Thursday
Jan052017

Nick Hopkinson, Louise Ross, Linda Bauld, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

Today's Guardian reports:

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

In a letter to Theresa May, the senior doctors say the plan is essential to drive down smoking rates, which are highest and most damaging to health among the least well-off. The plan was due to be published last summer.

See Doctors urge Theresa May to publish anti-smoking strategy (Guardian).

The letter was coordinated by Dr Nicholas Hopkinson. “What we want is a smoke-free future,” he told the paper.

Support for mass media campaigns is needed, he says, as well as the continuation of policies on the cigarette pricing and tobacco smuggling. Spending on media campaigns in England has dropped in the past five years from just under £25m in 2009-10 to £5.3m in 2015, although evidence shows they help people quit.

“It is absolutely clear these interventions work. It is just keeping up the momentum and making sure there is a high priority to this,” he said. “There are 9 million smokers in the UK, and smoking is increasingly associated with inequality – it is quite a bit higher in the poorer parts of society.”

It didn't surprise me at all that Hopkinson was behind the letter. It's his modus operandi.

In February 2013 he was chief signatory to a letter in The Lancet that called on healthcare organisations to sever all links with PR companies lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry.

A few months later he got 150 "health professionals" to sign a letter to the Telegraph demanding the introduction of plain packaging.

In May 2016 he wrote a letter that was reported as follows by the Observer:

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco.

For some reason the Guardian didn't include a link to Hopkinson's latest letter but you can read it in full here (The need for a new Tobacco Control Plan: an issue of justice).

You can also read the full list of signatories. The Guardian, naturally, focussed on the fact that the letter had been signed by "more than 1,000 doctors, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions".

In fact, a number of signatories are not doctors at all but long-term anti-smoking activists or researchers. Notably they include Deborah Arnott (ASH), Andrea Crossfield (Healthier Futures, formerly Smokefree North West) and Ailsa Rutter (Fresh, formerly Smokefree North East).

Other familiar names include Professors Anna Gilmore (University of Bath), Simon Capewell (Faculty of Public Health) and Anne McNeil and John Britton (both UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies).

Oh, and let's not forget those darlings of the vaping community, Linda Bauld (CRUK) and stop smoking service manager Louise Ross.

Frankly, the only person who's missing is Old Uncle Tom Cobley.

It's worth pointing out too that most if not all of the 1,000+ signatories are beneficiaries, in some way or another, of taxpayers' money so a more obvious example of government lobbying government is hard to find.

The question is, how does Nick Hopkinson do it? How does he get "more than 1,000 healthcare experts" to sign such letters?

Last year he ignored our polite request for information about his signature gathering methodology and today he responded to a similar query with the following tweet.

Naturally we responded with one or two of our own:

Tuesday
Jan032017

It's a mystery

Happy New Year!

There was an important omission in my previous post. Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh (formerly Smoke Free North East), was awarded an OBE "for services to Tobacco Control".

So this is where we are.

The most recent directors of Smoke Free South West, Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smoke Free North West) and Smoke Free North East have all been awarded an OBE or MBE yet the chief executive of ASH (appointed in 2003) and the CEO of ASH Scotland (appointed in 2008) continue to be overlooked.

Why? It's a mystery.

Saturday
Dec312016

No comment

On December 31, 2013, I wrote:

Something has always puzzled me about the honours list and it's this. Why no gongs for the likes of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH; Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland; Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West; or Andrea Crossfield, director of Tobacco Free Futures?

After all, it's titans of Tobacco Control like Deborah and Sheila who are often credited with introducing smoking bans and other measures that have saved tens of thousands of lives. Allegedly.

Surely they should receive recognition for their services to public health? But, no. The years tick by and Deborah remains plain Ms Arnott. Ditto Ms Duffy.

See New Year Honours: Arnott and Duffy overlooked again.

A year later that oversight was partially put right when Andrews and Crossfield were each awarded an MBE, as I reported here (Was it something I wrote?). But still no recognition for Arnott or Duffy.

This morning I scoured the 2016 New Year's Honours list and I have to report that the CEOs of ASH and ASH Scotland have yet again been overlooked.

Smoking may now be banned at all royal residences but Arnott and Duffy won't be able to enjoy the smokefree (sic) environment at Buckingham Palace any time soon.

Nevertheless, perhaps they'll put their disappointment aside and join me in a toast to Sir Cyril Chantler, appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE), and Professor Jill Pell.

Sir Cyril (whose controversial report on plain packaging gave the green light to the measure) has been rewarded for "services to leadership in healthcare".

Pell has been less visible in recent years but older readers will recall that she was responsible for the "heart attack miracle" report that followed the smoking ban in Scotland. Chris Snowdon wrote about it here: Health fears go up in smoke (Spiked).

Two years later Chris took another shot at Pell's work, querying her claim that the rate of hospitalisations for children with asthma in Scotland had dropped by more than 18 per cent year-on-year since the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places in 2006 (Jill Pell does it again).

See also Professor Jill Pell, doctor of spin (Taking Liberties).

Pell has now been awarded a CBE for "public health research".

I couldn't possibly comment.

Update:
Friday
Dec302016

Another day another public health campaign (and more BBC bias)

Yesterday Public Health England launched a campaign aimed at 40 to 60-year-olds, "83% of whom weigh too much or drink above guidelines".

Today they've launched another quit smoking campaign, this time using children to highlight the risks. The BBC reports:

Primary school children in Coventry are at the centre of a nationwide anti-smoking campaign.

Pupils from Earlsdon Primary School have drawn their own anti-smoking packaging ahead of the country's plain packaging rollout in May 2017.

Public Health England (PHE) said it hopes the message "resonates" with the UK's 7m smokers.

The children drew their own front-of-pack messages, with sentiments like, "don't be the smoker, be the stopper".

The drawings also feature illustrations of diseases that can be caused by smoking, like heart attacks and strokes.

See Primary school children make anti-smoking packaging (BBC News).

When I read the report at seven o'clock this morning I immediately clocked there was no opposing comment, despite the fact that Forest had sent BBC News online our reaction at least 19 hours previously.

Not for the first time I rang the online news desk and complained. The report has now been updated:

Campaign group Forest, which supports those who choose to smoke, said the use of children for an anti-smoking message was "emotional blackmail" and should not be "financed with taxpayers' money".

Director Simon Clark said: "Using children to make adults feel guilty about smoking is a new low for the public health industry."

But why should we have to chase them to provide some tiny element of balance? What is wrong with the BBC (and, to be fair, other news organisations)?

I've lost count of the number of times I've had to point out that what they are presenting as "news" is little more than state-sponsored propaganda.

Is this what they advocate at the BBC's famed journalism trainee scheme?

The Press Association also ran the story (Children create anti-smoking artwork for new-look cigarette packets) with a slightly longer quote from Forest:

Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, said using children was "emotional blackmail".

He said: "Using children to make adults feel guilty about smoking is a new low for the public health industry. It's emotional blackmail and should be condemned by all decent people, not financed with taxpayers' money.

"Adults know the health risks of smoking. Most smoke because they enjoy it. Public health campaigners should respect that choice and stop bullying smokers to quit."

However even that required some cajoling (three phone calls to the news desk).

I don't know whether it's laziness or incompetence but journalists seem happy to file copy straight from a press release rather than picking up the phone to get an alternative opinion.

As it happens PHE's new quit smoking campaign has had very little press coverage but it has been reported by the BBC, ITV and the Press Association, three of Britain's major news outlets, none of whom made the effort to contact Forest direct but were happy to promote the PHE campaign without challenge.

The only news media that did contact us for a response was Sky News for whom I did a short interview via Skype last night.

Credit where credit's due but in general Sky is no better than its rivals. The truth is, to get our message across requires constant vigilance across all media platforms.

On a lighter note, I'm off to Cambridge to meet Dan Donovan. Always a pleasure ...

PS. Fancy that, Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies used her privileged position as guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme today to promote PHE's new anti-smoking campaign – without challenge, naturally.

Tuesday
Dec272016

The Pleasure of Smoking

Two months ago we invited smokers to complete an online survey devised by the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow.

The response exceeded our expectations. Over 600 completed the survey and the results are published today in a new report, The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.

As you can imagine the opinions expressed by most respondents don't fit the establishment's anti-smoking narrative so don't expect to hear them on the Today programme, one of whose guest editors this week is Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies.

Despite our best efforts it's unlikely too that you'll read about the The Pleasure of Smoking in your national newspaper. So it's up to you, dear reader, to help disseminate the report as widely as possible.

Here are the headline results:

The overwhelming majority of confirmed smokers say they light up because they enjoy smoking not because they are addicted, a new study has found.

A survey of over 600 smokers by the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow found that nearly all respondents (95%) gave pleasure as their primary reason for smoking, with 35% suggesting that smoking was part of their identity.

Well over half (62%) liked the physical effect of nicotine, 55% liked the way smoking provided “time for oneself”, 52% liked the taste or smell of tobacco, and 49% liked the ritual involved in smoking.

Most of those surveyed (77%) expected to smoke for many years with only 5% envisaging a time in the near future when they might have stopped.

Although a majority (56%) felt that they were addicted to smoking, many described the habit as a personal choice rather than behaviour determined by their dependence on nicotine.

Asked what they liked least about smoking, 73% cited the financial cost while 54% objected to the stigma that is now directed towards smokers.

Asked what might prompt them to stop smoking in future, the most common reasons were becoming seriously unwell as a result of smoking or exacerbating an illness through smoking.

Anti-smoking policies such as smoking bans and plain packaging were not cited by any respondents as reasons to quit smoking.

Significantly nine out of ten respondents (91%) felt they were treated unfairly by government. Only 4% felt they were treated fairly.

More than half the respondents (59%) had used alternative nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes. Few however were persuaded to switch permanently from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes.

The full press release, including comments by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the CSUR, is available here.

I will return to various elements in the report later in the week. There's quite a bit to chew over including the reaction of respondents to e-cigarettes.

To download The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers click here.

Update: Dick Puddlecote has commented on the report here (The much ignored pleasure of smoking). See also Grandad (When smokers answer back).

Saturday
Dec242016

Happy Christmas

I saw this a couple of weeks ago and it made me laugh.

If you're on Facebook you can also view it here. Many of the 1.9k comments are rather touching.

Enjoy, and have a very happy Christmas. Normal service will be resumed on Tuesday.

PS. This is rather funny too (if you watch it to the end).

Tuesday
Dec132016

Pantomime Dame to star on BBC's Christmas stage

This should be good.

For the past decade or more Radio 4's Today programme has livened up its post Christmas broadcasts by inviting a series of guest editors to stamp their mark on the news of the day.

Some I remember, the vast majority I don't.

According to Radio Times they have included Sir Lenny Henry, Michael Palin, Tracey Emin, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Lord Sebastian Coe, John Bercow MP, Prof Stephen Hawking, PD James, Sir Tim Berners Lee, Yoko Ono, David Hockney, Jarvis Cocker, Sir Richard Branson and Melinda Gates.

This year's line-up, naturally, is all-female (a first, apparently) but when it was announced last month the focus was on actor Carey Mulligan because of her topical interest in the impact of the war with Isis on Iraq’s children.

Much less was written about boxer Nicola Adams, businesswoman Helena Morrissey and chief medical officer Sally Davies.

Yes, Dame Sally Davies. As if she doesn't get enough attention already, the CMO is to guest edit the BBC's flagship news programme. Just what we need when we're still reeling from the effects of too much food and alcohol.

For the record, here are some of Davies' interventions and proclamations since she was appointed CMO for England in 2011 following a brief period as acting CMO:

Dame Sally Davies says people should work at least until their late 60s (December 2016)

To ensure the health of the nation it “is critical that [waist size] is addressed”, Dame Sally Davies said yesterday (December 2016)

Health chief: obesity warning letters to parents must not be watered down (November 2016)

England’s chief medical officer warns of ‘antibiotic apocalypse’ (May 2016)

Think about cancer before you have a glass of wine, says chief medical officer (February 2016)

Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies says keep off the booze two days a week (December 2015)

Britain’s chief medical officer says obesity is as big a threat as terrorism (December 2015)

England's chief medical officer says smoking should be banned in parks and children's play areas (September 2015)

Dame Sally Davies: Smoking 'rots you from the inside' (December 2014)

Ban smoking in public parks: England's most senior doctor warns lighting up in public places encourages children to take up the habit (October 2014)

Health chief will not endorse e-cigarettes (September 2014)

Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, thinks society needs to wake up to problems with body weight, drinking and e-cigarettes (March 2014)

England’s chief medical officer warns of rising liver disease rates (November 2012)

The Guardian reports that when Davies takes the Today editor's chair she will look at science, global health, and “great women”.

Sadly that would appear to rule out the Department of Health's top ranking official Andrew Black whose job title is now Head of Global Tobacco Control Projects.

Nevertheless England is clearly not enough for our ambitious Dame. Armed with every fearmongering stat she can lay her hands on, world domination awaits!

PS. When did we stop calling actresses "actresses"? It's been a while, I know, but 'actor Carey Mulligan' doesn't sound right, to me at least.

Tuesday
Dec132016

So this is what the NHS means by patient care in 2016

The Leicester Mercury has published a truly shocking story.

It's not online so I can't link to it but here are some excerpts:

A mental health patient says a hospital smoking ban is hampering her recovery. She also claims some patients are being taken on "smoking walks" along the potentially dangerous and busy A50 road near the unit on the Glenfield Hospital site.

Helen Charlesworth, a 30-a-day smoker, was admitted to the Bradgate mental health unit six weeks ago. She is so poorly she is not allowed away from the unit – but her cigarettes have also been banned.

Helen, who is bipolar and suffers from personality disorder, said: "I was given patches but they didn't work and I have tried an e-cigarette but I am becoming more and more depressed because I can't have a cigarette.

"People used to be able to have e-cigarettes in the garden but even that has now been stopped."

Helen also told the paper:

"People used to be able to smoke in the garden at the Bradgate unit but because there is a ban on smoking in the grounds now some patients are being escorted on smoking walks.

"They have to go right up by the A50, which could be quite dangerous and put some people at risk, especially is someone had suicidal thoughts. It is also taking staff longer because of the distance.

"It is not just the patients. I know that many of the staff don't agree with the ban either."

I've just checked and it appears that Helen Charlesworth's MP might be Nicky Morgan.

If that's correct perhaps the former Education Secretary could take time off from sniping at Theresa May and take up Helen's case.

After all, representing the interests of constituents is supposed to be an MP's principal role, not commenting on Brexit, grammar schools or the PM's choice of trousers.

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