Sunday 13 November 2016

UK COP7 Delegation Justifies Cuts In Quit Smoking Services

By far the funniest story of this COP7 week for me was the curious case of the voluntary spunking of UK taxes by our delegation, most probably aided and abetted as usual by ASH.

This was the obsequious praise heaped upon our lot in Monday's news round-up.

If you weren't aware of it, this is because when asked for more cash by the FCTC, the UK delegation - while the rest of the world's tobacco tax scroungers at COP7 looked at the floor and wisely sat on their hands - voluntarily coughed up another £15m of your money, with which to bully smokers in other countries. As The Sun explains ...
WHITEHALL busybodies were slammed last night after signing off £15 million of UK taxpayers money to stop people smoking in poor countries like North Korea and Syria. The Department of Health will use Britain’s aid budget to support global quitting measures — prompting calls for the money to be spent on doctors and nurses back in Britain.
The crazy hand out was confirmed yesterday at the UN World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control conference in Greater Noida, India. Britain committed to contributing £3 million per year until 2021 to the ‘Agenda for Sustainable Development’.
Now, if I'm a politician in the UK government, this makes perfect sense to me. Because, you see, they're constantly getting it in the neck for handing out development cash willy-nilly only for governments in developing countries to spend it how they choose (remember India's space programme?).

But this has a tag on it called "bash the smokers" so will be seen as targeted action. Especially since we are talking about those icky foreign smokers, it's just a no-brainer for your common or garden career politician, isn't it? It buys off some of the UKIP-style criticism of overseas aid and is easily explained.
But last night the Department of Health defended the cash boost, saying: “Smoking rates in many countries are much higher than in the UK and all UN members have a role to play in bringing them down to reduce deaths where the need is greatest.”
They're not wrong. UK tobacco controllers have been jubilant about how successful they have been (even though most of the big shift has been down to e-cigs), so why would we need to spend so much cash on UK stop smoking initiatives when attendance at stop smoking services is drastically down?
A sharp decline in the number of smokers using an NHS support programme to help them quit has been linked to the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes. 
Nationwide figures have shown a similar trend to those in the south west of Scotland. 
In 2013, the Information Services Division reported that the number of attempts to stop smoking had fallen by 13% compared with 2012.
This is just part of a fairly long-running trend, numbers using such services have fallen dramatically since 2010 when widespread uptake of e-cigs started to take hold.

Of course, if user numbers are down, it follows naturally that government would be reluctant to spend the same funding on it, hence why stop smoking services are reportedly strapped for cash. In fact, ASH produced a report recently detailing this very phenomena.
Overall, smoking cessation budgets were down: in 39 per cent of local authorities, smoking cessation budgets had been cut compared to only 5 per cent where they had increased. They stayed the same in 54 per cent of local authorities. More than a quarter of local authorities (29 per cent) had seen cuts of more than 5 per cent. 
And rightly so. If fewer people are using the services it's obvious that the funds should be spent elsewhere. As yer man from the Department of Health said above, "smoking rates in many countries are much higher than in the UK", so obviously all committed, upstanding, philanthropic anti-smokers would applaud the cash being diverted from the UK to other places where prevalence is higher. Yes?

Again, as a politician, this is two birds with one stone. I get to give a tangible reason for part of the much-criticised aid budget and also to justify cuts to UK services since it is admitted that tobacco control has been so wildly successful that there is little demand for old-fashioned stop smoking clinics.

My own personal view is that stop smoking services are not required at all, for two reasons. One, it is no role of the state to pay for people to quit something they have chosen to do simply because government doesn't like it; and two, in recent times there are many options other than government interventions which can do the same job. When there are rumours that such services might close, it's a reason for celebration because they are a vast nationwide waste of money. I have to say it is especially sweet to hear about their (quite rightly) being cut in the constituency of one of ASH's lapdogs such as Bob Blackman, something which he complained about recently in the House of Commons. Delicious.

So congratulations to the UK delegation for re-allocating £15m of our taxes from where the tobacco control industry considers it is not needed, to where it is. And it was the UK anti-smoking delegates who went to India and voluntarily signed off the re-distribution.

As a result, from now on the bleating about how stop smoking services are struggling for cash really should cease, because after Monday any sane politician wouldn't even consider changing their mind. After all, ASH and the DH have just admitted that the funding is needed far more elsewhere than in the UK.

I hope they enjoyed that Orchid Award. 

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