By Ana-maria Gheorghiu
It has been announced that tobacco duties are to be raised by 5% - an equivalent to 37p on the price of a packet of cigarettes. About 10 million people in the UK smoke cigarettes, according to anti-smoking charity ASH. But with prices already much higher than in other European countries (more than double the price of Spain) notwithstanding the current financial climate, British smokers are unhappy, to say the least.
At first sight, this increase in price may seem ridiculous to the regular smoker – 37p extra each time you fancy a packet of fags could add up quickly and get quite costly. The government has been accused of financially exploiting addicts because ‘smokers don’t choose to smoke’, as well as encouraging the practice of smuggling, an area in which the HMRC is already overworked.
Nevertheless, it seems that there will always be consumers that will turn to the black market or buy their tobacco abroad. It is inevitable that smuggling will always exist, no matter how high or low the prices of cigarettes are. What is not inevitable, or invincible, however, is our health.
As a non-smoker myself, I can clearly see the benefits of this proposal. If it means that after checking the change in your wallet, you hesitate more over the counter, this could only be a good thing. Those who are not yet addicted may even be prevented from becoming addicted as higher prices of cigarettes will discourage people from buying them in the first place.
Not only will quitting reduce your risk of developing illness, disability or death caused by cancer, heart or lung disease, but those around you will also not be exposed to second-hand smoke. The chancellor has finally listened to the voices of the health community and taken decisive action to tackle the greatest single cause of ill health and premature death. The money from this tax will be well-used as healthcare is finally given its due importance.
But not all agree.
Twitter was overtaken by storms of anger from smokers. Some went out to panic-buy, fuming all the way to the newsagent. They felt their right to smoke was being violated, constrained and limited. They claimed that they should be able to liberally harm themselves, and smoke in comfort if they so wish, without the control of the government. This childish mindset baffled me most of all. So, smokers will continue to smoke just to spite the government? And expect the taxpayer to foot the bill when it all goes wrong? Just like a stubborn teenager challenging authority, this is precisely why the increase is so important. People need to stop acting like rebellious kids, and stop being so selfish and narrow-minded. If they aren’t going to look after themselves and those around them, perhaps they do really need an authoritative hand in the matter.
Although the duty increase has doubled the combined tax taken from the two previous budgets, the tax that we pay goes towards all of the quitting schemes and health packs from the NHS anyway. Smoking costs the NHS five times as much as previously thought, researchers have calculated. “This is money being drained out of the NHS as a direct result of something we have the power to prevent” said Betty McBride from the British Heart Foundation in 2009. Non-smokers are paying a lot more than 37p in taxes towards smokers health. The least the smokers can do is pay a price too.
It may not make me popular to say as much, but ideally, we should combat all addictions, not just smoking. Now that anti-smoking measures are in place, the government should definitely concentrate more on drugs and alcohol, too. Let’s start as we mean to go on!
By James Walerych
“Is that 999? Yes, hello. Could you come over and make me dinner? My home help hasn’t turned up … “
It might sound amusing, but this was just one of 28,500 ‘non-emergency’ calls made to the ambulance service in Northern Ireland last year.
Others included resuscitating a pet, getting help into bed, and getting rings off fingers when they became stuck.
But it’s not just wasting the valuable time of the ambulance crews; it’s actually putting a lot of strain on a service which receives 130,000 calls a year.
The most frustrating thing about it is that these none essential calls can normally be dealt with by the GP out of hour’s phone service which is readily available to the public. The people on the other end of the phone will be able to give you a diagnosis and recommend what course of action to take - if you phone them.
The problem is, however, that often we don’t use this number because we have been brought up in the mindset that in a medical emergency you call 999.
The answer, I believe, is to make people more aware of the NHS out of hours GP service which in most cases will help you out with your non-essential medical emergency.
Just imagine how much more effective the ambulance service would be without these 28,500 calls.
Just imagine how many fatalities on the head of the ambulance service would be prevented.
Glenn Fosbraey is a University Lecturer and freelance writer who was astounded at the high level of care received by his wife when she gave birth, and is horrified at the lack of gratitude offered to the NHS.
For years, I’ve heard stories of how holding your newborn child in your arms is the best experience of your life. And I always believed them. Until, that is, I actually held my newborn child in my arms and felt only exhaustion, with an undercurrent of fear mixed in for good measure. As time has passed, of course, I’ve felt the elation of being a father, and now, eight months down the line, I can’t imagine what I did before my daughter was born. But in that maternity ward, having spent two whole days waiting, pacing, snatching 5 minute bursts of sleep in a chair, hearing my wife howl in agony, gagging as I looked at the blood, mucus, and other oozing bodily fluids, I wasn’t in any mood to experience any kind of beautiful, memorable moment when that wrinkled, purple bundle was thrust into my arms.
But my slightly belated paternal instinct isn’t why I’m writing this. We are gathered here today, gentle reader, to give much-deserved credit to one of the media’s favourite punching bags: the NHS. If our friends at a the nation’s leading right-wing newspapers are to be believed, then the NHS stands not for National Health Service, but Noxious Horrific Scum, and is home to fifty year waiting lists, killer viruses dripping from the hands and scalpels of surgeons, surly, matronly nurses who poke the eyes and twist the noses of disabled pensioners, and incompetent, unqualified doctors, who enjoy nothing more than making their patients miserable, uncomfortable, and sicker than when they arrived at the hospital.
It may come as a surprise, therefore, what with the system being such a shambles, that since that fateful morning when my wife announced that her waters had broken and I had to come to terms with the fact that the huge bulge around her midriff was in fact a child, and not severe bloating from a particularly vicious Madras, the NHS have been completely and utterly magnificent. During the lengthy period between the aforementioned water-breakage and wrinkled, purple bundle, the midwives were kind and attentive; numerous doctors popped in to say ‘Hi’ (and to carry out important examinations), and together, they made a grim experience bearable with their constant help, positivity, and good humour. And when the anaesthesiologist administered the epidural, finally taking the lion’s share of my wife’s agony away, I could’ve kissed the man, taken him to Barbados for a fortnight, and massaged his feet with coconut oil every day. I am exaggerating, by the way: I could never afford two weeks in Barbados.
The best, and most impressive part of this is yet to come, for I have yet to mention the fact that all of this occurred over two slightly special days: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. So to all those doctors and midwives who were so lovely, warm, and efficient when they were, no doubt, keeping an eye on the clock and the chance to start Christmas with their families, I am forever grateful to you for the fantastic service you provided. And, those of you unfortunate enough to buy in to the sensationalism and scaremongering employed by particular right-wing newspapers: count yourselves fortunate that you live in a country where such a service exists. And the next time they help you or a loved one, make sure you tell as many people as possible, as I have, in a bid to dispel the myth that the NHS is there to kill you, not cure you.