Sunday 6 November 2016

Enfield, A Beacon In A Morass Of Local Insanity

Councillor Simon Cooke last month wrote a couple of articles on the frustration he felt when trying to introduce an enlightened approach to vaping at Bradford City Council. The second of these, in particular, listed the daft and contrived justifications that his fellow council members put forward in order to dismiss the idea, do go read them here and his commentary on the matter.
Where we go from here I'm not sure. Putting another motion to Council won't work and I'd already tried approaching public health and the council's HR department directly (they chose not to reply). We've made - and will continue to make - the case through the press. Maybe Bradford's vapers are happy to muddle through with a mish-mash of different attitudes towards what they do. And perhaps public health (and Labour councillors) are happy to conflate smoking and vaping because it suits their disdain for what seems like a decidedly working-class habit.
He shouldn't feel too disheartened because it's quite clear from a report published today by Freedom to Vape - after submitting FOI requests to every council in the country on their workplace vaping policies - that crass ignorance, snobbery and prejudice about e-cigs is not something confined to Bradford in isolation. It is nationwide.

The report lists some of the most egregious policy excuses but the most prevalent is this utterly lazy one.
By simply executing a blanket ban, the majority of councils have buried their heads in the sand, hoping that a perceived problem will disappear.
In a huge number of cases, this is absolutely correct.

Now, it's important to note here that 'public health' decisions have been devolved to council level. So even this kind of idle policy-making is reprehensible considering we now have positive reports on vaping from Public Health England (August 2015), the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (February 2016), the Royal College of Physicians (April 2016), and - specifically on vaping in workplaces - from Public Health England again in July 2016.

However, faced with the advent of e-cigs, hundreds of councils obviously couldn't bother to research what they were - the "we should be talking about more important things for the District than vaping" approach described by Cooke - and even their 'public health' departments seemed blissfully unaware of guidance from national authorities or, even worse, have ignored it entirely in favour of earlier messages which enable them to justify kneejerk bans despite their parochial policies being reviewed after better advice had been issued.

The overall ignorance is quite jaw-dropping. The Freedom to Vape summary is damning enough, but do read the spreadsheet file which accompanies it to get the full extent of how very ill-informed (or lazy) the people running 'public health' at local level really are.

Accompanying the report is a file detailing quotes from the FOI responses (see here). I dare you to read them as many are shameful and very often quite shocking. Just about all of the lame excuses Cooke encountered in Bradford are represented and communicated proudly by responding councils, and are complemented by much more rot that his colleagues never thought of.

For example, a disturbing number justify their ban simply for the fact that they say e-cigs "look like smoking", an irrelevant point which shows that their 'public health' departments have either not been consulted or are woefully incompetent. Northumberland County Council even use this to explain why they ban vaping within 30 metres of council buildings!

Reading Council bans e-cigs on the basis that their policy prohibits "anything that can be smoked"; Redditch Council describes e-cigs as "smoking materials"; West Dorset declares that "vaping is held in the same category as smoking"; Wrexham class vaping "in the same manner as smoking of other materials in all cases"; Ipswich confidently "considers use of e-cigarettes to be a form of smoking"; and Flintshire Council bizarrely says that it is "committed to reducing visibility of smoking and this includes e-cigarettes". Forest of Dean says much the same, stating that they encourage staff not to smoke so therefore "do not permit use of e-cigarettes". Worst of the bunch in this category, though, is Isle of Wight for their grammatically-ugly "staff are however aware that smoking via an e-cigarette is treated in the same way as what smoking is".

Considering these councils are probably involved in education, perhaps someone should point them to a dictionary and/or explain what a non-sequitor is.

Despite the reports by PHE, RCP, NCSCT, ASH, CRUK and all other positive sources, many councils state that their policy is currently being reviewed but that they have already decided that a ban will stay in place. Glasgow Council has a rule that e-cigs cannot be charged and asserts that e-cigarettes are unregulated! Erm, TPD anyone?

Buckinghamshire say that they considered the issue but decided it was easier to just ban them, but that they will re-consider if e-cigs are classed as medicinal devices by the government; Horsham admits that there is no reason to ban because they fall "outside of the scope" of the smoking ban ... but ban them anyway; while Pembrokeshire concede that vaping is not illegal but it "mimics smoking" so that's good enough for them.

Both Lancashire and Shropshire (and a few others) cite the WHO saying e-cigs should be banned as their justification, while St Helens Council, along with Stockport, soberly announce that they are in favour of denormalising smoking and - without even a hint at providing supporting evidence - that e-cigs undermine this.

Stirling Council's policy - reviewed in February 2016 - authoritatively states that "there is insufficient evidence to prove they are safe for bystanders", a statement of such absolute idiocy that if I lived there I'd be demanding my council tax money back.

Some are very imaginative. Oldham say that e-cigs can be "unsettling" to people who are trying to quit so off to the smoking shelter you must go, while Powys insist that vaping "reinforces the normalcy of cigarette use" and that e-cigs are "the equivalent of cigarettes". Where they get such crap from is anyone's guess.

Trafford and South Cambridgeshire not only make staff leave the council's grounds to vape but also refuse to allow vaping breaks which is a recommendation of PHE in July this year. However, they are eclipsed by Medway Council who reach a special level of fuckwittery by declaring that "since electronic cigarettes often resemble ‘standard’ cigarettes very closely, staff should not be seen using electronic cigarettes whilst in uniform, either in paid or unpaid time". Yes, unpaid time too, just imagine being that much of an ignorant local 'public health' idiot that you came up with a policy like that for products which the RCP said should be "promoted widely".

As for Fenland District Council, can anyone - anywhere - point to where they get this bollocks from? Because they claim their policy "aims to prevent exposure to the vapours [e-cigs] produce in the same way that exposure to tobacco smoke is prevented, which is in line with the guidance issued by Public Health England". Sorry, but I think I must have missed that from PHE.

The Freedom to Vape report rightly highlights a quote from PHE which states categorically that "it is never acceptable to require vapers to share the same outdoor space with smokers". Now, it is irrelevant whether you or I agree with that or not, but it's damning that over 100 councils have completely ignored it and demand that vapers are only allowed to use e-cigs in designated smoking areas. If the future of 'public health' being devolved is that they all completely ignore guidance they are given by those superior to them, what's the point of paying any of them out of our taxes?

There is one beacon of light in amongst a morass of local authority insanity though, so step forward the London Borough of Enfield.
LB Enfield does not have a policy on the use of e-cigarettes.  We accept the evidence that e-cigarettes can aid smokers to stop using tobacco and encourage this. LB Enfield does not have a policy on the use of e-cigarettes and there are no plans to introduce one.
They should be praised from the rooftops for such a tolerant and enlightened attitude and I do hope - if they are serious about guidance that is obviously being ignored by local authority knuckle-draggers throughout the land - that PHE and others who claim to be 'vape-friendly' will let Enfield know that their policy is superb and publicly congratulate them as an encouragement for other authorities to follow their lead.

It's not just Simon Cooke's council which needs educating, it would seem, but also many others who require something more substantial than what is obviously already being ignored by inadequate local authority muppets. To Simon, I'd say that yes, he should resubmit his motion to Bradford Council. I hope this report wakes a few councils up and that Cooke writes to PHE and asks for some tangible help; from a budget of £500m per annum, I'm pretty sure PHE could send a stiff letter to all the ignorant and incompetent councils in Freedom to Vape's report and order them to stop being so damn stupid.

Cue tumbleweed.

You can read the full report along with copious notes from the FOI responses by clicking here

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