On Tuesday last week, Sheila Duffy of ASH Scotland sat down in front of elected Scottish MPs to pitch the idea of their ignoring any and all communications from the tobacco industry at the behest of the unelected WHO. Now, I don't reckon she was prepared for some of the responses she received. Here are some edited highlights [page 12 of this PDF].
Jackson Carlaw: Like the convener, I am a lifelong non-smoker and have no particular interest in the tobacco lobby at all. Does the WHO define what the tobacco industry is? Are you part of the tobacco industry, given that you depend on its existence for your employment?The honourable gentleman makes a very good point, don't you think? The World Health Organisation classes e-cigs as a tobacco product because the nicotine in them is derived from the tobacco plant, as does the FDA in America.
Sheila Duffy: I am not and no, I do not depend on its existence ...
Jackson Carlaw: Is that not why ASH exists?
Sheila Duffy: ASH was set up by the royal medical colleges as, for more than a decade, the scientific evidence about the harms of tobacco had not gone out to the general public because of the tobacco companies’ public relations activities ...
Jackson Carlaw: Its existence depends on the tobacco industry and if there was no smoking, there would be no need for ASH.
Sheila Duffy: If there was no smoking, there would be no need for ASH ...
Jackson Carlaw: Should our meetings with you require to be held in public, as you have suggested?
Sheila Duffy: I am entirely happy with transparency as a working principle but ...
Jackson Carlaw: Do you encourage that? Do you list, for example, on ASH’s website, the politicians that you meet, when you meet and the issues that you discuss with them? (Hint: No, they don't - DP)
Sheila Duffy: ASH Scotland is not subject to an international treaty. (But "entirely happy with transparency", so why not just publish? - DP)
Jackson Carlaw: But you are part of the tobacco industry.
If nicotine in e-cigs is a derivative of tobacco, then ASH and ASH Scotland must - by the same token - be a derivative of the tobacco industry, no?
The Convener: Is the treaty a form of censorship? (Yes - DP)
Sheila Duffy: To be honest, I think that it would save you time (Staggered! - DP). You are busy parliamentarians and if you have to sift through the misinformation, the arguments for and against and the misleading submissions that tobacco companies will slip in with their evidence ...
The Convener: My point is that we get misleading information sent to us all the time. It is part of the role of staff and politicians to take on board the information that is sent to us, decide what we agree or do not agree with and to check its veracity. That happens daily and is our job from morning to night, but you are specifically asking the committee to support a petition that says that one sector of society has to be stripped of its ability to contact us in a way that everyone else takes for granted.
Sheila Duffy: To be very clear, I am not suggesting that you should not hear from tobacco companies and their vested interests (Yes she is - DP). I am asking you to consider Scotland’s obligations under an international treaty to which we are signatories and in that respect, the tobacco industry is unique.
The Convener: Okay, so we are being asked to treat tobacco companies specifically as a different type of organisation. Are you saying that we can hear from the arms industry, the sex industry and all sorts of sectors that some people might find controversial - and in some cases are illegal - but we cannot hear from a legal entity such as the tobacco industry?
Yep, it's kinda what she is hoping will happen. Note she says that she is "not suggesting that [politicians] should not hear from tobacco companies and their vested interests" when that is the entire point of article 5.3 of the FCTC and precisely what Duffy intended when submitting this petition. To 'suggest' exactly that. The WHO cannot demand it because it would be a disgrace and an affront to democracy, but it is designed - as in this case - to hoodwink policymakers into ignoring valid stakeholders.
It is one of the fundamental principles of the tobacco control industry. Article 5.3 is the tool they use to shut down debate and stifle dissent, it is the administrative embodiment of their pathetic tactic of smearing anyone who has ever talked to a tobacco company as an industry shill. It is deliberate, and Duffy knows that very well. It has led to utterly pointless articles such as this on the BBC, which suggest that just listening to what an industry has to say - as a government absolutely should do - is somehow wrong.
Duffy can claim till she's blue in the face that she doesn't want that to happen, but she and her office would have done a jig when they saw PMI being publicly shamed by the BBC for exercising their democratic rights.
It is highly encouraging, then, to see Scottish politicians recognising this abuse and giving Duffy a hard time about it. Do go read the rest of the exchanges from page 12 onwards, I think you'll find them enjoyable.