Sunday 23 August 2015

A letter to the Telegraph

A 'policy advisor' from Cancer Research UK has written to the Telegraph to disagree with an article I wrote which argued against handing out e-cigarettes on the NHS. The letter contains a few factual errors so here's a quick rebuttal.

SIR – Christopher Snowdon suggests that taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for e-cigarettes. Yet taxpayers do exactly that for the costs of smoking. The costs of tobacco use in England are £13.8 billion a year, far exceeding the £7.6 billion in tobacco duty collected in 2014-15.

It is tiresome to see societal costs being mistaken for costs to taxpayers over and over again, but I'll assume good faith and imagine that CRUK are being stupid rather than dishonest here. The £13.8 billion is a figure devised by the think tank Policy Exchange a few years ago. I have written about it before. It includes various dubious costs, such as more than £5 billion in lost output due to smoking breaks. Even if you think smoking breaks cost the economy £5 billion (and I don't), it is clearly not a cost to the taxpayer. Lost productivity costs are ultimately borne by employees, ie. smokers in this instance. They are not external costs and they are certainly not costs to the state. Taking the Policy Exchange figure and comparing it to the amount collected in tobacco duty is an apples and oranges comparison.

The £7.6 billion figure cited by CRUK is simply wrong. In 2014/15, the government collected £9.5 billion in tobacco duty. VAT of twenty per cent was charged on the duty, leaving a total of £11.4 billion. This doesn't include the VAT paid on the product itself, nor does it include any of the revenues that stem from the manufacture and retail of tobacco products.

The £7.6 billion figure is the amount of tobacco duty, absent of VAT, collected on home-produced cigarettes. It does not include imported cigarettes, rolling tobacco, cigars or other tobacco products. It is a pretty amateurish mistake to make. Is CRUK deliberately trying to mislead us here?

The idea that the tobacco industry, the architect of this epidemic, pays a fair share is a myth.

Tobacco duty isn't paid by the tobacco industry. It is paid by consumers, ie. taxpayers. The tobacco industry pays corporation tax, but CRUK doesn't mention that and it is fairly insignificant compared to the billions paid by smokers. There is no doubt whatsoever that the £11.4 billion paid in tobacco duty vastly outstrips the cost of smoking to the government. Smoking not only makes the government a fortune, it also saves the government a fortune.

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of cancer worldwide. E-cigarettes are almost certainly far safer. The EU Tobacco Products Directive is not “meddlesome and counter-productive”. Instead, it will create a system where e-cigarettes can be licensed as a medicinal product when evidence shows they may be effective in helping people to stop smoking, which kills two in three long-term users.

It's interesting to see the 'kills two in three' factoid being repeated as fact. This comes from a single Australian study published last year. All previous estimates have estimated that smoking kills a quarter to half of all long-term users. Isn't that enough? Does CRUK really have to use one outlying study to inflate the risks of smoking?

That is a minor point, however. The real issue is whether the TPD is meddlesome and counter-productive. It is, but not because it 'it will create a system where e-cigarettes can be licensed as a medicinal product'. We don't need the EU for that and nobody really wants it, apart from the pharmaceutical industry and people who hate e-cigarettes. The TPD is counter-productive because it will ban a vast array of fluids and devices for no good reason. It will ban advertising for no good reason. The effect of the EU's idiotic hyper-regulation will be to create e-cigarettes that nobody will want to use.

Vapers need to remember that CRUK lobbied hard for this. Indeed, they wanted the EU to go much further.

When Public Health England put out a not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been report about e-cigarettes last week, quite a few people fell for the public health racket's good cop/bad cop routine. I have even seen one e-cigarette company raising money for CRUK. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are very few good cops in the racket. ASH, Public Health England, CRUK, the Faculty of Public Health - you name 'em - would all be very happy with medical regulation of e-cigarettes. That's what they lobbied for for and they're the reason the TPD is the way it is. They are incorrigible liars and meddlers and always will be. The fact that there might be some some even worse people in other countries doesn't change that.

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