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« Lifestyle and the NHS | Main | You and Yours (the smoking ban) »

How ignorance and propaganda influenced the smoking ban

Final word on my You and Yours interview with former Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt.

I mentioned yesterday that the 'as live' interview was edited quite heavily with the result that my reference to the Enstrom/Kabat study on passive smoking was omitted from the broadcast.

Interestingly, Hewitt admitted she had never heard of it, despite the fact that it remains the largest single study on the impact on secondhand smoke on people regularly exposed - year after year - to other people's tobacco smoke.

Two more things that didn't make the broadcast.

During the recording she explained that one of the factors in her decision to push for a comprehensive smoking ban was evidence that bans had reduced heart attacks.

She was referring to the famous 'heart attack miracle' in Helena, Montana, that has been debunked many times. (Fergus Mason wrote about it here only this week.)

Her comments were, I think, cut but it's significant she was aware of the Helena study but not the Enstrom/Kabat research.

In contrast her predecessor John Reid was very well briefed on the evidence on passive smoking - and made it his business to be so.

Unlike Hewitt he took the trouble to speak to ALL sides of the debate, including Forest.

Our late chairman Lord Harris and I were invited to a meeting with Reid and his senior advisor Julian Le Grand at the Department of Health.

Reid was clearly sceptical about the risks of passive smoking and when he was asked to comment Le Grand stated that the evidence was indeed weak.

The point is, Reid and his senior adviser were aware of all the evidence and spoke to all sides. Hewitt wasn't, and didn't.

Another thing that didn't make the cut was the story of Nick Hogan, the Bolton publican who received a six-month prison sentence for failing to pay fines received for allowing customers to smoke on his premises for one day only (July 1, 2007) in defiance of the ban.

I explained how I had travelled to Salford Jail to help oversee Nick's release after an online appeal had raised £9,000 to pay the accumulated fines.

The former Health Secretary said she knew nothing of that either - despite the headlines it attracted at the time.

Unfortunately her ignorance of this and other smoking-related issues wasn't broadcast and will have to remain a secret.

PS. There was an amusing postscript to our meeting with John Reid.

Prior to the meeting Lord Harris and I were under strict instructions to keep it confidential. Nobody was to know we were meeting and it was to take place under strict Chatham House rules.

Imagine my surprise - and consternation - when minutes after leaving the meeting I got a call from the Press Association asking me to comment on the meeting.

I was worried Reid might think we had gone straight to the press and this might jeopardise future engagement.

So I admitted the meeting had taken place but said nothing about our (extremely agreeable) discussion.

It took me a few minutes to realise that the source of the 'leak' must have been Reid's office and we were unwitting participants in what I imagine was his battle with the tobacco control lobby.

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Reader Comments (4)

"Plausible deniability is the ability for persons (typically senior officials in a formal or informal chain of command) to deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others (usually subordinates in an organizational hierarchy) because of a lack of evidence that can confirm their participation, even if they were personally involved in or at least willfully ignorant of the actions."

Rather remiss of her as it was in the papers and will have landed on her desk, the Telegraph not exactly being an obscure publication.

Warning: the health police can seriously addle your brain

"After studying the health of tens of thousands of people married to smokers, US researchers found that they face no significant extra risk of lung cancer or heart disease. It may sting your eyes, take your breath away and make your clothes smell, but other people's cigarette smoke will not kill you.

The demise of a supposed major risk to public health might be expected to prompt celebration among medical experts and campaigners. Instead, they scrambled to condemn the study, its authors, its conclusions, and the journal that published them."

Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 12:09 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

I'm not at all surprised that Hewitt knew little or nothing about the subject. The "All-Party Parliamentary Group on smoking and health" is a Westminster committee run by ASH. It has no official status. It doesn't appear on the list of Parliamentary committees. It's a fake. Yet the mass media and MPs regularly cite its views as some kind of authority.

With 650 MPs and a couple of thousand Lords, it is easy to find a handful of anti-smoking obsessives. ASH just takes a few of these from each party in order to claim cross party support. Unlike other lobbying organisations, ASH have a permanent pass to the Palace of Westminster so they can perform all the admin themselves, giving the impression of a fully functional Parliamentary committee.

I imagine Hewitt's knowledge stretched to reading a briefing, written by ASH, that was signed off by their pet committee. She was probably also impressed by the views of the official Health committee who employed two 'independent' researchers, both of whom were trustees of ASH.

Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 15:00 | Unregistered CommenterTony

Ignorance and propaganda have certainly influenced the imposition of smoking bans and the ever increasing restrictions of smoking. All of these are resulting in persecution of smokers and meanwhile the lifestyle controllers invoke plausible deniability. Of course it is possible some may have missed the studies discounting the risks of second hand smoke especially since tobacco control did and continues to do all it can to suppress dissent.

Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 19:35 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

What a woman, eh? dripping with smarm and insincerity. It pours out of her.

Sunday, April 30, 2017 at 7:30 | Unregistered CommenterFrank J

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