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Tobacco control: how it works

On Monday the tobacco display roadshow returns to the House of Commons for the second reading of the Health Bill. I can't help thinking that political events are going to derail this Bill, one way or another, but it's important that we continue to lobby MPs as hard as we can.

In Scotland the political landscape is rather different. At the start of the week we were given the official report of the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee meeting featuring the likes of Sheila Duffy (ASH Scotland), Elspeth Lee (Cancer Research) and others.

I couldn't help noticing this cosy little exchange between the Convenor, Christine Graham, and one of the panel of anti-smoking "witnesses".

The Convener: I stopped smoking years ago - although I have had the odd little lapse - so I know that, when you are trying to stop, it is hard when you see cigarettes on display. That is just my anecdotal evidence, but I think that one of the submissions made a similar point. Was it yours, Ms Grierson?

Trish Grierson (NHS Dumfries and Galloway): Yes. We said that displays give a cue to smoke, which is particularly unhelpful for smokers who are trying to stop smoking.

The Convener: I agreed with that when I read it. I had to stop going into newsagents, because I knew that the temptation was there.

The problem with this argument is that there are lots of things we are "tempted" to buy that aren't necessarily good for us (Belgian buns in my case). Should we put them all "out of sight"? Oh well, it's good to know the Convenor isn't averse to anecdotal evidence - when it suits her.

I noticed too that there was one rule for us (the so-called tobacco lobbyists) and another for the anti-smoking campaigners. At our session, the previous week, it was made clear to us that we shouldn't repeat what was in our written submissions, so we kept our replies short and to the point.

No such restriction for the anti-tobacco witnesses. After a long-winded statement by Elspeth Lee, the Convenor declared:

That is a full answer, for which we are grateful. Many of those points are in your written submission, but I am pleased to have those comments in the Official Report.

Grateful? Pleased? I don't recall the Convenor being "pleased" or "grateful" with any of our evidence!

Full marks though to Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon who gave Sheila Duffy (chief executive of ASH Scotland) a thorough workout, especially on the subject of government (ie taxpayer) funding. This exchange was particularly impressive:

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): The ASH Scotland evidence is highly critical of the funding of the lobby groups from which we heard last week. We asked all the lobby groups where their funding came from and I think that we are aware of how they are all funded. It is only fair that I ask you where ASH Scotland's funding comes from.

Sheila Duffy: ASH Scotland is a registered Scottish charity, so our accounts are publicly available and audited. In common with the national charities that deal with drugs and alcohol, we receive substantial funding from the Government. Because of that, we are reviewed periodically by the Government, which commissions an independent review to look at our cost-effectiveness and funding. I can certainly give you a breakdown of our costs for the previous financial year if that would be helpful.

Mary Scanlon: I do not really want to know your costs; I just want to know where your funding comes from.

Sheila Duffy: Ninety per cent of our funding comes from the Scottish Government; 2 per cent comes from the national health service; 6 per cent comes from other charities such as the British Heart Foundation; and 2 per cent comes from self-generated income and donations from individual supporters. A condition of the public funding that we receive is that we may not use it for campaigning and lobbying. That activity is funded from our earned and voluntary income.

Mary Scanlon: You said that 90 per cent of your funding comes from the Scottish Government. How much is that in cash terms?

Sheila Duffy: In 2008-09 it was £938,000, which went to support a great deal of project work in areas such as inequalities in relation to tobacco, youth development work, partnerships and the development of training for smoking-cessation services.

Mary Scanlon: So, ASH Scotland is receiving nearly £1 million from the Government to fund it to lobby the Government.

Sheila Duffy: No. Under the terms of the funding, we may not use it for lobbying.

Mary Scanlon: You receive nearly £1 million from the Government.

Sheila Duffy: We receive that funding to deliver objectives that are in line with national policy. We are clear and open about the work that we do and the funding that we receive. That is not true of groups that are funded by the tobacco industry. There is no clarity about the tobacco industry—

Mary Scanlon: We heard from those groups last week; they got a good grilling from us all. You are being given nearly £1 million in order to support the Government's national policy on smoking.

Sheila Duffy: I must take issue with that statement, because the money that we are being given is to support objectives and outcomes that are in line with national health policies, including—

Mary Scanlon: Which are determined by the Government. The Government determines national health policies and it gives you nearly £1 million to lobby on those policies.

Sheila Duffy: I must be clear about the point that the public funding that we receive may not be used for lobbying purposes. It is for delivering services and projects that are in line with public health policy in Scotland.

Mary Scanlon: So, of the nearly £1 million, how much is used for lobbying? Can you give us a rough guesstimate in percentage terms?

Sheila Duffy: I have not looked at the exact percentage, but a really tiny percentage of direct spend goes on lobbying. That work tends to be shared with other health charities whose aims are similar to ours.

Full report HERE.

The report of the previous week's session, in which I gave evidence, is HERE.

Reader Comments (3)

Have just returned from a birthday party gig. As it is so obviously the government's job to keep me from temptation, I hereby issue the following something must be done!.

Is it right and proper, in this day and age, for the paid-performer to be subject to the various pressures that come from seeing alcohol imbibed at such a function? The people who selfishly get intoxicated... and give every appearance of having "fun" whilst so doing, pose a great risk to the sober and healthy employee. The peer-pressure to "join in" is often intolerable and, sadly, tonight I let my guard down. Consequently I am now fully expecting my life to fall apart, to lose my moral compass, to forget all about getting my 5-a-day and to die a long slow lingering death from something or other that's someone else's fault.

This would never have happened had there been some sensible laws in place to protect me. The link between alcohol-consumption and what the hopeless addicts like to call "enjoyment" is clearly established and the negative-stereotype is only reinforced by allowing the open sale and consumption of intoxicants in public places. Indeed, the poison-pumps are allowed to bear ADVERTISING for their respective brewers and all with NO HEALTH WARNINGS and NO pictures of diseased pigs livers, human-roadkill or octogenarian dentistry with which to facilitate making an informed decision at the point of purchase. OUTRAGEOUS! Furthermore, as the evening drew on, I noticed hitherto plain-looking womenfolk assuming auras of almost irresistible charm and loveliness, to the point where I felt like that reprehensible Sid James character from those xenophobic "Carry On" films so beloved of unacceptable persons.

Alcohol Concern obviously need an urgent increase in government-funding with which to lobby the government for more government-funding. And I'm sure 78% of responsible citizens will agree.

June 7, 2009 at 3:38 | Unregistered CommenterBasil le Brown

Hear, Here, Basil le Brown.

I agree with everything you say apart from one thing. I would put the figure of responsible citizens agreeing with you at 79%. There is overwhelming evidence that my figure is the correct one.

June 7, 2009 at 3:55 | Unregistered CommenterMargot le Johnaon

Uhm, that's pretty weak questioning to be honest; I'd hesitate to say it was an example of a "... thorough workout".

The ASH person comes out clean right away, the MSP asks the same question three times - "to fund it to lobby the Government? etc" - demonstrating that she's either incapable of understanding the answer given, or just determined to harass without real purpose.

If she'd actually followed up on getting a breakdown of the costings used for lobbying v other expenditure ... then it might actually be some interesting questioning.

As it stands, it's pretty lame stuff with the ASH person coming out way ahead to the observer.

June 7, 2009 at 17:42 | Unregistered CommenterBlueblackJack

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