For & Against: Public health campaigns

For: Tom Morris

There are simply too many public health campaigns. We’re lucky in the UK that they’re not too numerous or pretentious, as they are in America. But the fact is that a public service announcement can often go unnoticed amongst the endless drive for further consumption. They do have their uses though. A human life cannot be valued. If even one person lives a longer, fuller, life as a direct or indirect result of watching a grotesque advert, then it is money well spent in my opinion.

I know many people would argue that public health campaigns interfere with free will. The public should make up its own mind. I should be allowed to eat/smoke/drink myself to death if I want to! That is a totally rational thing to want to do! But that just proves my point that most people are idiots. So who better than the government themselves to point out to people, through graphic imagery, that smoking does in fact cause cancerous tumours that will not only shorten your life by a good fifteen years but also make your remaining years less active than others.

The big thing it comes down to of course, as usual, is money. May I remind you that it is absolutely incredible that we have gone from having a government that sent its former prime minister to go and work for Phillip Morris tobacco to mess with the country’s actual health after she had finished messing with the country’s economic health. The government, it would seem, no longer revels in taking huge taxes from the sales of cigarettes, and now prioritises the public’s respiratory health instead! And like I said earlier, you can’t put a price on a human life.

I myself was fortunate enough to be in the Millennium Stadium for the launch of NHS Wales’ Stoptober campaign. I could see a variety of people who had pledged to stop smoking for the 28 day campaign – the PR people, the journalists, the politicians, and smokers. Outside of there I didn’t hear much about it, but as the saying goes it’s the thought that counts, and if that campaign managed to help a few people to quit now then that’s money saved for the struggling NHS in the future (when it will undoubtedly be struggling even more). Wales isn’t a rich country, and in this case preventative measures will help to reduce the strain on the NHS much more than the ultimate solution to ingrained bad habits (operations and such) ever will.

One bad habit that appears to be rife among students is smoking. Smoking areas in clubs are full of students – even if this includes social smokers. Clearly for these people, the messages of the public health campaigns either doesn’t get through, or they consider themselves above them.

So yes – maybe the adverts don’t get through. Maybe those who smoke and over-eat consider temporary pleasure much more important than long term quality of life. Maybe they take pride in being above what they might see as government brainwashing. But to give up on their cause entirely? That would surely be the ultimate failing of the system. You want laissez faire? Go back to America and take out some expensive health insurance, see how much you like it then.

Against: Anne Porter

Public health campaigns cover a wide variety of conditions and are targeted at many individuals. They aim to improve our health, but do they work?

Despite their positive aim, there is no denying that people are free to ignore the campaigns. Sitting in the doctors a few weeks ago, I noticed the poster that warned me that antibiotics wouldn’t cure my cold. I already knew this, but others who had already made their way to the doctors requesting treatment for a cold wouldn’t. A public health campaign needs to be more than a poster in a doctors’ surgery. It needs to engage people and inform them to allow them to make better choices.

Speaking of better choices, the latest anti-smoking campaign by Public Health England is attempting to show the dangers of roll ups – highlighting how they are just as dangerous as manufactured cigarettes. It’s grim, I won’t lie. A guy sits in the park and smokes his insides in roll up form. The ignorance of the British population astounds me. Cigarettes are dangerous? Woah, now. We need more than a public health campaign to make people quit smoking. People that I know who smoke do it because they like it, because they get pleasure from it and because quitting is too much stress to deal with. Yes, it’s addictive. Yes, it’s dangerous. But the majority of people who smoke already know these risks.

So public health campaigns beg us to make better decisions. It’s tragic that it takes a television advert or poster to tell us how dumb we are. British common sense seems to fail us on regular occasions. Instead of relying on an external force to tell us how to we should treat ourselves well, we should use our own heads to make sure that we do this. Thinking for ourselves? What a shocking thought.

These campaigns cost a great deal of money. If we used our common sense and ate well, didn’t inhale carcinogens on a regular basis and took exercise every so often then perhaps we wouldn’t need an entire organisation to tell us how to live. As students we don’t pay for these campaigns. But when we start paying tax (and apparently we will, someday) the tax we pay will fund them. So let’s save ourselves some money, and use our common sense to maintain our own health, rather than getting someone else to do it for us.

Using common sense to make our own decisions also means that we have the power to ignore these public health campaigns. I’m sure that they have good intentions. But I can turn off my TV and ignore that poster. I can smoke or drink as much as I want, if I so choose. Parents were encouraged to ‘change for life’ and make sugar swaps to help their children live a healthier life. But will a public health campaign get into people’s homes and influence their lives? There is no way to check on people 24 hours a day, this isn’t an Orwellian dystopia, after all. So there are no guarantees that any public health campaigns will work.

The most influential public health movement, upon my life at least, has been the Time to Talk about mental health campaign. Perhaps we can use public health campaigns to change people’s perceptions of society, rather than changing their actions.

We can’t necessarily make people eat in different ways, or smoke less through a campaign, but we could change the way they think. So let’s do so.


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