Thursday 26 April 2018

Secretary Of State For Health Says Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

You may have watched this already, but the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons held a further session on e-cigs the other day. You can see the whole thing here.

Chaired by Norman Lamb, a former Minister of State, it was investigating the role of not just vaping but other harm reduction avenues. There were many revealing moments which tie in with my regular refrain that new nicotine products are scaring the living daylights out of the establishment because they simply cannot work out which way to turn. As disruptive technologies go, this new suite of nicotine products - for which e-cigs has been the catalyst - is causing entrenched and turgid civil servants a whole host of problems and they keep being tripped up.

Here, for example, is John Newton of Public Health England having to admit that snus - a product which his government funders fought to ensure remained prohibited in the EU at the ECJ - is the reason that Sweden has a lower smoking prevalence rate than the UK. By a country mile, by the way.

How embarrassing is that? Sweden is better at preventing people from smoking because "they have snus". Erm, which our government is determined stays banned. Isn't our government terribly committed to stopping people smoking? I'm sure I've heard the fuckers saying that quite a lot.

So why strive to stop snus being sold in this country? I've heard the arguments that we don't have a culture of it here, but does that mean the UK shouldn't even try? When did "if it just saves one life it's worth it" cease to be applicable in 'public health' circles? It seems to work very well for them when they want to ban something for some bullshit reason. Is it because the ratchet only turns one way, perhaps?

This was also very telling from Steve Brine - the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health - at Tuesday's hearing.

Got that? "Generally hospitals do not allow vaping however there is no legislation to enforce that". It seems that in trying to give an excuse to the committee as to why his department is so schizophrenic over vaping, with a nudge and a wink he has said vapers are free to ignore the pathetic rules. So a mischievous blogger, if there was such a thing, might suggest that he has implicitly implied that smokers are quite welcome to ignore bans on smoking in hospital grounds too.

The alternative, of course, would be that he would prefer the rules to be observed by everyone, including vapers. It's a tangled web, isn't it, once one tries to justify policies that simply don't add up to a coherent strategy?

The problem for Brine is that he has one set of taxpayer-funded people at Public Health England saying that e-cigs should be widely encouraged and even sold in hospitals, while another set of state-funded people under the DoH's control - the NHS - is busily installing bans on vaping.

So the department is funding highly-paid employees to issue guidance that vaping should be allowed, while simultaneously funding other highly-paid employees to completely ignore the guidance. We are paying for people to produce reports that other people we pay for will put through the shredder.

It truly beggars belief that anyone can think this is a decent way of spending our money.

He later went on to say that the NHS trusts ignoring the exhortations from PHE were "not short on guidance", as if they should probably be adhering to it, but at the same time defending their right to treat the guidance with contempt.

But then, I don't think Steve Brine is much of a fan of e-cigs anyway and appeared to be at the committee under sufferance. "I get a lot of criticism for not being a cheerleader for e-cigarettes, I don't think I should be", he said, seemingly completely forgetting that his department's Tobacco Control Plan - which he boasted about pushing through as soon as he was appointed - specifically talked about the importance of reduced risk products like e-cigs.

If he is not going to be a cheerleader for his own Tobacco Control Plan, then who the hell else is supposed to be bloody doing it?

And how about this, from the foreword of said plan, signed by Steve Brine himself?
For its part, the government will provide leadership and guidance on the most effective interventions, ensure that the new legislation is implemented well and that organisations with national responsibilities are joined up and effective. I know that this ambition cannot be achieved without a collaborative effort.
Erm, where's the leadership in saying that you can't really do much about one organisation saying one thing and another completely ignoring it? Doesn't sound like leadership to me, and certainly isn't a "collaborative effort".

Look, I don't think government should have any say in whether people smoke or not, they should just provide information and leave it up to the public to make their own decisions.

But if we have a government that wants to insert itself into every aspect of our lives, it could at least make some effort of being joined-up about it and get actions at NHS trusts which reflect the guidance they are given. We pay a shit load of money for them to do exactly this, it's laughable that Brine says
he has no power to make them. 

But, in the meantime, if you want to, just smoke on hospital grounds. As the Secretary of State says, there is absolutely nothing to stop you. 

No comments: