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Tuesday
Oct312017

At last! The Stoptober 2016 campaign evaluation report

Rightly, Public Health England has come in for a heap of criticism over the last 48 hours.

It follows a report in the Sunday Times ('Cut in drink limit ignored advice') which is behind a paywall but Chris Snowdon – who was responsible for the FOI request that led to it – has the full story here.

The headline ('The new drinking guidelines are based on massaged evidence') gives you a flavour but the article goes into enormous detail and it's worth reading in full. For those who have neither the time nor the inclination it concludes:

The more that we learn about the process that generated the new guidelines, the more questions are raised about Public Health England. Far from being an honest broker in this story, the agency seems to have acted more like an activist group working towards a particular conclusion. Its relationship with the anti-drink lobby, which extends to holding its Alcohol Leadership Board meetings at the offices of a temperance group, is worryingly cosy for a state agency. Its decision to appoint leading anti-alcohol campaigners such as Ian Gilmore and Katherine Brown (both of the Alcohol Health Alliance) to the guidelines committee shows that it has become politicised.

This bias was on display again at the start of this year when Public Health England published an error-strewn policy document which it released it to the media with a headline claim that was so incorrect that it had to be retracted. That report was put together by the same familiar faces who dominated the guidelines review process. The revision of those guidelines may seem a relatively minor achievement for the anti-drink lobby. You can ignore them, after all. But, as the minutes of one GDG meeting say, it is ‘important to bear in mind that, while guidelines might have limited influence on behaviour, they could be influential as a basis for Government policies’. That is why the guidelines are important and, I would suggest, it is why Public Health England went to such lengths to change them.

Less important, perhaps, but equally revealing is Public Health England's cavalier approach to Stoptober, the annual taxpayer-funded anti-smoking campaign.

As readers know I've been chasing this taxpayer-funded quango for almost a year to get the Stoptober 2016 evaluation report. The reason I think it's important is simple.

Shortly after Stoptober 2015 concluded it was revealed that the number of smokers who registered for the quit smoking campaign that year was down 15 per cent on 2014.

I was keen therefore to find out how many smokers had registered for Stoptober 2016. Part of the response I got from Public Health England on November 18, 2016, read:

The strategy for Stoptober 2016 was to focus on overall participation rather than sign ups to PHE tools. As such, the evaluation will focus on quits at a population level. It is expected that all strands of the evaluation will be finalised early February.

In other words, with Stoptober quit smoking attempts in apparent freefall (my interpretation), Public Health England moved the goalposts and decided Stoptober should take credit for the general fall in the official smoking rates, a decline that was due in no small measure to smokers switching to e-cigarettes (a product Stoptober only endorsed this year).

Anyway, as I have explained previously, February came and went with no sign of an evaluation report. Despite this Public Health England went ahead and quietly increased the budget from £390,000 to £1.08 million.

In August I submitted a further FOI request and was told, a few weeks later, that the evaluation document would be published “during Stoptober 2017”.

On October 16, halfway through this year's campaign, I enquired again and was told the document would be uploaded “in the next two weeks”.

As of this morning there was still no sign of it on the PHE page of the government website (I'd been looking for it every day since October 16) so I sent yet another email:

Now that Stoptober 2017 is finished and a fortnight has elapsed since the Stoptober team confirmed that the Stoptober 2016 evaluation was complete and would be uploaded on to the PHE website “in the next two weeks”, I still can’t find it. Can you send a link or send me a copy or, if it is still not available, ask the team to explain why?

This afternoon I received this reply:

Thank you for your email. The Evaluation was published on the gov.uk website on 26 October 2017.

Thankfully I was also sent a link to this page – Stoptober 2016 campaign evaluation – because I would have struggled to find it otherwise.

That's because there is no reference to it on the PHE page on the gov.uk website. To find it you have to click on a link that says 'See all our publications' and you won't find it immediately because it's buried in a long list of publications and is only visible when you click 'Next' which takes you to yet another page.

To be fair you could key 'Stoptober 2016' into the search engine but you have to be hunting for it. Idle browsers are very unlikely to stumble upon it. The fact that Public Health England waited until almost the end of this year's campaign before publishing the 2016 evaluation also speaks volumes.

Anyway, having finally got my hands on a copy of the four-page (!) report Stoptober 2016 campaign evaluation I suppose I ought to read it. Watch this space.

PS. Don't hold your breath for the Stoptober 2017 campaign evaluation. After all, why would government prioritise a review of the use of public money on such a noble cause?

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Reader Comments (3)

The alcohol guidelines scam shows that public health cannot be trusted to be honest. This should also put doubt on everything they have said about the scam of shs and alleged harm caused to others to achieve the political aim of a future world without smokers.

It should definitely raise again the question of plain packs and how much the antismoker industry collided with public health Quangos to enforce a political outcome to the detriment of consumer rights.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at 16:46 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Transparency was the first casualty of the lifestyle control project. The tobacco and lifestyle control crusades are a reply of the Temperance Movement. They failed the first time, but with their experience at fabricating the second hand smoke hoax have learned that exaggeration, deceit, and fear mongering are powerful tools for manipulating the political process.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at 18:52 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Simon,

Would it be possible for Forest or some other body to request a lawyer to look at these facts that the PHE and the other bodies ie ash @ co.have been presenting as the supposed truth with a view to causing them to produce some real facts in evidence if they have any. For it is surely a fact of life that what they have been stating has no basis of hard truth, it is all smoke & mirrors. Then take the buggers to court and prove them to have been less than truthful with their so called facts. For example the old, it has been proven that second hand smoke kills people.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at 19:21 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

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