Thursday 4 September 2014

What a small world

Dick Puddlecote recently mentioned the latest advocacy-as-science article in BMJ Open. The 'study' is, as he says, nothing more than "a telephone poll of (average) 650 people in just one Australian state which attempted to disprove claims that plain packaging will encourage criminal counterfeiters. A very difficult thing to do considering the Sun newspaper collected video evidence in June of an ecstatic Indonesian fake cig manufacturer describing how his business will benefit from plain packaging legislation."

Only the left-wing media bothered to cover this effort, ie. the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent. The latter managed to balls up its report by using the headline 'Australia shows that plain tobacco packaging significantly cuts smoking' (the study had nothing to do with smoking rates), but the Beeb followed basic journalistic standards by quoting opposing views (FOREST and the Tobacco Manufacturers Association) which gave some semblance of balance.

The Guardian report, in the other hand, was extraordinary one-sided from the outset...

Claims that plain cigarette packaging would hurt small independent retailers and increase use of illicit, unbranded tobacco have formed the core of big tobacco’s argument against plain packaging.

But those arguments have been debunked by new Victorian research, which public health experts have described as a win for science.

It included a quote from the lead author (who, tellingly, is a tobacco control 'policy adviser'), as well as a quote from veteran anti-smoking campaigner Mike Daube and, above all, a lengthy quote from Jurassic wowser Simon Chapman:

A professor of public health at the University of Sydney and tobacco control expert, Simon Chapman, said big tobacco feared a domino effect of plain packaging reforms around the world with nine countries implementing or considering it.

“Canada was the first country to introduce graphic warnings on cigarette packets and within 10 years, 60 other countries had followed suit,” Chapman said.

“California did the first banning of smoking in restaurants and now that has swept throughout the world. There are many examples in tobacco control policy of the domino theory at work.”

The tobacco giant Philip Morris has threatened to sue the British government if it forges ahead with its plain packaging reforms.

The arguments from tobacco companies against plain packaging made no sense whatsoever, Chapman said.

“Of course smokers have always known, even before plain packaging, that cigarettes are cheaper in supermarkets,” he said.

“So the only thing that would drive more people away from small retailers would be if supermarket prices fell even further.”

The only 'balance' in the article came in the form of a brief and cursory quote from the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, half of which was complimentary towards the group that funded the study.

The words used by the reporter - 'debunked', 'big tobacco', 'discredit tobacco reforms', 'made no sense whatsoever' - as well as the tendency to present opinion as fact - '[cigarette packaging] is used as a way of marketing towards young people' - give the article the feel of an advocacy piece rather than a work of journalism.

So who is this reporter? Step forward Melissa Davey who just happens to be completing a Masters Degree in public health at the University of Sydney where Simon Chapman just happens to be a senior tutor.

I have a feeling that Melissa is going to pass with flying colours.


JohnB said...

The Anti-Tobacco Racket: History Revisited

Anti-tobacco/smoking has had a long, sordid, 400+ year history. Pretty well all of the antismoking crusades have been prohibitionist, usually banning the sale/use of tobacco. There was one notable exception – King James I (‘tis he who commissioned the King James Bible translation) in the early-1600s. Jimmy did a few things. He penned the antismoking piece, “A Counterblaste To Tobacco”, a work loaded with inflammatory drivel written in ye olde English. It was important to clearly indicate moral outrage because this provides the pretext for taking action on the tobacco “issue”. But Jimmy didn’t prohibit tobacco/smoking. Armed with the appearance of moral high ground, he did a few things. He banned the growing of tobacco in England and arranged for the importation of tobacco from Virginia, USA. Banning the growing of tobacco in England reduced the risk of locally produced contraband. So, King Jim manufactured a monopoly on tobacco (entering through imports) in England. And didn’t Jimmy have a field day with the monopoly. He set a ration on the sale of tobacco per person and super-inflated the price of tobacco. He was robbing his tobacco-users blind. What a good “Christian” king. Unfortunately the racket had a limited life. The mass-scale robbery invited contraband. Tired of losing revenue to contraband, Jim eventually relented and lowered his price.

Fast-forward some 400 years to the island nation of Australia. Since the early-1900s, growing tobacco in Australia has required a government permit. The only ones issued these permits were tobacco companies.

Australia bought into the antismoking hysteria in the 1980s. The leaders of the current antismoking crusade are prohibitionists. Their goal, as it was in early-1900s America, is to destroy the tobacco industry. The prohibitionists have brought to the table the “moral outrage”. Having partnered with the prohibitionists, the moral outrage permits the government to act on the tobacco “issue”. The beginnings were small. The goal was to put the heat on the “evil” tobacco industry – banning of advertising, constantly referred to as the “merchants of death”, etc. By 2014, the tobacco companies have been chased out of Australia. The tobacco companies no longer contract tobacco growing and their last, small manufacturing plant is about to close. All tobacco products are now imported into Australia. The growing of tobacco in Australia, based on early-1900s law, is effectively banned; tobacco-growing permits are not issued to individuals. If someone wants [legal] tobacco, they have to buy the officially-imported, government-tax paid stuff. The Australian government finds itself in a manufactured position not unlike King James. It has a monopoly on [imported] tobacco in Australia and has complete control over its price through excise tax. Unlike Jimmy, the government hasn’t even had to get its hands dirty sourcing imports. It uses tobacco companies as offshore growers/manufacturers that then import tobacco products into Australia. And, just like Jim, isn’t the Australian government having a field day with the monopoly. It just keeps jacking up the taxes on tobacco. It’s, again, mass-scale robbery.

JohnB said...

It’s important to note the collusion between government and zealot prohibitionists. The prohibition sought this time is not the sale of tobacco but to effectively ban smoking in all the places that people typically smoke. Taxation is also a “punitive” tool. Important is that the same step is interpreted differently by prohibitionists and the government. Increased taxation is viewed by the zealots as a coercive tool to antismoking conformity, whereas the government views it as a means to increased revenue (through robbery). To maintain the appearance of a moral “high ground” the government needs the moral outrage of the zealots. It doesn’t matter if the moralizing zealots are constantly lying in their claims. All that matters is the moral outrage and the appearance of moral high ground. To keep the zealots on-side, it has to appease the antismoking whims of the zealots, e.g., smoking bans, plain packaging. In doing so, it legitimizes what are baseless claims by the zealots. The government can then claim that extortionate taxes, which it’s really interested in, are necessary to “help” people to quit. The fact of the matter is that those who smoke are being fleeced by baseless, ever-increasing taxes. The government knows that most won’t quit smoking and it counts on increased revenue from tax hikes in its budget forecasts. It’s robbery based on the moral fraud of antismoking rhetoric. It’s a racket. Worse is that some of the zealot prohibitionists want kick-backs in the form of funding to further “educate” the public, advance their careers, and remain in comfortable employment.

This results in the utterly perverse situation that those who smoke are further and further marginalized through baseless antismoking laws, smoking deemed “unfit” for normal society while they’re also being robbed through ever-increasing extortionate taxes. Smokers are forced to pay for their own “denormalization” and further fleecing. And this is occurring not in the autocracy of 1600s England but in a one-time relatively free society like Australia where the government is supposedly a servant of the people (which includes those who smoke). It’s the government in its partnering with zealot prohibitionists that is conducting itself like a criminal entity.

Bring on the contraband.

JohnB said...

The MPH must be one of the, if not the, most dangerous degrees created. MPH’s are administered under the auspices of medical faculties. Students come from a variety of backgrounds to study a medically monopolized course. Antismoking is a ideological given. Students are put through a crash course in “bio-statistics”. “Mass behavior modification” and “social marketing” (i.e., propaganda) and media profile are spoken of highly. Students are encouraged in the attitude of changing society, poking their noses in more and more of individuals’ lifestyles. They are taught that the only opponents of “health” measures are vested financial interests such as industry, e.g., tobacco industry. Since they are taught to think in population terms, the idea of individual autonomy, the cornerstone of relatively free societies, has no meaning. The critical dimensions of psychological and social health are never entertained. Students have no comprehension that propaganda is an assault on psychological health that then has consequences for social health. It’s also immoral. Students also have no grasp that their very thinking in population terms views citizens as the playthings of Public Health, turning citizens of relatively free nations into the property of Public Health. This is an assault on the ideo-politics of relatively free societies. The MPH is the attempt to give agenda-driven stupidity a veneer of “scholarship”.

So, graduates that understand little about anything that have been trained to pursue and parrot a medically-defined agenda and bastardized version of science are let loose on society. Worse still is that they have strong influence with the legislature, viewed as “health” experts.

The “health” in Public Health would better be understood as “control” – Public Control, and in the most negative sense of “control”.