Imperial Tobacco, Continuing the Fight Back

It’s been interesting to watch the ‘smoking issue’ lately. For a long time the anti-smoking side has been very vocal, very visible and very forceful in getting things done to try to eradicate smoking. Lately, though, the tobacco industry has started to wake up and start something of a retaliation. Imperial Tobacco has released a paper that demands transparency regarding tobacco control – which is only fair, considering the MSA ruled transparency for the tobacco industry. Besides, considering tobacco control is supposedly there to make things safer for the public, they should have nothing to hide, right?

I’ll paste some interesting excerpts from the new paper:

Under the banner of “public health policy” many adult lifestyle freedoms and choices including where to smoke, how much to drink and what to eat, have been unjustifiably attacked.The underlying philosophy appears to be that, left to ourselves, we will inevitably make bad choices and that encouragement is less effecive than controlling behaviour through regulation. The Nanny State has become the Bully State. Nudge has rapidly turned to shove.

I don’t think many of us would argue any of that.

The time has come for all Governments and Health Departments to engage in meaningful, transparent dialogue with Imperial Tobacco and the tobacco sector. Until the current situation changes, and a balanced debate takes place, policy will continue to be ineffective and disproportionate in their approach.

Seems wholly reasonable. Why shouldn’t the tobacco industry be in on the discussions? It is, after all, their product that is under scrutiny.

The Government is to be congratulated for appearing to tackle the difficult, long-term solutions needed to prevent youth smoking…Provided such education is based on independent factual information rather than that provided by organisations with vested interests, such as ASH and the pharmaceutical industry[Emphasis mine], Imperial Tobacco welcomes and will support the Government’s efforts in this area.

Well it’s about time someone stood up to that point.

The Government’s tobacco control policies have never been subjected to proper evalutation. There is therefore no basis on which to claim that the decline in smoking rates is a direct result of such policies, particular when, even with a ‘comprehensive strategy’ in place, smoking prevalence has remained flat amongst adults in Wales since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007.

Perhaps my favourite part:

It is therefore bewildering that the Government sees adult free choice as a ‘problem’; that prevalence stagnation is due to a lack of mass-media anti-smoking campaigns, the use of niche tobacco products, and smoking in cars and homes, all of which were considered negligible issues at the time of the smoking ban. When informed adults choose to continue smoking the answer should not be yet more draconian and disproportionate policies to force behaviour change[emphasis mine].

An understanding of [the factors that cause people to smoke] must be central to achieving effective policy aims…Their omission here betrays an approach that is more anti-smoker than it is pro-public health – ‘denormalising’ smoking as an activity is clear evidence of this. As a result, policy is not led by empirical evidence but by pressure from anti-smoker lobby groups.

And then we’re told what we already know, but the public aren’t quite so aware of:

The Plan contains multiple referenes to unelected anti-smoker groups, indicating an alarming level of undue influence on polic formulation and implementation. For example, ASH Wales are features no less than 39 times in the 45-page Plan. [Emphasis mine] Such levels of influence from vested interest groups invariably lead to unrealistic, unachievable and ineffective policies.

The facts suggest that, rather than tobacco manufacturers having an undue influence over policy, it is the anti-smoking lobbying industry and other vested commercial interests that are having a disproportionate impact on policy, with manufacturers unfairly excluded from debate.

Imperial Tobacco now highlight the stupidity of the government:

Any effective tobacco control measures aimed at improving outcomes for deprived communities should focus primarily on controlling the illicit rather than the legitimate trade in tobacco. In many communities…a higher proportion of smokers will be sourcing their tobacco from illicit providers and criminal gangs. For example, in Ireland the evidence is unequivocal that many former paramilitaries have moved into this highly lucrative business. It is also worth noting that since the introduction of the display ban Ireland has seen a dramatic increase in illicit trade… Smugglers and organised criminal gangs do not adhere to any of the existing tobacco laws, including those restricting sales to under 18s, and the illicit trade makes tobacco products more easily available. It is therefore disappointing that illicit trade is only mentioned a mere 4 times in the entire Plan (compared to the citations of 39 ASH Wales)…Given this imbalance of focus it is unsurprising that in considering how to further limit the supply of tobacco to young people, rather than focus on illicit trade, the Plan instead focuses on the possibility of retailer licensing.

The paper covers pretty much most of what we have been talking about for a long time – including increased smoking rates since the ban and a devastating effect on the hospitality industry. You can read the whole thing here (it’s not very long).

Perhaps this is the start of the turning point. It should be interesting watching how this all progresses.

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