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« Smoking: the next logical step | Main | The truth about youth smoking rates »

How "public" consultations work

God help me, I have now read the Department of Health's report on the Consultation on the future of tobacco control. According to the DH website, "Over 96,000 responses were received ... the largest ever response to a consultation of this kind. Responses overwhelmingly supported removing tobacco displays in shops, and tough action to restrict access to vending machines. Since the ban on tobacco advertising, retail displays in shops are the main way in which tobacco products are marketed to children."

Is there really "huge public support" for further tobacco controls, as the antis consistently claim? I wonder. Of the 96,515 responses, the overwhelming majority were pre-written postcards or e-mail campaigns. Note where they came from:

I'm pleased that Forest was able to generate over 2000 responses (in just under three weeks), but as you can see this figure was dwarfed by that of the publicly-funded anti-smoking industry which managed to conjure up 79,272 respondents - 49,507 from Smokefree Northwest, 8,128 from Smokefree North East, and a further 10,757 from something called D-MYST.

FACT: Smokefree Northwest is led by the Department of Health’s Regional Tobacco Policy Manager based at Government Office for the North West at Piccadilly, Manchester.

FACT: Smoke Free North East (aka Fresh) is funded by the region's primary care trusts and is linked to an alliance of health, public sector and community organisations.

FACT: D-MYST is SmokeFree Liverpool’s youth organisation (ie yet another public-funded initiative).

Factor in the £191k that the Department of Health gave ASH for its ‘Beyond Smoking Kills’ report (which, surprise, surprise, found a ‘high level of public support’ for a range of tobacco control measures) and you don't have to be a genius to see how the result of the consultation has been manipulated to favour the DH's proposals which included a ban on display and a ban on vending machines.

In fact, this wasn't a public consultation at all. It was a public sector consultation!!

The incredible thing is - for all their resources (including manpower and public money), the antis still failed to get the full package of controls their energetic, high-profile lobbying demanded. They must be gutted.

PS. There's a short piece on this subject in The Times today. Click HERE.

Reader Comments (28)

From the Times article you posted, Simon: 'Incidentally, of 96,515 submissions to the DoH consultation, 49,507 came from something called Smokefree North West and a further 8,128 from Smokefree North East.

It is to be hoped that their pre-written postcards or e-mail campaigns are not accorded equal weight to the more considered, but less shrill, views of the small retailers and tobacco industry.'

Considering in addition that the consultation did not include a Bengali/Urdu etc version ...

At last a sensible comment in a major newspaper. This shows clearly how 'public' the consultation was. I wonder if this consultation shows any similarity with the consultation undertaken prior to the smoking ban?

December 11, 2008 at 10:40 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

The Filthy Smoker 09.12.08
"If you're on the gravy train, you get a voice. If you're not, forget it. Not so much a public consultation as a public sector consulation."

Simon Clark 11.12.08

"In fact, this wasn't a public consultation at all. It was a public sector consultation!!"

Been moonlighting Simon?!

December 11, 2008 at 12:06 | Unregistered CommenterMac

Mac, not that it matters, but The Filthy Smoker posted his comment at 8.33pm on 09.12.08. At 11.30am on 09.12.08 (ie nine hours earlier), Forest issued a press release that included the following paragraph:

'Dismissing the results of the consultation on the future of tobacco control, published today by the Department of Health, Clark said: “This wasn’t a public consultation. It was a public sector consultation. A significant number of respondents were public sector workers, many of them health professionals employed by the state. Needless to say, they supported the government's proposals.”'

Let's just say, great minds think alike ...

December 11, 2008 at 12:18 | Registered CommenterSimon Clark

Public Consultation? Is there actually any such thing in either national or local government?

If there is, I have yet to experience it or see the proof!

It is about time that the whole political system be given a damned good shake up to get rid of the prominent and regular corruption that goes on at our expense! Our expense in terms of money as well as sanity and civil rights.

December 11, 2008 at 12:31 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

I suppose I am a born optimist, so please feel free to snigger, but this may mark the highpoint of tobacco control. Labour have finally woken up to that the smoking ban is not popular, especially with their core voters and you do not have to go far from your average political blog or newspaper to see they are getting trashed there too. I have been reviewing The Independent and Guardian responses and about 80% are in agreement with us. Also The Independent's piece was the first time a journalist has checked out ASH propaganda and of course found it wanting.

For example I can't see Labour bringing in any new initiatives for the remaining time before th election. It maybe too early to hope for an early return to amendments to the smoking ban, but at least we can keep chipping away.

It maybe time to be nice to call me Dave and his mates.

I also working on a project which no doubt will crash and burn, but if by some fluke comes off you may owe me a pint, or large glass of merlot.

December 11, 2008 at 13:21 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

One has only to look at newspaper polls to see that the vast majority are against these bans. Look at comments on such bans and the vast majority are anti-ban.

December 11, 2008 at 14:39 | Unregistered Commenterchas

Dave, I'll buy you a large glass of merlot any day if your project comes off and doesn't crash and burn.
To be honest though, I've lost all hope for our country now.
This is blatant extremist lobbying by a heavily funded vested interest group. They should never have been allowed to get this far. Just think of all the funding that has been wasted on this. Just think of all the true research opportunities that have been missed because of them. It's scandolous and heartbreaking

December 11, 2008 at 15:20 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I think if I were in NuLab's shoes now, I'd take the better of the only 2 options available.
They'd better start eating a bit of humble pie and acknowledge that they well and truly have egg on their faces after being taken in by ASH, CRUK etal.
It's either that, or be voted out for good. If I were them, I'd choose a bit of humble pie. Some may forgive them for the damage they've caused by being so gullible

December 11, 2008 at 16:03 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Personally Chris, I don't believe that any of the politicians, in any of the 3 main parties, are big enough to eat humble pie! Let's face it, it takes a lot of courage to hold your hands up and admit that you were wrong!

Mary, I absolutely agree with you, especially about how scandalous it is that so much valuable and proper research has not been done due to the money that this government and others, such as CRUK and BHF, have thrown away on this spiteful and vindictive crusade.

This is exactly why I will not donate in any way, shape or form to these so called charities!

December 11, 2008 at 16:27 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

I gave up donating years ago as all I saw were charities constantly asking for money and hiring "managers" to make sure the charity ran properly. However this is no attack on the volunteers who give a lot of their time to these charities and actually physically help out. My only charity contribution is when a homeless person asks for some money, sometimes I give them a pound, a cup of tea or go and buy them a sandwich or the Big Issue. It's about time we started looking after our own people before we embark on, how did Gordon Brown put it?, "saving the world"?.

December 11, 2008 at 17:03 | Unregistered CommenterCarl


I mean... ASH boasting to a national newspaper [albeit the Grauniad] about pulling off "confidence tricks" then nulabor attempting to repeat same right under our knowing noses.

Indeed, nulabor appear to have adopted these same confidence-trickeries when it comes to creating an illusion of public support for every other nasty little wheeze they have in mind to dump on us.

December 11, 2008 at 18:09 | Unregistered CommenterBasil Brown

It only goes to show that these public consultations are not worth the toilet paper they are written on. It appears New Labour are even prepared to nationalise "public consultations" to satisfied their warped view of the world.

What about consulting the millions of smokers, who will be severely incovenienced by this proposal to hide tobacco under the counter? New Labour politicians get more cretinous by the day - bring on the next General Election and kick these lot of wasters out of office (hopefully for a generation or more).

December 11, 2008 at 19:38 | Unregistered CommenterBill

There are plans for a massive new transport network to be built in Greater Manchester, which will include a congestion charge. There is a public vote. Detailed plans have been posted to every single person. Leaflets have arrived in the mailbox and local papers representing everyone from the single mother to the MPs, some in favour some telling you to vote no.

This made me think about the SBE and subsequent things like this. The only reason I was able to vote against this hiding tobacco from public display is because this site referred me to it. I have asked several people in conversation what they thought about it, and they had not even heard about it!

I admit that I, like many others, never searched for places on the net to find out about what the SBE was going to mean. I never realised that I would not be able to smoke in 'no man's land' (the airport after security). I never realised that there would be ugly signs everywhere. I never realised that smoking outside a pub would be 50% open to the elements.

This is public consultation. Why the difference between the Manchester transport network plans and congestion charge, and the equally life changing SBE and subsequent TC proposals?

Except for a few columns in the press and the odd mention on 24 hour news channels, it seems to be consultation via the internet - if you know about it.

Here is a question for you all, how many MPs use the internet, how many MPs know HOW to use the internet, no, let's be a bit more specific, how many MPs know how to switch on a computer!

December 11, 2008 at 22:18 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

This misinformation under the heading 'huge public support' shows clearly the jobs for the boys syndrome and how the govt gets these untruthful figures for polls.
Employ a huge staff and cushion them with big salaries and pensions and you get in-house loyalty be it for getting re-elected to govt or pushing through any bill they want. Why bite off the hand that feeds you formula works every time, these guys have it all sown up.
Its a thorough disgrace the amount of money wasted on these stupid polls, overstaffed agencies, advertising fees etc.
Just think of the amount of money that could be saved by disbanding these fat cat agencies and govt runners, and the money saved put into cancer research to find a cure for cancer, which I thought was supposed to be their function in the first instance.
Why doesnt someone do an audit on these guys spending especially in these 'regrettable recessionery times'.
These stupid polls dont make a fig of difference as it has already been proven that smoking is not the sole cause of cancer, why dont they hone in on some other cancer producing product for a change, there's a multitude of them out there.
I guess its the simple fact that tobacco is a nice little earner. After all they know its easier for the prolatariat to give up a fag rather than their car.

December 12, 2008 at 10:11 | Unregistered Commenterann

Bristol City Council did the same a few years back. They ran a consultation on banning smoking in public places, and had one question that asked 'would you support banning smoking in bars and clubs?', whilst the next question asked 'would you support banning smoking in the workplace?'. A clear majority opposed banning it in bars and clubs, but supported banning it in the workplace.

The policy related press release then went out that the good people of bristol supported banning smoking in bars and clubs, as these were workplaces for some people.

To be fair to the council, they were just reusing questions written but some south west health or anti smoking agency. But still, talk about 'misunderstanding' results.

December 12, 2008 at 12:33 | Unregistered CommenterAmelium Celer

The main thing is, whether it be central government or local council, they decide they want something, play a popular game called democracy with the people, then present their overwhelming support. If it doesn't work the first time, they play another popular game called further consultation (Ireland and the Lisbon Treaty for example).
Someone said to me recently concerning the Manchester transport plans I mentioned, they will get it through, if the public vote is negative the first time, it will just slow it down, it won't stop them doing it.

December 12, 2008 at 12:37 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

There wasn't overwhelming public support for putting tobacco under the counter on Question Time last night. Pretty much everybody on the panel and in the audience was against it. Maybe the Labour stooge was for it. I can't remember.

But I was deeply disappointed when Will Self said that, although he was a smoker, he agreed with the smoking ban. When more than 50% of the population didn't smoke, "the game's up," he said.

I thought this was pretty much the most stunningly bad justification for the smoking ban that I've ever heard. On that basis, if 50% of the population don't go to see opera or ballet (as I'm sure they don't) then "the game's up" for them too. By this argument, anything that doesn't have the approval of more than 50% of the population may be banned, .

But then Self went on to say later that, in respect of Global Warming, we were all "toast". So Will Self is a true believer in that claptrap too. And I had thought he was a natural sceptic. I was mistaken.

Esther Rantzen is also a believer in Global Warming, and recommended a book by arch-nutter James Lovelock to the audience. In it Lovelock says that Britain should try to save its most important cities, all two of them: London and Liverpool.

Afterwards I was amazed that the latest assault on smoking had even been discussed at all. David Dimbleby says on Question Time that they don't know what the questions will be, but I never believe him.

December 12, 2008 at 13:21 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

Idlex, yes I too was amazed by Will Self's remarks - so much for his reputation as an independent, well-informed thinker! (BTW didn't you just hope that someone would 'smack' Esther after having the cig pulled out of their mouth?!). It was, however, gratifying to hear Jim Knight being booed.

I was in the audience of Question Time a few years ago. One of the programme's rules is that you must be prepared to ask your question if it is selected by the producers. When you first arrive you're given a sheet of paper on which you write your three questions. If I remember, you didn't get to the tea and buns until you'd handed your paper in! There's then quite a gap while you're all herded into a room with a TV tuned to the news and David Dimbleby explains how you should behave (audience participation is much enouraged). I think that it's during this time that the questions are trawled through and selected, but there's sufficient time (about 30 mins) before the programme goes on air for the panellists to be forewarned (I've never thought them to be completely surprised by a question).

December 12, 2008 at 18:42 | Unregistered Commenterjoyce

(BTW didn't you just hope that someone would 'smack' Esther after having the cig pulled out of their mouth?!)

Well yes! It's what some of the antismokers used to do in Nazi Germany!

I think that it's during this time that the questions are trawled through and selected, but there's sufficient time (about 30 mins) before the programme goes on air for the panellists to be forewarned

Thanks for that description. I've never heard that before. And it makes sense. It means that if Question Time's producers have their own agenda, questions they want to see asked, there's probably a very good chance that someone in the audience (and there seem to be a couple of hundred each time) will have asked it, or something like it. And then the panelists can be briefed on what's coming up.

I'm still puzzled why they selected the tobacco display issue. It's not been headline news exactly, has it?

Anyway, next time I watch, I'll listen to exactly what Dimbleby says about nobody knowing what the questions are.

December 12, 2008 at 20:34 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

When this stupid law comes into force if it ever does will the displaying of a price list be illegal also? I want to know what I am buying and what I am paying. At the moment JPS have brought in three new brands, Silver, Blue and Green all at £4.20 a packet. Similarly Pall Mall are cheap at £4.06. I will still want to know what is the cheapest so I will have no alternative but to have every packet out on top of the counter and hold up a queue of people until I make my mind up. Otherwise if you don't ask the price and just ask for a brand it is going to be pot luck what you pay and you won't know until they are put through the till.

All I can say is book me a ticket to the Swiss suicide clinic!

December 13, 2008 at 6:26 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia

I think that by law, Sylvia, prices have to be displayed.

What I'm getting confused about is plain packaging and banning display. Has the Government shelved the plain packaging proposal? I don't see the point of demanding plain packaging if the product is out of sight anyway - unless the antis are arguing that a glimpse of a branded packet is enough to send 14 year olds into paroxysms of longing to smoke (God, I wouldn't put it past them).

December 13, 2008 at 9:11 | Unregistered Commenterjoyce

Plain packaging and stopping packs of 10 has been shelved (which the antis are not very happy about, aww didums). Vending machines are still ok, I believe a token system is being introduced (the antis are even more unhappy about that - good). As for the under the counter proposals, it has been said that it will be 2011 for big shops and 2013 for small shops. We will see, a lot can happen in 3 to 5 years.

December 13, 2008 at 10:26 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

I started smoking at about 12. My friend who was extremely generous used to pay for us both to go to the cinema and used to buy 10 Rothmans and 10 Consulate and we used to smoke them alternately. My mother (a smoke) always said if she caught me she would make me so sick I would never want to touch them again! That went out of the window when I was 14 and she offered me one of hers saying, when I tried to pretend that I didn't smoke, "I know you smoke!". So much for me trying to hide the fact.

There used to be a saying "Forbidden fruits always taste the sweetest!"

December 14, 2008 at 7:45 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia

Hi Mr Gullible here,
Have you the audacity to say that the Government might be massaging the figures! Oh come on now.

Yours sincerely Gullible.

December 14, 2008 at 11:21 | Unregistered CommenterMr Gullible

Simon: Congratulations on your letter in the Sunday Telegraph today - and to the newspaper for using it.

December 14, 2008 at 11:59 | Unregistered CommenterNorman

Simon, any chance of seeing 'the letter in the Sunday Telegraph' please.

December 14, 2008 at 21:32 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

I'd like to know what's going to happen in the future when the tobacco manufacturers want to launch a new brand of fag. How are they going to achieve that.
Will it mean the cold war starting up again with spy's using information drops under bridges or toilet cictern's in public parks.
The mind boggles!

December 16, 2008 at 10:18 | Unregistered Commenterann

And when is FOREST going to attack the anti-smokers' flagrant scientific fraud? They're guilty of ignoring more than 50 studies, which show that human papillomaviruses cause over ten times more lung cancers than they pretend are caused by secondhand smoke. Passive smokers are more likely to have been exposed to this virus, and the anti-smokers' studies, because they are based on nothing but lifestyle questionnaires, have been cynically DESIGNED to falsely blame passive smoking for all those extra lung cancers that are really caused by HPV.

The anti-smokers have committed this same type of fraud with every disease they blame on smoking and passive smoking, as well as ignoring other types of evidence which prove they are lying.

December 16, 2008 at 19:04 | Unregistered CommenterCarolT

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