Alf’s mate Bill English shouldn’t have to look too far for savings, as he grapples to write a budget that must meet the heavy spending demands of Christchurch’s reconstruction.
They are little savings, in many cases, but they are savings nevertheless and little savings add up.
For example, Alf observes (indignantly) that taxpayers are coughing up to help nicotine-addicted pupils at Mana College in Porirua.
The pupils can get patches, gum and lozenges from the school nurse to help them kick the smoking habit.
The school nurse has been registered as a Quit Group provider, a programme funded by the Health Ministry, which means she can provide cigarette substitutes to pupils, if they pass an assessment, as well as other coaching.
“When [an opportunity] comes along like that … we would be foolish not to take advantage of it,” principal Mike Webster said.
In other words, if the money is up for grabs, then grab it.
So take it away, and obviously it can’t be grabbed.
This Webster feller – by the way – reckons Mana College pupils are not smoking more than their peers.
But he said the school was committed to helping them make wise health choices. The programme would not promote nicotine use, he insisted (which is clearly a matter of opinion).
He concedes it would be ridiculous if he said pupils did not smoke. But he won’t give us an idea of the level of the smoking.
“I’m not going to qualify us as a high user, a low user or a mid-user, but recognise there are children out there that need help to quit smoking.”
But stamping out the problem should be his problem and the parents’ – not another problem for taxpayers to deal with. Worse, Webster is keen that other schools dip into the publicly funded anti-smoking trough, too.
He said it would be sensible to offer quit programmes at all schools. “[If] every school does its best to help its pupils to make wise choices in learning and health, then we’re going to be a better place in 10, 20, 30 years’ time.”
Alf was pleased to learn the school has a no-smoking policy and Mana pupils caught smoking are disciplined.
But the nature of the disciplining is not mentioned.
Chances are it will be something less than a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket, because a slap with anything would amount to corporal punishment, which is a no-no in the namby-pamby world of modern education.
But here’s the thing. The brats who ask for help to quit are not punished.
Curiously, there is no rush to take the easy way out by seeking help.
There were “a couple” of pupils using the programme at present.
Even so, the school is showing all the signs of becoming a breeding ground for bluders.
This is reflected in the remarks of a parent who said the programme was a good idea.
“It’s just like them giving out condoms – whether they use them or not [is their choice].”
The important thing for bludgers, of course, is that these things be freely given out, and it matters not one whit whether they are used.
Alf will be bringing this to Bill’s budgetary attention as an example of how hi should trim the Health vote a tad.
Meanwhile, he observes that the college and parental disciplining regime is clearly ineffective in crushing the smoking habit.
Year 11 pupil Kerehoma Taiatini, 15, said up to 20 of his school friends smoked. Most had been smoking for two or three years, and some wanted to give up.
“I know some of them are trying, but it’s just hard to.”
So when did the brats start smoking? And what are their bloody parents doing about it (besides waiting for taxpayers to come to the rescue)?
Oh, and where do they get the money?
There are other issues.
Tawa College guidance counsellor Edmund Salem, who oversees an alternative quit smoking programme, raises one of them. He said cigarette substitutes are not a good first step for pupils because they are often powerful and raise health questions.
“It isn’t always the right thing for a young person.”
Quit Group medical adviser Peter Martin said Health Ministry guidelines allow the substitutes for those 12 and older, but his outfit does not give them to anyone younger than 18 “due to concern of possible trading at school”.
And here’s where taxpayers should show an interest:
The Quit Group received $9.8 million from the Health Ministry last year.
If Alf was running the show at Mana College, he would not need the help of a Quit Group or anyone else.
He would do what happened in his school days.
He would sniff out the smokers and give the buggers a bloody good caning.
Protect their lungs by thrashing their bums.