Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Health Warnings


It’s time for a Grumpy Old Man blog posting.

Firstly can I point out I do not condone smoking or drinking alcohol to excess. Nor do I want people to fall over and hurt themselves. But can we please stop all this Government molly-coddling and insurance-claim based concern that requires a health warning on everything.

When health warnings appeared on cigarette packets in the late 1960s there was a valid reason for them. It could be argued (and was successfully in the American law courts by people out to make a quick buck!) that some people didn’t appreciate that smoking was harmful. Everyone I knew was aware that smoking was harmful in the 1950s and my Mum gave it up in the early 60’s because she was concerned about the effects on her children. Nevertheless, there was a valid argument for putting the signs on. Surely nowadays everyone is well aware of it and only hardened smokers continue to consume their cigarettes (and money) through lack of will power or because they think it makes them feel better. (I won’t go into arguments here about the placebo effect but they do have some validity.) So surely health warnings should be getting smaller not bigger. Notwithstanding which, graphic pictures of diseased lungs, hearts and other organs will be required on all tobacco products sold in Britain by the end of 2009.

Similarly the argument can be applied to alcohol. I love diaries and from Pepys and Evelyn to the present day every diarist I have come across has bemoaned the fact that he has consumed excessive alcohol and resolves – the next day – not to do it again. Today I saw, for the first time, an advert for Hardy’s wines on television which had a little notice at the bottom - ‘Please enjoy Hardy’s responsibly.’ (Interestingly, I saw this on one of their TV adverts and when I went to check their website I found I had to put in my date of birth to enter their website – under 18’s not being allowed. Like, if I was under eighteen and wanted to enter the website it would not occur to me to lie about my age....) All alcohol adverts in France come with the disclaimer, required by law: 'Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health'. (Actually they don't because they are French so it reads - “l’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé”)

In America health warnings are already on alcohol bottles and from next year they will be on wines in Britain. (So if you want to collect an unadulterated wine bottle label now is the time to do it).

From this year all advertising for new cars will have to carry cigarette-style “health warnings” about their environmental impact, under a European plan to force manufacturers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As if we didn’t know cars damaged the environment. SUVs, otherwise known as 4x4s, four-wheel drives and all-terrain wagons, have become badges of middle-class aspiration. They are also dangerous, fabulously polluting and, as part of a general transport problem, set to become, according to the World Health Organisation, one of the world's most common causes of death and disability - ahead of TB, HIV and war. No doubt future adverts in glossy magazines will carry a warning to that effect.

One of the best of all was the nature trail I went on through a woodland where almost every protruding tree root and low branch was marked with a warning. “We have to do that because the Health and Safety Inspector warned us they wouldn’t approve us as a nature trail if we didn’t warn people of the hazards.” OK, hidden boggy ponds and open mine-shafts I can understand but tree roots!

Then there was the insurance company that insisted my brother put a notice outside his pottery that anyone parking their cars did so at their own risk. Car crime being unknown in the Outer Hebrides (where the locals never even lock their cars) it seemed rather ridiculous. My brother complied in his own unique way by putting up a notice which said something like “Despite the lack of car crime in the area my insurance company insists that I put up a notice warning you that vehicles parked here are parked at their owners’ risk.” (Actually it was briefer than that but to the same effect.)

Vitamin supplements, it seems, are likely to get government health warnings to the effect that taking them in excess may be harmful. Surely the very word excess suggests that! Sweets manufacturer Cadbury is considering a message on its products advising consumers to eat a healthy diet. Customers may be told that sweets and chocolate should be balanced by eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

A leading professor has suggested that oversize clothes should have obesity helpline numbers sewn on them to try to reduce Britain's "fat crisis".

Video games, a government report has concluded, can harm the development of children’s beliefs and value systems and desensitise them to violence. It recommends - surprise, surprise - that health warnings be put on them. Even assuming the report is correct (remember all the warnings about what television was going to do to my generation!) will warnings on the packet make a difference?

iPods, we are told, are ‘desocialising’, a word that doesn’t appear in my – or anyone else’s - dictionary so I’m not sure how we guard against it - and encourage isolation. Mark Splinter suggested the above warning!

I can see it will not be long before we get a health warning on the cover of every book- reading can damage your eyesight.

Laughter, it is said, causes good digestion but what if carried to excess? Perhaps Courts should hold that articles praising politicians may cause apoplexy. Registrars and vicars will be required to issue a medical warning that, as every mature adult knows, marriage can be dangerous to your mental health. And maternity hospitals will have huge notices at their entrances - "Warning - Having children is the first step to total insanity."

Pens will be sold with warnings that you should stop and do finger flexing exercises every ten minutes. Our computers will flash a warning every fifteen minutes that we should stand up, exercise and change the focus of our eyes. Cars will slow down and stop after having been on the road for an hour and fifty nine minutes without a door being opened for the driver to exercise his legs and take a break. Every door will have its little sticker “Warning – trapping your fingers can be painful”.

Of course, I know what is next - Toilet seats will carry a notice ‘Warning - Put me down or the next female to use the loo will give you grief...”

1 comment:

Graham said...

Utterly brilliant BUT are you sure that watching television hasn't had the effect feared?