On Tuesday I attended the Freedom Dinner and witnessed a superbly entertaining speech by Rod Liddle, I'll be writing about that soon but for now I really must describe a very encouraging event that took place at the Royal Society of Medicine yesterday afternoon.
Before you say anything, yes, the Royal Society of Medicine, and it really wasn't that bad. The subject matter was the regulation of pleasure and it comprised a number of speakers in different fields talking to an audience of medical types about substances which would usually horrify them.
To give you an example, Danny Kushlick of Transform - a think tank devoted to ending the war on drugs according to their website - regaled attendees with tales of the benefits of drug use. Yes, really! This is the best pic I could get of him on my shonky phone (it was, after all, the day after the night before of the Freedom Dinner and I hadn't quite got my act together early on).
This promoted a question from the floor as to what exactly the benefits of drug use are (only a medic could ask that, couldn't they?). Kushlick replied by asking if the questioner 'uses' alcohol, to which she replied yes. "Well, it's pleasure, isn't it? I'm not being flip here, but all drugs give pleasure", which is true. He went on to explain that the vast majority of illicit drug users are not the stereotypical homeless junkie living in shop doorways but instead hold down respectable jobs and contribute to society, and that it is only the harm from drug use that regulators should be tackling. Describing the 'war on drugs' as "a catastrophe of extraordinary proportion" he went on to point out that "drug use policy and prohibition isn't built for us, it's for social control and prejudice" and that sensible policy towards drug use "really isn't that hard or we can carry on letting criminals make them".
He was encouraged that the possibility of decriminalisation of drugs - and even legalisation - is beginning to be spoken about in political circles (we have to begrudgingly thank the Lib Dems for some of that) and that it would be good for the public if that were to happen.
I start by talking of Kushlick's contribution because it introduces a theme which was central to the RSM event, that the regulation of pleasure is currently not in keeping with what the public wants and is purely political in its make-up.
Another speaker, the Earl Of Erroll (pic below) - a former soldier who said that his goal in life had never been about making absolutely sure he lived as long as possible, along with millions of others - later alluded to the same concept.
"Studies show 40% of women and 80% of men have watched porn. Overall that's a majority of the public, so it's normal. Can you imagine, though, if a politician ever came out and said that? It would kill their political career very quickly"
Kushlick had also referred to this condition amongst our political classes. Describing those who run our institutions as "elites", he mentioned that there was almost an Omertà amongst them that prevents any constructive comment on drug use of any kind until they are out of office or have retired. He pointed to Mo Mowlam only speaking positively about drugs once out of politics and others doing the same. I can add a few Professors to his short list too, who rubbished the passive smoke myth only once they were retired and buffered against the inevitable bullying endemic in tobacco control industry circles (comprehensively discussed by my ecclesiastical friend Churchmouse in 2012).
On the subject of e-cigs, Lorien Jollye described how difficult it has been to get past the closed minds of tobacco control despite being an amateur promoting a product which is arguably beneficial to public health (another shonky pic).
Explaining how tobacco controllers routinely no-platform citizens who are not part of the lucrative tobacco control echo chamber, she explained that smokers have been so denormalised over the past 30 years or so that no-one really cares about them anymore. The public has been so conditioned to attacking smokers that it is almost seen as encouraged by government.
There has been a furore of late about the Brexit vote giving the vile in society a green light to abuse foreigners, yet no-one seems to be bothered about repulsive people (who should, in my opinion, be in jail or put down) being told it's perfectly OK to treat smokers as third class citizens and abuse them openly and proudly in public by tobacco controllers who love to foment hatred and are paid by the state to do so (I don't think I have to name names, do I?).
This has led to a situation whereby harm reduction is seen as a danger rather than something really rather great which costs the country nothing but does exactly what politicians have been telling us they want to see.
"We wouldn't judge someone for having a cup of coffee, but we do judge people using nicotine" says @CaeruleanSea at @RoySocMed— Dick Puddlecote (@Dick_Puddlecote) July 13, 2016
Chair of the event, Dr Axel Klein, spoke of the "pleasure economy" which seems to be routinely ignored by 'public health'. People don't buy cigarettes, drugs, coffee, Heineken, Frosties, full fat Coke or Big Macs for the good of their health, they buy them because they enjoy them. The aim of prohibitionists in all those areas, though, seems to be that the idea of pleasure is redundant and that we should all be pursuing a sole target of living as long as is humanly possible.
Says who? Well, those who enjoy fat salaries on the back of pretending that is what is important, rather than the enjoyment of life taking into account risk factors along the way, of course.
As a result, as brought up by the dapper yank Jeff Stier (pictured below) of the National Center for Public Policy Research, we have ludicrous policies such as the ban on snus.
Here is a snapshot of the smoking prevalence in the EU by country ...
.. can you guess in which one snus is legal and which others it is banned due to the actions of hideous tobacco controllers? Yes, it's Sweden yet the ban was reinforced under the TPD just implemented this May. These absurd policy recommendations are not just undesirable, but they should be actionable by imposing jail terms on those who demand them (waves to ASH).
So what's to be done about it? Well the RSM event yesterday was well attended by medical types who were receptive to ideas which are more useful than the crock that we are served up by NGOs and politicians currently. One stand-out moment was when Kushlick accused the medical community of being blind to enlightened thinking and was instantly pulled up about it by a doctor in the audience.
"I have to object to that, sorry. It is not practitioners which are the problem, we are mostly receptive, it is the likes of the BMA and other organisations which claim to speak on our behalf."And therein lies the problem. Vested interests - thinking only of their own self-enrichment - are perverting the debate surrounding drug use of any kind, promoting abstinence-only policies which are neither in keeping with how we wish to live our lives and are often vastly detrimental to the health of the public. A lose/lose situation that can easily be remedied by cutting off state funding to these parasites and closing the political door to their insane, trouser-stuffing recommendations.
People have always liked pleasure, as the Earl of Erroll alluded to by saying that "every culture has its drug of choice for parties" and addressing the assembled medics in the auditorium with "I say to you, people are not going to stop taking drugs, they are fun".
Indeed, and anyone who believes that is an achievable policy goal is quite barking, it has to be said. The subject of the event was the regulation of pleasure; for some it seems that pleasure itself is something to be regulated rather than the often rare harms associated with it. As if to emphasise this disconnect in political thinking, at the culmination of proceedings we all decamped to the bar where attendees, medical and otherwise, enjoyed some pretty decent French Sauvignon Blanc without heeding the daft guidance from Silly Sally that there is "no safe alcohol limit" and certainly didn't appear to "think about cancer" as their glasses were topped up.
As an additional bonus, I also met the awesome former chief whip of the New South Wales government Peter Phelps who popped in during his hols to say hello. All of which made for quite an enjoyable day with the doctors, which is something I certainly wasn't expecting yesterday morning.