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Could the increasing popularity of harm reduction products impact cigarette consumption?

By Guest
July 10th, 2012 at 11:55 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Government, health

Not if the Public Health Industry has its way

One obvious failure of the 2006 Health Act is the fact that the much vaunted smoking ban has had no impact on smoking prevalence in the UK. Not that those people who rely on the mainstream media for news would necessarily be aware of this as the pampered public health industry has gone to some lengths to hide the negatives and is even now clinging to patently false claims of alleged benefits. Sadly the media seems quite happy to indulge this penchant for deceit and the DoH has gone out of its way to ensure the outcome of a “review” by paying a tobacco control activist to come up with the “right” conclusions.  Harsh words perhaps, but how else does one explain a scientific advisor with no science qualifications and a less than objective public profile?

Despite the poisonous environment created by the media, the public health industry and the DoH, harm reduction alternatives seem increasingly popular and may therefore be more likely to impact on cigarette consumption than tobacco control inspired crack downs.  These alternatives will certainly not appeal to all smokers but the evidence from Sweden is that significant numbers of people choose safer forms of tobacco given the option. Sweden does not have especially low levels of tobacco consumption but the popularity of oral tobacco in the form of snus mean that it does have a low incidence of male cigarette consumption and also the lowest incidence of lung cancer in the EU

Although the Nordic tradition that contributes to the success of snus in Sweden does not exist in the UK where less harmful tobacco formats are in any case banned, legal smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes do seem to be increasingly popular as evidenced by the fact that mainstream retail outlets like WH Smith are now promoting them. In a country where government is actively pursuing policies of denormalization and intolerance towards smokers it is perhaps unsurprising that a product that mimics some of the pleasure obtained from cigarettes but can be enjoyed in public is a potential winner. After all, as the marketing blurb says, e-cigs can be enjoyed legally anywhere. This is not strictly true as e-cigs are specifically banned on Virgin flights for example, but as water vapour shouldn’t trigger smoke alarms, vapers might risk a crafty one in the toilets.

Faced with the obvious benefits of harm reduction, we might expect the politicians, the media and the likes of CRUK to embrace snus and e-cigs as safer alternatives to smoking.

They don’t.

CRUKs otherwise often informative Web pages barely mention e-cigs and contain only a short ill-informed and misleading section on snus. This low key and dismissive attitude typifies tobacco control output and partially explains the EUs collectively miserable record on harm reduction which gives Clive Bates former head of ASH cause for concern. Bates criticises public health failure under 3 headings:

  • Public health science ignored and abused
  • Ethics and consumer rights violated
  • EU legal principles disregarded

Jean King, CRUK’s director of tobacco control says:

“There has been little research into how safe e-cigarettes are. And there’s also very little regulation to control these products or their marketing. The only way to be sure of any risks or benefits is through rigorous testing.”

As a product lacking known carcinogens is likely to be relatively beneficial, one would expect the public health industry to have mobilised its vast resources to perform at least some testing as a matter of urgency.

It hasn’t.

The industry is apparently much more interested in its on-going war with “big” tobacco and smokers as evidenced by the vast amount of effort and (public) money it has put into vanity projects such as shop display bans and plain packaging campaigns.  If our divided, fear ridden society is genuinely concerned about exposure of children to the very sight of age restricted products why not consider selling such products in age restricted shops or sections within shops? That way, children don’t see displays or packaging, adults can choose their product without feeling like they are buying a class A drug and our money could be spent on something more useful.  I am not necessarily advocating this policy but I am suggesting that it has not been considered because it is insufficiently aggressive towards the tobacco industry and not as humiliating for smokers as the tobacco control preferred alternatives.

It is hard not to believe based on the available evidence, that the public health industry is motivated more by its hatred of certain other industries and its constant need to satisfy its own justifiably  fragile ego than it is by any genuine concern towards us as individuals. How else can one explain the myopic adherence to its “quit or die” dogma and the breath-taking arrogance of continuing this one-dimensional approach in the light of the historical evidence and human experience?

It is noteworthy that “big” industry in the form of tobacco companies and major retailers are popularizing harm reduction alternatives while the public health industry and UK government pointlessly pursue “plain” packaging apparently as part of a utopian project for a brave new smokefree world.  Utopian projects are, as they always have been, fundamentally and necessarily illiberal.

By Chris Oakley. Chris has previously posted on Liberal Vision:  Smokers-State Aprroved hate and Intolerance is UK policy,   Alcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth , A Liberal Tolerant nation?What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes the plaything of political lobbyists and Public Health Success?

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