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Editor's Viewpoint: Health figures are a sobering reality

In today's Belfast Telegraph, experts give a timely warning about the dangers of alcohol and nicotine abuse, and the cost to individuals and the National Health Service.

This amounts to £234m every year, as well as pain and bereavement to those affected, and their families.

The disturbing facts need no embellishment. For example, around £160m is spent on treating people with alcohol-related illnesses, while the treatment of conditions associated with smoking costs another £74m.

These massive sums could instead be used to fund urgent health needs, including the care of the elderly, and many more coronary bypass surgery procedures and hip replacements, as well as the provision of more physiotherapy and domiciliary care facilities.

One of the problems associated with alcohol abuse is the availability of cheap drink, but although cigarettes are expensive, this does not prevent almost 2,300 people in Northern Ireland each year smoking themselves to death.

Another major problem is the glamourisation of celebrities such as George Best and Alex Higgins, who were sporting heroes, but who also had feet of clay.

Both had serious addiction problems which inevitably shortened their lives, a point well-made by the media covering their sad decline after all their sporting glory.

Role models for young people should be exactly that - roles to which they can aspire, rather than a sad litany of self-abuse and an early death.

The problem of nicotine and alcohol abuse is a major challenge for individuals, and also for their families and the community in general.

There is nothing smart in smoking or drinking too much. As one medical expert noted, it is indeed time that Northern Ireland sobered up, and in more ways than one.

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