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Is tobacco control running out of puff?

I was in Geneva yesterday when I noticed a series of tweets with the hashtag #NHSPledge.

On closer inspection they included live tweets from an event organised by ASH to promote the launch of a 'new' initiative – the NHS Smokefree Pledge.

Among those tweeting were our old 'friend' Dr Nick Hopkinson, David Munday (Unite in Health), Asthma UK, Breathe2025, Cancer Research, UK Faculty of Public Health, British Heart Foundation, British Lung Foundation, Fresh (Smoke Free North East) and public health minister Steve Brine MP whose Twitter banner features the CEO of ASH.

Brine was also the principal speaker and in a touching show of cross party support he was joined by the shadow minister for public health, Sharon Hodgson MP.

Other speakers included Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, and Bob Blackman MP, chairman of the APPG on Smoking and Health, so – fair play to ASH who organised it – it was a well executed event.

If the aim was to generate publicity however it was a monumental failure.

So far I can find only three reports of the launch – in the Northumberland Gazette, Northern Echo and Rochdale Online. Not a single national newspaper mentioned the event, nor did the BBC or ITV.

For the record, this was Forest's response which I sent out while waiting for my (delayed) flight home:

“The Smokefree Pledge is a pathetic distraction from far more important issues facing the NHS.

“Adults who don’t want to stop smoking should be left alone and allowed the comfort of a cigarette without excessive regulations dictating where they can light up.

“Targeting patients and visitors, some of whom may be in a vulnerable mental state, with further smoking bans is totally abhorrent.

“No adult should be forced to quit smoking but that’s the underlying aim of this initiative.”

A more important point perhaps is this: how lame is a 'pledge' to create a 'smokefree' (sic) NHS?

Experience tells us that prohibiting smoking on NHS sites is almost impossible unless NHS trusts are prepared to spend precious resources on wardens and other surveillance measures.

Furthermore the 'pledge' is not even a new initiative. By their own admission it's merely an update to the NHS Statement of Support for Tobacco Control launched in 2014. Compare the two and they are very similar.

Between September 2014 and April 2017 the NHS Statement of Support for Tobacco Control attracted just 46 signatories. Now it's been relaunched and rebranded.

On this evidence, far from advancing, tobacco control appears to be going round and round in ever decreasing circles. They’re so devoid of ideas they've resuscitated one that wasn't very successful the first time.

The launch of the snappily titled NHS Smokefree Pledge may have brought out the cream of the UK's tobacco control industry but beyond the orgy of mutual back-slapping on Twitter I can't imagine it will be any more successful than the NHS Statement of Support for Tobacco Control it replaces.

Still, they seem to have enjoyed themselves.

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