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« Escape to Ireland | Main | Happy New Year! »
Tuesday
Jan042011

It's good to talk: why UK ministers must ignore this foreign diktat

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?

Reader Comments (16)

I have to say as a Conservative member and activist I am embarrassed by my party's Junior Health Minister, ASH's useful idiot. It seems a conspiracy of silence has descended on debate on smoking issues and it is undemocratic if not authoritarian.

January 4, 2011 at 12:56 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I say change your support Dave or this won't get better. They need to know that votes and grass roots support WILL be lost if they continue embracing this divisive and discriminatory policy against their own on the whims of an organisation that has little public support.

January 4, 2011 at 13:32 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

The Labour government signed the FCTC in 2004, thus binding them to follow Article 5.3 of the agreement.
http://www.who.int/fctc/guidelines/article_5_3.pdf

Which states that they may not allow tobacco companies or their proxies to influence policy, which will include shopkeepers and customers.

Which is why the TRA had their votes rejected over the Display Ban Consultation.

Tobacco Retailers Concerns 'Air-Brushed Out' By Government, UK
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/132901.php

The gist of which is that they submitted their responses both by email and by post and knew it had been recieved, but for some reason it was if all trace of their views had been airbrushed from the consultation.

The reason being Article 5.3, they are not allowed to influence policy. Which was reported as - MPs fall foul of 'dirty' tricks by tobacco giants:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/dec/14/tobacco-industry-small-retailers

By ratifying the FCTC they effectively rendered quarter of the population in signatory countries without a voice.

January 4, 2011 at 13:38 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

The Tobacco Industry should REFUSE to have ANY further contact with Government.

January 4, 2011 at 13:48 | Unregistered CommenterEddie Douthwaite

Milton probably does not care for democracy or what happens to the electorate she's only in it for the job or to appease her masters in the WHO bribed by Pharma. This is the root problem with our so called democracy at the moment. Chancers like Arnott feed on it for easy money as do career politicians like Milton. They will all feel the wrath of the populace soon enough. This is no prediction, it is a historical certainty with unpopular out of touch governance and the slime that feed on them.

January 4, 2011 at 15:16 | Unregistered CommenterRobspierre

Maybe tobacco companies should stop paying taxes to HMRC and watch government bodies rush to 'liaise' with them about the matter. ;)

You'll find a picture of an average politician under 'hypocrite' in an illustrated dictionary.

January 4, 2011 at 17:22 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Article 5.3 could also be the reason why calls to amend the smoking ban on the Your Freedom website were refused.

"Of course there are other suggestions which aren't going to be taken up by this government... the introduction of the death penalty or changing the smoking ban; but at least the debate is now really alive."

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2010/07/bad-news-for-anyone-who-thinks-the-smoking-ban-could-be-amended-under-the-governments-your-freedom-i.html

January 4, 2011 at 18:10 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

How anyone can ever have any faith in a politician from a main-stream party this day an age, beggars belief.

Yes, there are many true politicians out there that belong to these parties, but the whips and HQ follow global treaties and agreements. The whips and HQ will never place their own positions on the line for what is right for our country and its citizens anymore.

Unfortunately, it is an appalling and very sad state of affairs. I have said it before, and I will say it again - these career politicians have a lot of blood on their hands.

January 5, 2011 at 0:26 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

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.

Rose may have discovered why they don't engage in any dialogue with anyone except ASH and other ban supporters: article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

January 5, 2011 at 2:08 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Davsi

Thank you, Blair, but other Countries have signed the FCTC and have amendments and/or exceptions. The problem lies squarely at Westminster.

January 5, 2011 at 7:53 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

If only one of the 'UK Ministers' were Lord Monckton !

January 5, 2011 at 10:53 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

I wonder what Kenneth Clarke thinks about all this...?

January 5, 2011 at 17:41 | Unregistered CommenterLiberty

My fellow colleagues in the "tobacco lobby" here are all making interesting comments of their own which I respect very much, but I find myself a bit thrown by Simon's words here, because as a spokesman he necessarily chooses them carefully.

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.

In the United States the "free market" is the magical answer for all societal ills and it is heresy to say otherwise or to dig any deeper than that into the reality of the functioning market.

In a free market a consumer seeks to maximise marginal utility in a number of different ways, navigating the various costs and benefits in achieving this somewhat automatically -- part of Adam Smith's "invisible hand."

However, the market is anything but free, it's been hobbled and diverted and beaten and cajoled from all sides, with government being the most visible manipulator and arguably the largest stick with which to beat the market into its desired shape. I'm no free market absolutist and thus realise the need for some level of regulation, due to the reality of externalities and the cyclical tendency of unregulated markets to correct themselves before causing economic and social disruptions.

That being said, the state, especially concerning the market for tobacco products has long since abandoned operating in good faith. Smokers have long been willing to pitch in some revenue but tobacco taxes have reached confiscatory levels. In a free or fair market there would be the possibility for legal competitors to enter the market and drive prices down to a more reasonable level, but the state will abide no competition -- thus the competition comes in the form of criminals and smugglers of contraband.

How am I, as a "free" citizen, fed a steady of "free market" gospel to reconcile this obvious contradiction? The black market for illegal drugs and increasingly illegal tobacco products is arguably the last vestige of the "free market" the government sells me on through the "marketplace of ideas."

If I am to take government at its word, it would seem that my duty is to reject unfair taxation without representation and to seek out grey and black market products until the state realizes that oppression, economic or otherwise, will be resisted. More freedom is the answer, not further tyranny.

What I find a bit ironic is that, like Frank Davis, I'd always considered myself more of a lefty in the flawed left-right spectrum of conventional political opinion, but I've never had any affinity for overbearing paternalism from either direction. I have never been very trusting or respectful of authority because I prefer to ultimately make my own decisions and not to legislate my choices onto others or have morality forced upon my by the puritans down the street.

So I am a man without an official "faction" and pretty much have always been so. I reject the current paradigm in which "free" nations require a labyrinth of laws to keep people "free." The result in western democracies has been obscene incarceration rates and an unnecessary level of general misery and apathy.

Meanwhile our governments happily do business with terrorists and despots in secret when it suits them but refuse to talk to legal tobacco business representatives and their customers and anyone sympathetic to same? I hereby withdraw my consent to be governed, just as politicians have decided that they are no longer accountable to the electorate. If our democracies continue on the current path without correction they will not last. Unfortunately the aftermath of their self-absorbed folly will not be pretty. It never is.

Happy new year everyone.

January 5, 2011 at 23:06 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Brian Oblivion

Dr Brian -

Interesting analysis !

As to the question of 'free markets', even a 'free market absolutist' would HAVE to accept the need for some sort of 'regulation' - if only a) to assure quality of product and services (as the Medieval Guilds use to do, to some extent), and b) to prevent monopolisation and cartelisation - both of which ultimately strangle the Free Market.

Many so-called 'free-market' advocates in the past have simply been corporatists acting under 'free-market' cover (eg - in all likelihood - Reagan, with his 'de-regulation' of the Media back in the Eighties).

Sadly, 'governments' of WHATEVER (theoretical) complexion are INHERENTLY a-liberal. If we could crack THAT nut, together with the establishment of a genuine 'free market' in Knowledge - ESPECIALLY that relating to all the suppressed science in relation to energy-production (and I don't mean all those ridiculous pseudo-'green' solutions currently being rammed down our throats), then we might begin to get somewhere.

As to:

"History tells us that governments - even democratic ones - are never shy to engage with terrorists and other opponents of the state."

No indeed. Especially since the better-organised 'terrorists' (eg Mujahideen/Taliban/Al Qaida/ various Chechen and other anti-Russian groups etc etc etc) tend to be recruited, trained, and funded by the State itself.

As to 'Democracy' - it's (nowadays) merely a State of Mind and/or a Label On The Tin. As a Political Reality, it simply doesn't exist - and hasn't since Athens was overthrown by Sparta.

If there's one word which DOES adequately describe the political organisation of practically EVERY state in the World - no, make that 'every state in the World', then that word is OLIGARCHY: Rule by the Few. And until THAT changes, nothing will.

And as long as we allow ourselves to be located somewhere on that phony (but very effective) Left-Right paradigm, then so long will we expend most of our energies fighting each other and squabbling in the Playground, rather than engaging with (shall we say ?) more appropriate targets: such as our Schoolmasters.

January 7, 2011 at 13:48 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

I've googled each of the terms 'obesity', 'alcohol abuse' and 'tobacco smoking' with the words "costs NHS" and unsurprisingly got figures in the £ billions (in actual fact for the yr 2010 £4.2bn, £6bn and £5bn respectively).
Arguing statistics (and their sources) may be interesting but serves little purpose, and particularly so when there's no dispute about a causal link between poor diets, alcohol, tobacco and poor health. The no1 priority - in times of a record breaking public finance deficit - is surely for Government to be working hard to reduce these £ financial costs. And dialogue with the manufacturers and purveyors of these harmful products has to be an excellent and the sensible place to start.
When it comes to tobacco smoking however, if cigarette companies are to be arbitrarily excluded from such dialogue, it looks like financial as well as common sense is to be jetted. and per my rudimentary research we're talking about an annual bill of £5bn!
Any chance the Treasury can inject some sense into the process?
Charles Hamshaw-Thomas
CSR Solutions

January 7, 2011 at 14:31 | Unregistered Commentercharles hamshaw-thomas

Charles -

What chance is there of ANY financial sense from this or any other government so long as it insists on throwing a few billion of our money away every year from now until God-knows-when on 'Climate Change' ?

I know it's a tedious subject (or should be by now), but - leaving governmental extravagance aside for one moment - I don't see how we can expect even the merest sliver of financial common sense to break in if the Government is still prepared to squander our hard-earned on a NON-problem. I suspect that even the Treasury is resorting to both Astrology and Alchemy these days (both of which subjects you can now probably 'do' a Degree in) !

January 7, 2011 at 15:28 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

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