College News

Responsibilities as well as rights

Russia has announced that they are considering the introduction of legislation that will forbid the purchase of cigarettes by anyone born after 2015. This follows Russia’s introduction of the smoking ban in recent years and has been labelled as ‘absolutely ideologically correct’ by MP Nikolai Gerasimenko. Considering the World Health Organisation has revealed that by 2030, an estimated eight million people will die from smoking, are such measures understandable if overly ambitious?
 
The perception of any such government interference is increasingly seen as the imposition of draconian measures that impinge on civil liberties and curb an individual’s free will. This is especially the case if the matter includes big bad Bolsheviks rather than the unblemished United States. The fact that such an ambitious strategy may reduce future deaths and free up much needed medical expenditure is secondary to the sensitivities of those who do not wish to assess themselves and their choices.
 
In this country, cigarettes already face a much-anticipated annual increase. It’s an easy tax so to speak, as it can be claimed that it acts as a deterrent. However, it is also a fair tax, as if smoking is going to inevitably increase health issues, money must be raised to cover the costs. With over six-hundred patients on trolleys over the last fortnight, any move that aims to reduce these figures or at least place their cost on the cause, is admirable.
 
This is not a pretentious attack on smokers, as the same applies with the notion of a sugar tax. During study week, eight cups of tea a day was causing me to take 124 ‘generous’ spoons of sugar a week, discounting whatever glucose or fructose or lucose was in the other cheap food I ate. If I develop type two diabetes, I think the cause will be quite clear. Although an all-encompassing ban of any kind would be difficult, in reality, at least increased prices might act as a deterrent.
 
Brenda Power, the Irish Times columnist, put it succinctly on Brendan O’Connor’s ‘Cutting Edge’, that we are increasingly aware of our rights but not of our responsibilities. If someone desires the right to consume detrimental products, it isn’t ludicrous that they should foot the bill that that health costs will entail. Obviously, the matter will have more intricacies and leave any one-for-all measure inadequate but it is certainly ‘ideologically correct’.
 
Misplaced emphasis thrives all around us as we take more offense at the idea of an intruding yet beneficial government policy than we do at homelessness crises or an inadequate health service. We are shocked and appalled that anyone should try and get the much needed money through a tax that would simultaneously deter negative activities; killing two birds with one stone rather than eight million people through smoking.
 
Any discussion of such targeted taxes will easily fade into the debate on decriminalising drugs or the restructuring of social welfare. Although what we do with our own bodies is a desirable right, people will need to accept the financial responsibility it entails. This is most obvious with alcohol and causes this conjecture to be extremely displeasing and difficult to implement.
 
Alterations to social welfare could also do with this outlook. As one of our greatest institutions, it must be protected from abuse. Money is needed for the homeless, the sick, the unluckily unemployed and a student population that is reliant on grants. Any misuse of such money is not getting one over on the government but simply stealing from someone else. Any debate on the topic usually gets caught up in a false rich versus poor dilemma, rather than acknowledging the abuse of welfare as utterly damaging to something that does so much good.
 
Being aware of our responsibilities as well as our rights will create the fairest system. We will realise that not all government intervention is bad and that not all supposed rights are good. The situation is never black and white and we need to decide our priorities. Whether it is smoking, sugar or social welfare the core tenets remain the same. I never thought I’d conclude anything by wishing Mr. Putin lots of luck.