Health agency hamstrung on legal high advice
A government agency set up to promote national health awareness is not allowed to provide advice on the use of legal highs because it is hamstrung by the law.
The Health Promotion Agency (HPA), which was behind the "ghost chips" and "No more beersies for you" campaign, told Parliament’s health committee it could not pursue campaigns for other national health issues because it did not have the mandate.
The agency was created under legislation in 2012 when the Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) and the Health Sponsorship Council merged.
It absorbed the advisory functions of Alac, but has campaigned on tobacco, gambling and other issues like depression and influenza vaccinations.
But when it comes to psychoactive substances, the sale of which has been heavily regulated by the Government, it is unable to highlight the risks involved. Since the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force in July last year, retailers require a licence to sell synthetic drugs.
"The Health Promotion Agency should be mandated and resourced to reduce the harm associated with legal highs," health committee member and Labour associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said.
"Much of the money required to run the organisation comes from special alcohol and gambling levies."
The agency should be given a mandate to work around psychoactive substances and given the revenue to fund that work, he said.
HPA chief executive Clive Nelson said the agency was constrained by what it was commissioned to do.
"We don’t have a mandate in that area, and if there was a frustration for us, it would probably be that we have a special responsibilty in alcohol. But in some of the other areas we are constrained."