Government to target smokers and ‘problem’ drinkers 
Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 20:07
Simon Clark

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.

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (
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