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Feeding tobacco control's addiction to public money

The Welsh Government has just announced plans to cut smoking prevalence in Wales to 16 per cent by 2020.

That's a three per cent drop from the most recently reported rate of 19 per cent (2015).

It has also announced funding of over £400,000 over three years to reduce the number of smokers.

No prizes for guessing where that money will go. Last night, when I drafted this post, I didn't have the full details so I wrote, 'Some of it will undoubtedly go to ASH Wales, a lobby group that probably wouldn't exist without annual handouts of public money.'

This morning the BBC reported that every penny will go to "campaign charity ASH Cymru". See £400k to cut smoking in Wales, Welsh Government announces (BBC News Wales).

Chief executive of ASH Cymru Suzanne Cass, said the funding would help them support the remaining 19% still addicted to tobacco to choose smoke-free and lead "healthier, happier lives".

It will certainly make Suzanne's life happier. In fact I imagine she'll be doing a little dance in her office.

After all, her salary is paid for by the Welsh Government which means her contract has effectively been extended by three years at the public's expense. Nice work.

There's nothing new in this, of course. Public funding of anti-smoking lobby groups been going on for years.

In October 2010 Forest published a report, Government lobbying government: the case of the UK tobacco control industry.

I wrote about it here (Forest: cut public spending on tobacco control groups) and on ConservativeHome (The state should stop giving anti-smoking groups public money to lobby the Government).

The report highlighted the public money given to tobacco control 'charities' such as ASH.

ASH UK, for example, received a direct grant of £142,000 from the Department of Health in 2009 (£191,000 in 2008 and £210,400 in 2007) plus £110,000 from the Welsh Assembly Government in 2007.

In 2008-09 ASH Scotland received £921,837 from the Scottish Government followed, in December 2009, by a £500,000 grant from the Big Lottery to fund a major three-year research project into smoke-free homes in Scotland.

ASH Wales meanwhile received £115,800 from the Welsh Assembly Government in 2008-09 and £113,000 in 2007-08.

In comparison with Britain's national debt these sums may seem relatively trivial – hence they don't get the attention they deserve – but year after year they add up to tens of millions of pounds, much of it used to lobby ministers and other politicians to introduce further tobacco control measures.

Interestingly, last month's Populus poll (commissioned by Forest) asked respondents the following question:

Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Do you think that taxpayers' money should or should not be used to lobby the Government?

The response was:

Should be used – 12%
Should not be used – 63%
Don't know – 24%

The poll also invited respondents to rank a list of national and local issues in terms of importance. Asked about NHS priorities:

Respondents rated investing in new doctors and nurses as the top priority among the Government priorities listed – giving it an average rating of 9.06 out of 10 on a scale of importance.

Addressing response times at A&E was the second highest ranked priority overall, rated on average 8.76 out of 10 in terms of importance.

Addressing care for the elderly was ranked third, with an average score of 8.70 out of 10.

Among the ten issues listed, tackling smoking came out as the lowest priority, at an average of 6.38 out of 10.

Asked about local government priorities:

Respondents rated refuse collection, street cleaning and other environmental issues as the top local government priority, giving it an average rating of 8.22 out of 10.

Maintenance of roads, bridges and pavements was the second highest ranked priority overall, rated on average 8.04 out of 10 in terms of importance.

Housing strategy, including the provision of social housing was ranked third, with an average score of 7.50 out of 10. Women rated this priority higher than men (7.68 vs. 7.32 out of 10).

Among the ten issues listed tackling smoking came out as the lowest priority, at an average of 5.84 out of 10.

Naturally we'll be sending this information to the Welsh Government and members of the Welsh Assembly. Unfortunately I don't think they're listening.

Meanwhile governments throughout the UK continue to feed tobacco control's addiction to taxpayers' money.

Demands for the Westminster Government to set out plans to fund a multi-million pound anti-smoking programme have reached fever pitch in recent weeks.

Responding to recent figures showing the number of smokers in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1974, Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, said:

"The government can’t leave it to individual smokers to try to quit on their own. If the downward trend is to continue, we urgently need a new tobacco control plan for England, and proper funding for public health and for mass media campaigns."

One way tobacco control wants to raise the money to fund all this is to impose a levy on tobacco companies.

To date this has been rejected because it's fairly clear that the cost would be passed on to the consumer, many of them from poorer backgrounds, but the public health industry isn't worried about penalising smokers financially if it forces them to give up.

The lack of empathy for people who are less well off never ceases to amaze, but it's hardly surprising. Many tobacco control executives and researchers enjoy good salaries, often funded by the taxpayer.

Today's announcement by the Welsh Government will no doubt be celebrated by ASH Wales because it keeps them in business for another three years at least.

The day of reckoning is fast approaching however when every anti-smoking group or stop smoking service will have to justify every penny of taxpayers' money.

It's already happening.

Last year Smokefree South West hit the buffers, denied further handouts by local councillors who realised that tackling smoking is not a priority for local government.

Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West) has reinvented itself as Healthier Futures, tackling obesity and alcohol as well as smoking, a clear admission that smoking is no longer a unique priority.

Fresh (Smokefree North East) should face similar questions.

Stop smoking services are also struggling to justify their existence, and no wonder. The number of smokers using them to help them quit fell by 51 per cent from 2010-2015.

Some are now promoting e-cigarettes in an attempt to maintain some relevance to the quit smoking landscape.

But the success of e-cigarettes has nothing to do with stop smoking services. Vaping is a victory for the free market, not taxpayer-funded smoking cessation services.

In fact, if tobacco control succeeds in promoting e-cigarettes as a quit smoking aid rather than an enjoyable recreational product in its own right, there's every chance it will damage rather than enhance the attraction of the product.

PS. BBC News Wales reports:

Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, said any further anti-smoking measures would be "fiercely resisted" as adults were entitled to smoke without "unreasonable restrictions on their habit".

"Instead of punishing smokers the Welsh Government should engage with consumers," he said.

"A carrot is far better than a stick and the best way to reduce smoking rates is to embrace choice and encourage smokers to switch to alternative nicotine products such as e-cigarettes."

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Reader Comments (4)

I am an individual smoker. I do not want to try and quit on my own. I do not want to quit at all because this is my life and my body and it is not owned by Deborah Arnott. Why does this vile bully think she has the right to choose what life I live? Who the actual hell does this arrogant smokerphobic thug think she is and why is the govt funding hate crime and promoting smokerphobia.

There must be a public inquiry into how these thugs are using our public money to spread hate, fear and exclusion. No other tax funded group would be paid to attack anyone else because of their culture, identity or lifestyle.

The bullying and stigmatisation must stop. Smokers must also stop obeying any more laws or diktats designed to force them out of the same rights as other members of the community.

Monday, April 3, 2017 at 12:29 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Incidentally, neither do I want to be "encouraged" aka forced onto nicotine alternatives like ecigs. Next time, please tell them to try engaging with smokers by accepting they will smoke, they are members of the community and not criminals, so they must find a way to accommodate us without finding ways to force us to ecigs.

Monday, April 3, 2017 at 12:36 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Interesting that these people just can't accept that many people just love smoking tobacco and will never give up or be pushed into using any other device. Its time as Pat says that they learned to accomodate us. Time now is to definitely ignore any more silly bans.

Monday, April 3, 2017 at 15:23 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

You need to be quicker off the mark......granted you'll have better things to do with your life than monitor your friends......

Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 17:10 | Unregistered CommenterThe Prince

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