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Another day another public health campaign (and more BBC bias)

Yesterday Public Health England launched a campaign aimed at 40 to 60-year-olds, "83% of whom weigh too much or drink above guidelines".

Today they've launched another quit smoking campaign, this time using children to highlight the risks. The BBC reports:

Primary school children in Coventry are at the centre of a nationwide anti-smoking campaign.

Pupils from Earlsdon Primary School have drawn their own anti-smoking packaging ahead of the country's plain packaging rollout in May 2017.

Public Health England (PHE) said it hopes the message "resonates" with the UK's 7m smokers.

The children drew their own front-of-pack messages, with sentiments like, "don't be the smoker, be the stopper".

The drawings also feature illustrations of diseases that can be caused by smoking, like heart attacks and strokes.

See Primary school children make anti-smoking packaging (BBC News).

When I read the report at seven o'clock this morning I immediately clocked there was no opposing comment, despite the fact that Forest had sent BBC News online our reaction at least 19 hours previously.

Not for the first time I rang the online news desk and complained. The report has now been updated:

Campaign group Forest, which supports those who choose to smoke, said the use of children for an anti-smoking message was "emotional blackmail" and should not be "financed with taxpayers' money".

Director Simon Clark said: "Using children to make adults feel guilty about smoking is a new low for the public health industry."

But why should we have to chase them to provide some tiny element of balance? What is wrong with the BBC (and, to be fair, other news organisations)?

I've lost count of the number of times I've had to point out that what they are presenting as "news" is little more than state-sponsored propaganda.

Is this what they advocate at the BBC's famed journalism trainee scheme?

The Press Association also ran the story (Children create anti-smoking artwork for new-look cigarette packets) with a slightly longer quote from Forest:

Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, said using children was "emotional blackmail".

He said: "Using children to make adults feel guilty about smoking is a new low for the public health industry. It's emotional blackmail and should be condemned by all decent people, not financed with taxpayers' money.

"Adults know the health risks of smoking. Most smoke because they enjoy it. Public health campaigners should respect that choice and stop bullying smokers to quit."

However even that required some cajoling (three phone calls to the news desk).

I don't know whether it's laziness or incompetence but journalists seem happy to file copy straight from a press release rather than picking up the phone to get an alternative opinion.

As it happens PHE's new quit smoking campaign has had very little press coverage but it has been reported by the BBC, ITV and the Press Association, three of Britain's major news outlets, none of whom made the effort to contact Forest direct but were happy to promote the PHE campaign without challenge.

The only news media that did contact us for a response was Sky News for whom I did a short interview via Skype last night.

Credit where credit's due but in general Sky is no better than its rivals. The truth is, to get our message across requires constant vigilance across all media platforms.

On a lighter note, I'm off to Cambridge to meet Dan Donovan. Always a pleasure ...

PS. Fancy that, Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies used her privileged position as guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme today to promote PHE's new anti-smoking campaign – without challenge, naturally.

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Reader Comments (7)

So, now the media supports obscene child abuse and psychological grooming of children.

Wow, I never thought I would see the day they would stoop so low.

Friday, December 30, 2016 at 13:53 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

The other thing I do not understand is why public health England is introducing children to smoking.

I was that child smoker and I know it begins with curiosity. Thanks to phe, today's kids are being groomed to become tomorrow's smoker. They are doing the work of the tobacco ndustry. Are they really that stupid? I think not so the reason can only be that they need to introduce the idea of smoking to a whole new generation of smokers to ensure their industry, which ASH admits only exists as long as tobacco companies exist, has a new supply of smokers to justify their funding and salaries in future.

If tobacco companies cannot advertise tobacco and smoking to children, the child abusers in public health should not be allowed to advertise it o them either.

This is why instead if ignoring us they should talk to us. As that child, I would have told them the plan can only inspire interest in what tobacco and smoking is really like to kids who do not hear about smoking from any other source these days.

The Campaign is immoral.

Friday, December 30, 2016 at 14:13 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Much appreciate your devotion to duty in keeping an eye on all this stuff, Simon, and following it up. I decided not to listen to the Today programme this morning. It has all been building up for days and I suspect was all worked out at a planning meeting in June.... I knew I would just get too angry at listening to patronising, faux 'we care' comments from the 'health' lobby. It's the 'caring' stuff that gets me. The propaganda can damage family harmony and mental health, and family unity. As a Press Association pensioner, from the days of teleprinters and hot metal, I'm glad you got a response from the PA. I can't imagine the Chief Subs of my day letting these press announcements through without follow up and comment.

Friday, December 30, 2016 at 17:27 | Unregistered CommenterNorman Brand

The use of children to foster persecution (by constructing stigma) is exploitation and a well-honed propaganda tactic. Tobacco control must be put in check and gather manipulation through propaganda exposed.

Friday, December 30, 2016 at 20:06 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Boringly predictable anti-smoking campaign in the run-up to the New Year apart, I have noted that there was actually very little mention of smoking in the “middle-aged” health story. Most of the bits I’ve heard seem to be about drinking too much and eating too much and not exercising enough. And it occurred to me that the anti-smoking movement have manoeuvred themselves into a bit of a corner here. In their zealous quest to pretend that no-one smokes any more in order to pursue their much-cherished “denormalisation” programme, this means that they now almost can’t mention smoking in “health campaigns” like this, because to do so would be to admit that, for many more people than they would like, smoking is actually still a “normal” activity. And we can’t have that, now, can we? It’s good news for smokers in a way, because it means that all those Healthists who seem desperate to keep us living long, miserable, unenjoyable lives are now having to concentrate at least part of their bullying, cajoling, nudging and “helping” towards other groups as well as us. Which has to be at least a bit of a relief!

Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 3:08 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

I don't think that the BBC is specifically biased towards public health with the obvious exception of NickTriggle who seems to be a fan. I have been writing to the BBC for quite a few years now, with varying degrees of success, and I have come to the conclusion that it is hopelessly establishment biased, which makes sense as it tends to employ people who are establishment types and functions in a public sector environment. I think that part of the problem is that BBC journalists simply don't think to question the output of organisations such as Public Health England. They seem at times to live in a fantasy world in which state funded bodies and NGOs can do no wrong, so do not look at their output critically. The BBC at one point appeared to be part of the political wing of CRUK and would publish whatever ridiculous nonsense the policy wonks produced, possibly in the mistaken belief that the science bit and the shouty bit were connected in some way.

On the plus side, I have noticed that the BBC has spiked a lot of public health press releases recently. Very few of the shenanigans covered by the likes of Mr Snowdon have made the BBC website in late 2016.Even Mr Triggle has been quieter and more reflective in his work. It would be nice to think that those of us who try to work with the BBC are having some small effect.

Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 10:31 | Unregistered CommenterChris Oakley

Excellent post Simon. Thank you.

Thursday, January 5, 2017 at 16:06 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Spalding

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