Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Extraordinary Extent Of ASH Lobbying

Last week Guido highlighted what we in this corner of the internet already knew; that ASH lobbies the government with money government, erm, gives to ASH.
Arnott is not averse to using cash to influence government policy – our cash. ASH waged a half-decade campaign, involving top Civil Service officials, to introduce plain packaging. In a string of emails between Arnott, Hunt, the Department of Health’s top ranking official Andrew Black and surprisingly the PM’s Chief of Staff – Ed Llewellyn, the organisation appears to have broken the department’s rule on the use of its grant money. The Department of Health rules, as stated in November last year, prohibit government lobbying at the taxpayers’ expense: 
“Funding applications from voluntary sector organisations are assessed against a number of criteria, but Departmental policy clearly states that grants will not be awarded if there is any indication within the application that some or all of any funding awarded will be used to support political activities, including political lobbying activity.”
Between 2011 and 2015, ASH received a whopping £745,650 in taxpayer funded grants from the Department of Health, their £200,000 grant last year was specifically for assisting the department to implement the “Tobacco Control Plan” (page 22). In that same period, documents seen by Guido highlight 74 separate incidents of lobbying contact, reaching as high as the PM’s office. Taxpayer grants form by far the largest donations given to ASH, and it would appear that they have been used to lobby the government against the Department of Health’s own regulations.
74 different instances of Deborah Arnott using a direct line to the Department of Health to promote plain packaging? Wow! Were those opposed to the policy afforded the same facility? Well of course not, it's just Debs and her buddy Andrew carving up the democratic process.

But that's only scratching the surface! I've been kindly sent the FOI results that Guido was working from and they are quite astonishing. Deborah Arnott contacted Andrew Black (the Department of Health's tobacco lead) so many times that the files had to be split into five volumes. I've spent three days on and off reading them and I'm still only halfway through. There are so very many emails that they would have been better off keeping an open channel on MSN Messenger to save time.

ASH would claim to be independent of government, but on this showing they are acting as a government department and might even have an internal phone line between their offices and the Department of Health as far as we know.

But then, when even government ministers consider Arnott as part of the Department of Health 'team', why should we suspect different.

That's Andrew Black (far left) next to bessie mate and email pen pal Debs
Yet ASH would still deny that they are engaged in the practice of using government money to lobby government (in fact, Arnott denies exactly that to Black explicitly in one email I've read). Quite astonishing.

There is so much info in the files it's a real revelation. ASH have their fingers in so many pies that one day they might be telling Black to order the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to change their policies (yes, really), and the next complaining about signage at sports grounds. There is almost nothing Arnott would not write to Black about. Some of it is daft, almost comical at times, and some of it - in my humble opinion - is borderline illegal.

It's a great insight into the shenanigans of these hideous people and it would be mean of me to keep it to myself ... so I won't. It's the sort of thing that should be exposed to the public who pay for it, so let's start, shall we?

Considering the IEA is holding a debate tomorrow on the damaging (and pointless) provisions in the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) towards e-cigs, shall we examine ASH's role in it?

Last week, there was outrage that ASH had attempted to support the indefensible TPD by throwing hundreds of thousands of vapers down the drain.
The needs of more than a quarter of a million people don't matter, according to ASH.  
The ASH survey finds that "only" 9% of the UK's 2.8 million current vapers use strengths above the 20mg/ml limit imposed by the TPD. That in itself is bad enough, however the point which ASH so spectacularly miss, is that this cross sectional survey tells us nothing about what strength people used when first using vaping devices. It is entirely possible, indeed probable, that a much larger proportion of those 2.8 million vapers used high strength liquids when they initiated use and then reduced the strength as they became more experienced and learnt the quite different techniques involved in vaping.
But these emails show that ASH's current position on e-cigs is merely a fallback one of nobbling the devices after being frustrated at not getting them banned entirely.

We already know that in 2010 ASH recommended that the devices should be compelled to be deemed as medical products or banned entirely in an MHRA consultation response. It wasn't until three years later in June 2013 that MHRA advocated exactly that, just as ASH had been badgering them to. Now, I don't know about you, but I think those two things might be related, whaddya reckon?

But then came the TPD which threatened to throw that proposed de facto prohibition in the bin. So what did ASH do? Talk to vapers? Establish their expert opinion? Change their minds and research more? Nope, they held a round-table discussion with the medical community to ask what the hive mind of 'public health' thought of harm reduction. And guess who introduced it and summarised at the end? Yes, Debs did.

Her conclusions were conveyed to Jeremy Hunt in September 2013 (and co-signed by John Britton). She was adamant that recreational use of nicotine was just an industry myth and that vapers used e-cigs for the same reasons as NRT marketed by her friends in the pharmaceutical industry (as with all these images, click to expand).

What's more, there would be no problem with medicines regulation for vaping suppliers because they were earning loads of money, so they were. It was easy peasy!

Regulation won't undermine growth? But will simultaneously entrench existing players? That's some weapons grade goalpost-moving right there isn't it?

But even if it wasn't easy peasy, Arnott wasn't too bothered about medicines regulation putting small companies out of business anyway. In shades of the FDA deeming regulations across the pond, the letter from Arnott and Britton appeared to say "well Big Tobacco will buy these companies anyway in time, so why not just hand them the industry now?".

In correspondence shared with Andrew Black in December 2013, Arnott went even further in her desperate drive to get e-cigs included in the TPD as medicinal products. Writing presumably to the Labour Party or a shadow cabinet researcher (redacted), she exhorted them to support medicines regulation in the TPD and sharpish. Because, you see, without really taking any consumer views into account, Arnott had concluded that where vaping is concerned, making e-cigs available only as drab smoking cessation aids via stifling medical regulations was the "best use for them".

The urgency just leaps off the page, doesn't it? A "priority" to push the TPD through by 22 May 2014 no matter what damaging shit is in it. If that was the approach of ASH - with their open line to government - is it any wonder why Health Minister Anna Soubry, flanked by Arnott's best pal Andrew Black and no doubt accompanied by him in Europe, panicked and voted for something she knew nothing about; arrogantly bypassing parliamentary scrutiny in the process.

The rest is history. No doubt pressured by ASH and other rancid organisations in Europe behind the scenes, the public and the EU Parliament was ignored and the TPD that is now causing havoc in the UK and beyond was formulated in secret and therefore, to no-one's surprise, delivered in February 2014.

With that background in mind, is it any wonder that ASH are now trying to pretend that the TPD isn't really that bad for vapers? They are responsible for the TPD Article 20 and have been since the first time someone rang them up and said "have you seen these odd plastic things that I've heard are being hawked in pubs?" from 2004 onwards.

Corrupt? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

There's tons of this stuff you know, anyone up for more?

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