Sunday, 27 February 2011

Tobacco display ban: The Observer, the Newsagents' federation, tobacco companies and ASH

The Observer's wholehearted endorsement of the tobacco display ban today can be expected in view of this paper's support for tobacco restrictions to date. Its reasoning is also typical. Even though it admits that the facts don't entirely support a ban, it still manages to present a ban as the only rightful course of action.
Whether a ban deters young people from smoking is fiercely contested. Several Canadian provinces that introduced a ban have witnessed a significant fall in youth smoking. But provinces that did not introduce a ban have also seen falls.
The evidence is inconclusive, as the Scottish Government also knows, but evidence is far from being the key issue.
The researchers concluded the ban helped to "de-normalise" tobacco in the minds of children. The truth, long recognised by the tobacco industry, is that these displays are just another form of advertising and so, in the case of cigarettes, should be consigned to history.
The key issue is that tobacco companies are getting away with 'free advertising', just like any other supermarket commodity. Denormalising tobacco in the minds of 'children' (what age?) does not in any way guarantee that the children will forgo smoking once they find out where their elder siblings and friends get tobacco. The intention to break an association between tobacco and shops clearly carries the risk that people will get tobacco from illegal sources.

Another article, this one yesterday in the Guardian, is dangerously wide of the mark. It reports the National Federation of Retail Newsagents is tainted by association with the tobacco industry in its efforts to oppose the tobacco display legislation.
In 2009, when MPs were first deciding on whether to back the ban, the federation took out full-page advertisements in the Times opposing the move. When a federation member asked officials who had paid for the ad he was told, "don't ask". Finch said he was alarmed at the federation's secrecy, adding: "It's supposed to be a trade association, not the Plymouth Brethren."
Members of the NFRN are entitled to ask questions about campaigns by its leadership. But deciding the display ban issue is another problem entirely. Deborah Arnott from Action on Smoking and Health concludes simply that any view that has been even tainted by association with the tobacco industry must be resolved against the tobacco industry's area of interest. Automatically and without prejudice to other issues.
However, allegations that a trade body that has lobbied MPs has been influenced by tobacco firms will be seized on by health campaigners. The UK is a party to the World Heath Organisation convention on tobacco control, which compels governments to ensure the drafting of policies is free "from vested interests of the tobacco industry".
"The government is required to protect its public health policies with respect to tobacco from the commercial and vested interests of the industry," said Deborah Arnott, director of the anti-smoking campaign group, Ash. "If the government repeals or significantly delays the display ban it will have utterly failed to live up to its international treaty obligations."
Article 5.2 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control does indeed compel governments to 'protect health interests from tobacco industry interference'. This particular provision is inherently undemocratic, on the basis that anybody has the right to influence government in its area of interest. Informed debate should be guaranteed by government, the media and the courts: such debate is impossible if key industries are excluded.

If a government feels that an industry's activities have a harmful effect on the population it should ensure that issues resolving that industry should allow other affected voices to be heard. Conflicts of interest are what make up society's business. Government is not entitled to exclude the key industry completely from deliberations, or to assume that any conflict in which tobacco participates (or is perceived to participate) must be decided against it regardless of the the arguments put forward. Tobacco interests, according to the WHO, include 'other vested interests', effectively disenfranchising retail interests or any others perceived to benefit from tobacco sales.

Deborah Arnott doesn't care about the issues brought forward regarding the display ban. She appears to care only about the enforcement of an international treaty that effectively gags tobacco companies (and associates) from any contribution whatever to legislation concerning their product. I don't believe that tobacco companies should have uncontested influence over government, but neither should they be prevented from having any influence at all. Tobacco companies do participate in government consultations, but in the current climate participation at this level is unlikely to help them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Deborah Arnott dictates to Parliament.
this is how we know what's really going on.
Parliament will succeed to the demands of the WHO.
We have no parliament.