Thursday, 25 April 2013

ASH Scotland and the tobacco control lobby talk nonsense about profits and health

Two extraordinary statements have arisen this week from the anti-smoking lobby that reflect its bizarre approach to ethics, business and health.
On the issue of regulating e-cigarettes, tobacco control is faced with a dilemma. The controlling interest in the field is tobacco's competitor, namely the smoking cessation market (and I use the word 'market' deliberately). E-cigarettes muddy the water, as they are a clear alternative to smoking, but they're made by those rascals the Chinese (!), and so cannot be trusted as a legitimate alternative to smoking. It may be that the existence of these products will force the more honest among tobacco control advocates – those who actually recognise that smokers have a legitimate range of options if they want to quit – to admit that some of their more extreme allies might have an agenda other than helping people to stop smoking. 
It looks as if Sheila Duffy has quite a long way to go before she can bring herself to applaud the existence of e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking: 
 Ms Duffy said: "Quitting tobacco is the single best thing a smoker can do to improve their health. We do not support banning e-cigarettes as they could help many smokers to move to a less risky product. However e-cigarettes are produced by commercial companies, with a profit motive." [Emphasis added]
Ms Duffy has of course observed that smoking cessation medication, much of it laced with nicotine, is also made by commercial companies. In fact these companies are major pharmaceutical companies, some with eye-watering turnover. 'Health' is one of those goodies that we buy all the time: the demand is enormous globally, and the question is whether drug companies can keep their mind on the job of improving health and off the balance sheet. Pharmaceutical companies co-sponsor the UK's annual smoking cessation conference (one might as well call it a trade fair), and Chris Snowdon spotted that the main sponsors all have a slots on the conference programme (click on the figures in this link to enlarge). In fact Ms Duffy knows quite well that smoking cessation products are [also]produced by commercial companies with a profit motive. She knows quite well that she's talking nonsense. Doesn't she?

The Scottish government awaits the conclusions of UK regulators before deciding what action they should take on regulating e-cigarettes, so Ms Duffy can afford to sit on the fence for a little longer. 

But there was an even worse clanger in a letter from various tobacco control personalities to the Guardian on the subject of plain packaging, which claimed: 'Tobacco, unlike other causes of disease, has a global and powerful industry promoting its interests' [emphasis added]. We-e-e-ll, as Sheila Duffy observed 'mosquitoes don’t have PR agencies and expensive promotions budgets', which means that it's not really worth fighting malaria because it's no fun unless you can blame a company for the fact that people get ill. 

But can't we all blame companies for people getting ill. Bhopal? Who makes asbestos? What about illegal levels of pollutants in the air? It is completely absurd to claim that tobacco companies the only corporate entities that give people health problems. I return to a passage from George Monbiot's Captive State (2002):
As big business infiltrates the research agenda, ever wider zones of public enquiry are placed off limits. In 1999, the government published a White Paper on public health called Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation. The only atmospheric pollution named in the report is radon. It also happens to be one of the only pollutants in Britain which does not result from the activities of large corporations: it is naturally occurring. The report warns us about the dangers of cancer resulting from 'exposure to radon gas in certain homes or excessive sunlight', but nuclear power stations are not mentioned, and nor are any other chemicals, even though the paper concedes that 'Pollutants in the atmosphere may cause cancer if inhaled or swallowed'. The language in which this warning is given is interesting: it creates the impression that breathing or ingesting pollution is something we can avoid. The paper informs us that the government hosted 'the largest ever Ministerial conference on environment and health in 1999. It fails to tell us that the links between cancer and industrial pollution were dropped from the agenda soon after the meeting began. [link added] 
Monbiot is clear that somehow environmental issues came off the agenda in 1999, suggesting not that tobacco is the most powerful company that causes ill health but that it is the least powerful, because it couldn't get its product taken off the danger list. He points out that while universities are happy to boast that they won't take money from tobacco, they are also happy to take money off any other powerful investor, in effect offering up their research facilities to the highest bidder. There are many reasons that tobacco has such a bad press (the power of the medical establishment and the perceived uselessness of tobacco are two of them), but the fact that tobacco has been pushed off the debating table (denormalised) is not really good news for the public. For years, we have been asking who is going to be denormalised next.

Both Sheila Duffy and the health lobbyists who signed the letter to the Guardian are misguided in their judgements. Shortcuts taken by competing companies on a global scale do injure people and make them ill, It's a fact, and pretending that only tobacco or e-cigarettes benefit from an absence of regulations is either quite dishonest or deplorably ignorant.


Chris Price said...

It is probably OK to make a profit - even a vast one - as long as some of the funds are diverted to the Tobacco Control industry.

So for example the pharmaceutical industry is acceptable because they fund TC while the e-cigarette industry is not, even though pharma makes profits orders of magnitude larger than those of the e-cigarette trade, and even though their products in the same market area kill thousands (Chantix) when e-cigarettes are demonstrated as harmless to date and are therefore thousands of times safer.

Tobacco Control permits support of ultra-rich mass killers, as long as they pay for the privilege.

Junican said...

Tobacco Control is clearly corrupt. But we tend to think that this corruption is ideologically justified by TC. That is, TC consider the corruption as being in a good cause, and therefore justified for that reason. But it is inevitable that such corruption will be accompanied by corruption of a financial, personal nature. This is all the more likely since TC has a monopoly.
Somewhere along the line, brown paper envelopes are changing hands.