Monday, 17 November 2014

Two fingers

Like Dick Puddlecote and Twigolet, I popped into the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on November 4th to find out if the 'war on tobacco' can be won. They have both written excellent accounts of the meeting so I won't repeat what they've said. Suffice to say that the graph below - created and displayed by one of the speakers - gives a fair indication of how from reality these people are operating.

Graphs are usually used to illustrate evidence. Not this one. Firstly, the relationship shown between moral and financial rewards is completely made up. There is no reason to assume that morally rewarding actions cannot be financially rewarding and vice versa. On the contrary, it is easy to think of actions that are both moral and profitable (eg. creating a job, inventing a life-saving product) and it is easy to think of actions that are immoral and financially unrewarding (eg. preaching hate on the streets, punching a stranger).

The basis of the graph is, then, nonsense to begin with, but it is taken into the realms of super-nonsense by placing 'public health' at the point at which financial rewards are zero and moral rewards are maximised. As Chris Oakley has shown, 'public health professionals' are fantastically well paid. If they are not in the 1%, they are certainly in the 2%. Even a relative minnow like ASH's Deborah Arnott is in the £80-90,000 pay bracket.

As I wrote in Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, the anti-smoking lobby's portrayal of themselves as a David fighting Goliath is a politically useful fiction that helps to divert attention from the fact that it is really a battle between powerful, state-funded agencies and ordinary people who don't have much of a voice but happen to enjoy smoking. It becomes less convincing with every passing year and every passing grant cheque.

What really struck me about the 'war on tobacco' event was that those involved in the public health racket really seem to believe their own propaganda. To say that they are preoccupied with the tobacco industry would understate the degree of obsession. They seem to genuinely believe that if it was not for the sneaky machinations of 'Big Tobacco', nobody would ever start smoking. The fact that people were smoking for centuries before Big Tobacco came into being (or, in the case of the Americas, for millennia before any industry came into being) does not seem to register.

One revealing exchange took place when an audience member brought up the issue of prohibition (yes, they are now discussing it openly) and one of the speakers expressed scepticism that it would work. To illustrate his point, he mentioned that the smoking age was raised from 16 to 18 some years ago and yet 'the tobacco industry still manages to get young people to start smoking'. I am paraphrasing here because I didn't take notes, but his point was not that young people can still access tobacco products, but that the industry somehow makes them do so.

How exactly does that work? For many years, public healthists portrayed advertising as the means by which the tobacco industry lured young people into the smoking habit, but that was banned fifteen years ago. At the moment, I suppose some anti-smoking campaigners would blame packaging, but - aside from this being laughable - even they do not claim that plain packaging will have a major impact on youth smoking rates. How, then, do they explain teen smoking in Australia (which seems to be on the rise)? Telepathy? Hypnotism? The evil eye?

This month, a bunch of state-funded pressure groups plus Cancer Research UK (whose CEO earns £210,000, incidentally) has launched a campaign encouraging young people to 'stick two fingers up to tobacco'. When they say 'tobacco', they mean the tobacco industry and when they say 'young', they don't mean the chiiiiiiiiildren. The age at which people start to smoke has been rising for years and so it is necessary for 'public health' to move the goalposts...

94% of smokers have started before the age of 25

25?! Most of the things people do, they started doing before the age of 25. To be frank, I'm surprised it's only 94%. So what?

Internationally, the tobacco industry makes around £30 billion in profit which is more than Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Microsoft combined

Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Microsoft are individual companies whereas the tobacco industry is an, er, industry, so the comparison doesn't hold, but it gives you an idea of the kind of people this campaign is hoping to attract. People like Teresa Goncalves, for example, who write things like this:

Over the past few years, a lot of people my age (26) and younger have been active in opposing social injustices. We’ve stood up to the government on tuition fees. We’ve reserved our right to protest on the streets. We’ve helped expose the immoral practices of big businesses through groups like UK Uncut.

Power to the people of Tooting! Russell Brand for PM!

Our message is clear – we aren’t naïve and we aren’t about to be fooled. We’re the generation of Facebook, Twitter, iEverything – we’re connected and we’re ready to go live. 


Next on the list of villainous, morally bankrupt trades, is the tobacco industry. CRUK wants to empower young people to stand up to them and say ‘no’!

How will this empowerment come about? Perhaps with a fun, motivational group? Not this time. This time, you take a selfie flicking the Vs and put it on Twitter with an obscure and little used hashtag. Viva la revolution!

“Fee-fi-fo-fum” growl the giants – they don’t want profits to drop and they’ll grind our bones to make their bread.

Yes folks, this is the standard of discourse that the plain packaging campaign - for that is what it is - has sunk to. "Fee-fi-fo-fum", bovine anti-capitalism and waving two fingers around (not unlike the soda tax campaigns in California). I dread to think how many sponsored marathons were run for CR-UK to waste money on this tripe.


Christopher Snowdon said...

Global tobacco profits were £35 billion a few years back*. The UK gov alone makes £12 billion pa from tobacco sales for doing virtually nothing.

Christopher Snowdon said...

In reality, tobacco is a government business. You buy government tobacco. Describing it as 'the evil tobacco industry' is a simplification of nursery school level.
- Government is an 86% stakeholder measured by OTC sales value. In a year when the total UK tobacco sales were £14bn (around 2013), gov takes £12bn, industry takes £2bn.
- Government makes an equal amount on savings. The saving on pensions alone is £7.5bn (smokers die up to 10 years early). Add in all the other savings on elderly heathcare, social support, etc.
- This makes government a 90%+ stakeholder in tobacco sales.
- The tobacco industry is strictly a minor partner (at less than 10%) who basically just handle logistics. They ship the government's tobacco for them.
- You buy 18 out of 20 cigarettes in a pack from the government.
- The government tobacco business ensures that any real threat is blocked (Snus), or will be blocked (ecigs, via the new TPD). Remember, once the 20% Prevalence Rule operates, nothing except substitution can significantly reduce smoking prevalence thereafter.
- The pharmaceutical industry earns more from smoking than the tobacco industry does in the UK.
- Government makes a ton of money on the frontend, again on the backend, and pharma makes it in the middle. It is a government-run cancer business that profits everyone (except the consumer - but they don't count).

No wonder THR is blocked at every step - everyone's making far too much money. Even the Public Health industry has been roped in to block THR. Not really a surprise: they're paid by government and pharma, and depend on the existence of smoking for their obscene salaries; and THR kills smoking stone dead - see Sweden.

Sweden will have a male smoking prevalence of 5% by around 2016; it falls at 1% per year and has done since 2003 (with a parallel fall in smoking-related mortality and morbidity). No one in the UK wants to see that here, as the financial implications are far too painful.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Interestingly Chris, Harpal Kumar sanctioned wasting £8.5m of CRUK'S 'hard earned' (tin rattling) money on anti tobacco/anti cigarette advertising -yet they happily state (and I quote) "all donations received go directly to researching a cure for cancer"
Now if cancer cases (as reported by Macmillan [] ) are set to hit the magical 1,000 per day by 2016 yet cigarette consumption has seemingly reduced, is this not some sort of fraudulent action on the part of CRUK? Also if, as we now know, smoking rates have simply stayed put but cancer cases are still increasing, is it not time for the truth to be openly reported; ie that tobacco sales are very much wanted by gov't and that CRUK are simply a money factory? If they are not a money factory why is it that after raking in £433,000,000 and paying out £108,000,00 in wages, they have still failed to cure cancers?

Christopher Snowdon said...

The pharmaceutical industry earns more from smoking than the tobacco industry does in the UK.

Do you have any links to back that statement up, Chris?

Christopher Snowdon said...

Are not CRUK major contributors to the 'charity' ASH UK? Who exist purely to lobby government for ever more draconian restrictions on smoking?

Christopher Snowdon said...

Oh indeed they are, it was they that backed the set up of ASH alongside the RCP etc. Not many people know that part of every copper coin donated goes to the so called hate mongering charity known as (C)ASH!

Christopher Snowdon said...

A bit dated (pre ban) and not really answering your question but interesting none the less. They were expecting major growth post ban. No wonder they're rallying against e cigs.

Christopher Snowdon said...

I can't comment on treatments for cancer, although I accept that anything is possible, due to the obvious desire by government and industry to protect smoking.

The fastest way to reduce cancer in the UK would be to reverse the Snus ban; remove VAT from all vaping-related products and make them tax-free; promote THR rigorously as the best way forward; and make it a criminal offence to publish lies about THR.

The war on smokers should be stopped immediately. Putting a gun to someone's head is not the best way to get compliance, in any case, apart from it being immoral by any measure. Instead, ethical measures should be used exclusively: smokers should be (a) told the truth, and (b) offered substantial advantages for switching to THR products should they so wish.

All official resources should be put behind making THR as attractive as possible, and stopping the flow of lies and propganda that almost always has some form of commercial benefit to industries that will be harmed by THR products taking market share.

Of course, there is a significant economic cost to a country that promotes public health instead of maximising tobacco tax revenues, tobacco industry revenue, and pharmaceutical industry revenue. I recognise this. It is a tough choice: lives vs money. The obvious 'right' choice has significant consquences - which is why it is so strongly resisted.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Maybe they should correct their spelling mistake: CROOK.

Christopher Snowdon said...

So what's the truth, and who can we trust to tell the truth? TBH, you come across as a bit of an anti

Christopher Snowdon said...

There is only ever one answer to that: the truth is what the facts are. It doesn't matter who is telling you or what their agenda is. I think what you mean is, "Who can we trust to tell us the truth, when the facts are in dispute?".

That's a different question :) My answer would be nobody, since we all have an agenda, are ignorant of certain issues, etc. Don't trust me: find out what the facts are. If they oppose what I'm saying and are irrefutable then I'll change my opinion.

Oh and by the way: we all have bad days, and if someone attacks me or things I believe should be promoted then perhaps on a bad day I'll take the bait. Other days, I'd just walk away :)

Also note there is a timeline to such things, and it isn't always what someone is telling you it is. Example: Prof John Ashton's recent attack on vapers, compared with how it has been reported by those in his camp. The facts are different from the spin.

Christopher Snowdon said...

That's all very well, Chris, but much of your calculation assumes that
all these 'smoking related' diseases are in fact linked directly to
smoking, which in many, if not most cases I tend to dispute.

anything, the pharmaceutical industry relies on the veracity of the
propaganda that states that smoking causes premature death. In this
scenario, it makes sense to force people to stop smoking. Hence they
will live longer so you can sell them all those expensive medicines (and
for years and years) to deal with the inevitable ravages of old age.

is just a very profitable offshoot of smoking restrictions, and rather
contradicts the thrust of the first part of your comment, that Big P
wants people to carry on smoking.

As an aside, I thought Diabetes 2 was most common in ex-smokers rather than current smokers.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Chris, you seem to suffer from selective amnesia. The things that you deem to be an attack on e-cigs are all old hat. They've been deployed against smokers for years - the lies, the exaggerations, the cherry-picked and manipulated statistics, the associations with harm that are tenuous at best, the junk science; the list goes on.

Vaping suits you - good. I'm happy for you.

Just remember that you are fighting a machine that is well oiled from years of anti-smoking propaganda. You may think that vaping is better than smoking. That's an opinion. In the eyes of TC, you are in the same boat as us, and I'd suggest you grab an oar and start rowing in the same direction as the rest of us rather than parroting TC propaganda in defense of your preference.

Christopher Snowdon said...

OK. Firstly I have to make the point that I'm a layman with no qualifications in any area related to this discussion (my background is in engineering, with interests in fringe politics and general health issues). I'm a vaper, and a vaping advocate, smoke the occasional cigar, drink spirits; believe in free consumer choice; and quality of life over longevity. All I do is use materials available to anyone. My agenda is that I believe there is a fundamental dishonesty implicit in effective modern government: that is to say, the public do not need the truth and cannot be given the truth, for the greater good. Needless to say I don't agree with this approach.

Like you I don't think that mortality or morbidity figures commonly given for UK smoking are accurate. Even senior figures in tobacco control don't, either; for example an analysis of various figures given by Prof R West recently seems to indicate that he thinks mortality from smoking is in reality around 60% of the figure usually quoted (60,000 deaths per year as against 100,000).

As far as I can see, NRT (and all/any pharmaceutical interventions for smoking cessation) are good business because they don't work. They can be marketed strongly without any effect whatsover on overall smoking prevalence.

Regarding diabetes in smokers or ex-smokers, as far as I can see, smoking generates an increase in diabetes. If I have interpreted this wrongly then I welcome a correction.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Sure, I'm not perfect. Goes without saying. Anything I write to my website gets edited dozens of times even after it is published, in order to correct the various problems implicit in writing something on the spur of the moment. Blog comments are a difficult area for me because some of what I write is going to be wrong and needs editing; something not always available next week when I see a glaring error.

If you can find something I wrote that is factually inaccurate then let's discuss it.

I certainly appreciate that we are all in the same boat when it comes to the Public Health industry: an institutionally corrupt industry with its own priorities, which often don't align with genuine public health, or the public interest in general, and certainly with quality of life over longevity. If there is anyone out there who wants to live a long but miserable life, then I haven't met them. I don't know the people who Public Health are working for.

I'm now predominantly a vaper and will always promote that where there is a conflict with other interests. I vape much more than I smoke cigars. It's all about choice.

I should also mention that I am disgusted, discouraged and fundamentally enraged by the pathetic defence of smoking (and human rights, and consumer rights) that smokers and their representatives put up. I can't imagine a more useless and ineffective use of 30% of the population and potentially massive funds to protect consumers against attack by semi-insane zealots, crackpots, commercially-funded liars and their bought politicians. If you gave me those resources I'm damned sure I could do a better job. So don't ask me to sympathise with millions of people who got trampled on because of their apathy and disorganisation and choice of incompetent fools to champion their rights. I've seen enough of that in my life. The only way to survive is to organise and fight - and there are no rules in war despite what anyone says. When you're fighting lying scum using dirty tricks to kill you and shut you up in order to get paid, you need to do a whole lot better job of it than the smokers did. I'm going to do my best to help ensure that vapers don't make the same mistake.

Christopher Snowdon said...

FAO Editor: at the bottom of the right-hand column there is a picture of a child in swimming costume with bike and dog, facing a prohibitory notice. The caption is, "How liberatrians are created". Should this be 'librarians' or am I dyslexic?

Christopher Snowdon said...

'I should also mention that I am disgusted, discouraged and fundamentally enraged by the pathetic defence of smoking (and human rights, and consumer rights) that smokers and their representatives put up.'

Didn't take long for the true colour to emerge....

Christopher Snowdon said...

I understand why the US cigarette trade stood down and let everyone get shafted: they were well paid to do so. The MSA agreement was a cast iron guarantee of survival at low cost that essentially made the States a partner in the cigarette trade. MSA also insulates them against any market problems in the future: less sales, less payments. Beats me why the UK cigarette trade did the same thing, though. Wouldn't mind if someone could explain that to me.

Christopher Snowdon said...

I would rather guess: libertarians"

Christopher Snowdon said...

"Didn't take long for..." Not clear what you mean by this? Please explain - thanks.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Sorry Chris - I grabbed the wrong end of the stick

Christopher Snowdon said...

No prob.