SIMON NOTT: That’s just nuts

When our little girl first started to eat solid food, we decided, as parents, that we’d introduce her to as many flavours as possible by sharing what we were eating. It was away from home while attending a wedding that we gave her some scrambled egg. In front of our very eyes her lips swelled and her face turned blotchy. I must have looked a sight running around Market Harborough looking for a doctor, luckily antihistamine did the trick and she was soon back to normal. It could have been a lot worse.

A few weeks later, we realised it really could have been, tests at the allergy unit in the local paediatric ward showed that she was not only allergic to egg but more worryingly, peanuts. Peanuts is the one that gets the bad publicity. Allergic reaction to peanuts can be fatal, terrifying for a parent and such a risk that we now carry adrenaline pens with us wherever we go.

Luckily these days, sadly due to its growth for reasons unknown, there is a huge awareness of peanut and other allergies. Our local playgroup and school have a ‘no peanut’ ban in place to help protect those who suffer from it, as the kids grow older, they will be educated to the dangers they may face before the heightened risk of adult life. It starts young too, our little girl already asks anyone trying to give her food from a packet to ‘read the back to check for nuts and eggs’. We as parents are very grateful for the awareness shown, especially as people with an allergy to peanuts amount to an estimated just 0.6% of the population.

The huge worry for any sufferer is that they run the constant risk of encountering something potentially lethal to them that’s harmless to, and enjoyed by, 99.4% of the population.

It was the 0.6% that caught my eye and prompted me to write this blog. While I understand that many different figures have been thrown out there 0.6% is also the figure I read for people considered ‘Problem Gamblers’. That leaves 99.4% of the population that either aren’t or aren’t interested. That latter being the section that might scoff at the 0.6% dismissing them as lesser mortals because they suffer from the illness of gambling addiction. I hasten to add, probably in a no more a sinister manner that someone throwing handfuls of peanuts into their mouths at a bar watching incredulous as the allergy sufferer freezes, rabbit in the headlights fashion at the sight of their salted snack nemesis within touching distance.

Of course, the peanut allergy is a physical medical condition, while gambling is a mental one. Neither of the 0.6% no less potentially lethal. Neither should be dismissed. While our little girl is a school she’ll be protected from peanuts by a ban on them. Nobody expects a child to be aware of the real potential risks, so a ban is best. By the age of 18, she and the rest of the alumnus will be aware of the danger peanuts can cause a small minority of people and respect that.

Then she’ll be on her own, nobody is going to ask for draconian measures on the production and consumption of peanuts, of course she’ll totally expect warnings of their presence. Preventative measures are in place to avoid peanuts where possible, the law is there to clobber any business that flout the rules on awareness and medical help at hand if the worst happens. Nobody blames the person for being allergic to peanuts and the sufferer doesn’t blame the peanut industry for existing.

You know where this is going don’t you?

The 0.6% of the population aren’t to be blamed for their illness either. Nobody would ever advocate encouraging children to gamble at school but educating children on the potential dangers of gambling surely should and would be embraced. Betting and gambling have been part of the fabric of the UK for centuries and is likely to remain so. Given that 99.4% of the population are either indifferent or enjoy it as part of their normal lives, just as peanuts, means that awareness not prohibition should be the order of day. As with peanuts, suppliers, that is gambling companies should be legally obliged to warn of the dangers, free help should be at hand for anyone who fears they are becoming addicted, absolutely nobody should be stigmatised as being weak as a result of their cry for help. Neither should the other 99.4%, including the indifferent, be stigmatised either. As parents to our little girl, peanut allergy is huge to us. I know that for people that suffer or families that have lost loved ones, the tragic results of gambling addiction is huge to them too. Both groups can and should expect awareness of their respective plight but it’s just not reasonable to expect the same degree of or interest or huge changes in the behaviour of those unaffected.

My original opinion on FOBT machines was that an adult should be able to make an adult decision about playing them or not. I’ve had my mind changed, I’m now of the opinion that high-stakes machines that prey on addiction with no long-term chance for the players are wrong. Those that campaigned for the limits to be reduced have won a fair and just victory. The industry is also now self-regulating advertising so taking positive socially conscious business decisions, but how far should it go?

Rather than happily accept those concessions the more vocal and militant of the 0.6% appear to have the bit between their teeth. Whilst it is imperative that every effort should be made to protect the vulnerable, there is only so much responsibility the betting industry can and should accept. Be them by government or self-imposed, responsible changes have been made by bookmakers. Maybe it’s time for an industry-wide rear-guard reaction of a positive PR campaign rather than capitulation into ever more needless draconian restrictions?

Simon Nott

skintmobSimon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring