Saturday 14 May 2016

The Lords Realise It's Not About Health

It seems that, yet again, e-cigs are having the effect of proving that the tobacco control industry has little regard for health.

This time though, it is the House of Lords whose eyes are being divested of their scales. On Tuesday, a Lords committee saw Lord after Lord stand up and tell the government that the EU's Tobacco Products Directive was variously - and I quote - "nonsense", "absolutely absurd", "madness" and "bonkers".

You can read the whole thing in Hansard here if you haven't already, and I urge you to do so, because this was a government representative - in this case Lord Prior of Brampton - getting a right good kicking for the stupidity of people like Anna Soubry in not speaking up against the TPD when they had the chance.

The quotes of astonishment came thick and fast during a discussion which barely lasted an hour. Here are just a few of them.
Viscount Ridley: 
It is the product of big-company lobbying and back-room deals in Brussels. It is legislation which last month the Department of Health admitted, in its impact assessment, risks increasing, not reducing, the amount of smoking. 
Vaping is therefore a public health triumph that the Department of Health has, to its extreme shame, done its utmost to block. In 2010, the department’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, tried to ban vaping devices completely. In 2013, the agency - which is financed largely by the pharmaceutical industry - tried to insist that every e-cigarette should be licensed as a medicine. This would again have amounted to a de facto ban.
This cuts to the heart of the repulsive truth about 'public health', there is more emphasis on vested interests and ideological fuckwittery than there is about scrutinising if their pre-determined policies will have a beneficial or adverse effect on the public's health. As such, they are happy to indulge in junk science, mendacious policy recommendations and corrupt legislative processes. They have always been like that, it's just it hasn't been so transparent until e-cigs came along. They've been caught not only with their pants down but also, arguably, with their hands in the till.

It's also interesting to note that the 'public health' community, almost to a man, despises big business and industry, yet are so dogmatically driven that they always end up entrenching the industries they despise at the expense of the public's well-being, enjoyment of life and, yes, health.
Lord Callanan
I have to say that we were not particularly helped by Department of Health officials. I tried to speak to Ministers many times to find out who was behind the restrictions and why there was such a campaign against something which so self-evidently provides great public health benefits and harm-reduction measures, but I never got a clear answer. 
Funny that, eh?
I was pointed to a recording of a former public health Minister appearing in front of the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons. When she was asked why she voted for this directive on behalf of the Government, she turned to her officials and said “I think the e-cigarette provisions were removed from it, weren’t they?” - which showed a worrying lack of understanding of what she was voting for on behalf of the Government.
Yes, and if you haven't seen it before, you can watch it here.

Callanan continued ...
My noble friend Lord Ridley is quite right to point out the somewhat murky role of various pharmaceutical interests in the production of the directive. When I asked questions in the Commission and the Council - it seemed to me self-evident that these devices were brilliant for reducing tobacco smoking, which I thought was what we all wanted - I asked why they were even in the directive in the first place, given that it is called a tobacco products directive and e-cigarettes are not tobacco products in any sense of the word. The answer I received many times was that this was argued for by the pharmaceutical industry, which would have an awful lot to lose if e-cigarettes supplanted or replaced nicotine patches and gum. I do not know the truth of that, but it seems that it was very successful in getting what it wanted.
This is a quite astounding thing for a Lord (and ex-Conservative MEP) to say in a publicly-broadcast committee hearing. It suggests that the TPD was drafted with cronyism front and centre, and he was not shy in publicising it.

This is what the tobacco control industry was backing. A directive designed not on the basis of health, but by pharmaceutical lobbyists. I've said before that many tobacco controllers deserve to do jail time, and this seems to confirm that I'm right. Will there be an investigation into such allegations? Well there very much needs to be, but I'm sure the vile elitist 'public health' cabal will close ranks; have a few words in a few influential ears; and make sure they go unpunished for their actions.
We are certainly not going to give that message [of the relative safety of e-cigs - DP] by banning 90% of advertising, nor by insisting on e-cigarette packaging carrying big health warnings, which is what the Government are asking us to approve in these regulations. The Royal College of Physicians described the imposition of these warnings as “illogical”, bearing in mind that nicotine patch boxes do not have to warn of the dangers of nicotine.
Fancy that!

Callanan deliciously aimed a well-observed swipe at ASH and their industry-centric prejudices during his speech.
The messages that we give really matter. In the complex decisions that smokers make every day about whether to smoke or consume nicotine through much cleaner forms, their perceptions of the relative risks of these products are crucial. The Royal College of Physicians, Public Health England and Action on Smoking and Health have all raised deep concerns about how smokers perceive e-cigarettes to be much more risky than they actually are. It is very interesting that Action on Smoking and Health should now say that, because I recall that that was not the message that it was giving when we dealt with the directive.
Nope. ASH didn't study e-cigs with any degree of objectivity when they first arrived on the scene. In fact, in 2010 they demanded that the devices should be compelled to be deemed as medical products or banned entirely in an MHRA consultation response. This should never be forgotten; ASH sway with the wind so their current supposed "supportive" stance towards vaping is purely a convenient position of least resistance, I wouldn't put it past them to jump to an opposite position the moment they think the wind is changing. They are certainly no credible friend of the vaper. Indeed, I understand that they are cheerleaders for the TPD which was being unanimously ridiculed during this Lords committee. Speaks volumes doesn't it?

Callanan also had a few stiff words to direct at the most appalling "Science Editor" in the world.
Much of the problem stems from media reporting of junk science. The worst example was a headline in the Telegraph in December, which screamed: 
“E-cigarettes are no safer than smoking tobacco”. 
It was a nonsense report based on, as I said, junk science.
It was indeed. He was referring to Sarah Knapton of the Telegraph who wrote an astonishingly stupid article in December which was roundly condemned as being utter garbage. She then doubled down by tweeting her ignorance too.

Her laughable scientific illiteracy is now on record for all time in the official Westminster parliamentary record thanks to Lord Callanan. I'm sure the Telegraph are very proud of her for that.

The objections just kept coming.
Earl Cathcart
Even the Prime Minister, last December, said: 
“We need to be guided by the experts, and we should look at the report from Public Health England, but it is promising that over 1 million people are estimated to have used e-cigarettes to help them quit or have replaced smoking with e-cigarettes completely. We should be making it clear that this a very legitimate path for many people to improve their health and therefore the health of the nation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/12/15; col. 1548.] 
Quite so. 
I do not know what my noble friend the Minister is going to say when he responds, but I expect him to support the regulations and the EU directive. There is very little else he can do. Our masters in Brussels have told us to jump and, sadly, the only thing that the British Government can do is jump - until 24 June, of course.
We can but hope.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon
That is almost impossible to believe: that a Government who have been so anti-smoking, and who have themselves brought in so many anti-smoking measures over the years—I have been involved with them for at least 25 years—should now, when we are on the brink of assisting people to give up tobacco smoking, put these very stringent restrictions upon them. Why on earth are they banning the advertising of them if they are a health benefit to people who smoke and the Government think that people ought to give up smoking? To me, that seems to be an absolutely absurd position.
Isn't it just?
The only other thing I have to say is this. I hope that the Government will listen to this debate, although in fact there is not much hope of that because in the past trying to get the Government to listen to reason is like banging your head against a brick wall.
Lord Snape
I fear that if the Treasury acts in the way that it usually acts under any Government, it will be another excuse to tax something as heavily as possible. However, if we are serious—which we are—about weaning people off the demon that is tobacco, then banning alternative products which are proven to be less dangerous is a far from sensible way forward, and I would be interested to hear from both Front Benches why they are apparently supporting this SI.
Ooh, just a guess, but perhaps because it has nothing to do with health?
The Earl of Erroll
The final thing is that wonderful conspiracy theory: that the Treasury gets huge amounts of tax from the smokers but not from the vapers, so the Treasury may rather see us smoking than see vaping take off, and that the Government have a vested interest in making sure that this directive goes through unchanged to prevent vaping. Maybe they should declare that every time they try to promote the directive.
This is a quite fantastic point. The government has signed up to Article 53 of the FCTC which states that the tobacco industry should be excluded from discussions on anything related to tobacco control because they have a financial interest, yet the biggest profiteer from smoking is the government itself, to the tune of £12bn per annum.

It is also arguably true that anti-smoking organisations are part of the tobacco industry too, as MSP Jackson Carlaw highlighted in November.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
The fact is - I speak as president of the RSPH - that some elements in the public health world were prejudiced from the start against e-cigarettes. That clearly influenced the Department of Health and is the reason why it has taken such a mealy-mouthed approach to e-cigarettes, which is simply not based on evidence at all. It is interesting that, if you look at some of the papers produced by public health bodies, there are some weaselly words around this issue: “We still don’t know and we need to be very careful”. They are really trying to find a legitimisation for the initial very negative reaction, which I am afraid has laid the foundations for where we are today, because this is bonkers. It is simply madness. Here we have a product which is clearly of benefit to smokers and there is no evidence whatever that it will be used by non-smokers, which is where all this nonsense has come from. 
I do not understand why [e-cigs] are part of the directive at all or classified in the same way.
Nor do we, sunshine. Nor do we. Though from what Callanan revealed earlier in proceeedings, I think we have some clues.

After such a barrage, when Lord Prior finally rose to give the government's position he looked visibly rocked and distinctly uncomfortable.
My Lords, I do not know whether to thank my noble friend Lord Ridley for bringing this debate here today or not. The arguments that have been put have been very powerful and it would be obtuse of me to say otherwise.
Yes it would, but he's going to have to defend the TPD - which was incompetently and corruptly drafted - anyway.
[T]here are three ways of trying to influence the behaviour of people doing things that do harm: you can punish them; you can hector them; or you can try to offer safer alternatives.
There is a fourth alternative of course. You could consider leaving them alone to make their own decisions, but then what government ever does that?
In the case of tobacco we have tried all three things. We have penalised people through taxation, we have hectored them incessantly for years
Nice of a Conservative to admit that the government is a rancid cesspit of bullies.
What the directive is trying to do, though it may not be doing it well, is to differentiate between smokers and non-smokers, particularly non-smokers under the age of 18. It wants to encourage information being given to smokers but does not want to risk the unintended consequence of normalizing vaping so that people who do not smoke start doing so. That is the purpose behind it.
"Though it may not be doing it well". So kick it into the long grass then. Ignore it. Oh, hold on, you can't can you?
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, asked how much money would be spent on public information. If there is evidence that the impact on advertising is such that smokers are not getting the right information about switching to e-cigarettes or vaping then there will be a strong case for a public information campaign to correct that, but we will have to wait and see what impact the directive has.
Brilliant! E-cig companies have been advertising to willing consumers for years and it hasn't cost the taxpayer a penny. So let's ban it and spend sparse tax receipts during a time of austerity on that instead. What a fucking car crash that is.
It would be a massive unintended consequence if, as a result of this directive, fewer people gave up smoking.
It would indeed, but an angry looking Lord Lawson - former Chancellor of the Exchequor - rose to remonstrate on this point.
It may well be unintended. I would not know the intentions of the curious people who devised this measure, but it is certainly an inevitable consequence, and it is the consequence that matters, not the intention.
Quite. And this is the crux of the matter. Will the TPD be beneficial for public health or will it not?

The government, anti-smoking organisations and the EU all know very well that the TPD will have a negative effect, but they really don't care. In fact, just today Clive Bates has written about how the tobacco control industry is totally unconcerned about the adverse consequences their tax-sponging actions will cause.

Tuesday's Lords committee was an example of how poor tobacco control legislation always is. Even the government's spokesman admitted as much, but that his hands were tied because there is nothing he can do about it since it emanates from the EU. The fact that it is counterproductive, corruptly drafted and applied, and detrimental to public health is pretty irrelevant to him and the repellent people behind the TPD. But Lord Prior knows very well that the Lords who stood up to him the other day have no power; the committee is just one of many talking shops which happen in Westminster on a daily basis. All the Lords' concerns will be ignored and the TPD will be installed as UK law without question. It's just the crooked way that our supposed democracy works.

I've said it many times and I'll say it again. This is why I love e-cigs, because they are exposing the plankton who have always been this way, nasty, self-serving, snobby and devoid of care for the public. It's never been about health, as we know, but now there are many Lords who have noticed that too.  

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