"By helping smokers who want to quit and protecting our children from the tobacco ad men this will be an enormous leap forward for public health, perhaps even bigger than the smoking ban," he said.
He was talking about the crazy plain-packaging ruse, but he would have said the same thing whatever the policy was. Fair enough, that's his job. If he weighed up the pro's and con's of each policy and then gave a reasoned and intelligent assessment, he'd soon find himself in a smokefree Jobcentre.
But by saying that plain-packaging could be an "even bigger" leap forward for public health than the smoking ban, he is clearly suggesting that the smoking ban was itself a leap forward. This is frequently stated by all sorts of people, and it is often assumed that the smoking ban led to a surge in people giving up smoking. But has it?
"Encouraging" smokers to give up was, of course, the true (and barely concealed) motive for bringing in the ban in the first place and woe betide anyone who cast doubt on whether this would really happen back in July 2007. In ASH's hilariously premature and ill-founded Myths and Realities of a Smokefree England document (which I wrote about at t'old place) they said that the idea that mass abstinence wouldn't happen was a "myth".
We haven't heard much about smoking prevalence since (the statistics for such thing are always slow in coming forth), so I'm grateful to regular reader Dave Atherton for sending me the Office of National Statistics' Life Style Survey 2008 (published 2010), which concludes:
The overall prevalence of smoking among the adult population was the same in 2008 as it was in 2007 at 21 per cent.
A similar phenomenon was found by the EU's Eurobarometer which found the UK's total proportion of smokers (all forms of tobacco) to be 28% in 2009, which is—again—exactly the same as it was in 2008.
And all after the biggest, most controversial, most costly and most socially divisive piece of tobacco regulation in British history. Good work guys. Have the rest of the day off.
The other thing the ONS's report shows is something that Dick Puddlecote and I often point out—drinking is not on the increase in the UK:
Following an increase between 1998 and 2000, there has been a decline since 2002 in the proportion of men drinking more than 21 units a week, on average, and in the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units
That's yer "hazardous" consumption. This is overall consumption:
The average number of units of alcohol consumed in a week rose steadily in the 1990s and achieved a peak of around 17 units for men and 7.5 units for women in the period 2000 to 2002. These levels fell to 14.8 units for men and 6.2 units for women in 2006. The revised methodology shows that the average number of units consumed is continuing to fall from 18.7 for men and 9.0 for women in 2006 to 16.7 and 8.4 respectively in 2008.
So, to summarise:
- Rates of drinking are falling and have been for years
- The smoking ban had no impact on the number of people who smoked, unless by "impact" you mean "put an end to a ten-year decline"
I mention this just in case any journalists or single-issue activists accidentally give you completely the opposite impression.
(Coming up in your soaraway British Medical Journal next week: '"The smoking rate plummetted after the smoking ban and our computer can prove it", says Professor Anna Gilmore and Professor Jill Pell'.)