Nicola Roxon was the Health Minister in the Rudd Labor government in 2007 and championed many significant reforms in her tenure as Health Minister and then as Australia’s first female Attorney General. If you read her biography in Wikipedia it is obvious that she intended to make a difference when in parliament. It reads “She ultimately came to the view that “governments have got a role to make sure they can help people in circumstances they can’t control—either through their health failing or an accident”.[1 Nicola Roxon was devastated by her father’s death due to cancer when she was 10 and in 2012 Roxon was featured in the Australian Story television program in an episode entitled “Kicking The Habit“, about her advocacy for plain cigarette packaging.
She was pilloried when in office, scorned by some of the media and berated by some on the Coalition Opposition benches for her terrier-like zeal for smoking reform with many using ‘nanny state’ with regard to these new Australian laws. (I personally love our nanny state in Australia– when you travel to many overseas countries and literally suffocate because of the smoking prevalence, you realize how fantastic clean air is Australia.) But the figures on the success of plain paper packaging, because of the drop in smoking, are startling and as reported by Ben Potter (Australian Financial Review Weekend feature): ‘Tobacco use has dropped to the lowest levels in the world and Britain and Ireland are adopting plain paper packaging with graphic warnings and Canada considering it’. Mike Daube, professor of health policy at Perth’s Curtain University also describes it as a public health policy triumph. I encourage you to read the full article in The AFR Weekend (you can hop on this for free once and then it is pay-walled).
I think she should be honoured in a very Aussie way. You’re a legend Nicola Roxon!
Now I’ve written before about the toxic curse our Aussie culture of drinking is and I reckon we’ve got to get Nicola back to tackle the alcohol companies, the way she stared down the tobacco companies. If the news headlines these days don’t start with an alcohol related death, bashing, domestic violence episode or ‘drunk footballer being a jerk classic’ then it’s a slow news day. And whilst I believe that tackling our drinking culture with increased taxes, gory photos and plain paper packaging, (yes I did just buy a bottle of Prosecco based on the lovely red and cream spotted scarf tied gaily around the neck of the bottle and the Italian girl pictured on the Vespa on the label) is an important linchpin, I also think teaching our men and women at school about the concept: ‘Your body is your temple – love it, treat it with respect and moderation in everything you do!’ I have recently been discussing with a good friend, who is involved in looking at the Health curriculum for high schools in Queensland, about the value of teaching good bladder and bowel habits and other pelvic floor health knowledge bombs to the teenage cohort – the incredible saving of health dollars which might happen if some of our worst ‘toileting’ habits were corrected at an earlier age?!
I think ‘my body is my temple mantra’ has much weight as well.
I am not puritanical; I am not an old fart; I am not a wowser (definition: a puritanical or censorious person, in particular a teetotaler or person opposed to alcohol) but I do think we as a nation tend to overdo the drinking bit – to the detriment of our nation’s health bill. Let’s look at it purely from a financial bottom line effect – I’ll let you all ask around about the devastating emotional consequences of losing someone you have nurtured for 20 something years to an alcohol-fuelled violence incident, a drink driving accident or an erratic, dangerous, drunk action (jumping off that bridge looks totally cool). When I looked at some statistics for this blog I was pleasantly surprised at some of the declining figures related to alcohol consumption that The National Health and Medical Research Council have on Alcohol and health in Australia. You can read the whole report but I am going to pull out a few salient points.
Lifetime risky drinkers are defined as people who consume more than 2 standard drinks per day (on average over a 12 month period). Single occasion risky drinkers are defined as people consuming 5 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion.
For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
Males were twice as likely as females to exceed the lifetime risk guidelines (26% and 10%, respectively) and men in their 40s and late 20s were most likely to drink at risky levels (32%), while for women it was young adults aged 18–24 (14.6%).
- People aged 18–39 were less likely to drink alcohol in risky quantities in 2013 compared to 2001, but between 2001 and 2013, there was little change in the risky consumption of alcohol among people aged 40 or older with a similar proportion exceeding both the lifetime risk and single occasion risk guidelines.
- Although 1 in 6 (15.6%) people in Australia had consumed 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months, this was significantly lower than in 2010 (16.8%).
Alcohol consumption has been associated with a range of diseases that may cause death and adverse effects that reduce quality of life. Among these are:
- Cardiovascular disease — high blood pressure, arrhythmias, shortness of breath, some types of cardiac failure, haemorrhagic stroke and other circulatory problems.
- Cancers — alcohol is carcinogenic to humans, being causally related to cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectum and female breast.
- Diabetes — the relationship between alcohol consumption, insulin sensitivity, and type 2 diabetes mellitus is not clear. However, alcohol affects the management of diabetes in a number of ways.
- Nutrition-related conditions — alcohol consumption is linked to malnutrition, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, folate deficiency, Vitamin A depletion and pellagra.
- Overweight and obesity — alcohol adds kilojoules to the normal diet and may increase energy intake and fat storage further by increasing appetite and displacing fat and carbohydrate oxidation.
- Risks to unborn babies — alcohol enters the bloodstream of the fetus when the mother drinks and can cause a range of birth defects and growth and developmental problems, comprising Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which may persist into adulthood. Alcohol also enters the breast milk.
- Liver diseases — alcohol consumption is the most common cause of cirrhosis of the liver, and drinking alcohol over many years can cause cirrhosis in the absence of other causes.
- Mental health conditions — there is growing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of highly prevalent mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety in some people, and may affect the efficacy of antidepressant medication.
- Tolerance — the immediate effects of alcohol on the brain are often less apparent in people who drink regularly, as they acquire a degree of tolerance. Despite this tolerance, the long-term effects remain damaging, particularly as the drinkers who have greater tolerance for alcohol are likely to be those who experience higher blood alcohol levels more frequently.
- Dependence — alcohol is an addictive drug and regular use can result in alcohol dependence.
- Long-term cognitive impairment — drinkers who consume alcohol at harmful levels exhibit negative structural and metabolic brain changes, and have an increased risk of dementia.
- Self-harm — harmful drinking is a major risk factor for suicide and suicidal behaviour in both males and females across the lifespan
- Taken directly from https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol-guidelines/alcohol-and-health-Australia
So what’s my message?
Make a comeback Nicola we need someone with true grit, a load of guts and the foresight to see the money saved in wasted health dollars could raise a heap more than 15% GST!!