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Smokefree South West to close in June

This shouldn't come as a complete surprise but I was still a bit startled when I was told the news (in confidence) on Wednesday.

The BBC has this morning revealed that eleven councils in the south west are to stop funding the anti-smoking campaign group Smokefree South West which will close in June.

The story was reported on BBC Radio Bristol as their lead story and I 'discussed' it at 7.05 with a spokesman for Cancer Research UK who claimed it was a "disaster" for the region and predicted dire consequences.

Smokefree South West "declined to appear" which is ironic because one of the reasons I welcome their demise is because there are far too many tobacco control groups all sending out pretty much the same message.

The fact that Cancer Research could put up a spokesman rather proved my point. (ASH has also been commenting.)

CRUK is one of many anti-smoking organisations but at least they're not funded by the taxpayer. As long as we have organisations like CRUK, the British Heart Foundation and the British Lung Foundation, why on earth do we need publicly funded groups like Smokefree South West, Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West) and FRESH (formally Smokefree North East)? Or ASH for that matter?

More recently Smokefree South West has been sharing an office with the regional branch of Public Health England, another taxpayer-funded body.

If I'm surprised it's because I can't believe it took these councils so long to draw the obvious conclusion. Do we really need another publicly-funded quit smoking organisation in our region?

Smokefree South West must have known something was afoot because – in a sure sign of desperation – they re-named themselves Public Health Action and started campaigning on drinking as well as smoking.

Talk about loss of focus!

Truth is, the alarm bells began ringing long before that. On February 8, 2014, for example, I wrote a post entitled 'Smokefree South West battles to retain local authority funding'.

It began:

Yesterday I travelled to Bristol to record an interview for BBC1's Sunday Politics West, to be broadcast tomorrow.

On Wednesday a producer rang to tell me that councils in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset have been reviewing the financial support they give Smokefree South West.

One council has decided to stop funding the group, another has cut its funding, and a third is considering its position.

I described the recording of the programme and my subsequent comments now seem unusually prescient:

Fiona [Andrews, director of Smokefree South West] talked about the work Smokefree South West does while I tried to question why we need a regional anti-smoking group when central government spends millions of pounds on anti-smoking campaigns and we also have ASH and other tobacco control groups doing the same work.

I could, I suppose, have listed some of them – Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, British Lung Foundation, British Medical Association ... the list is endless.

I could also have mentioned GASP, a Bristol-based smoking cessation company that began life as a pressure group but is now a successful commercial operation that doesn't need public money (as far as I know).

But time was limited. Instead I found myself saying, in a raised voice, "You're just duplicating their work!"

I finished that particular post by asking a series of questions:

What is the point of Smokefree South West? Or Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West)? Or Fresh (formerly Smokefree North East)?

What additional value do any of these groups offer that is not already covered by ASH, Cancer Research, the British Medical Association etc and central government which pumps millions of pounds of taxpayers' money into a variety of tobacco control campaigns?

Why should people have to pay for anti-smoking campaigns twice – once through income tax, and again through their council tax?

Worse, a lot of this money is being spent on campaigns that effectively lobby the Department of Health to introduce policies that it already supports or is considering.

The good news is that some councils are finally getting wise to the problem and are questioning this waste (or abuse) of public funds.

Hats off to the local councillors who have seen through the propaganda. Hopefully, more local authorities follow suit.

As I say, that was two years ago and it appears that the local authorities have finally done the right thing and pulled the plug.

I'm sorry for the people who work for Smokefree South West (Fiona Andrews and her deputy Kate Knight always struck me as decent people) but I can't bemoan the loss of a group whose entire raison d'être was designed to denormalise smoking and, in turn, smokers.

Lest we forget it was Smokefree South West who persuaded the owners of two privately-run squares in Bristol to ban smoking on their property. OK, it was a "voluntary" ban but that term is meaningless. It also gave rise to suggestions of similar bans in other cities.

It was also Smokefree South West that helped set up Plain Packs Protect, the pro plain packaging campaign. Half a million pounds of public money went into that – and it took an FOI for the truth to come out.

So let's not be squeamish. This is a very good day. Let's hope several more tobacco control campaigners are sitting rather less comfortably.

Instead of relying on the taxpayer to keep them afloat they might heed what I wrote two years ago:

If Smokefree South West is running short of money I suggest they approach the pharmaceutical industry for support.

If they offer any value to the tobacco control industry I'm sure Big Pharma will be happy to plug the funding gap.

Anyway, as well as BBC Bristol I'm also on BBC Cornwall and BBC Somerset.

As you can see, this is a big story in the South West.

PS. Big H/T to Chris Snowdon and Dick Puddlecote who have also been on Smokefree South West's case for several years. Chris is now synonymous with the term sock puppet – having virtually invented it – and Smokefree South West is a classic example.

Update: We're expecting a report on the BBC News website. I'll add a link when it appears. In the meantime here's the quote I gave the BBC:

"Taxpayers already pay for NHS smoking cessation services and national anti-smoking campaigns.

"When budgets are so tight, and other services are being cut, it's difficult to justify the use of public money to support yet another tobacco control group.

"The health risks of smoking are very well known and widely publicised by other bodies including Public Health England which has a regional office in Bristol.

"In terms of public health, the impact of Smokefree South West closing will be negligible, I'm sure."

Update: Click here to listen to the interview on BBC Radio Bristol this morning.

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Reader Comments (9)

In January 2014 I was on BBC Radio Wiltshire debating Fiona Andrews on "banning" smoking in playgrounds. She said they "gate them (to exclude) for dogs. She also failed to answer the question about electronic cigarettes as to whether they should be banned too.

Friday, February 5, 2016 at 10:48 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Fiona Andrews' Smokefree South West (SFSW) funded a site called Tobacco Tactics which is run by the University of Bath Tobacco Research Group headed up by Professor Anna Gilmore.

It is a summary of most of the people who are opposed to tobacco prohibition in the UK. The usual suspects including Simon/Forest, Chris Snowdon/IEA, Dick Puddlecote and yours truly/Freedom2Choose.

I put in a Freedom of Information Request and confirmed that SFSW funded Tobacco Tactics to the tune of £135,000 over 2 years.

Not only that the website is hosted in the Netherlands at a private detective agency called Buro Jansen and Jannsen (not a typo) named after the detectives in Tin Tin. In the English version they are known as Thomson and Thompson.

Maybe their funding cut should have been earlier.

Friday, February 5, 2016 at 11:10 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I noticed that the spokescreature stated that 2 in 3 smokers will die of a smoking related disease. He quite simply made that up, so wait for that to become the new "received wisdom"

Friday, February 5, 2016 at 13:41 | Unregistered CommenterScott Wichall

When my father was reaching the end of his life a few years ago, (he died at the age of 94 and gave up smoking when he was 63 because he could not afford it) he spent the odd week in Weston super Mare General Hospital. Whenever I visited him my blood pressure went up as I entered the grounds. Smokefree Southwest had signs larger than any other, which were totally ignored by patients fortunate enough to be able to slip out for a well earned fix. What a waste of money. As for CRUK, Cancer Research? The research into contribution of smoking cigarettes to lung cancer was done over half a century ago, you will not get a penny from me CRUK until I know that it is going to new research.

Friday, February 5, 2016 at 13:55 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

I note that an advert for cancer says one in two people die of cancer and I'm guessing that's where they initially made up the one in two smokers will die because only smoking causes cancer right?

The 2 in 3 will die is a blatant lie because clearly no one took enough notice of the first lie so as usual, they hyped it up, exaggerated it and made a lie a truth simply by repeating it often enough.

Charlatans, the lot of them, and we should not be forced through tax to fund any of them.

Friday, February 5, 2016 at 17:48 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

“CRUK is one of many anti-smoking organisations but at least they're not funded by the taxpayer”

Maybe I’m mistaken, Simon, but I thought that CRUK did receive DoH funding (possibly the BHF, too)?

But, hey, either way this is really good news – not just because, from smokers’ perspectives, it makes such a nice change to hear about an anti-smoking group being wrenched away from the trough of public money rather than being given pride of place at it - as has been the trend in recent years - but it’s also refreshing to hear about local authorities actually managing to make a sensible decision as to where to make the cuts demanded of them by the budgetary squeezes imposed by central government. How nice that they’ve decided to cut out funding to a group which, as you rightly say, Simon, is merely duplicating what other organisations are already doing perfectly well, thank you very much, rather than (as is usually the case) closing schools, reducing community care, slashing rural bus routes or reducing the local police force.

Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 0:15 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

There’s more good news over a VGIF: “Charities to be banned from using public funds to lobby ministers” (sorry, don’t know how to put in links).

The only questions I have are (and I would post them on Chris’s blog, seeing as it’s his article, except that for some obscure reason Disqus won’t let me in): How will this actually work in practice? Surely, if charities are receiving funds from the Government, but allocate those amounts directly into “non lobbying” campaigns, then that merely means that they’ve then got more “non Government” funds left in their bank accounts which they then can use for lobbying purposes? Also, how, exactly, does the Government classify “lobbying?” Must it involve direct contact with MPs or Ministers? Does it include the provision of facilities (e.g. offices, meeting rooms) and “advisors” or “staff” to Government committees, as provided by ASH to the All-Party Tobacco Control Group (or whatever it’s called)? Does any kind of petition/petitioning directly to MPs or Ministers in the name of the organisation (rather than in the name of individuals) count as lobbying?

Any information gratefully received!

Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 1:31 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Misty, that's a bit too late for us given that the damage is done. We already have to live with the Communist piece of Nasty Packs legislation that steals tobacco companies intellectual property rights and consumer rights - unless tobacco companies win the challenge in court and I very much doubt that given the law has made sure they have no rights and neither do we.

Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 13:38 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Good ridence to bad rubbish.

Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 12:50 | Unregistered Commenterann

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