The growing gulf of sanity in Tobacco Control

The growing gulf of sanity in Tobacco Control

There are times when I do get a kick out of receiving e-mail updates from medical journals. The Lancet in particular (it is free, and somewhat annoying at times - especially the “Department of Error” - which doesn’t actually tell you much in the e-mail, you have to click the bloody link - unlike every other link in the mail; sadly none of these are ever about vaping) does give plenty of entertainment value. Their own manifesto is a source of much hilarity, considering its penchant for allowing ridiculous anonymous smear jobs in its esteemed digital pages. The logo itself “The best science is a good start” provokes a minor snort and a Spock eyebrow, but it’s the message underneath that is my source of hilarity (emphasis mine):

We at The Lancet believe it is our moral imperative to empower research and to grow the social impact of science.

Improving lives is the only end goal that matters, and research is only relevant when it has impact on human lives. We therefore select only the best research papers, based on their quality of work and the progression they bring: the best science for better lives.

Have they seen the drivel that’s been posted? Probably not. Today’s little op-ed is another corker.

A growing gulf in the terrain of tobacco control

Well really. I guess it comes as no surprise to any of us that there would be an editorial for “World No Tobacco Day” which of course can only mean one thing. Yep, more utter inanity about plain packaging for smokes and the “desperate need” for progress to reach the finger-in-the-air figure of a 30% reduction in tobacco prevalence by some finite year - 2025.

Let’s consider that for a moment. If we look at Greece males (for example) which says a prevalence of %46, which out of the 5,401676 (recorded populus figure for 2016) is just shy of 2.5 Million men lighting up regularly. That is quite a staggering figure. The WHO and FCTC want to bring this down by 30% by 2025. Not a case of lowering the prevalence to 30% but lowering it by 30%. A mere 750,000 male smokers to no longer smoke. That still leaves one million seven hundred and fifty thousand male smokers. But never fear, the WHO & FCTC have done their job right? They’ve lowered the prevalence by 30% as is their stated aim.

Oh my goodness. It is rather blinkered is it not?

But I’ve skipped ahead a little.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day on May 31, an annual initiative of WHO and the Secretariat of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), is plain packaging of tobacco products.

Ah yes, the latest in the “tobacco control arsenal” to pick on those poor smokers.

Plain packaging prohibits the use of logos, colours, and promotional labelling on cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco and gives graphic health warnings more prominence.

Well yes it does, it makes packs plain, drab and quite frankly boring. But something isn’t right here.

EU Special Barometer 429 Factor importance

That is taken from the EU “Special” Eurobarometer 429 which shows that as of December 2014 45% of the 12,196 people who answered the question - the packaging was the least important influencing factor, with a further 32% said “not very important”. That is well over half the total respondents basically saying “the style of the pack doesn’t bovver me mate”. So this latest celebratory drive towards plain packaging (which works oh so well in Australia doesn’t it Simple?) is nothing more than a load of hot, useless and fetid air.

On May 31, WHO calls on countries to “get ready” for plain packaging, following the example of Australia, which introduced plain packs in 2012 and has since seen declines in smoking. France, Ireland, and the UK will imminently require plain packaging, and Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and other European countries are considering tougher packaging laws for tobacco.

Whoopee doo! The unelected folks over at WHO “calls” on countries to ‘get ready’. Which in most countries will be taken as “you must do this” - which of course, they kind of have to otherwise they might get kicked out of the little FCTC club. Wouldn’t that be a shame?

Plain packaging is a big step forward on the journey to reducing tobacco use and its associated health risks. But it has not been an easy road. The Government of Australia spent AUS$50 million fighting a court battle against tobacco giant Philip Morris, which argued that plain packs threatened the company’s intellectual property.

A case PMI subsequently lost, which was of course heralded as a “major victory” for tobacco control down under. We know about the EU cases being thrown out, though I do take exception to this comment:

May 19, a high court in London ruled against four major tobacco companies who argued the plain packaging move violated UK and European law.

As it wasn’t all “tobacco companies” that were involved there. But this is The Lancet - facts don’t matter here do they?

These recent victories against Big Tobacco are another triumph for public health. However, they also put into stark focus the massive gap between countries in delivering tobacco control.

So they’ve won a couple of legal cases which did absolutely diddly squat to the smoking prevalence rate. In fact, there haven’t really been much in the way of victories for the FCTC fraternity since its inception:

BAT Share prices as of May 2016

BAT share prices are at their highest ever. So who’s winning this so called war?

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), for example, released a report last week revealing uneven headway across the Americas. Just 17 of the region’s 35 member countries have smoke-free public spaces and workplaces, and only five have banned tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

That’s probably because the remaining member countries have this thing called common bloody sense. Implementing smoke-free public spaces and workplaces doesn’t do anything to “encourage” a smoker to change his or her behaviour. If anything it makes them more obstinate in saying “fuck you” to the Establishment.

Tobacco taxation is the most effective cessation and prevention strategy, but only one American nation has implemented the treaty’s agreed measure.

Well we know how well the eye-watering taxation works in Australia don’t we - it is pretty much the only thing keeping legitimate sales lower than anywhere else - bar Sweden. The figures truly do speak for themselves (h/t Chris Snowdon):

Illicit trade

The USA has yet to even ratify the FCTC.

Awww diddums. Are you missing out on the good ol’ US of A’s mighty influence, or did they tell you to fuck off?

Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable disease and early death. It is the single common risk factor for the priority non-communicable diseases whose burdens are exploding in the very countries where tobacco use runs largely unabated.

Gotta love those tasty soundbites. Everyone in the world and their dog can recite that word for word it’s been trotted out so often.

Without fuller implementation of the FCTC, no country will reach the global target of a 30% reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use by 2025, nor contribute substantially to the one-third reduction in premature deaths from non-communicable diseases targeted in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Hey, here’s an idea. Back the fuck off. Let’s see alternatives to smoking - Smokeless, Vaping, Heat not Burn and all that good stuff. You know actual THR instead of punitive punishments… oh wait:

The basic ingredients of the framework convention—advertising bans, smoke-free spaces, graphic warnings, and taxation—are effective and cost little.

Of course. Governments love it when things won’t cost them a collective set of arms, legs and the use of their significant others for six weeks, but there’s a host of unintended costs associated with these kinds of measures. Such as folk like me (when I smoked) cursing the Establishment and Chancellor every-time the Budget came around - xx pence duty on tobacco - regular as fucking clockwork.

So lack of implementation is not a matter of financial resources, it is political.

Ah, so freely admitting that it is not about health, but then we knew that. This is a crusade because someone doesn’t like it.

Overcoming the inability to galvanise political will to fight for tobacco control should be the real focus of World No Tobacco Day.

Oh joy of joys. That means we can look forward to more sockpuppet charities lobbying Government with gasp Government cash to “galvanise political will”. Yay. Wonder if Debs is busy penning her next set of opus e-mails to the DoH?

We renew our call for a high-level UN summit on tobacco control, with stronger accountability mechanisms to bridge the gap between countries on-track and off-track for a tobacco-free world.

Translation: Let’s all meet up somewhere on the taxpayers dime, throw the public and press out, have a chat about the state of tobacco control then we’ll propose some measures which will then have to be adopted by those cretins that ratified the FCTC. Yeah.

Fuck off.