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Will tobacco control's relentless nagging reap its unjust reward?

I've been meaning to endorse a post Dick Puddlecote wrote on Monday.

Commenting on the report ASH published last Saturday to mark the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban, DP described it as "probably the longest begging letter in history".

How true.

You see, the smoking ban was never going to be the end of the war on tobacco. Flushed with the success of their self-confessed "confidence trick", the legislation simply encouraged ASH to campaign for more anti-tobacco laws.

Display ban, prohibition of tobacco vending machines, ban on smoking in cars carrying children, plain packaging ... none of these had anything to do with the European Union. They were driven by Britain's well-funded anti-smoking industry with the support of compliant ministers, some of whom reversed their previous opposition to measures such as the display ban.

The tobacco control industry – much of it heavily subsidised by public funds – is desperate for the government to have a tobacco control plan because a significant part of their income depends on being able to promote and deliver that programme.

The constant hectoring about the need for a new strategy (the previous one came to an end in 2015) has one simple aim – to keep the anti-smoking industry in business. Without a government-approved plan on the table there's no reason for ASH to receive taxpayers' money - and well they know it.

At present public funds account for about 25 per cent of ASH's annual income so losing it won't put them out of business. Nevertheless I know from experience how a substantial loss of income can affect groups such as ASH (and Forest).

Staffing is the first to suffer. You may have to move to a cheaper and less accessible office. Campaign budgets have to be cut. Overall it has quite a destabilising effect.

Smokefree South West and Tobacco Free Futures weren't immune to a loss of public funding and were forced to close. The fact that there was no tobacco control plan in place during the period they hit the buffers may not be coincidental.

ASH faces a similar problem. After all, in an age when many smokers are switching voluntarily to products like e-cigarettes ministers must surely be asking themselves, "What is ASH for?" and "Why is the taxpayer expected to pay for their activities?" much of which involves nagging (or lobbying) government to introduce a tobacco control plan that helps oil their wheels.

Calls for the government to announce a new plan began in June 2015 with the publication of ASH's Smoking Still Kills report. A key recommendation was the introduction of a new tobacco control strategy to replace the one that ran until the end of 2015.

Ignoring the fact that the number of people using Stop Smoking Services had declined by 51 per cent since 2010, proposals included a new annual levy on tobacco companies to fund these increasingly irrelevant services.

Other proposals included an increase in the tobacco tax escalator (up from two to five per cent above inflation) and the creation of a licensing system for tobacco retailers.

While the country was consumed with far more important matters, the anti-smoking industry embarked on a systematic campaign to nag government to act. Some examples:

On October 13, 2016, ASH announced:

Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health will today be calling on the Government to publish its promised new Tobacco Control Plan without further delay.

The press release quoted two MPs – Bob Blackman (Conservative), chairman of the APPG, and Alex Cunningham (Labour). What it failed to mention was that ASH runs this faux parliamentary body with the help of public funds!

On January 4, 2017, the Guardian reported that:

More than 1,000 doctors, healthcare professionals and public health experts, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions, are calling on the prime minister to publish the latest tobacco control plan without delay.

On January 30 Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, insisted:

"The Government must publish the new Tobacco Control Strategy for England without further delay and find a sustainable funding solution for tobacco control."

On February 23 ASH's CEO Deborah Arnott declared:

"A new tobacco control plan for England has now been promised repeatedly, but we are still waiting, fifteen months after the last one expired. Each day without a plan hundreds more children take up smoking, starting out on a path leading to smoking-related disease and premature death.

"We need an ambitious new plan now to set targets for continued action to drive down smoking rates, across the population generally and among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in particular."

On March 3 the British Medical Association added its weight to the campaign:

The government must introduce a new tobacco control strategy, without delay, to replace the outdated tobacco control plan, ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: a tobacco control plan for England’.

On April 28, prior to the election, CRUK urged all parties to "commit to a new Tobacco Control Plan".

On June 15 Francine Bates, co-chair of the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group and chief executive of the Lullaby Trust, said:

The government must urgently publish the now long promised Tobacco Control Plan to not only address smoking in pregnancy but ensure that fewer women are smoking when they become pregnant."

Last week CRUK marked the smoking ban anniversary by joining ASH in calling on government to publish its tobacco control plan for England "without further delay, with targeted action to support smokers in the most deprived areas to stop."

And so it went on:

The government should publish its new Tobacco Control Plan as “an urgent priority,” the chair of the British Thoracic Society’s (BTS) Lung Group has said.

I could quote many more examples of this incessant nagging, bordering on hectoring or even bullying, but would it take me all evening and I do have a life.

Needless to say there has also been a cabal of MPs who have asked repeated questions about the tobacco control plan. Many of the questions have been very similar and sometimes identical. (I wonder who drafted them?)

One question, from Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, submitted on February 25, 2016, read:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, with reference to the report of the independent cancer taskforce, Achieving world class cancer outcomes: A strategy for England 2015-2020, published in July 2015, what progress has been made in developing a new tobacco control strategy.

Three months later Gwynne submitted another question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what plans his Department has to publish a new tobacco control strategy in the next two months.

The full list of MPs and peers who have asked a variation of that question in 2016/17 is:

Andrew Gwynne MP (Labour)
Lord Young of Cookham (Conservative)
Bob Blackman MP (Conservative)
Julian Knight MP (Conservative)
Bob Blackman MP (Conservative)
David T.C. Davies MP (Conservative)
Dr Andrew Murrison MP (Conservative)
Mary Glindon MP (Labour)
Neil Coyle MP (Labour)
Will Quince MP (Conservative)
Lord Rennard (Lib Dem)
Alex Cunningham MP (Labour)
Norman Lamb MP (Lib Dem)
Sharon Hodgson MP (Labour)
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (Independent)
Sandy Martin MP (Labour)

Here's a selection. Spot the difference, if you can:

In July 2016 Lord Young of Cookham pitched in with:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what date they plan to publish the Tobacco Control Plan for England.

On November 15 Bob Blackman, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health submitted this question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what progress his Department has made on developing a tobacco control strategy.

Dr Andrew Murrison MP, Conservative (January 11, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when his Department plans to publish the next Tobacco Control Plan for England.

Mary Glindon, Labour (January 13, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when the Government plans to publish a new Tobacco Control Plan for England.

Dr Andrew Murrison MP, Conservative (January 17, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when he plans for the Tobacco Control Strategy to be published.

Neil Coyle MP, Labour (January 24, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when the Tobacco Control Plan will be replaced.

Will Quince MP, Conservative (February 3, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when his Department will publish the new Tobacco Control Plan.

Amusingly, a little impatience then began to creep in.

Lord Rennard, Liberal Demoncrats (February 23, 2017):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will maintain their commitment to reducing smoking prevalence by publishing the latest Tobacco Control Plan for England without delay.

Alex Cunningham MP, Labour (March 1, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, for what reasons his Department has not yet set a date for publication of the Tobacco Control Plan.

Last week, in the run-up to the smoking ban anniversary, came another flurry of questions.

Sharon Hodgson, Labour (June 26, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when his Department plans to publish the updated Tobacco Control Plan; and if he will make a statement.

Alex Cunningham MP, Labour (June 26, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when the Government will publish the Tobacco Control Plan.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Independent Crossbencher (June 26, 2017):

Her Majesty's Government when they intend to publish the next Tobacco Control Plan for England; and whether that plan will include recommendations for the NHS as well as for local government.

And finally, Sandy Martin, Labour (June 28, 2017) asked:

When the Government plans to publish a tobacco control plan.

Despite Brexit, despite the Election and its chaotic outcome, the pressure on ministers to continue the war on tobacco has been unrelenting. No statement or press release appeared complete without the government being urged to publish the new plan "without delay".

Incredibly, we don't know what impact plain packaging, larger health warnings and restrictions on packaging will have yet the tobacco control industry wants the government to steam ahead and introduce more measures regardless.

Unfortunately, for a combination of reasons – including the weakness of the current government – this relentless pressure appears to be having some effect because on the eve of the smoking ban anniversary Steve Brine, the new public health minister, issued this statement:

"As a nation we can be extremely proud of the progress we have made on smoking rates, which are at their lowest ever levels. We truly are world leaders in this area, through our smoke-free legislation, plain packaging laws and ban on smoking in cars with children," he said.

"However, we know that smoking remains our biggest preventable killer and the job is by no means done. We will soon be releasing a new Tobacco Control Plan, to map our path toward a smoke-free generation."

Brine's comment was issued relatively late hence it appeared to go under the radar. I may be wrong but I suspect it was released only in response to ASH's own press release in which they claimed:

The evidence of the last decade is that tobacco control policies are popular and effective, when they are part of a comprehensive strategy and are properly funded. ASH is calling on the Government to publish the new Tobacco Control Plan with tough new targets and a commitment to reducing inequalities without further delay.

ASH Chief Executive Deborah Arnott said: "On 1 July 2007 it will be the 10th anniversary of the implementation of smokefree legislation in England – a worthy date for publication of the next Tobacco Control Plan, with a commitment to delivering a smokefree future for our children.

A week later word has it the government's new tobacco control plan will be published by the end of this month.

After 18 months of almost incessant nagging the public health industry has finally got its way.

The new tobacco control plan will tell us a lot about the current government and its attitude to regulation, freedom of choice and, most important, ordinary people.

Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts on the matter, I suggest you write to Steve Brine "without delay" and tell him what you think.

Update: Oral answers to questions on health with Steve Brine, July 4, 2017 (TheyWorkForYou).

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Reader Comments (4)

I have spent the last 10 years writng to health ministers to tell them what I think. The answers, when reading between the bullshit stats, doom and gloom and the use of children to attack the rights of adult consumers, is always the same. They care only what the lobbyists in ash say and everyone else can go to hell. Then they wonder why they lose votes, Brexit happens, and people turn to extremists.

Supporting extremists in ash leads to extremism becoming the norm. Smoking is healthier than fascism. One has to wonder what will become of us after Brexit due to our weak govt being susceptible to bullying.

If communist Corbyn wins, I think people who want to continue smoking, and are not prepared to be criminalised or quit, will have to leave the country. This kind of bullying to force smokers to quit or leave is something the new health minister seems to think the country should be proud of.

On this issue at least, one still can't put a fag paper between the two parties policies. Both are bullies, persecuting a targeted minority while hypocritically pretendng to be against both when directed at others.

Friday, July 7, 2017 at 18:54 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Brine's oral answers linked in your update show they intend to bully the most vulnerable, weak, and unprotected first. Why would anyone be proud of that. I am disgusted that our health minister is proud of using force against the weak simply because they are easy targets.

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 13:17 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

I would recommend to the government that they urgently publish a Tobacco Control Strategy - withdraw all funding to tobacco control immediately, whether direct or indirect. Oh, and repeal the TRPR as soon as is possible, and likewise the smoking ban in enclose public places.

That sounds like a good strategy to me.

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 21:18 | Unregistered CommenterRob Heyes

The tobacco control racketeers rely on the traditional tools of gangsters and thugs: threats and extortion.

I wonder what leverage they have over the politicians? Could it be fear of exposing collusion in suppressing data and research linking lung cancer with a cause other than smoking? Nuclear fallout or vehicle emissions come to mind. Parliamentary committees did consider the link with vehicle emissions but abounded it in preference of the economy... The Whitehall studies discounted links between smoking and heart disease...

Smokers (and others seeking to preserve liberty) need to speak out. The lifestyle controllers won't stop with smoking or tobacco they seek prohibition of alcohol too!

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 23:31 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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