If dozens of human and animal studies published over the past six years are borne out by large clinical trials, nicotine — freed at last of its noxious host, tobacco, and delivered instead by chewing gum or transdermal patch — may prove to be a weirdly, improbably effective drug for relieving or preventing a variety of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Tourette’s and schizophrenia. It might even improve attention and focus enough to qualify as a cognitive enhancer. And, oh yeah, it’s long been associated with weight loss, with few known safety risks.
1.1 million children – almost half of all children in poverty – were estimated to be living in poverty with at least one parent who smokes; and a further 400,000 would be classed as being in poverty if parental tobacco expenditure were subtracted from household income.
This is the first UK study to highlight the extent to which smoking exacerbates child poverty. The findings, published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, are based on national surveys which estimate the number of children living in poverty by household structure. In 1999, the UK government announced a target to abolish child poverty by 2020, though this target is unlikely to be met. It is therefore crucial to identify avoidable factors that contribute to and worsen child poverty.
“Despite legal changes in Scotland, councils are struggling to use public health as an argument against new pubs and off-licences. We need to reconsider the role of licensing in the context of other ways to achieve the same ends” Niamh Fitzgerald.
What is to be done?
A war chest, to fend off legal challenges, might bolster the law and encourage local authorities to use it more ambitiously. But, perhaps, we should also re-examine the purpose and limitations of alcohol licensing.
In an era of increasing online sales and home-drinking, what can be realistically expected from action on licensing, even with more robust legislation? Are there better ways to wield the big three weapons of price, availability and marketing? Raising prices via minimum unit pricing may be a more reliable policy. Or, if the goal is to reduce the presence of alcohol in our public spaces, diminishing its cultural symbolism, then restricting advertising on bus shelters, hoardings and on television after 10pm might be much more effective (and more achievable). All these considerations call, perhaps, for a re-evaluation of the role we envisage for alcohol licensing in pursing improved public health.