Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Sheila Duffy Cheesecake

An article appeared at the Scotsman this morning written by Sheila Duffy of ASH Scotland.

You may remember her dictating who elected Scottish MPs should and should not listen to in November where the reaction was her being quite rightly described as "part of the tobacco industry".

Well this morning she was in a philosophical mood. Philosophical but occasionally in the dishonest, economically and scientifically illiterate way that tobacco controllers are, that is.
The problem with talking about smoking as a lifestyle choice is that in most cases it’s not.
Erm, yes it is Sheila. Everyone currently alive in Scotland is well aware that smoking is risky, because groups like ASH Scotland have been paid handsomely by government to tell the public so.

If you're interested how much, it's around 85% of their total revenue.

I think it's fair to say that Sheila's organisation is the archetypal state-funded sock puppet, the type of shameful abusive fake charity which has compelled Westminster to introduce rules on lobbying with taxpayer funding that have so enraged the voluntary sector. In short, a damaging embarrassment to real charities everywhere and a self-enriching waste of your taxes.

Yet here she is seemingly admitting that her organisation is a failure because smokers don't make a choice based on the 'information' her industry lobbies to be plastered everywhere and spouts incessantly, but instead are seduced by some evil spirit floating around on the Scottish air or something.
Certainly there are informed adults who make a proactive choice to smoke and, so long as they cause no harm to others, that is their business.
Well, firstly, no smoker harms others because passive smoking is a fantasy deliberately created by her industry chums over decades. However, it's interesting to see that she accepts smokers smoke by their own informed choice and that they should be left alone to do so.

I might be wrong but I don't remember seeing this before from tobacco control, so let's give a mini-clap for that.

There is always a 'but' though, isn't there?
Yet we have known for some time that most people who smoke started when they were children and that most people who smoke say that they want to stop.
And here we have one of their favourite tricks. The 'stated preference' sound bite illusion so favoured by anti-smokers worldwide. Carl Phillips mentioned this just the other day in a slide from a recent presentation he made to real scientists as opposed to pretend tobacco control ones.

Phillips has also described how this zombie argument is flawed many times before, a perfect example of which is this from 2013.
It is commonly claimed that most smokers want to quit. The surveys that support this are actually quite suspect, since smokers know that they are supposed to say that, and thus often just give that answer as cheap talk. But while this explains a large portion of the responses, there are definitely some people who sincerely assert that they want to not smoke, even as their actions show that they are choosing to smoke. But what can this obvious contradiction possibly mean? It almost certainly means, in most cases, that their second-order preference is to be someone who wants to not smoke, even though the reality is that they are someone who really wants to smoke.
Because, increasingly so, it's a fact that only a small fraction of smokers actually quit smoking each year, and stats on quit attempts are pretty paltry compared with the numbers of people who actually smoke too. The verifiable fact that nowhere near a majority of current smokers who Duffy claims want to quit even bother to attempt it proves that their stated preference is not their actual preference.

As in, most people who smoke do so because they enjoy it. Just imagine that, eh? Phillips expands further ...
There is nothing horrible, or even the slightest bit unusual, about this second-order preference pattern. We all have countless preferences for different preferences. I would prefer to like going to the gym as much as I like playing computer games, and I would prefer to like unsweetened iced tea as much as I like Coke.
Just think about the things you'd prefer to do rather than what you choose to do and you get the idea.

Duffy then moves into this unseen demon theory a bit more deeply.
The more we look into the figures the further we move from the picture of free adults enjoying smoking tobacco. While the smoking rate has reduced to around 20 per cent in the general population it is four times higher in the poorest areas than in the richest. Almost 50 per cent of people with a registered disability, or those who are unemployed and seeking work, smoke tobacco. The rate is nearer three-quarters in the prison population and amongst people with severe mental ill health. In every one of these groups most of those who smoke say that they want to stop. 
With the likelihood of smoking so determined by social and economic situation, this is not a matter of people making free lifestyle choices but instead about responding to their circumstances in a way that is rational and understandable yet ultimately damaging, expensive and regressive.
Now I don't know about you, but this looks very much like "they're poor and not that bright, so they're incapable of making an informed choice". And as for smoking being a "regressive" choice to make, erm, who lobbies for eye-watering taxes to destroy household budgets in the less well off? I'll give you one guess and the answer in Scotland is Duffy-shaped.

Still, I don't want to leave you on a downer because there are odd glimpses of Duffy being almost reasonable.
The clear implication is that we must reject any suggestion of blaming people for their “lifestyle choices”, health or poverty.
Of course we should. Perhaps Duffy and her friends could come out with the odd research or lobbying paper about why people who spew repulsive bile about smokers are disgusting individuals who should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves (and in many cases confined to mental health institutions). I won't hold my breath though considering ASH Scotland's accumulated 'scientific' canon has actively encouraged the most vile and intolerant in society to vent their spleen at law-abiding people consuming a legal product without Duffy or her predecessors lifting a finger to discourage it.
Nor should we abandon people to an unfair distribution of the social and economic pressures which lead some groups to smoke and make it more difficult for them to quit. But we should question why so many vulnerable people are left without more effective, and less damaging, alternatives to reach for.
And is this a hint that smokers should be given a suite of options to choose from instead of being subjected solely to the angry bigoted clunking fist of fascist tobacco control coercion? I think it is, you know.
This analysis may help us resolve the perceived conflict between improving public health and respecting personal liberty – leave the very small number of informed adults who may choose to smoke and address the factors which cause the majority of the smoking population to be drawn from young, unwilling or vulnerable groups.
This also looks like a first for me. A career prohibitionist talking about "respecting personal liberty" and leaving alone those who are informed of the risks of smoking but choose to anyway? Wow! That will be every smoker then considering ASH Scotland is shovelled 85% of their income from the government to inform the Scottish public how risky smoking is.

It's an odd article from Duffy, and almost as eclectic as I've seen from any UK tobacco controller. It was like a political cheesecake. There's the solid base of anti-smoking rhetoric which ASH Scotland are wedded to from years of pumping out crap and science-free sound bites like "most smokers want to quit" and "poor people are addicted and too stupid to make their own choices"; but a fair amount of the softer cheese bit of saying that other options should be available apart from coercion; and, surprisingly, the thin layer of tasty flavoursome coulis topping in the form of admitting that many smokers have made their choice and should not be any concern whatsoever of state-funded harridan groups like ASH Scotland.

Now it's only an optimistic theory, but d'ya reckon Sheila is sensing that the days of just ignorantly bullying smokers and holding the hand out for government cash might be coming to an end? is she realising that tobacco control 'science' is so derided and ridiculed now that she feels the need to try to present something at least resembling thoughtful comment instead of 100% vacuous sound bite-driven bollocks? Has the joyous demise of Smokefree South West focussed a few state-funded minds to consider their potential financial mortality unless they buck up their ideas and live in the real world?

One to watch, isn't it?

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