Our most serious health problem

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From The Irish Times letters page

Sir,  – Dr James Reilly asserts that smoking poses the most serious health issue facing the country (Dáil Report, January 17th). While not discounting the dangers that tobacco use poses for health in general, as a practising GP for more than 50 years, I must take issue with the Minister ’s contention that it is Ireland ’s most serious health issue.

There can be no doubt that alcohol abuse is a far greater threat to the physical and psychological health of many tens of thousands of people of all ages in communities the length and breadth of this country. As such, it is a major threat to the social fabric of Irish society, both now and in the future.

Alcohol misuse is a significant factor in the increasing incidence of street and domestic violence, rising suicide rates and ever-growing levels of depression among younger and older people. It is responsible for the loss of hundreds of millions of euro in lost production throughout the economy and continues to be a significant element in many road traffic accidents.

Alcohol abuse is an acknowledged cause of marital breakdown, blighting the lives of many children of broken relationships who carry alcoholism -related psychological trauma into later life, thus ensuring that the social consequences of alcohol abuse are carried from generation to generation.

As a GP I am no stranger to the tragic consequences of smoking for many people. As Dr Reilly will attest, it is no joy to accompany a person in his or her final days, weeks or months, who is suffering from cancer or serious cardiovascular disease. But neither is it a joy to accompany an alcoholic or the relatives of an alcoholic who is drinking himself or herself to death; nor is it a pleasant experience to meet relatives of a person who has died tragically as a result of alcohol-induced depression; nor to treat the partner of an alcoholic whose face has been battered to a pulp in a drunken frenzy; nor to see the children of an alcoholic who you know will carry the memories of that assault (or assaults) to their graves.

In conclusion, I and many others are greatly concerned at the lack of effective action by this and previous governments to confront an Irish drinks industry that has been allowed to promote its products with impunity.

This shameful fact begs the question: if tobacco were grown widely in Ireland, would the Government Minister responsible for the health of the nation be asking us to believe that smoking is the Number 1 threat to public health?  – Yours, etc,


Main Street,


Co Mayo.