Sunday, 7 April 2013

Policy First, 'Evidence' Later

Well, well. Doesn't this tell a sorry story, eh?
The email – dated May 2011 – from civil servants in the UK’s Tobacco Policy Team to their peers in Australia says: “You will be aware that the UK Government is considering the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products. 
“As I’m sure you’re aware, one of the difficulties regarding this is that nobody has done this and therefore, there isn’t any hard evidence it works.” 
The email – which is redacted to hide the sender’s name – continues: “I am wondering whether the Australian government drafted any type of impact assessment or cost analysis in which the likely benefits and costs are measured and, if so, whether you would be willing to share this information with us.”
Just take that in for a minute. The UK was "considering the introduction" of plain packs without even a sniff of any evidence. Really?
It's straight out of The Thick Of It, isn't it?
Minister (fidgeting): Opinion polls don't look good. We could do with a policy to announce. 
Wonk: Anything in mind? 
Minister: Not really, no. 
{Uncomfortable pause} 
Minister: Hold on, having something in mind is what I pay you for! Think of something, for God's sake, I haven't been mentioned in the papers for nearly a week! 
Wonk: We could always go back and do the presumed consent for organ donations thing again. 
Minister: No, no, NO! Don't you remember the roasting we got on that last time? The debate went on for months. Not in a good way, either ... being accused of presuming to own the body parts of every living citizen had the press all over us. No, we need something easy-peasy and damage-proof. 
Wonk: Let's get tough on drink-driving, err, again. That's always a winner. 
Minister: So 1980s. 
Wonk: Some new regulations on something? 
Minister: What? That the EU hasn't thought of already? 
Wonk: Good point. 
Minister: No, what we need is something no-one can object to. You know, like shop-lifting or, or fake DVDs. Yes, we know it's wrong but the public think stealing off big businesses is a victimless crime so don't care much. {looks wistfully out of the window} God, don't criminals have it easy compared to us politicians? 
Wonk: They can't legally steal money off the public by force though. 
Minister: Oh yeah, there is that. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose. 
Wonk: Aaah! I've got it! 
Minister: What? The clap off that divorcee down the deli counter at Waitrose? I did warn you. 
Wonk: No. A victimless policy! We've made people all hate smoking now, haven't we? Well, I heard that those nutty Aussies are talking about stealing the brands and logos from tobacco companies. 
Minister: Really? Why? 
Wonk: Apparently, the selling point is that it will stop kids from smoking. 
Minister: Pfft! They've always been daft down there. Walking upside down must pump too much blood to their fucking heads {laughs}. 
Wonk: Yes, but it's a policy. And it won't upset anyone as smokers don't care what box they come in so won't do anything about it. We kicked them out of pubs and they barely murmured, remember? It might also stop those boring wankers at ASH ringing us up every day and whining down the phone ... at least for a week or so, anyway.
Minister: D'you know what? You may be onto something there. Well done! 
Wonk: Thanks. Do I get a pay rise? 
Minister: Fuck off! I've had to take a cut myself since the bastards at the IPSA stopped me claiming for new furniture! 
Wonk: {Under his breath} My heart bleeds. 
Minister: I do like that, though. Is there any evidence? 
Wonk: None whatsoever. 
Minister: Good man. I'll organise a press release to announce it tomorrow. In the meantime, you have a scout around and see if you can find some obscure study somewhere to back it up. 
Wonk: And if I can't find anything? 
Minister: Then e-mail the Aussies and see what bullshit they used, of course! Sheesh, must I always be the one in this office to come up with ideas? 
Wonk: {sigh} Yes, Minister.
Frippery aside, it would seem clear from this FOI that the UK government's sole reason for "considering the introduction" of plain packs in 2011 was that ... the Australians were doing it. 

It's this puerile political headline-seeking which has led to our witnessing one of the most transparently laughable rigged public consultations of all time.

Even Armando Ianucci would struggle to make something this inept up.


Lysistrata Eleftheria said...

Oh well done DP. I'd laugh if it weren't so true to life. Policy-led evidence.
It debases smokers, it debases politics, and it debases science.

nisakiman said...

I followed a link in the comments of the 'Telegraph' article you linked to, and found The National Social Marketing Centre (NSMC), which rather scarily describes itself as a " interest company dedicated to improving the effectiveness of behaviour change programmes.". The article linked to on their site is broadly sceptical as to the effectiveness of plain packaging, despite being very anti-smoker in tone, but nevertheless concludes with:

"Make no mistake, whatever the result of the consultation, plain packing will be introduced in the UK. That’s all well and good. However,
in a few years time it will be interesting to see if its introduction
can be shown to have had a quantifiable impact on smoking uptake in
children. Personally, I don’t think this particular measure will be all that effective, but I’d be very happy to be proven wrong."
(My emphasis in both quotes.)

Lysistrata Eleftheria said...

Bloody hell Nisakiman, followed your link and it scared the shit out of me.

There's obviously a whole new paying profession out there.

Quote: "We are The National Social Marketing Centre (The NSMC), a non
profit community interest company dedicated to improving the
effectiveness of behaviour change programmes."

OK, so there are now officially 'programes' to change our behaviour. Not only that, there's an industry established to advice them how to change our behaviour mosr effectively. "shudder*.

I'm probably the only poster on here who knows what a Community Interest Company is, legally. All I can say is, it's not in MY community's interest, mate. Bet you get most of your funding from government contracts. Eh?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

You didn't know?

There is, indeed, an entire industry working out how government can change you. Read this.