IF YOU were to ask a large group of seriously ill people about the origins of their misfortune, the answers, if rendered honestly, would include many references to tobacco and/or alcohol. Tobacco is the most lethal of the two substances and nothing good can be said for it.
Happily, four out of five Irish people do not smoke. And of those who do, a strong proportion would like to quit but find addiction to nicotine is not easy to break.
Unhappily, smoking is still too prevalent among our young people and among the less well-off. That of itself totally justifies Government moves to use every available device within its powers to help people fight the habit - including the new law on mandatory plain packaging of tobacco.
Today the Irish Independent reports that the world's biggest cigarette conglomerate is threatening to sue the State over this new law on plain packaging.
The threat comes even as President Michael D Higgins must decide in the next 72 hours whether to sign the new legislation into law.
In relation to our problematic relationship with alcohol, we have seen various efforts in the recent past to promote sensible drinking in Ireland. This is a goal which most of us would agree with.
Unlike tobacco, alcohol in moderation is not necessarily harmful. And, again unlike tobacco, the damaging effects of moderate alcohol consumption can be somewhat ameliorated by diet and exercise.
But there is concern today at news that the controversial Drinkaware campaign, sponsored by the drinks industry, is seeking a new education manager. The plan is to roll out a pilot education programme in schools.
Let us call a spade a spade here. Groups backed by the drinks industry should not be in our schools. This is a job for the independent education professionals, acting in our students' best interests.
You do not have to be the Einstein of the political world to understand what must be done immediately: We must not allow the alcohol lobby access to our schools and the Government must resist the bullies of global tobacco with all its resources.
THE latest Central Applications Office figures for third-level applications show our young people have faith in economic recovery. There is big demand for construction industry-related courses and law again - just like in the boom times.
The CAO has had its largest volume ever of applications, at just over 74,000, for further study places - good news in itself. There is a decline in arts, perhaps signalling that our school leavers are focused on getting qualified for the jobs market sooner.
Courses in agriculture and science have also seen a drop in interest. But this could be just a levelling off after a big increase in those sectors in more recent years.
This record number of applicants will again sharpen questions about future third-level funding. The issue can no longer be dodged.
But the overall message to be taken from the figures is simple - and no less stark for all that. Our youngsters, on the cusp of leaving school, believe in this country's future.
It is the obligation of every citizen - but especially our business and political leaders - to honour that faith and avoid the mistakes of the recent past.