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Stuff ASH Scotland and their pathetic petition

Dick Puddlecote has done an excellent job highlighting some of the exchanges that took place when ASH Scotland CEO Sheila Duffy gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee this week.

The session took place in response to a petition by ASH Scotland that calls on the Scottish Parliament "to develop guidance for all those working in the Parliament, to ensure adherence to obligations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as set up by the World Health Organisation, and to which the UK is a signatory".

You can read the petition here but essentially ASH Scotland wants to restrict and control the extent to which tobacco companies and other "vested interests" can communicate with our elected representatives.

Although she was careful not to directly accuse the Scottish Parliament of being in breach of an international treaty, that was the implication.

Specifically, the petition highlights Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation's Framework Treaty on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that says:

In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

Tobacco control activists frequently cite Article 5.3 as a reason ministers and elected politicians shouldn't meet representatives of the tobacco industry.

In fact, nowhere in the FCTC does it say that governments cannot engage with the tobacco industry. The guidance merely stipulates that meetings with the industry and its proxies should take place "only when strictly necessary".

"Only when strictly necessary" is open to interpretation, of course, but at the very least it should include issues such as illicit trade, taxation and proposed legislation that directly or indirectly affects the industry, its supply chain (farmers, distributers, wholesalers, retailers) and customers.

Most important, I would suggest it's up to our elected representatives to decide what is "strictly necessary" not unelected taxpayer-funded lobbyists citing a clause in a treaty signed by dozens of regimes for whom the words 'free trade' and 'open government' are unfathomable if not abhorrent.

If I understand ASH Scotland's petition correctly, this ridiculous organisation (currently in receipt of £800k per annum from the Scottish Government) wants unelected bureaucrats to have the power to edit or veto tobacco industry missives to ministers and other parliamentarians in order to spare them exposure to contentious or allegedly misleading information.

Laughably Duffy tried to justify this by telling the Committee it "would save you time". (Why not go the whole hog and do away with parliamentary democracy completely?)

Meanwhile ASH Scotland and the entire tobacco control industry will continue to be free to make whatever statements they like without fear of censorship. Goebells would be very proud.

Thankfully several members of the Public Petitions Committee, including the convenor (Labour's Michael McMahon), seemed less than impressed with this pitiful attempt to restrict and even censor communications between a legitimate industry and our parliamentary representatives.

I won't quote what Dick Puddlecote had to say other than to repeat his recommendation that you read the relevant section of the Committee report (scroll down to 'New Petitions').

The only thing I will add is, look out for the robotic nature of Duffy's replies as she repeats the same points time after time. You wouldn't want to get stuck in a lift with her.

There was however some light relief. Responding to Duffy's warning that having the chief executive of a tobacco company as a constituent might be an "issue" for MSPs ("You might then have to consider how you interacted with them"), Labour's Hanzala Malik noted drily:

It is unlikely that I have a chief executive in the constituency, but one lives in hope.

Do you think he was making fun of her? One lives in hope.

PS. I've written about Article 5.3 several times. One post in January 2011 (It's good to talk: why UK ministers must ignore this foreign diktat) pretty much sums up my feelings:

It seems to me that dialogue with the manufacturer of a legal product is the least we should expect of any government. Anything else is a dereliction of duty and morally ministers give up the right to govern if they adopt such a policy.

Likewise, a government that refuses to engage with the consumer cannot complain if the consumer decides to operate outside the normal parameters.

History tells us that governments - even democratic ones - are never shy to engage with terrorists and other opponents of the state.

When it comes to tobacco, a legal product that generates billions of pounds of revenue for governments worldwide, different rules apply. Scandalous, really, and yet few people ever mention it.

If I have a wish for 2011 it's that Big Government liaises far more closely with tobacco manufacturers and the consumer. Stuff the FCTC. If they have any self-respect UK ministers will use their common sense and not be dictated to by foreign diktat.

When I wrote that I possibly gave Article 5.3 too much credence. As we now know, it's more flexible and open to interpretation than some would have us believe.

Nevertheless, in the same spirit as that 2011 post, my message to the Scottish Parliament in 2015 is – stuff ASH Scotland and their pathetic, sanctimonious petition.

If they have any self-respect MSPs will use their common sense and not be dictated to by unelected political lobbyists who have no mandate to control anything, least of all what politicians can and can't read.

The arrogance of ASH Scotland's position is staggering but no more than we've come to expect.

The remarkable thing is the petition wasn't thrown out there and then. Instead it stumbles on. Watch this space.

Update: I've just read Grandad's latest post. He doesn't have much time for Sheila either. Or, to put it another way:

"She seems to like wallowing in shit."

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Reader Comments (3)

Duffy sounded a bit like one of those people who’ve been on an “assertiveness” course and learned the old “stuck record” trick – which involves repeating oneself constantly in order to get one’s message across. It was good to see a politician (McMahon in particular), standing up to a representative of these bunch of bullies on a matter of principle. And quite right, too. Shame more MPs don’t do the same.

I just wish he’d pulled the rug out from under her feet by saying something like: “I think you’re quite right, Ms Duffy. We do need to take a look at the Treaty, and, if we feel that it just isn’t possible to adhere to it and fulfil our constitutional obligations as SMPs to hear all sides of any argument, then perhaps we should review our agreement to the Treaty and, if necessary, withdraw it. It is, after all, just a treaty – not a legally-binding document. And we are, after all (as you so kindly pointed out at the start of this meeting), doing much to reduce tobacco consumption in Scotland, and there’s nothing to stop us from continuing with this, even if we were no longer part of the Treaty. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention.” That would have left her with nowhere to go at all. Now that would really have been worth watching!

Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 3:01 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

The fact the petition wasn't thrown out is worrying because next ASH will demand that ordinary consumer constituents should be banned from seeking help from their MPs too.

It was encouraging to see MSPs at least questioning her but it is still as if ASH is a religion and Duffy one of the high priestesses who no one dare ignore or challenge otherwise the ridiculous petition would have been thrown out there and then. I suspect it wasn't because they dare not.

Isn't it a shame that we are not allowed to speak for ourselves otherwise we could tell MSPs and other politicians with confidence that Duffy is a liar for public funding - especially the new propaganda that smokers only ever begin as children, deliberately targeted and forced into addiction by Big T and humanity needs the likes of spiteful Duffy to save it from itself.

This untruth doesn't account for the millions of adults who begin smoking in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They exist. I've met many of them. Child smokers do not exist in the 21st Century and if they do then ASH has failed miserably over the decades and needs to have its funding cut and some organisation with a better method of protecting children from starting to smoke should get that money instead.

Perhaps, as it was pointed out, ASH is a parasitic arm of the Tobacco Industry and also depends upon child smokers for its living. ASH needs a new supply of child smokers just as much as Big T to ensure the funding money train keeps on rolling. If children smoke today, despite the billions ploughed into anti-smokerism during this last decade, then it is because ASH has failed and we must all ask why that is.

I wonder what would happen if Duffy and her fellow SmokerWitchfinder general Debs Arnott had £100,000 knocked off their lucrative salaried state benefits for every lie they told.

Any Govt abiding by a treaty that would do that would be one that I think smokers and non smokers could all support.

Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 11:40 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

The political attack on legal tobacco companies unbalances the economy but they do not see it

Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 13:14 | Unregistered Commentergray

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