Individual responsibility? Up in smoke...

It has been reported today that Brighton and Hove health trust are piloting a scheme to stop children as young as ten from smoking. So, what's the bright idea? Give them £10-£15 in cash or shopping vouchers.


Now, we may be in the grip of a recession but it occurs to me that if you are truly addicted to the weed, a tenner probably isn't going to cut it, whatever your age. Bribing children, pregnant mums or anyone else to stop smoking sets a bad precedent, and is a costly and ineffective burden on taxpayers.


But, as with all things in the NHS, a small and slightly silly example reflects a much bigger and uglier problem.


There is no doubt a lot of merit in having support schemes in place to help people give up smoking. This is in all our interests in the long run: if people are healthier, they are less likely to develop chronic and expensive illnesses that become a drain on NHS funding, and end up meaning less primary healthcare for the rest of us, without wanting to sound mercenary.


But don't we already pay for all manner of support schemes? I've never smoked a cigarette in my life and yet a portion of the myriad taxes I pay goes towards helping people beat smoking, and alcoholism and drug addiction, for that matter. And I am fine with this.


What I am not fine with is the fact that there is no longer any emphasis put on an individual's choice and the consequences of their actions. Offering people support is one thing, nannying them and trying to sort out all their problems, cradle to grave, is quite another.  


Binge drinking and other social problems cost the taxpayer a fortune every year, and until we engender a culture of individual responsibility they will continue to do so. Letting people make their own minds up will empower them to make informed choices, instead of having to swallow whatever advice is being doled out by the Government, and this goes for everything from healthcare to career decisions. Taking away people's agency is the quickest route to social decay.


The message from the Government should be this: it's your life, and taking the healthy route is in your own interest. If you need help making the right choices, we'll support you, but the change has to come from you.


Good health should be enough of an incentive.

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