many of us remember, back when anti-smoking was just a glint in a few zealots’ eyes, how all those “negative affects on health” were only restricted to very heavy smokers – back then classified as 40 or more cigarettes a day, I think? All those millions of people – back then the majority of adults – who happily got through a “mere” single packet or thereabouts weren’t considered to be smoking “enough” to be making themselves ill, were they? But of course, once all those “heavy” smokers cut their consumption down to “normal” levels, all of a sudden those new levels were “discovered” to be terribly dangerous, too, and just half a pack a day was then the “safe” level of smoking! And so on. Pretty soon, it was down to just three a day being a “safe” level; then it was just one a day, and then .... well then it was all about “no safe level,” wasn’t it? I remember the dropping levels very clearly – 40 to 20; 20 to 10; 10 to 3; 3 to 1; 1 to 0 – and I didn’t even smoke then! And once that had been established (and a few stubborn smokers still insisted on continuing to smoke), the magical properties of “passive smoking” were created, as the “next logical step.” Naturally. It seems that the fewer people there were smoking, the more dangerous it became! Funny that.

Will the same happen to drinking, I wonder? I bet it will. It never ceases to amaze me that all those comfy, un-bothered “moderate” drinkers (many of whom were themselves smokers in those early days) - who are so busily patting themselves on the back (and burying their heads in the sand) for being so "moderate" and "sensible" in their drinking habits - have so easily forgotten how this process has worked. What’s “safe” today (less than 14 units a week, currently) will very quickly be deemed to be terribly “dangerous” the moment the majority of people manage to bring their consumption down to that level or under. And a new “safe” level will then be “proven,” which you can bet your bottom dollar will probably be (using the tobacco template) somewhere around half the previously “safe” level (i.e. around 7 units a week). And then, when they’ve cut down their consumption to that level, it’ll drop to just 2-3 units a week, and then ...... yeah – you get the picture. And once they’ve bullied, cajoled or guilt-tripped a majority of people into teetotal-ism (don’t laugh, it will happen) – they’ll really start to play up the trump card of Passive Drinking (accidents, crime, domestic violence, family breakdown etc etc). In order to whip all those born-again abstainers into a self-righteous fury of demanding - oh, probably zero drink-drive limits, booze-free town centres, penalties for pub landlords who serve more than a certain number of drinks to any one customer ... the list (as we smokers know) is endless. “No such thing as Passive Drinking?” Really? Just watch them go, all you beer and wine lovers ... Just watch them go!

Monday, January 7, 2019 at 1:29 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

The guide lines have changed twice. They were originally 28 units a week. Top tip: if you don't like 14 units a week, imagine yourself as being a different nationality. There are some much higher guidelines out there. Find some of the higher guidelines and of those, choose the one from the country with the highest life expectancy.

Monday, January 7, 2019 at 10:54 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

Beating up smokers is trendy and there is also a huge industry built around bullying, coercing and forcing them to quit. Hancock probably realises too that there is more money to fund the thugs in ASH and his pet public healthists from financial penalties against smokers. £80 or more each fag end dropped makes the amount that can be raised from a pack of 20 greater than any tax he could impose. Add to that other penalities and criminal offences being devised for smokers and you can clearly see how he intends to get back lost tax from quitters.

You are right that some people can smoke over a lifetime and not use the NHS any more than anyone else who doesn't smoke, nor indeed die earlier than a non smoker, but cuts have to be made and smokers are again the victims because they can be excluded from the NHS, marginalised and attacked by law because there is nothing to protect them from hate which other minorities have.

Meanwhile those alleged libertarian snobs who screech ABOLISH PHE 17 times are so smokerphobic they are happy to support the bullying against smokers who they see as thick working class too stupid to believe what they are told about smoking by those, of course, so much more intellectual and superior than anyone who smokes. Therefore, because that type hate it and fear it, libertarian beliefs about leaving people alone as long as they don't harm others fly out of the door. ( The rational know that smokers and smokerphobics don't have to mix in the same venues if smokers were allowed their own meeting places like other social or hobby groups. The non phobic also know the health hype on SHS is a scam designed for stupid or phobic people and certainly for those with vested interests in conning the public to believe it.)

I have said it before, smokerphobia makes the most rational people suddenly lose all sense of reason and they become hysteric in thinking that each cigarette takes decades off a life they think they have a right to own. They have no idea what they're talking about but bashing smokers and smoking fits their smug prejudice.

Smokers are experts on the effects on smoking, you are an expert on smokers, it is a shame that the likes of Hancock, his public health stooges, and his pet boozy Libertarians fail to see that.

When, I wonder, will Britain become like Australia where smokers are beaten and harrassed in the street and nothing is done? What then will those alleged libertarians, or humanitarians, say - " oh well, she was beaten to death but it serves her right, smoking was killing her anyway"

What has this country become. 😢

Monday, January 7, 2019 at 13:37 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

And, btw, we must stop referring to this as the Nanny State. I think we can all agree that it has evolved into the Bully State.

Monday, January 7, 2019 at 14:02 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Such a shame they do not enjoy the pleasures of tobacco. However butt out of harassing me enjoying my pleasure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 15:50 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

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