Meaningless Warnings

By Dr Joe | July 22nd, 2011 at 8:19 am

Regular readers will know I am a firm believer in individual responsibility. I am passionate about people being healthy but if they do not want to be that is their choice and it is not my role to force on them that which they do not want.

There are of course those who feel it is their duty and almost right to impose their views on others. The best way to do this is by invoking safety or health, as the argument is turned from one of the rights of free citizens to one of “life and death”.

Currently there are arguments raging over plain packaging of cigarettes and warnings on alcoholic beverages. As a non-smoker I do not care particularly what cigarette boxes look like. Smoking rates have dropped from over 70% in the 1950s to under 20% today. Much of this occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s and is not the result of today’s zealous crusaders.

I doubt any smoker will quit due to plain packaging. The bigger question is whether it will deter would be smokers. Given teenage smoking rates are down to under 5% one can only wonder. In my opinion neither the tobacco lobby nor the health lobby have it right. Branding does influence decisions on which brand to smoke but that decision is a secondary one after making the choice to smoke at all. After all, people use illicit drugs, which have no fancy labeling.

The same applies to regulations in the UK, which will require cigars to be “hidden” from April 2012. Cigars are hardly an impulse purchase. Anyone who wants a cigar will seek one out and nobody who doesn’t will just buy one because they see it.

New warnings on alcoholic beverages have been launched. These state the “bleedin” obvious but fail to satisfy the nanny’s in public health. For example one warning is about the dangers of alcohol excess in pregnancy. It has been shown that through repeated changes in recommendations, 99% of Australian women consume levels of alcohol, which are safe in pregnancy (less than two per day or six per week). Stupid warning labels on a beer bottle will not influence the final 1%.

There is a tendency for “elites” to treat everyone like a baby and hence in need of nannying. A brilliant example of this at best well-meant but ultimately warped thinking came from James Valentine writing in the Weekend Australian (July 9 2011) “ Oh I’ve got a splinter. Quick ban splinters. Get splinter sufferer off to counseling. Make sure there are anti-splinter ads running on the TV. The schools better include splinter safety in the curriculum”.

This describes the current approach to health issues perfectly. Lets take a catch all approach so that the minority are covered regardless of the cost or the impact on the vast majority who will not benefit. Worse still this approach generally misses the exact target that needs it because they do not see it as applying to them.

Meaningless warnings on all manner of products are the end result. A pie, which lists heating instructions for the oven and underneath has in bigger print –“Caution care should be taken after heating pie as pastry and contents will be hot”. What do we expect after heating it in the oven. But of course someone, somewhere may not get this so a warning label, mandated by government, will stop them getting burnt!

Not everyone sees health as a priority-rightly or wrongly. People are entitled to their own opinions and to conduct their lives as they see fit, providing they do not infringe on others. More and more regulation gives a warm inner glow to those who propose regulations and creates jobs in the government sector. Other than that nothing is achieved.

It is time to push back against meaningless warnings and regulations, which achieve nothing.

Tags: , , , ,