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The hypocrisy of ASH, Stephen Williams and Peter Hain

Karl McCartney is the latest MP to be criticised for accepting hospitality from a tobacco company.

The Lincolnshire Echo reports that "The Tory MP accepted hospitality totalling more than £1,300 from Japan Tobacco International (JTI), which produces Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut".

His 'crime' was to attend the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show last May. Although there was no attempt to hide it – details of the tickets were declared by McCartney in the Register of Members' Interests – tobacco control activists have been quick to condemn him and other MPs who have accepted hospitality from tobacco companies.

Martin Dockrell, director of policy and research at Action on Smoking and Health, said: "The Prime Minister says corporate lobbying goes to the heart of why people are fed up with politics and he is right.

"The Government's tobacco plan warns of the dangers of tobacco industry attempts to influence health policy.

MPs don't always know when they are being lobbied by the big tobacco companies because they often hide behind a smokescreen of lobby firms and front groups."

Eileen Streets, director of tobacco control at the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said "We are very disappointed to hear that Mr McCartney has accepted a hospitality package offered by a tobacco company."

According to the Lincolnshire Echo, "the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health, Stephen Williams, has renewed calls on the Government to tighten up the regulation of lobbying".

Mr Williams, who is the Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, made the demand after it was revealed that Mr McCartney wrote to the APPG on Smoking and Health asking for details of how the public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is funded.

The letter also requested details about the number of people associated with ASH who have placements with the Department of Health and other areas of Government.

Mr Williams said: "I would expect every Member of Parliament to consider carefully what message they send out about the importance of public health if they accept hospitality from tobacco companies."

In case Stephen Williams has forgotten, the APPG of which he is chairman is effectively run by ASH, a self-styled health charity but in reality a lobby group that relies to a significant extent on public money and should therefore be subject to far greater scrutiny than it actually is.

When Karl McCartney asked for details of how ASH is funded plus details about the number of people associated with ASH who have placements with the Department of Health and other areas of Government, he was simply doing his job on behalf of millions of taxpayers and those who believe in open government. He should be applauded, not demonised.

Meanwhile the APPG on Smoking and Health gives ASH and other tobacco control bodies the sort of access to MPs that other stakeholders can only dream about. So it's one rule for them and another for those who take a different view on how to tackle an issue such as smoking.

This week's condemnation of Karl McCartney is merely the latest in a series of attacks on MPs who have been "treated" to "gifts" from Big Tobacco. In December Wales Online reported that:

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan was treated to two tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show and lunch by Japan Tobacco International, the Wales Office has revealed.

Health charities described her acceptance of the tobacco giant’s hospitality as “disappointing”, while Labour accused the Conservative Cabinet Minister of living the “high life” on the tab of “Big Tobacco”.

Former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain subsequently tabled a written question asking "whether any ministers ... have received hospitality from Japan Tobacco International since May 2010".

Hain is of course no stranger to controversy. In 2008 he admitted failing to declare more than £100,000 in donations to his campaign to be Labour deputy leader. In terms of openness, the likes of Karl McCartney have nothing to learn from the MP for Neath.

Nor is Hain a stranger to hospitality. Last year the Telegraph revealed that "Peter Hain, the former Labour Cabinet minister, had [accepted] two tickets for the British Grand Prix worth £782 from the Motor Sports Association".

In the past, courtesy of Sky Sports (part-owned by Rupert Murdoch), he has enjoyed freebies to see Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Oh, and he has also attended the Monaco Grand Prix, travel and ticket paid for by the Automobile Club de Monaco.

So Hain thinks it's OK for him to enjoy corporate hospitality but when an MP with a genuine interest in tobacco policy (and public health) accepts hospitality from a legitimate stakeholder that's unacceptable – or, as tobacco control likes to say, "disappointing".

Truth is, tobacco control doesn't want MPs to have anything to do with the tobacco companies or groups such as Forest. The thought of a level playing field, with opposing sides of the debate being given equal access to MPs and government ministers, fills them with alarm.

One has to question why. After all, if they were so sure of their case they would surely welcome a full and frank discussion. Instead they refuse to share a platform with us and, worse, resort to darker tactics including pathetic attempts to smear the names of politicians who are open and democratic enough to listen to all sides of the debate.

PS. For the sake of transparency I must plead guilty to accepting the following hospitality from JTI in 2011: Roxy Music at the O2 Arena and cricket at The Oval (England v India). I was also invited to ‘Building the Revolution - Soviet Art and Architecture’ at the Royal Academy of Arts but couldn't go.

Previous offences include tickets to see Girls Aloud, Suede and Strictly Come Dancing at the O2 Arena; cricket at Lords (England v South Africa); and 'Connecting with Colour', Royal Academy of Arts.

Oddly enough, none of these 'gifts' has ever encouraged me to start smoking any brand of cigarette, let alone Benson and Hedges or Silk Cut.

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Reader Comments (14)

Right - that's it. Karl has my vote. They've been after him ever since he came out and said he supported choice and didn't hate smokers.

And Karl's letter asking how ASH was funded may have been as a result of me - his constituent - asking him to find out.

Errrr - I thought MPs were supposed to work for their constituents and not smokerphobic newspapers on their dying last legs.

The Echo is not so great and is rapidly losing support of its readership. It has gone from a damn good daily paper to a propaganda weekly rag sheet.

Friday, January 6, 2012 at 13:56 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

This is ASH's contribution to the APPG Smoking Group including "..funding for group receptions..."

"Action on Smoking and Health (a charity) provides administrative support to the group, which includes sharing of information with members of the group, provision of briefing material at meetings, and funding for group receptions and for design, printing, and dissemination costs relating to group publications and stationery."

Friday, January 6, 2012 at 14:11 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

You maybe interested in a letter that Stephen Williams wrote to Andrew Lansley the Health Secretary in which Deborah Arnott was cc'ed in.

Friday, January 6, 2012 at 15:24 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I'd vote for that man Karl McCartney. he seems honest by his actions. Those other venal politicos make me sick. Now if I was running the show, my tobacco policy would be: allow advertising of tobacco products, all of them, on TV, billboasrds and if they wanted to sponsor racing cars and darts, fine by me. Because tobacco is legal and taxed. It really should be that simple. as an adult it's up to me if I smoke or don't smoke. I have the choice. I don't smoke but I did once. Why? Because I enjpyed it!

Friday, January 6, 2012 at 16:14 | Unregistered CommenterChalcedon

It would be interesting to know whether any officials of Ash are holders of a Parliamentary pass.

Friday, January 6, 2012 at 16:29 | Unregistered CommenterNorman

The 'All-Party Parliamentary Group' is not an official committee. Half its members are Peers. It is a group of anti-tobacco zealots, pulled together by ASH purely for the purpose of giving an impression of an authoritative group of MPs. That group does exactly what ASH wants it to. Just another propaganda wheeze.

Friday, January 6, 2012 at 19:14 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

This is Stephen William writing to Danny Alexander in September 2010 asking for funding in anti smoker programmes and cutting smuggling. Debs is cc'ed in again.

Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 11:51 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

£300 million a year from the public purse!
That,s obscene!

Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 10:05 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

You're not exactly transparent about where your funding comes from though are you, Simon? Half truth hidden away in FAQs. Why not take the moral high ground and detail where the money comes from on the home page?

Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 15:29 | Unregistered Commentersimon (nsc)

The anti-smoker industry is obscene and its huge amount of funding from a direct competitor to what is now little tobacco means is cannot take the moral high ground any longer. It has sold its once very clean soul. Should anyone not be aware that Forest is funded by the tobacco industry then just ask ASH - they take every opportunity to crow about it while conveniently hiding their own link to immoral Big Pharma. Change the record Simon nsc - is that really the best you can do? grow up.

Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 17:02 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

simon (nsc).
I don't think that anyone objects to your comments, as such. If you are anti-smoking, that's fine. But you really must be more rational. It is obvious that Forest does not have much money, but it does the best it can with its resources.

You really must back up your objections to smoking with facts. Statistical suppositions are not enough. How many people have actually suffered any permanent harm from SHS?

I am serious. Show me, through your statistics, the evidence of permanent harm to children as a result of SHS. I don't want 'surveys' of what people think, I want facts. I don't want 'studies' which produce statistical possibilities. I want facts. Where are the facts which show that children suffer permanent harm from SHS?

the fact is that there are are none. None, none, none.

Monday, January 9, 2012 at 1:11 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Junican - it's not about health but deliberate stigmatisation from the same kind of smokerphobics as Simon nsc

Monday, January 9, 2012 at 13:55 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

@Junican - as far as I can recall I have never raised the question of SHS, mostly because I don't really believe that passive exposure to exhaled smoke is a serious health risk.

@Pat - I really do find it difficult to accept a 'grow up!' comment from someone who is childish enough not to understand why frequent references to the Nazis and extermination of Jews in the Holocaust is deeply offensive. Take the trouble to read what I write here - I've said before it is plainly ridiculous to ban smoking outdoors or in the privacy of the home. I am not a smokerphobic, but I am anti-libertarian. The philosophy that you shoud be free to do what you like, regardless of the effect on those around you is, to me , abhorrent. This just happens to be a smoking based libertarian site.

My point here was that while Forest continues to be less than frank that they couldn't survive as a consumer-led lobby without the financial support of tobacco they can hardly accuse others of hypocrisy. The drinks industry long ago addressed the health issues of their product by setting up the Portman Group. Tobacco have chosen to go another route - deny the health problems, and pay a front organisation to do the anti-health criticism they can't be seen to be doing themselves.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 11:43 | Unregistered Commentersimon (nsc)

Your views and your choices are forced upon the rest of us who don't share your views or your choices. A compromise could be reached where neither one side nor the other has to be affected by the other's choice. That is the bottom line. That is the mature approach to take. Why bother harping on about Forest's transparent funding from tobacco companies when there is not one reason why they should not support their adult consumers?

I assume your comment about the drinks industry trying to make their product safer, comes in light of knowledge that attempts by the tobacco industry to make safer products in the past has been dismissed as just trying new ways to entice children to smoke or make people believe smoking is not harmful.

Sadly, had the American Cancer Institute taken the harm reduction route in 1971 and allowed the development of the "safe" cigarette, then my generation of child smoker would now be exposed to less harm as adults and perhaps smoking could have been a social pleasure of much less risk to many sacrificed on the alter of smoke free by 2000 and now smoker free by 2050.

Your side of the debate stopped real progression in harm reduction and continues to push through regressive measures for a problem that could easily be solved satisfactorily for the benefits and choices of both sides.

Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 21:33 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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