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« Something to celebrate | Main | Impact of the smoking ban on consumers' behaviour »

Could do better

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World has just published what I assume will become an annual survey.

Conducted by Kantar Public for the FSFW, it's called the State of Smoking Survey and it features a poll of 17,000 people (smokers, ex-smokers, non-smokers) in 13 countries including the UK.

Naturally the first section I looked at was 'State of Smoking in the UK'. According to the FSFW:

The adult smoking rate declined from 24 percent in 2005 to 18.3 percent in 2014, the latest available data.

Latest available data? According to the Guardian (June 2017):

In 2016, 15.8% of adults in the UK smoked, down from 17.2% in 2015, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

I was aware of that stat and it took me ten seconds to confirm it. (Tip: if in doubt about smoking prevalence in the UK Google 'UK smoking rate'.)

And there's more. According to the FSFW:

In 2015, smoking in cars was banned in England and Wales.

No it wasn't. The legislation only covered smoking in cars carrying children, a big difference.

In 2012, point of sale displays were banned from stores.

Again, not quite right. It's true that in 2012 tobacco displays were prohibited but only in supermarkets and large stores. It was not until April 2015 that the ban was extended to cover all stores.

England banned smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces in July 2007 (following Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, which passed similar laws 18 months prior).


MPs in England passed a law banning smoking in all enclosed public places in February 2006. The law was then enforced from July 1, 2007. Scotland introduced a smoking ban in March 2016 (16 months before England) but the law was passed by MSPs in June 2005.

Meanwhile the ban in Wales was introduced on April 1, 2017 (three months before England) and in Northern Ireland the ban came into force on April 30, 2017 (two months ahead of England).

OK, I'm nitpicking but the detail could (and should) be clearer and more accurate. And that's just in the section I know something about.

I also find questions like this a bit annoying: 'To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Your smoking is harmful for your health.'

Surely a better, more nuanced and more accurate question would have been, 'To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Your smoking is potentially harmful for your health.'

But no. It has to be black or white – harmful, not harmful.

Anyway, I'm not going to go through the survey line by line. You can read it for yourself here. (For a summary read the press release.)

To be fair, it's not without interest or merit but for a complete picture I suggest you read it alongside other equally valid research including this survey of confirmed smokers conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research (and funded by Forest).

In the meantime here's an interesting comparison.

Like the CSUR survey the Kantar survey asks, 'Do you consider yourself addicted to smoking?' (see 'Self-perceived addiction to smoking').

In Japan as many as 91 per cent of respondents said 'Yes'. In the UK the figure was 79 per cent. In the CSUR survey of 'confirmed smokers' the figure was 55 per cent.

Crucially however the CSUR research found that, overwhelmingly, respondents didn't care if they were addicted because the pleasure of smoking (95 per cent said they smoked because they enjoyed it) over-rided any concern about addiction.

In contrast the Kantar/FSFW survey didn't give smokers the option of saying they enjoyed smoking. Instead they were simply invited to describe themselves as light, moderate, fairly heavy or heavy smokers.

They were also asked how often they currently smoked (daily, less than daily but at least once a week etc). And they were also asked about the situations in which they smoked (a few minutes after waking up, after a meal, with coffee or an alcoholic drink etc).

But unlike the CSUR survey respondents do not appear to have been asked why they smoked.

(There's a section called 'Motivation to smoke, quit or switch' but it seems to be all about quitting and awareness and use of new nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn devices.)

By omitting this crucial question ('Why do you smoke?') and focussing instead on the question of addiction (self-perceived) the strong inference is that the overwhelming majority of smokers smoke only because they’re addicted.

This is important because it feeds the idea that smokers need help – or better choices – in order to quit (and quit they must).

In contrast there were no qualms about asking this heavily loaded question: 'Have you ever spent money on cigarettes that you knew would be better spent on household items like food?'

Look, I don't want to diss the FSFW or their survey completely (there's a lot here that is quite informative, albeit nothing that's surprising) but if you're going to complain that 'the majority of smokers are misinformed when it comes to nicotine and tobacco with 52.5% wrongly believing nicotine causes cancer', it might help if you didn't misinform people in other ways, like regurgitating WHO propaganda that says 890,000 people are killed every year by secondhand smoke.

PS: To be completely fair, the press release does say:

Smoking isn’t an isolated habit. Smokers consider it deeply integrated with their basic pleasures of life, such as eating, drinking, and socializing. Currently implemented cessation methods fail to take these into account, resulting in continued smoking.

I can't find any survey questions that relate to this so I can only assume that this detail came from the focus group research that ran alongside the survey.

Update: The State of Smoking Survey was launched yesterday at a press conference in, I think, America.

At the same time the FSFW launched a new promotional film, beautifully shot (I must say) by Aaron Biebert, the director behind A Billion Lives.

The production values are tremendous. Then again, with an annual budget of $83 million the FSFW can afford it.

However, before I become too reasonable (or sycophantic, echoing some of the tweets I've read), I must remind readers of the endgame (and Forest's response):

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Reader Comments (6)

"Smoking isn’t an isolated habit. Smokers consider it deeply integrated with their basic pleasures of life, such as eating, drinking, and socialising."

No problem. All they have to do is get rid of the eating, drinking and socialising and they will have beaten the smoking problem. Oh I forgot, they are working on that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 15:37 | Unregistered CommenterM. Cooper

So the propaganda war against smokers has now entered the 'market manipulation' phase? It seems the vested interests are once again putting their spin over the interests of smokers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 17:45 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Looking at the way they summarised their findings, my hunch is that we poor, ignorant, addicted smokers are misinformed about the joys of e-cigs, snus, and other nicotine delivery systems, and likely think they're more harmful than they are. FSFW going to have its own 'public health' campaign to explain how good and healthy vapes, etc. are?

It sounds like it. And that's when the fun could really start. Granted, thanks to regular 'public health' even many physicians believe that nicotine causes cancer. If they can get the message across that it doesn't, I'll consider that a positive.

What they seem to be missing is understanding that most smokers smoke because we want to. When that dawns on them, do they pull out their million-deaths-a-year-from-passive-smoking junk science and demonise us? Why do people who claim to be harm reductionists have to use propagandist lies? Doesn't that negate the harm reduction bit?

But the point, for them at least, is a smoker-free world. I guess that's their understanding of 'harm reduction'.

Sorry for the ramble, Simon, but I don't like this. Not even a little bit, but I'm still having a hard time putting the 'why' into words.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 20:06 | Unregistered CommenterChanah See

" a poll of 17,000 people (smokers, ex-smokers, non-smokers) in 13 countries including the UK"

That's about 6% of the countries in the world. From 13 countries an average of ~1300 per country.
Perhaps they stood outside a bingo hall and interviewed everyone.
This is not representative of anywhere. Sadly the zealots will take the juicy bits of this and get the media to publish their responses.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 13:55 | Unregistered CommenterStu1

Just goes to show that the vaping industry is in bed with Big Tobacco Control spouting their scurrilous Billion Lies again.

Vaping is an industry that has to force smokers to switch or quit because vaping is so crap it couldn't attract enough of a market on its own if smokers were left alone in peace without hate campaigns or harassment.

What a shame they got into bed with TC. I cannot wait for TC to turn on them and they will. They won't find a friend in me or many other smokers, that's for sure.

Vaping/ tobacco control/ Big T - all liars in it for the money they can screw out of the ordinary consumer.

Be discreet but grow your own and tell them all to go F'#K off

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 14:12 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Exactly right Pat !

Thursday, March 22, 2018 at 16:47 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

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