BMA argues that the British government has a "moral duty" to ban smoking in public places

Barriers preventing people from making healthy choices must be tackled as a matter of urgency, the BMA says today (Friday 9 July). It argues that the government has a "moral duty" to ban smoking in public places, and warns there could be a serious epidemic if sexual health falls off the public agenda.

In its response to the 'Choosing Health' consultation, the BMA challenges the Prime Minister's recent suggestion that tackling public health crises such as obesity and passive smoking could lead to a "nanny state". Although individuals must have the power to decide their own lifestyle, the government has a responsibility to remove obstacles to healthy choices.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA, says: "It's hard for people to give up smoking without smoke-free public places, cycle to work without cycle lanes, or buy healthy foods if they're too expensive. In recent years, laws on drink-driving and safety belts have turned out to be both effective and popular, and it's time for the government to show the same leadership on smoking, obesity and sexual health."

The BMA response warns that access to sexual health clinics is "woefully inadequate" and must be improved as a matter of urgency. It says that patients seeking a first appointment at a sexual health clinic should be able to get one within 48 hours, and that primary care trusts should be assessed on their achievements on sexual health.

On obesity, it calls for clearer labelling of foods, more education about nutrition, safe cycling and walking networks, more school playing fields, and pricing policies that make healthy options cheaper. To tackle binge-drinking, the BMA suggests the possibility of lower taxes on drinks with lower alcohol content, and recommends a ban on alcohol advertising.

Dr Peter Tiplady, chairman of the BMA's Public Health Committee, says: "Sometimes the Pontius Pilate state – where the government washes its hands of responsibility - is a greater danger than the nanny state. The government says it's concerned about individual freedoms, but what about the rights of the three million workers who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke?"

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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