Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Deborah Arnott: lying about Ireland

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, is interviewed in The Guardian today and comes up with a novel explanation for the smoking rate rising in Ireland since the smoking ban:

To pause is to run the risk of the numbers once again increasing: in Ireland, she tells me, the government successfully brought in smoke-free legislation, but "they didn't do anything else, and smoking started to creep back up again".

As reported previously, the smoking rate did rather more than "creep back up again". It has risen to an astonishing 33%. As for the idea that the Irish "didn't do anything else", where to begin? 

Ireland has constantly increased the price of tobacco and now has the highest rate of cigarette tax of any EU country; it has graphic warnings on cigarette packs; it has banned all forms of tobacco advertising; it has raised the age of purchase to 18 and it was the first country in the world to ban tobacco displays in shops.

It is completely untrue to say that Ireland has done nothing else since the ban. It has, in fact, done even more than the UK. And yet it is fast becoming one of Europe's heaviest smoking nations.

I don't recall ASH predicting that the smoking ban would make more people start smoking unless it was followed by an endless stream of legislation. I seem to recall them saying the smoking ban would be the nearest thing to a magic bullet. I also recall smoking rates falling for decades when ASH did very little and rising when they started doing a lot.

It looks like Arnott is rehearsing her excuses for when the smoking rate is shown to have risen in England. It's a convenient line to take: "what we wanted then didn't work because it needed to be accompanied by what we want now." It's not true, of course, and it doesn't make any sense, but that has seldom been a handicap.


Anonymous said...

Intersting that Arnott thinks smoking is increasing in Ireland. I'm expecting Rollo to come along any minute with his official Ireland figures and contradict you both. The 33% came from a one-off EU survey I think, but I'm not certain. Perhaps it is more current than the latest Irish Government figures. Anyway it's now part of the furniture - stand it next to the decrease in heart attacks, Ha, Ha. I think equally damning is the increase among Scottish 16 to 34 year olds - resulting in the highest rate for a decade - as smoking rates generally decrease because fewer take up the habit than give up or die. Arnott has also said she wants smoking banned in all cars - not just those with children in. She's probably hoping to get support from the Police, on safety grounds and mobile phone users on spite grounds. Currently any research done puts smoking way down the list of distractions, with a neglible contribution, but give one of the fake road safety charities time to cobble together a "study".

Anonymous said...

I've looked at your link and it was an EU survey and more current (summer 2009). When I saw the figure I was sceptical but it seems ASH think it might be broadly correct. I'm interested in what the reaction will be when the Irish Gov figure eventually comes out.

Christopher Snowdon said...

All smoking prevalence figures are based on surveys. How reliable this one is, I don't know. 33% certainly sounds remarkably high and I await the Irish figure with interest.

Whatever the exact figure, I don't think there is any doubt that smoking prevalence has been rising. This is confirmed by the number of cigarettes sold (of course you have to take into account the huge number now being smuggled in).

Anonymous said...

Research conducted comparing self reporting with cotinine levels from swabs consistently indicate that surveys under-report by about 4%, so it would be within the margin of error to say that they are 35% or higher. There's good evidence for supposing that the hard floor on actual smoking prevalence is about 25% across most societies, and that any falls since have been due to self reporting bias..

In other news, the Guardian reported (in an article on BAT's financials) that cigarette sales (legal, obviously), have risen by 1% last year in the UK as a whole. So, Ireland, Italy, Finland, Scotland, that's starting to add up to one hell of a case..

Overall, can we not make the case that ASH are irresponsibly advocating solutions that they know actually lead to higher smoking prevalence, and that we know from a lot of observations from the "War on Drugs" have perverse consequences, for the health of the public (in particular THE CHILDREN) and for civil society as a whole? I suspect so

Anonymous said...

Anon, I agree with you. An organisation truly concerned with health and smoking would be proposing entirely different policies. Clive Bates, Head of ASH when it gave gentle advice and encouragement and smoking fell drastically, has since written promoting snus, the Swedish oral tobacco product (see the smokles and Tobacco Truth links on the right) whose sale outside Sweden was prohibited, on the advice of the WHO, as a condition of Sweden's joining the EU. The WHO has a history of this kind of thing. The banning of DDT was responsible for millions of deaths from malaria. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the banning of snus is reponsible for tens of thousands of lung cancer cases and will be, far into the future. Sweden has the lowest prevalence (15%) of male smoking in the developed world; and also the lowest lung cancer incidence - remember this correlates to smoking 30 years back. (See CRUK stats for lc). ASH UK keeps silent on snus. I think somewhere on its website there is an admission it could be helpful to diehard smokers. Of course, it would be in direct competition to nicotine gum, whereas ecigs, favoured by ASH, use nicotine liquid, and could eventually come under the control of drug companies on some quality control grounds. The anti tobacco industry usually claims snus causes oral and pancreatic cancer - not true- again look at the CRUK stats.
Snus is just one example. Having people smoking in the street, denormalising them, I agree are not the best way of preventing teenagers from smoking or getting smokers to give up. Raising prices encourages criminality and consequent sales to children. I agree also that smoking becomes under reported once there is a stigma, or in some countries loss of employment attached.
Yes, ASH UK is a disgrace. It should be stripped of its charitable status. Write to the Charities Commission and suggest it; but I'm sure they are somehow keeping within to the letter of the law: if not the spirit.

Anonymous said...

ASH less extreme than Government on ecigs! See
Almost beyond belief.

Anonymous said...

Try this

Anonymous said...

So ecigs to be classed as medicine. Could explain ASH UK's stance.

Andy said...

Apparently Arnott's initial reaction to the new figures was'its just a blip'. But after careful consideration she comes up with something even more ridiculous.

Unknown said...

*puts on pedant hat*

Ireland... was the first country in the world to ban tobacco displays in shops.

No it wasn't

*takes off pedant hat*