Tuesday 20 July 2010

The Dark Market Redux

Some readers will recall the infamous 'Dark Market' e-mails which came to light last year. These e-mails revealed how Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the Department of Health worked together to brief politicians with implausibly low estimates of how much England's tobacco display ban would cost to implement. They continued to cite these figures even after their own source told them they were unrealistic.

I published a summary of these documents at the time, but the discredited pricing is only one part of the jigsaw. MPs and peers were also misled about the popularity and effectiveness of this controversial legislation.

I have now written up a full history of the campaign to ban tobacco displays in England. This includes the Dark Market e-mails alongside evidence showing how the public consultation was weighted towards groups funded by the Department of Health. It also shows how ASH claimed that the legislation would reduce underage smoking despite the empirical international evidence suggesting nothing of the sort.  Finally, it details how false and misleading statements continue to obscure the truth about the cost and efficacy of tobacco display bans.

This is the Dark Market Redux...


In October 2009, the House of Commons voted to ban the display of tobacco products in shops. This report reveals how MPs and peers were repeatedly misled about the cost, popularity and efficacy of this legislation.

E-mails released under the Freedom of Information Act show how Action on Smoking Health (ASH), Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health (DH) briefed MPs and peers with unrealistically low estimates of the cost to retailers and continued to do so even after their own source made them aware of their error.

The government now accepts that the cost of complying with the law will be ten to forty times greater than the estimate given to MPs and peers at the time of the vote.

The Department of Health’s consultation paper was dominated by groups funded by the DH. The DH did not acknowledge the participation of groups like the Tobacco Retailers Alliance until the press accused Ministers of “cultivating a fake grassroots movement in order to make a position appear more popular than it really is.” (‘Government “fixing health consultations” with taxpayer-funded groups’, The Telegraph, 02.01.09).

ASH and the DH briefed ministers with incorrect figures purporting to show a dramatic decline in youth smoking in countries which had implemented display bans. Although ASH later blamed a “technical error” for these false figures, misleading statistics continued to be cited in the press and in Parliament. To this day, there is no credible evidence that display bans reduce youth smoking.

Crucial information was denied MPs at the time of the vote. The draft regulations were not available in the House of Commons library and were not sent by e-mail prior to the debate, contrary to claims made by the minister during the debate.

MPs and peers were unaware of the economic damage the legislation would do to small retailers and newsagents in addition to the cost of compliance.

The campaign of misinformation surrounding the tobacco display ban raises serious questions about the validity of the ‘government lobbying the government’ to achieve predetermined objectives. It illustrates the power of unelected bureaucrats and state-funded pressure groups to influence the democratic process.

Download the full PDF here

(This dossier was presented at a committee meeting of the House of Commons on 20.07.10)


Anonymous said...


What committee meeting was it, if you don't mind my asking?

Christopher Snowdon said...

It was a meeting in committee room 21 sponsored by Philip Davies MP entitled 'The Dark Market: How ASH and the Department of Health misled MPs about the tobacco display ban'

Anonymous said...

Along with the dark -emails they should have been presented with the WHO study which stated SHS was NOT harmful to non-smokers and the health & safety one that said the same.

ASH and their collaborators, including many politicans managed by stealth, to get grip on the government and have maintained that grip ever since. Trying to loosen it seems to be nigh on impossible now so much of the public are now acting with a mob mentality against smokers.

There's no help to be had from the law, the courts have bowed down and now do the bidding of ASH and the anti-smoking lobby.

Smokers are going to be hounded from every place, even the open air. Ban tobacco, full stop and be done with it. Why keep paying, handsomely, for our own demise.

Anonymous said...

Whats the e-mail of this Holdstock Chris? She should be made aware that we know about her because sure as hell the MSM and Parliament ain't going to do anything. 1 bloody MP turned up for you, 1 for christs sake!


JJ said...

Is it not time for a change of strategy Chris? I have left comments since almost the beginning of the ban three years ago about getting involved with making a programme for channel4 or 5.

It involves a courtroom style format where protagonists from both sides would put their case, and be cross-examined by both sides. This would mean no questions would be left unanswered and there would be no barracking from either side as there would be in a studio debate…no wriggle room would be available to either side.

A jury would then give their verdict…thus allowing the judge to sum up…finally deciding whether or not there is any sufficient reason for a smoking ban in the first place.

The whole point of this is that the smoking ban issue would be in the mainstream media and therefore cannot be ignored. You wouldn’t need anyone from ASH or any other quango because you would only want to accept evidence from experts’ who could be forensically cross-examined. This is where you would come into your own…you would help construct the case for the repeal of the smoking ban, what have you to lose by getting involved with this type of project…your expertise in this area would be invaluable.

What you would need to do is speak to your contacts (I don’t have any) and find a programme maker capable and sympathetic to our cause.

Unless and until we break through to the main stream media…then we are simply languishing on the fringes.


Anonymous said...

JJ, the pro banners would not engage in such a debate. If they can't spout the results of their bogus statistical studies unchallenged, they have nothing else to offer. Their most honest argument, that they want rid of tobacco and the means justify the end wouldn't be a winner.
On the other hand, most medics and academics able to demolish the fraudulent studies generally don't want to make public statements which could be interpreted as sympathetic to smoking. Look what happened to Professor Nutt. Look at the treatment the editor of the bmj got for publishing the Enstrom/Kabat paper. The programme would never get made.

JJ said...


I’m sure you’re acquainted with the Hutton enquiry in to Dr David Kelly’s death. No official coroner’s inquest was ever held, so six senior doctors displeased with the Hutton enquiry verdict have put their heads above the parapet…yes that’s right these people are brave and are prepared to speak out in wanting an official inquest to determine the facts.

If they are prepared to speak out on an issue of this gravity, then I’m sure that we can find some brave souls in the medical and scientific community willing to speak out against misleading ‘facts’ about for instance ‘passive smoking’…for a start you have Enstrom and Kabat, you mention these two scientists yourself.

Either way…its worth a try at the very least wouldn’t you say?

What do you think Chris?

Anonymous said...

JJ Your idea is nonsensical...and if I were Chris I would dismiss this fruitcake idea out of hand. What are you trying to achieve by this simple minded crap.

Get back to reality and think your ideas through properly, I'm hardly surprised Chris hasn't replied.

I would'nt have done so either!

BeeGee said...

Now, now guys, take a breather & visit www.antiprohibition.org and have a look at our 2 Conferences against prohibition. Chris has been involved in both as have speakers from various fields including medicine, science, and politics.

Then take time to look at and sign The Brussels Declaration on Scientific Integrity at www.brusselsdeclaration.org

By then you will see that a lot is happening in the big wide world, well away from the computer keyboard.

Dick Puddlecote said...

JJ: ASH and other anti-smokers have consistently refused any form of debate. There's a good reason for that, as we all know.

Why do you think they always insist "the debate is over"? ;)

Michael J. McFadden said...

JJ, I don't know who the "anonymous" was who dumped on your idea, but I think many of us would actually think it's a very GOOD idea... except impractical in the real world.

As Dick points out just above this, the Antismokers do NOT want to debate publicly with us because:

1) Most of the brighter ones know they would lose against those of us who know the issues and have been fighting for a while

2) Most of them also realize that any sort of "equal footing" public debate would lend legitimacy to our position, and that is something they definitely do not want.

3) Right now they control the microphone: their message gets out to the wider public at least tens times and maybe even a hundred or more times a loudly as ours. Why should they cooperate in ANY way in giving our voices power? In reality they're trying to do the reverse with at least some of them pushing to limite our voice even on the internet.

So, for those three reasons and probably more, the idea is so unlikely to be workable that most of us wouldn't even put time into investigating it -- and I believe that decision would be pretty well founded. All that being said though, if you or anyone disagrees simply try on your own to see if you can stir up some interest amongst some leading Antis!

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

JJ said...

“As Dick points out just above this, the Antismokers do NOT want to debate publicly with us because” Whoa…stop right there!

Let me explain. First it will not be a debate…it will be a courtroom style cross-examination. That distinction is very important.

A straightforward studio debate would very quickly descend into brickbats being hurled from either side, with partisan applause from the audience for each point scored, and you could never guarantee that the audience hasn’t been packed with antis. A courtroom format would avoid all of this.

Second I always knew from the outset that antis would never get involved in this kind of excursion into the myths surrounding ‘passive smoking’. That is why I suggest the courtroom style format…for the reason that you will only be cross examining real experts and clinicians that have intrinsic knowledge in medicine and science, and there would be many willing to get involved.

Third the fact that antismokers and propagandists would not deign to appear in the witness box is neither here nor there…what would they contribute…they are not impartial experts. It would not be difficult to have a balanced input of views from both sides.

Even experts under top level forensic questioning would have their work cut out to explain how ‘passive smoke’ could possibly kill someone and what evidence exists to validate such nonsense - so antis or propagandists would therefore serve no useful purpose.

Fourth, people like yourself Michael and Chris Snowdon would be called upon to help construct a case for the prosecution.

I have contacted WAG television programme makers about this idea…and will know more about this by the end of August.

Finally, we have to break through to the main stream media…even if I fail…then at least I’ve tried – and that’s all that matters don’t you think?

Michael J. McFadden said...

JJ, fully agree with everything except the likelihood of finding folks who'll take the other side. And yes, I understand the difference between the cross examining and a debate format, but I think the reluctance of those on the other side would be the same.

BUT... it sounds like you're investigating the possibilities seriously and it's possible it WOULD work out. There *are* a good number of "true believers" who are experts but who also have convinced themselves that secondary smoke is a signficant and real threat. ASH et al might try to discourage them from participating but there still might be some with a strong enough belief in their position that they'd give it a try.

It'll be interesting to see what WAG says!