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Nov 23, 2012

Preventive health saves big bucks -- and lives

Crikey readers weigh in on the big issues of the day.

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Tobacco and alcohol control

Margaret Beavis GP writes: Re. “Dear preventative health wowsers: stop taking the piss” (Monday). Often I agree with Bernard Keane. But he shows he just doesn’t get it when he talks about the preventive health lobby as “just another sector of the economy looking to make a buck”.

Preventive health saves money. Lots of money. It just takes time to do so. We know that for every dollar spent on tobacco measures, over $50 has been saved in health costs alone — this astounding figure does not factor in the savings in productivity and plain old-fashioned human misery. Slowly suffocating to death with emphysema, or dying of lung cancer is not a great look. Australia is a world leader in tobacco control. Why should taxpayers have to pay for the damage the cigarette companies do in our society?

The problem is it has taken over 30 years for these savings to become evident, and at the beginning, we had no idea how effective the measures were going to be, nor what the change in behaviours would be over time. Similarly measures to reduce the road toll have been very cost effective.

So now it’s time to look at the evidence around alcohol. Alcohol that can be sold more cheaply than bottled water is a problem. Foetal alcohol syndrome, either in indigenous communities or in the wider community, is one manifestation. This will leave us with a generation of damaged individuals likely to need life-long support.

Binge drinking is another. If you want to take a lot of pressure off the police force and the ambulance services, both of whom are overburdened by alcohol related events, then we need to look at alcohol.

Why is it not taxed by volume evenly across the board? Why do we still advertise it? The taxpayer is footing the bill for all the alcohol-related harms — not just liver disease, but car accidents, domestic violence, family breakups, unplanned pregnancies, assaults … the list goes on and on.

Alcohol is part of our society — but currently the alcohol industry is costing taxpayers a lot of money, and causing a lot of damage. It is time to recognise that like tobacco, alcohol is very expensive at a societal level. Nobody is arguing prohibition — just a little common sense. If he wants to save the taxpayers of this world he is barking up the wrong tree altogether.


David Thackrah writes: Re. (comments, yesterday). Further to Andrew Bartlett’s comments about the Australian Democrats’ GST deal with the Howard Coalition government: it remains a fact the GST was proposed by the Liberal government of the day. The Dems sought to soften the cost for low income families in particular, but with the way food prices have developed since, it may be time to tax everything.

In return the suicidal idea of taxing land remains in dusty basement files. Such a tax would work like council rates and do away with the negative imposts on property purchase and things like insurance which gets jacked up consistently.

The stability of government collections would be apparent and the GST could be held into a 10-12% range. If you are in the EU you pay 20% VAT which is highway robbery in motion. However the constituents would have to maintain an eagle eye on the budget considerations, whereas presently it is apparent doing away with “innocent until proven guilty” which means the Department of Police is a big earner!

Child abuse royal commission

Michael Byrne writes: Re. “Royal commission will make churches pray for parishioners” (yesterday). I fear your intern, David Donaldson, displays an ignorance in matters religious.

Besides categorising the Catholic Church as a “major sect”, he is totally unaware of the great commission with his seemingly delicious anticipation of great attrition after the royal commission.

Mother Church lives history for the greater good, notwithstanding the deeds of some of her servants are too often not matching her message, and indeed betraying it. There have been greater threats throughout her direct history of 1700 years since Constantine, when began her alignment with worldly power beyond her “commission” and its message. Yet she still lives and thrives, and one must wonder how else could  it have been given our tendency to follow rather than imitate Jesus.

The larger threat at hand for our society is associated with the growing ignorance of Christendom, and the Christian story that underpins our social and political freedoms and our personal wellbeing.

Society can survive empty pews in churches, but an emptying of our narrative will see human plans supplant the promises of God from which true and lasting hope flows in the human task. The 20th century provided a display of the human plan at work with the evil empires of Hitler, Mao, Stalin et al.

Asylum seekers

Donald McLean writes: Re. “Deterrence goal locks us onto a path of cruelty” (yesterday). Let’s drop the euphemism of “border protection” and use the more honest term “refugee harassment”.

On the subject of politicians lying, Tony Abbott said: ‘The people who have come illegally to this country need to know that they are breaking our laws, that they are, if I may say so, taking advantage, unfair advantage of our decency as a people.”

Surely he knows that it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia.

Borneo dams

Chris Sheehan writes: I am an admirer of Crikey but sometimes a little accuracy a good thing. In “Flooding Borneo villages, with Australian help, rallies locals” (yesterday), a mention is made of the Dateline program and the links between Hydro Tasmania and the projects.

I think you need to take a look at the following link and the response from SBS Ombudsman which in part says: “On balance I find that the report breached Code 2.2 in respect of accuracy, balance and impartiality. The relationship between Hydro Tasmania and with Sarawak Energy Berhad was misreported and misrepresented.”

Holy questions

Matt Davis writes: Re. (comments, yesterday). Musings on the birth of our Lord and saviour skirt around the core and most important question: was he really the son of God, or just a very naughty boy?

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15 thoughts on “Preventive health saves big bucks — and lives

  1. CML

    @ Margaret Beavis – It never ceases to amaze me that people like you do not connect the reduction in smoking with the epidemic of mental health disease in our community. Over a long life working in the health industry, I certainly observed those who had stopped smoking slowly looking for other avenues to cope with the stressful situations they encountered every day in life. And no doubt, this behaviour was NOT confined to just my workplace. Consumption of alcohol increased certainly, but there was also the “pill popping”, both legal and illegal which began around that time, and I believe, still continues (I am now retired).
    It is my contention that while you and others in preventative health are congratulating yourselves over the reduction in smoking that has taken place, all that has really happened is that people who are stressed out of their mind, turned to other avenues (substances) to cope. Those who didn’t/don’t make it become mentally ill as a result of the pressure to “do the right thing” as far as their physical health is concerned.
    What happens next is the breakdown of marriages/families, the inability to work and the social stigma of mental illness. I have seen it all! Now you want to make a “guilt-trip” out of having a drink or two in the evening!! And then it will be something else needing to be “removed”.
    And all because it will save money and people will live longer! Well, I’ve got news for you – some of us would rather smoke, drink, enjoy a shorter life, and stay sane!! It is not up to you to decide what choices people make for themselves – especially when those choices do not harm anyone else.
    BTW, the cost of dealing with the resultant physical conditions caused by alcohol, nicotine and obesity, is probably about the same as treating mental illness!

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