We need help, but not yours

We need help, but not yours

Well, these are crazy times no? Practically every country worldwide has some kind of lockdown, either voluntary or enforced. Extreme authoritarian measures are rife (I’m looking at you Hungary) with police completely misinterpreting the law (I’m looking at you UK).

All the while, intensive care unit beds (ICU) are being filled at a rapid pace. Unlike previous pandemics, COVID-19 is a bastard. A right, real bastard. It is seemingly highly contagious for one and, if the various statistics are to be believed, a real killer - though I suspect that, in some countries, COVID-19 is simply being attributed as the cause of some deaths - just as smoking is attributed to cancer related deaths.

Don’t get me wrong, smoking does elevate the risks of cancer and other associated diseases, but it is not, fundamentally, the cause of death. The disease is. So, if a patient who has COVID-19 suffers a fatal heart attack, that death should be marked as such, not a death due to COVID-19.

All that aside, plenty of manufacturers - like Dyson, JCB, McLaren F1, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 (along with the other five UK based teams, Williams, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, Racing Point F1, Haas F1 (run by Americans), and Renault F1) are pitching in to help where they can by manufacturing critical supplies for intensive care.

Other companies are pitching in too - BrewDog are making hand sanitiser, Chessington World of Adventures has given up its car park as a COVID-19 testing area and Virgin and EasyJet are providing workers for the newly built Nightingale hospital in East London.

All that help is welcomed with much fanfare and celebration. Except for one provision of assistance.

Philip Morris International, the world’s largest multinational tobacco company, has been accused of a “shameful publicity stunt” by a leading campaigner after it donated ventilators to the Greek government as coronavirus infections mount in the country.

Ventilators are in extremely short supply and in incredibly high demand right now, so you’d think that any offer of such devices would be welcomed; despite the source. But no.

A PMI executive said that the company’s Greek affiliate Papastratos had sourced and paid for the ventilators in order to help “flatten the curve”. Stavros Drakoularakos, PMI’s director of communications for Greece, tweeted the news and said he was “sky-high proud” of the move and described it as “proof of what sheer will and collaboration between all can achieve”

Like many who spotted this “news”, I couldn’t give a flying rats arse where the ventilators came from. The important thing here is that they are being provided and will help to save lives. But not everyone thinks like us normies.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, criticised PMI’s motives. “This is a shameful publicity stunt by Philip Morris International, which owns Papastratos and has a 40% share of the Greek tobacco market,” she said.

Naturally. Dear ol’ Debs can’t stand the thought that a tobacco company is willing, and able, to provide much needed assistance at a time of crisis. Instead, she writes it off as a “shameful publicity stunt”. Except, the only ones making this into a publicity stunt are, you guessed it, tobacco control. As illustrated by Dr Gilchrist herself:

“Smoking makes people more vulnerable to coronavirus, and if they get it makes the symptoms worse, meaning they’re more likely to need ventilators. Papastratos makes €1.3bn a year … In comparison, the donation of 50 ventilators is a drop in the ocean.”

Smoking increases the risks of a variety of respiratory diseases, not just COVID-19 (though there is some evidence that smoking may be somewhat preventative to COVID-19). Also, if you haven’t been paying attention, ventilators are in short supply. Being able to provide, even an additional 50, should be welcome.

But that’s not all.

Yep. You read that right. Tobacco controllers would rather see people die due to lack of ventilators than have them be provided (at no cost) to the hospitals that need them because of their vaunted, and utterly misguided, guidelines.

Guidelines which, when written, did not forsee a global pandemic as nasty as this one. The mask, which had already slipped, is well and truly off now.

Common sense speaks.