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Cigarettes, salt fish, what's your poison?

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, August 16, 2013    

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WE have just banned smoking, but what we ban is a matter of preference. Tobacco, a natural substance, deserves the ban for reasons of medical and public nuisance (as the noise abatement law). Howewer, you can sniff artificial substances as methylated spirit, glue, nail varnish, gas and get high but no one cares. This is not our poison. For Cabinet and Parliament smoking was an easy mark. Taking down big tobacco is small beer as it copies what's been done before. How well do we police the noise laws? As well awa we will police smoking? Do we have cohones for those who peddle chronic disease and death? These may have no outside backing, but are a just cause? They have no handouts, no literature, we have to create it, to innovate to deal with what affects us uniquely. There are many substances other than tobacco in our environment, but they're not on our radar. What will we do about them?

What you ingest may kill you.

The epidemiologists tell us that hypertension and diabetes are major chronic diseases, with obesity as a marker (as cholesterol) and diet and exercise the key to health. We spend billions to alleviate their symptoms and delay death. Is it hypocrisy, ignorance or commercial interest that we have no campaigns against salt, fat and sugar?

The costs in medication, hospital care and loss of production are multiples of tobacco. Why do Cabinets allow us to eat ourselves into disease and death? The world will not start this campaign as they do not eat as we do. So why not ban death-dealing stuff? Because governments and civil society have a penchant for foreign things, including imported causes, this is not one. If a large foreign firm is involved this easy target makes good politics. This deadly imported stuff woven into our culture also means our national dish could kill you. Burn the flag or dump the ackee and saltfish and you insult the nation? The late EV Ellington, the UWI scientist by whose leave we deal with the arsenic in ackee was a genius. No more ackee poisoning and he made way for FDA approvals which now enrich exporters. Please erect a suitable memorial to this brilliant Rhodes scholar. An "Ode to EV and ackee for Independence?" is ackee and saltfish our eternal lot?

We have the highest per capita consumption of salt fish. Salted products are political because food is a strategic commodity as we cannot feed ourselves. Will we ever ban imported salted beef, pork, salt fish, mackerel, or shad on medical grounds? They do not create public nuisance like other substances, but their effects are pernicious, may be DNA altering, leave a deadly trait to children and are inimical to our economic well-being.

How do we justify the billions of dollars in prescription medication, surgery and long-term care? Civil society is passive as these are not sexy campaigns, only a few conscious people connect the dots, you go up against "culture"; people love the products, and poor people are the ones mainly killed by this diet. The people who sell these products do not "drudge" them as we do. Who cares if a few thousand more poor people suffer, lose limbs, bleed out and die? Where are the campaigns to promote fresh meat and to build meat and dairy farming? Get cracking JAS! Get healthy Ja!

We now open Pandora's box, so let's be clear that our bodies need most substances in small amounts. Where is the campaign to limit sugar in drinks? We have refined out the vitamins, good trace elements, minerals, and only use the chemical sucrose. Do you care that a sweet drink has several spoons of sugar? Who gives a damn? We have the highest per-capita consumption of sweetened condensed milk, right? I love a mug of strong, steaming coffee with condensed milk -- it's a rare treat! The disaster visited on poor people's teeth, diabetics pushed to the edge, the collateral damage is severe and costly.

What about oils and fat? A fat baby is good, right? Is coconut oil better than corn oil from the USA? What of disinformation about cholesterol? The volume of gee, suet, oils, and fats used in cooking, baked products and pastry is a sin. I love my "stamp and go", but the modern version is a toxic mix of salt fish, flour and added salt, bonded by tons of oil -- nothing like my Mom's. Where are the brakes on these death-dealing substances? Is childhood obesity related to these substances some a chicken nugget removed from death by diet? What you eat can kill you.

What you ingest may send you to jail.

In the UK they are updating laws on DUI and the new move is important as we tend to copy them. The police check for alcohol, cannabis, heroin, coke, and lists now include morphine, diazepam and other "pams", LSD, ecstacy, methadone, fluorine and "drugalysers" give a roadside reading in 90 seconds. Read the label on the package of prescription drugs. The daytime ones say "you may feel drowsy". The nightime, "do not drive or operate heavy equipment". The prescription in your pocket or a letter from your doctor may not save you from a driving ban in Britain as you are a danger to the public, period! One man on amoxicillin, which gives a "false positive" for cocaine, was arrested and lost his job. Warfarin is known to give a "false positive" for alcohol. A few codeine caps for a headache reads as heroin and may land you in jail. Where does banning end? Prescribed, illegal or self-medicated the impact on health, personal performance and awareness is what counts. Our athletes discovered, to their dismay, that many prescriptions may have traces of banned drugs. As many tests are designed to identify traces, not levels, it may be that motorists in the UK will be in for an expensive ride. Be careful here. My motion sickness meds could get me a driving ban there.

Alcohol? This is the Cinderella. This was the first drug. Adam dropped apples, they spoiled, fermented, the snake ate some, and as he watched the serpent weave across the garden he tried the ferment and soon he was in rhythm. Anything which makes you think you have rhythm, when you have two left feet, is a drug. If impaired performance is the criterion what about alcohol?

Salt? It is essential to fluid balance, muscle response, etc, but in excess may have effects we know well. What is the impact of imported salt fish and salted meats on our epidemiology? The people who salt fish to sell us don't use it, and are amazed we have fresh meat yet choose salted. This is one occasion when I blame slavery. We can get reparations from salt fish sellers, as we can tell exactly what the effects cost our taxpayers? Should we compute costs from 1665? What is the effect of excess use of salt pork, fish and beef to our endemic and chronic hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol scenario and the allied complications?

Who is our food czar? Who regulates processed meats, foods, drinks? Who protects us and our children from the tasty trinity of salt, sugar and fat? Minister Ferguson may save taxpayers billions and make us healthy if he cast the net wider. I worry about individual rights as it's a slippery slope, but we have brains so we must divine these issues to our benefit. Stay conscious my, friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advisor to the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail. com

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