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ASH Keep Their Jobs (Again)

After weeks of posing the same question in Parliament and being told, repeatedly, that the new tobacco control plan will be published soon, it’s finally happened.

The Government have released their new tobacco control plan – “Towards a Smokefree Generation” – which says it all really.

I’ve read the thing. I tweeted my immediate thoughts as I was reading. Let’s just say I was less than impressed. I’m not going to dissect it line by line, it’d take far too long for one, and I doubt my blood pressure could handle it.

In the opening page, there isn’t even a hint of the impact that e-cigs (or any other reduced risk product) have made.

Since the previous Tobacco Control Plan, smoking prevalence has substantially reduced; from 20.2% of adults smoking at the start of the plan to just 15.5% now, the lowest level since records began.

This achievement has been reached through world-leading public health measures. During the period of the last plan, we built on the legislation which curbed advertising and established smokefree places to introduce new measures such as larger and more prominent graphic health warnings, a ban on both proxy purchasing and smoking in cars with children, and standardised packaging. The UK now has comprehensive tobacco control legislation which is the envy of the world.

Yep. Self congratulating themselves on what they’ve done so far (which really amounts to not much at all) and jumping the shark with the inclusion of plain packaging, which has been proven to have little or no effect on smoking rates.

Smoking rates have remained stubbornly higher amongst those in our society who already suffer from poorer health and other disadvantages. Smoking rates are almost three times higher amongst the lowest earners, compared to the highest earners.

Ya think? Who put these people in that situation? Oh, that’s right. YOU DID. By consistently raising taxes on tobacco, you’ve punished those that were originally “getting by”. Still, at least you’re not hiking the prices like your Australian brethren are you? No, that wasn’t meant to be an idea for you. Don’t do it.

This injustice in the variation in smoking prevalence can be seen across England; from places where adult smoking is as low as 5% to others where smoking remains above 25%

These folk really have no idea do they? They’ve made smoking socially unacceptable in all but the poorer areas of society with their incessant campaigns and bullying tactics which of course leads to things such as this:

masterhatefinalc45x30-custom

Image courtesy of Michael J McFadden

Of course, the Government – as weak willed as it is to give in to the incessant badgering from ASH stooges – wants to create a smokefree generation, and how do they plan to do that?

we need to shift emphasis from action at the national level – legislation and mandation of services to focused, local action, supporting smokers, particularly in disadvantaged groups, to quit.

This vision is ambitious and presents a challenge to local services – local councils, the NHS and civic society to continue to reduce smoking prevalence, targeting those communities where smoking rates are highest, and providing people who smoke with the tools that they need to quit.

No doubt smokefree council property will be on an agenda somewhere; after all it has already been bandied about.

Naturally, part of the new plan is all about prevention. Which is where they’ll be “ensuring effective operation of legislation such as proxy purchasing and standardised packaging designed to reduce the uptake of smoking by young people”.

Er, didn’t ASH (in their incredibly long begging letter covered by myself and the illustrious Dick Puddlecote, among others) say “existing smokers’ dislike of the redesigned packs is an additional benefit of the policy.” – which of course was the primary (hidden) purpose of the policy. Make the smoker feel ugly, unwanted and belittled. Check, check and check.

We’ve seen a spate of NHS hospitals going “smokefree” which includes the vicious method employed by one particular hospital (which they are immensely proud of, natch), so we can expect that kind of trend to continue. Strike one for targeting one of the most vulnerable groups where stress levels are at their highest.

Next up, enforcement. Tobacco taxes will remain high, of course. Which’ll hit the smoker in the pocket as an “encouragement” to quit. If it hasn’t worked up to now, it’s not likely to. A smoker will still smoke, they’ll just go without something else to maintain that little escapist luxury that the puritans are trying to deny them.

As for those shops that repeatedly sell smokes to kids? Well, they’ll be taking a leaf out of HMRC’s playbook. Heavy sanctions, closures, fines, and probably imprisonment too. Targeting local small businesses will have a marvellous effect on smoking rates won’t it? Except one who really begrudges selling tobacco.

Much of the report is full of the usual tobacco control bullshit bingo soundbites (long since debunked by Carl Phillips), along with an almost-certainly-to-be exaggerated “cost” but it does get a more interesting when it comes to “evidence based innovation” – aside from the usual bullshit bingo soundbites that is.

However, the evidence is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco. The government will seek to support consumers in stopping smoking and adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products. Public Health England has produced guidance for employers and organisations looking to introduce policies around e-cigarettes and vaping in public and recommend such policies to be evidence-based. PHE recommends that e-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smokefree policy.

“Should not routinely be included in the requirements” yet, as we have seen it is still happening wherever smoking is already banned, the use of e-cigarettes is too. A fact that ASH is all too quick to “fully welcome“. It’s also happening with frightening pace elsewhere too.

As for the less harmful nicotine products factor, isn’t it long past time that a separate regulatory framework for nicotine be established? A framework that both ASH and Cancer Research UK were looking at back in 2005. It’d make the most sense. Remove nicotine, which by itself – at the concentrations in e-cigs and other reduced risk products – is about as harmful as caffeine, from medicines regulation and institute a separate framework. But of course, they can’t keep their snout in the trough if that was the case can they?

Which is exactly what they want. More money.

One of the items that is missing, that really should be included, is a thorough review of existing legislation, including the use of taxpayer cash for sockpuppet charities and smoking cessation services. After all, the display ban cost was grossly under-estimated by ASH – something they conveniently ignore, as indeed the impact of the smoking ban was grossly over-exaggerated, coupled with an incredibly under-estimated cost to other industries.

The plan then moves on to the UK’s implementation of the TPD, with one very interesting snippet:

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will ensure that the route to medicinal regulation for e-cigarette products is fit for purpose so that a range of safe and effective products can potentially be made available for NHS prescription.

Remember, the MHRA wanted all e-cigs to be medicalised in 2010. Now they are the “competent authority” for overseeing the UK’s implementation of the TPD. It is known that some in tobacco control want there to be nothing but medicalised e-cigs; which would be dull, boring, uninviting and just as ineffective as the more traditional NRT.

There is no further legislative change planned.

Right. I somehow doubt that. Given that there are an increasing number of extended bans popping up all over the damn place, the anti-smoker lobby is never satisfied and it’ll continue to propose more draconian legislation that’ll be about as useful and effective as an ashtray on a motorbike.

There’s very little in this plan to be enthusiastic about. Harm reduction strategies get a small mention, but no real endorsement other than what they should be doing already; such as telling the truth about relative risk, keeping their noses out when it comes to business & public premises, and ensuring they review the evidence along with the UK implementation of the TPD (which it has to do as it’s in the Directive). Instead it’s more bullying and coercion for those of the population that choose to smoke.

Once again, the Government has caved in to the demands of a few over-entitled puritans that continue to ignore the elephant in the room which they have consistently tried to undermine with their sockpuppetry.

But then, it’s never really been about health has it?

Others have written their own thoughts on the plan’s release:

Snowdon – Too Much Stick, Not Enough Carrot

FOREST – Statement on the new Tobacco Control Plan

Clark – Government targets further reduction in smoking rates

Bates – English tobacco control plan embraces tobacco harm reduction

Update

As expected, ASH are pleading for more money (the entire aim of their begging letter):

“Funding must be found if the Government is to achieve its vision of a “smokefree generation”. The tobacco industry should be made to pay a through a licence fee on the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Tobacco manufacturers are some of the most profitable companies on earth they can easily afford the costs of radical action to drive down smoking rates.”

Erm, you’ll find it difficult to levy anything against an industry that (aside from two players) isn’t even based in the UK. Even if you did manage to bring some kind of regressive “license fee” that’s only going to end up costing the consumer; who, as pointed out earlier is already being excessively battered with unfair sin taxes, pushing them into further inequalities.

Naturally, ASH are (again) ignoring the elephant in the room:

Since the introduction of the last Tobacco Control Plan smoking rates have fallen from 20.2% [3] to 15.5% [4] and if this rate of decline can be sustained a smokefree generation could be achieved by 2030.

It’s worth showing this chart again:

SmokingPrevalence_Snowdon

(H/T Christopher Snowdon)

Where there’s minimal decrease in overall prevalence between 2007 and 2011. It’s only after alternatives appeared (and subsequently gained market traction) that the rate began a substantial decline.

RSPH on the other hand have alluded to a small part of the plan:

RSPH supports the government in its commitment to maximise the availability of safer alternatives to smoking, including its acknowledgement that vaping can be a successful means of stopping smoking, and is now by far the most popular quitting method in England.

Yet, they too are calling for more of our cash:

However, this will be an uphill battle if public health budgets continue to get slashed at every turn.

As Snowdon succinctly says:

The policy of pointing at things and banning them has been tested to destruction. The only people who benefit from it are professional prohibitionists who get government grants to lobby against freedom. They have done enough damage. Depart and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!