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Signature gathering

Dr Nick Hopkinson, who was on BBC News last week supporting the Royal College of Physicians' report on e-cigarettes, popped up again on Sunday.

This time he was featured in the Observer as the man behind a campaign designed to stop some of London's leading cultural institutions having ties with or accepting corporate membership fees from tobacco companies.

Naturally the campaign includes a rather indignant open letter signed by fellow "health professionals" because if there are two things Hopkinson is good at it's signature gathering and indignant letters.

In February 2013, for example, his employer Imperial College London reported:

Senior doctors across the UK have called for healthcare organisations to sever all links with PR companies lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry.

Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, is chief signatory to the letter published today in The Lancet. He and his colleagues note that organisations such as the Department of Health, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and St George's Healthcare NHS Trust have all employed lobbying agencies also used by the tobacco industry.

The letter calls on all health-care organisations to send out a clear message by severing any links they have with public relations companies that work to promote the interests of the tobacco industry. Dr Hopkinson and his co-signatories hope that by bringing this issue into the open the reputational cost of working with tobacco will become too high.

Apart from Hopkinson, signatories included some familiar names including Prof John Moxham, Prof Robert West, Prof Gabriel Scally and Prof Martin McKee.

Three months later, in May 2013, Hopkinson wrote another letter – this time to the Telegraph – about plain packaging:

As health professionals who engage daily with the consequences of smoking, we were dismayed to learn that David Cameron has abandoned plans to include “plain packs” legislation in the Queen’s Speech ...

We urge the Government to act decisively and introduce plain packs legislation without further delay, for the sake of smokers who need every assistance to quit and to protect a further generation from becoming addicted.

Again Hopkinson was the lead signatory. Over 150 health professionals signed it with the names being posted on the Telegraph website.

Moxham, West, Scally and McKee were all present and correct. This time however they were joined by Prof John Britton, Professor John Ashton (Faculty of Public Health) and many more.

In June 2014 no fewer than 800 health professionals signed another letter (to the BMJ this time) calling for the "rapid introdution of regulations on standardised tobacco packaging". I assume Hopkinson was behind it because on October 1, 2014, the list of signatories was posted on his personal blog.

In April 2015 Hopkinson turned his signature gathering skills to a different tobacco-related issue. According to the Independent:

Health experts are demanding an apology from the Foreign Office for the “shameful behaviour” of Philip Barton, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan.

Mr Barton attended a meeting with Pakistani government ministers, where British American Tobacco (Bat) lobbied against plans for larger warnings on cigarette packets. Details of the meeting, which took place in Islamabad last month, have just emerged.

Dr Hopkinson is one of a number of medical experts who have written a letter in the British Medical Journal which states they were “astonished” to learn the British diplomat was at the meeting, in what they claim is “a flagrant breach” of the World Health Organization’s agreement on tobacco control.

The letter states: “It is morally incoherent to advance tobacco control at home but oppose measures in other countries intended to reduce the burden of this lethal habit ... We demand an immediate public apology for this shameful behaviour and a clear undertaking that it will not be allowed to occur in the future.”

In addition to Hopkinson, the three other signatories were McKee, Britton and Moxham.

And so to the present. On Sunday the Observer reported:

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco.

The British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, the South Bank Centre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, have long-standing lucrative corporate membership and sponsorship deals with two leading cigarette manufacturers, which are banned from advertising in the UK.

The links have dismayed many in the medical community. “As a doctor specialising in the care of people with emphysema, I see the harm smoking causes every day,” said Dr Nick Hopkinson, reader in respiratory medicine and honorary consultant physician at the National Heart and Lung Institute, who is leading a campaign against the tie-ups.

“Tobacco companies, which rely on getting people addicted to products, which maim and kill, must not be allowed to use arts sponsorship as a way to present [themselves] as respectable.”

Bizarrely Hopkinson also claimed that:

“Arts sponsorship is one way that the tobacco industry can enable its own employees to deceive themselves about the true nature of what they are doing.”


The letter itself reads:

As healthcare professionals who deal daily with the harm caused by the tobacco industry, we call on arts, cultural and heritage organisations to sign the smoke-free arts declaration ( to affirm that tobacco sponsorship is unacceptable. We also call on sponsors of the arts to undertake that they will no longer support organisations that accept tobacco sponsorship.

The Smoke Free Arts website invites "arts, cultural and heritage organisations as well as charities and other bodies" to sign up to the following declaration:

1. There is no place for the tobacco industry as a sponsor of arts, heritage or cultural activities.
2. We will not accept sponsorship or donations from the tobacco industry or organisations linked to them.
3. We will not allow the tobacco industry or organisations linked to them to become corporate members or participate in similar schemes.
4. We will not provide facilities to the tobacco industry or organisations linked to them.

The website then invites organisations that support "the arts, culture and heritage" to sign up to the following declaration:

1. We will not sponsor or support arts, heritage or cultural organisations which accept sponsorship from the tobacco industry.
2. We will withdraw sponsorship and support from organisations which accept tobacco industry sponsorship and will incorporate this provision in future sponsorship agreements.

I've been on the Smoke Free Arts website and on the signatories page only six organisations – Royal Brompton & Harefield Arts, London Design Festival, Arvon, Mahogany Opera Group and The Twentieth Century Society – have signed up to the declaration.

Under 'Supporters' there are NO signatories. Not one.

So who are the "experts" who signed the letter to the Observer which is credited to "Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, Reader in respiratory medicine, Imperial College, London on behalf of 1,104 other healthcare professionals"?

Three – Moxham, Britton and Prof Richard Ashcroft – are mentioned in the report but the identity of the rest is a mystery.

Last night Forest tweeted Dr Hopkinson inviting him to provide a link to the list of "healthcare professionals" who signed his tobacco arts sponsorship letter. If we get a response I'll let you know.

In the meantime I may have discovered how he gathers signatures for some of his letters.

In December 2013 the Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology a devoted a page of its website to what it called the Campaign for Introduction of Standardised Packaging of Tobacco. It read:

Dr. Nick Hopkinson is gathering signatures for an open letter from people who work with Respiratory Patients asking Parliament to support the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco products.

There is an amendment about this in the Children and Families Bill which is expected to be voted on the week beginning 9th December. It would be great if you were prepared to sign up, as have so many other healthcare professional already have.

Please add your name to this letter via this online survey signature link. See the progress of this campaign via this link.

Did he conduct a similar signature gathering exercise before sending his letter to the Observer or did he try something else?

Come on Nick, don't be coy. A link to the names of all those "healthcare professionals" who signed your letter is all we ask.

If you can tell us how you gathered their signatures that would be a bonus. Thanks.

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Reader Comments (5)

There are thousands of doctors, health professionals and medics and yet only 1000 of them allegedly signed a letter calling for cultural eradication of something they despise.

They are clearly a tiny minority of extremists who should be ignored.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 15:40 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

When will doctors do what they are paid to do which is to administer to the sick. Butt out of our private lives. We pay our taxes and expect to be looked after when sick. Until then its none of your business !

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 16:24 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco

So presumably these 1,000 healthcare experts won't accept tobacco money either? Excellent.

I'd be happy for our tobacco taxes to go somewhere other than them, like helping the steel industry or paying for those extra meningitis B vaccinations, or is this some kind of double standard again.
Our tobacco money is fine if it goes through the Treasury first before it touches their unsullied hands?

They really haven't thought this through, Big Tobacco has no money to give to anyone or anything without it's customers.

All this because of a plant, good grief.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 18:28 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

Meanwhile these health fascists promote the pharmaceutical industry leading themselves to profit at the expense of many of their patients suffering side effects.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 18:55 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

As healthcare professionals who deal daily with the harm caused by the tobacco industry, we call on arts, cultural and heritage organisations to sign the smoke-free arts declaration ...

It might be worth pointing out, Simon, that iatrogenesis kills far more people than the tobacco industry ever has, even if you accept their grossly exaggerated figures.

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.”

Matthew 7:5

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 9:15 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

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