Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Tobacco Plan: too much stick, not enough carrot

The government has published its new Tobacco Control Plan for England. This will come as a relief to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) who have been waiting 18 months for a justification for their taxpayer subsidy.

The government has set an entirely arbitrary target of reducing smoking prevalence to 12 per cent by 2022. It has no way of doing this. Britain is still a nominally free country and people can choose to smoke if they want to, albeit within the constraints of extortionate taxes and a draconian smoking ban.

The government pats itself on the back, saying:

Since the previous Tobacco Control Plan, smoking prevalence has substantially reduced; from 20.2% of adults smoking at the start of the plan [to 15.5%], the lowest level since records began.

This is certainly a remarkable decline, but the Tobacco Control Plan had nothing to do with it. The lion's share of anti-smoking activity took place between 2007 and 2010 and yet the smoking rate refused to budge until 2013 when e-cigarettes took off.

Insofar as the state can take the credit for the post-2012 decline it is - as I said last year - because they left the free market for vaping alone. That has since changed thanks to the EU and, in a roundabout way, the government admits that it was vaping wot done it in their new plan.

In 2016 it was estimated that 2 million consumers in England had used these products [e-cigarettes] and completely stopped smoking and a further 470,00056 were using them as an aid to stop smoking.

Since there were around 9 million smokers in England in 2012, this means that the vast majority of those have given up in the years since have done so by switching to e-cigarettes.

The government must know that it has zero chance of achieving its new goal without reduced harm products, and it strikes a reasonable tone when discussing them.

PHE recommends that e-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smokefree policy.

Local authorities, football clubs, pub companies and Welsh politicians, please take note.

In addition there has been the development and very recent introduction of novel tobacco products that claim to reduce the harm of smoking. We welcome innovation that will reduce the harms caused by smoking and will evaluate whether products such as novel tobacco products have a role to play in reducing the risk of harm to smokers.

Good stuff. And best of all...

Over the course of this Tobacco Control Plan, the government will review where the UK’s exit from the EU offers us opportunities to re-appraise current regulation to ensure this continues to protect the nation’s health. We will look to identify where we can sensibly deregulate without harming public health or where EU regulations limit our ability to deal with tobacco.

In particular, the government will assess recent legislation such as the Tobacco Products Directive, including as it applies to e-cigarettes, and consider where the UK’s exit provides opportunity to alter the legislative provisions to provide for improved health outcomes within the UK context.

Excellent. The Tobacco Products Directive only came into force eight weeks ago and we are already talking about repealing this dreadful and counter-productive legislation. Because we can.

That's all the Tobacco Control Plan needs to say. It should have been one side of A4 saying that the government is going to encourage a competitive, innovative and low-cost market in reduced harm products for smokers who want to quit. And if you don't want to quit, that's your choice as a sentient adult human being.

Alas, the state can't bring itself to get out of the way and instead throws some bones to the vile prohibitionists at ASH. It lays out its intention to ban smoking inside and outside of all hospitals, mental institutions and prisons. It also intends to tackle the £2.4 billion black market in tobacco while 'maintaining high duty rates to meet the twin objectives of promoting public health objectives and raising revenue'.

At least they're honest about raising revenue, but the consequences of these policies are not hard to predict because we have seen them before. Raising the price of tobacco will incentivise both the sale and purchase of illicit tobacco. It's not rocket science.

Moreover, we know that people ignore bans on smoking outside hospitals. As a consequence there is (a) more secondhand smoke hanging around the entrance, and (b) NHS resources are wasted in a futile attempt to police something that is neither harmful not illegal. If Public Health England were not so pig-headed on this issue, they would rebuild smoking shelters away from the main entrance.

Banning smoking in prisons has caused riots in other countries and is already starting to cause riots here. ASH should be held personally responsibly for the damage done by this violence. It is entirely predictable and totally avoidable.

Banning smoking in and around mental hospitals (in which people are effectively incarcerated) causes emotional distress to the patients and will deter smokers from admitting themselves voluntarily.

Are any of these paternalistic bans going to reduce the smoking rate to 12 per cent? Clearly not. The number of people affected is too small and most of them will start smoking again the moment they are free to do so. It is pointless harassment that will cause all sorts of unpleasant externalities that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for.

The policy of pointing at things and banning them has been tested to destruction. The only people who benefit from it are professional prohibitionists who get government grants to lobby against freedom. They have done enough damage. Depart and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

No comments: