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Of excesses, moderation and drought

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, July 25, 2014    

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LAST week the court ordered cigarette giant RJ Reynolds of Tobaccoville, NC, to pay US$7.3m to Cynthia Robinson, widow of Mike Johnson; US$9.6m to his son; and US$26.3billion in punitive damages -- Ouch! From age 13, Mike smoked three packs a day and died of lung cancer at 36. Cynthia claimed: "In 1996 she never knew nicotine was addictive and bad for his health." The verdict is a small step for health and may be a giant step against choice and personal responsibility. So 'Jim Screechy', the illiterate from 150 Lane, could claim the same defence. But is Mike without blame? And, can we use the lessons from cigarettes for other items? We have chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease and obesity -- all Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDS) and preventable. They cost our economy billions. Years of ingesting too much salt, fats, oils, and sugars -- who's to blame? The devil made me do it.

We all assert personal freedom, but what of personal responsibility? Are we happy for Cabinets to make choices for us? Minister Ferguson gave 'big tobacco' and smokers a bloody nose -- was it proportionate? What about the right to use legal products as we choose; "caveat emptor"? Must we all live boring, sanitised lives? Why not ban bungee jumping? We should be free to ingest, inhale and imbibe all in moderation, and because we consume in excess is no reason to cramp us.

Star footballer George Best was given a new kidney and still abused alcohol after. Is it fair to refuse an irresponsible man who abuses alcohol, ganja, tobacco, or salt access to public medical services? How do we incentivise good habits and penalise bad ones? Must the good suffer for the bad? Can we apply Minister Ferguson's smoking tactics to other situations?

In July 2008 the Jamaica Observer referenced PAHO's ranking of our risk factors for death. Our #1 is high blood pressure, then obesity, alcohol, tobacco, and unsafe sex was last. Drug taking or ganja is not listed. Tobacco is far down, but global interest groups uplifted it not to invoke personal responsibility but to get at big tobacco. We hitched a ride. Can we resume the quest to excise our big demons? How far will Cabinets go to protect the public and save taxpayers billions? Says PAHO: "Jamaica spends approximately $42b annually on the treatment of diabetes and hypertension." -- multiples of what we get from tourism and remittances; and "high blood pressure causes 22 per cent of all deaths in Jamaica". Blimey!

Jamaica is a basket of hypertension, prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity -- all preventable and lifestyle related. The PAHO metric is that high blood pressure eats up three per cent of our GDP. Change our diet and Peter Phillips can have two per cent growth. Will Cabinet go counter-culture and promote local fresh meats? Will they give the thumbs down to stew peas with pig's tail or ackee and salt fish? Dr Alafia Samuels of PAHO was blunt: "Significant reduction in salt can result in half the number of people needing treatment, 22 per cent reduction in stroke, 16 per cent reduction in coronary heart disease." The word of the Lord. Is Cabinet listening?

Diabetes is a nasty brew. The June 2010 West Indian Medical Journal attributed some eight per cent prevalence, and "for Latin America and the Caribbean 148 per cent increase by 2030". Will we be "the place of choice to live" or to die?

The middle class is jogging, spinning, and 5K-ing to life extension and fitness. Portia and Andrew look fit, so let's give the poor a PATH gym membership and let them prance in Lycra too. The rich have toned bodies and hair; we are rotund and bald. Is parliament ready to put health warnings on salt beef, pig's tail, salt fish -- imported meats. Signs with "This product may harm you" alongside pictures of gangrenous toes and sores that bleed? Expect diplomatic pressure. What they sell us they do not eat. I love ackee and saltfish, red peas soup with pig's tail, but I love life and health more. All things in moderation. Selah!

Cabinet must now incentivise farmers to ramp up production. We will change for health, life extension, to reduce the import bill; shift billions to local farmers for steaks, goatflesh, mutton, rabbit, and chicken. Let your MP take this to the House. We need import quotas. Ask Minister Ferguson to produce tables of "maximum weekly intake" for a five-year-old, 12-y-o and an adult and text them "parental guidance".

I declare interest and applaud Minister Thwaites for not divesting National Products Limited (NPL) and having Jimmy Rawle, CEO emeritus of Nestle, to prime the school-feeding revolution. In time it will excise bully beef, jack mackerel, use local foods and no salt meats. Last year NPL used eggs in place of imported butter fat, but after a few weeks had to use imports. Must school kids go hungry because a farmer can't keep schedule? Wake up, farmers; produce, sign the deals, and make money!

Where does this go? Will Cabinet use the protocols as for tobacco to save billions? Legal tobacco, sugar, alcohol, salt are addictive -- feel the high? Moderation! Boston Marathon's Cynthia Lucero died in 2002 from drinking too much water. The babysitter punished 3-y-o Rosita Gonzalez by having her drink water. It left no scars, but she was dead when her mom got home. Moderation! Will Cabinets pursue substances which harm us but not Europeans who don't eat them? We must use media to reach the poor or we will have healthy rich people while the poor gorge themselves into early graves. Selah!

Drought Jamaican style

Lack of piped water is not drought. Drought is an absence of the usual rainfall. And where it is perennial it is called desert. We should have no tap water shortage. Drought affects the world with greater or lesser severity. Lack of piped water bespeaks lack of care and inefficiency. Our underground water sources are replete and every customer should have adequate water in his tap. Absence of rain means we have brown grass; rain-fed crops are stressed, but irrigated crops flourish and you can wash your car. The ambient temperature is higher; the threat levels from fires greater, but there is water in pipes. Our water crisis is man-made; neglect, omissions, no vision.

Equating lack of rain with why we do not have water in our pipes is a fiction perpetuated by politicians and inept water managers. Surface and underground storage, supply networks and more farms on irrigation systems are crucial. What lack of rain does is to lay bare the inadequacy of the water system. God is not glorified by praying for rain when He blessed us with water and brains to tap the sources, store and deliver.

It may seem counterintuitive, but drought is also the right time for Cabinet to devise how to suffuse food imports and galvanise local farmers. It is clear that good times breed irresponsible habits and are bad for local farming. Adversity has slain thousands; but prosperity, tens of thousands. Let the planning begin. Stay conscious, my friend!

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

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