Further to the picture of public health minister Anne Milton rubbing shoulders with Deborah Arnott at the ASH AGM last month (left), my attention has been drawn to a recent parliamentary answer given by Milton to a question tabled by Labour MP Grahame Morris:
Grahame M. Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment he has made of the potential contribution of (a) voluntary partnerships with industry and (b) regulation in reducing the incidence of (i) obesity, (ii) alcohol abuse and (iii) tobacco smoking;
(2) what plans he has to reduce the incidence of (a) obesity and (b) alcohol abuse; and what account he plans to take of the views of industry representatives in formulating his Department's policy in these areas.
Anne Milton: The forthcoming public health white paper will set out the Government's strategy for improving the public's health, including tackling the challenges of smoking, obesity and alcohol misuse. Consultation with stakeholders, including industry representatives, is an important part of the formulation Government policy and it will continue as normal.
The Public Health Responsibility Deal brings industry, the retail sector, the voluntary sector, non governmental organisations and local government together in a forum to consider and agree on a voluntary basis the actions that they will take to support the Government's public health ambitions.
Government engagement with the tobacco industry on public health matters is governed by Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its supporting guidelines. The guidelines specifically state that meetings with the industry or its proxies should be take place only when strictly necessary [my italics].
My correspondent writes, "The net effect of what she’s saying is that there will be no meetings with the tobacco lobby unless ASH/the tobacco control lobby decide it’s strictly necessary. Worrying stuff from a Government committed to [corporate and social] responsibility?!"
It seems to me that dialogue with the manufacturer of a legal product is the least we should expect of any government. Anything else is a dereliction of duty and morally ministers give up the right to govern if they adopt such a policy.
Likewise, a government that refuses to engage with the consumer cannot complain if the consumer decides to operate outside the normal parameters.
History tells us that governments - even democratic ones - are never shy to engage with terrorists and other opponents of the state.
When it comes to tobacco, a legal product that generates billions of pounds of revenue for governments worldwide, different rules apply. Scandalous, really, and yet few people ever mention it.
If I have a wish for 2011 it's that Big Government liaises far more closely with tobacco manufacturers and the consumer. Stuff the FCTC. If they have any self-respect UK ministers will use their common sense and not be dictated to by foreign diktat.
Otherwise, what's the point of being in government?