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Thursday
May022013

Almost 4,000 lives "saved" by smoking ban? Take a closer look

It was reported this week that 3,726 lives [were] saved by introducing the smoking ban in 2004.

This is due, we are told, to the absence of second hand smoke in public places. At first glance this seems to be a positive development but such a stunning success surely deserves a closer look, if only to discover how we got something so right for once.

Explaining the study and its methodology, Dr Luke Clancy, former chairman of ASH Ireland, warned that it was “complex” and indeed readers can log on and read the full complexity at the PlosOne website. While it is not easy fodder it includes a simple graph that would appear to dramatically undermine the findings of the study.

The graph shows that since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004 rates of heart disease, strokes and, to a lesser extent, cancers have been falling steadily over nine years. But it also shows that this was the case in the twelve years leading up to the ban. It clearly demonstrates that, ban or no ban, death rates from those three illnesses were falling anyway. One can speculate that better medical interventions and treatments are responsible for this, along with greater awareness of health among the general population.

The government body responsible for compiling the official statistics, the Central Statistics Office, shows that, year-on-year, we are living longer. So the reported drop in the most common diseases, as reported in this research, fits perfectly with the real facts on the ground.

Where the research departs from the facts is when they attribute this natural fall to the absence of ‘second hand’ smoke. Complex conditions such as heart disease, strokes and cancers are multifactorial. That is, it is very difficult to attribute the disease to any one factor. Contributing causes may be stress, alcohol, diet, lack of exercise, hereditary reasons, viral infections and smoking, amongst others.

For this research to have any validity then all other contributing factors must be ignored. Added to that, the natural falls in the various named diseases before 2004 must be ignored too. The research does not explain why, when public areas were full of tobacco smoke before 2004, rates for heart disease, strokes and cancers were already falling.

Neither does it address any of the other contributing factors, many of which have been positively addressed in the last 20 years. It dismisses better overall health education and awareness, improved interventions and treatments and chosen healthier lifestyles in favour of demonising smokers. As such, it appears selective and skewed. A cynic could accuse the authors of beginning with a conclusion and looking for the proof.

Chris Snowden, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit at the renowned Institute of Economic Affairs in London, has already commented on this study on his blog. The online magazine Spiked published an article on studies similar to this one and it illustrates the difficulty with this kind of investigation.

There are some other interesting facts to ponder. Dr Clancy’s study is an epidemiological study and the first law of epidemiology is that while it may show correlation it doesn’t show cause. Yet in this instance he claims to have discovered cause. The Central Statistics Office doesn’t list a single death from passive smoking in this country, nor has any other country officially listed it as a cause of death. It seems strange to claim that almost 4,000 lives have been saved by the absence of ‘passive smoke’ when it cannot be proved that anyone died of passive smoking in the first place.

The largest study ever on passive smoking and its effects was conducted by Dr Enstrom & Dr Kabat and published in the British Medical Journal in 2003. They studied 118,000 people over a 39-year period and analysed exposure to second hand smoke relative to heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The study failed to find any significant link between passive smoking and these three conditions.

Another problem with Dr Clancy’s study is this. When research like appears in the public domain we have to ask, why were mortality rates falling long before the smoking ban and why hasn’t its introduction made them fall more dramatically? Were we simply getting things right all along without any help from the nanny state?

I would suggest that politicians take this study with a pinch of salt but, some might argue, that might be bad for you too.

Thursday
Apr182013

High price of government policy

It was reported yesterday that nearly 30 per cent of all cigarettes sold in Ireland last year were sold illegally.

These would be the ones we see everywhere for sale in every part of the Country. The non-plain packaging ones.

Personally I think that is a conservative figure but let's accept it for the moment anyway. The official figure for illicit sales is 14 per cent and now a tobacco company (JTI) has said it is double that at 28 per cent. Also, the official figure for tobacco brought in legally without local taxes being paid here is six per cent. I certainly think that it is at least double that.

Either way though, that it means is that 34 per cent of tobacco smoked in Ireland is free of local taxes and Excise and it could be as high as 40 per cent. "Good Lord," I hear you think, "what in the world could be causing that?"

I've given these numbers some serious consideration and I am beginning to wonder if our having the highest priced tobacco products in the EU could in some way have anything to do with this lawless phenomenon in Ireland.

But surely not! We are all in full-time well-paid employment, are we not? We have plenty of disposable income every month, don't we? We even have the highest per capita house ownership in the EU also, haven't we? So, it could not possibly have anything to do with the 80 per cent taxes and excise that is added to the real price of tobacco in Ireland, now could it?

No, no, no, of course it couldn't. High prices are good for us. They are so good and have worked so well with tobacco, the Government and Stubbs Reilly are now turning their high priced attention to alcohol, sugar and fatty foods too!!!

See: ‘Nearly 30 per cent’ of cigarettes sold in Ireland last year were illegal (The Journal)

Wednesday
Apr102013

The story no-one wants to tell

'A third of tobacco smuggling convictions imposed on international criminals' the Irish Times reported last week.

The report insinuated that this is some sinister new development but this is far from the truth. To put it in perspective, there were 55 convictions for smuggling in 2012 in in total and, apparently, one-third of these people were non-Irish. Eighteen foreign nationals, then, were stopped coming into this country and found to have an amount of cigarettes in their baggage that suggested they were for re-sale.

On this blog over the last three years I have reported on court cases all over the country involving foreign tobacco smugglers, most of them from the former Soviet block. A flood of these people were permitted to enter and work in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger frenzy and you might remember the reports back then that claimed they were doing the jobs the Irish wouldn't do.

While their earnings were higher than that might get at home, the cost of living was far higher in Ireland. One big expense was the cost of cigarettes, the most expensive in the EU. A 50 gram sachet of Polish rolled tobacco in Warsaw costs €3 while a 50 gram pack here costs €20. It's nothing short of ludicrous.

Anecdotally, from members of the Polish community in Cork, I have heard that Poles visiting their homeland are often given cash by friends in Ireland to buy them a supply so it easy to understand that on their return here they may have one suitcase dedicated to tobacco products. Again anecdotally, I believe the airport customs officers are especially vigilant around incoming flights from Eastern Europe so it is no great surprise that a few of these intrepid foreign johnnies got nabbed.

But a few suitcases of cheap fags for their friends is a mere drop in the ocean of the epidemic that is Irish tobacco smuggling. Dare I say, a shipping container full of cigarettes holds more than the average suitcase. The difference is that one is in the hand of a manual worker at an airport, the other is more likely to be consigned to a member of some army council.

The real story then is that no-one has the stomach for poking that particular beast, no matter what they may claim otherwise. We have enough problems on this blighted isle at present without re-visiting the spectre of the gunman all over again !

Monday
Mar252013

Plain packaging will come at a price

Over on the Taking Liberties blog my colleague Simon Clark has a piece on plain packaging.

The fact that neither plain packaging nor gruesome images will make one jot of a difference to the buying decisions of smokers is overlooked by tobacco control campaigners. But the bigger issue is the lawlessness that this will promote.

To remind you of the logic of it all, currencies all over the world are heavily decorated. They feature difficult to copy silver stripes in the notes and have watermarks built in. This makes it difficult for counterfeiters to copy paper currency. Cigarette packets also feature embedded logos, specific pantone colors, decorative markings and intricate designs.

The proposed move, if it should ever become law in Europe, will see every cigarette box in some drab colour with only the name to differentiate one brand from another. The idiotic proposers of this measure claim that branding and attractive packaging are what entices smokers to begin in the first place. Like much else that has gone before, this errant nonsense may soon be accepted as fact.

The reality, of course, is quite different. Only a third of the population in Ireland smoke and the major manufacturers all vie for this market. The biggest issue they have is market share of that existing buying power. The name, brand and packaging are the ways they differentiate their cigarettes from those of their rivals. The gold Benson and Hedges box is clearly different from the red and white Marlboro one, and so on.

Tobacco products have been banned from view in shops since 2008 so smokers have to state to the shop assistant which brand they wish to buy in advance of seeing the actual box. Common sense might inform the thinking individual that should the drab box with its gruesome image offend a minority of smokers then the cigarettes can always be transferred into an attractive tin or cigarette case. Problem solved.

This new proposal is the equivalent of suggesting that the colour of lager and the gorgeous pint glass are forcing children into the pubs in droves. The natural solution in that case would be to make all beer puke-green and serve it in a tupperware mug with a diseased liver plastered all over it.

But I can predict what will actually happen with tobacco. Plain packaging will be introduced, smuggling will increase hugely, and black market cigarettes will be even cheaper causing the income from legal products to fall dramatically. This drop off in legally declared sales will be pointed to by the puritanical fanatics as proof of the "success" of plain packaging.

I was about to write that you heard it here first but you knew it already, didn't you?

See: Pot kettle black, APPG accuses tobacco industry of propaganda (Taking Liberties)

Thursday
Mar142013

Crown's junkets

I have been on the receiving end of nasty comments from John Crowne, the famous senator and oncologist, on more than one occasion.

On TV3 one morning he suggested that my smoking may have been the cause of my son's asthma. Several times in print and on radio he has accused me of being a stooge of "Big Tobacco" because Forest in the UK is partly funded by them, as is clearly stated on their website.

Normally the weight of evidence lies with the accuser, but it appears the bold John feels he may simply sling the shit about him, without regard for the ‘Four Goldmines’, such is his arrogance. So, accusations recently that he was the recipient of generous largesse from "Big Pharma" naturally caught my eye.

By his own admission he was flown to nearly 50 conferences on two continents, was wined and dined and had his conference fees paid by a selection of Pharmaceutical Companies. The fact that Luke Clancy, Fenton Howell, and a number of other high profile haters of the ordinary smoker were similarly treated over the last ten years has never been widely reported in the media, though. There is huge money and power to be had in the vanguard of the "Tobacco Control Industry". The paymaster is often either government or the private pharmaceutical companies. So it is a bit ironic for these lads to accuse me of anything.

In Senator Crown's case, such conferences like the ones he attended would usually be held in the best hotel in town and include accommodation, flights and conference fees. It might not be unusual for the round trip to cost about €5,000 per delegate over the duration of it. Fifty of those, then, would come to a cool quarter of a million euro - nice work if you can get it. While I have mixed feelings about his ability as a senator, I have no doubt that John Crown is a brilliant oncologist and can understand why the Big Pharma's would want him at their sponsored conferences so badly.

As a senator, John has chosen to waive his salary, though he may still avail of the generous expenses on tap. But I checked up on what an oncologist might expect to earn, and I was staggered. "Half of all oncologists, regardless of their experience level, earn between $217,286 and $352,307 each year, according to Salary.com". Given that our medico's here are among the highest paid anywhere, you could probably change the dollar symbols for euros. Thirty-thousand a month is big bobs in any man's language. John could have easily paid for his own junkets if he wanted to remain neutral. But good luck to the portly doctor, I say, that is until he becomes the poster boy of my persecutors for my smoking habit.

None of these pharma-sponsored cancer conferences would be complete without condemning smokers and drawing up yet more sneaky plans to marginalize them. We know that the biggest financial beneficiaries of the Tobacco Control Industry in Ireland are the pharmaceutical companies. Smokers wishing to quit are pointed firmly to their nicotine replacement products, an expensive option at best. But John's costs on any such trip are a small price to pay to get him to influence and lobby our Government to switch the annual two billion euro tobacco market over to their pharmaceutical products instead. Simply put, flying John to a luxurious location and treating him like a king is an investment in a new market for Big Pharma.

But it does subject the man to the accusation of a conflict of interest when he pronounces on Tobacco Control back here, both as a senator and an oncologist!

Incidentally, the last time I claimed vouched expenses from Forest was last year. The occasion was an RTE TV interview and my train trip to Dublin, one hotel night and taxis to and from the station cost €280 from memory. About the same amount as John Crown's duty free at some foreign airport! The devil is in the detail, isn't it?

Tuesday
Mar122013

Should Reilly be shutting the door on tobacco companies?

I'm beginning to wonder if there's something not entirely legit about the government's decision making process.

I met an old friend on Tuesday evening and we caught up on where we were at. He is in marketing and he must be good at it because he's still in marketing. We'd both had two kids and shared a few years in the same industry. He joked that he'd heard me a few times on radio, wanting to kill everyone with cigarettes.

But when he got serious he asked me about my contacts in government and which politicians I was meeting regularly there. When I told him that I wasn't, he was genuinely shocked. "You mean you are not at the table when decisions are being made?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

I then got a lecture along the lines of it's who you know and not what you know. He's a smoker himself, though he couldn't care less about restrictions and that sort of thing, but he couldn't imagine that government started this "lark" without someone else at the table with them, urging them to do so. He'd heard of ASH and I filled him in on the terrible twins, the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation. I explained how they or their outriders are the direct advisors to government on so-called 'tobacco control'. So he asked directly why I wasn't forcing my way into the room.

By way of explanation, then, no stakeholders from the other side of the smoking story may be present when Stubbs Reilly sits down with like-minded fools to plot the path of repression. The retailers are not allowed in, the companies hired to make the packaging are not allowed in, I'm not allowed in and, you're not going to believe this, even the tobacco companies are denied a seat at the table. The very industry being regulated is not allowed any hand, act or part in the regulations themselves. No less a person than Stubbs himself has said several times that he wouldn't talk to them and that's that.

Or is it?

Read this document which I got following a Freedom of Information request. It's a letter to Chris Macey of the Irish Heart Foundation from the Tobacco Control Unit (the old OTC). It's clear that it is Department policy to speak with all the stakeholders, so is Reilly on a solo run (again)?

Part of it reads:

I wish to clarify an issue around the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which appears to be causing some confusion at present. It has been stated on a number of occasions recently, that it is forbidden for Departmental officials and Ministers to meet with representatives of the tobacco industry and that such meetings are illegal. This is incorrect ...

Ireland has signed and ratified the treaty and therefore has obligations under Article 5.3 of the treaty. Non-binding guidelines were developed to assist parties meeting their obligations under Article 5.3. It should be noted that these are non-binding guidelines rather than protocols.

Officials from the Department of Health and Children meet with representatives of the tobacco industry, when such meetings are necessary to effectively regulate the industry and progress tobacco control policies. As regulators of a highly regulated industry, it would be unacceptable for the Department to refuse to meet with the industry that is being regulated. Such meetings do not infringe our obligations under Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC.

Full letter here.

Tuesday
Mar052013

Poverty, health and hypocrisy

I was intrigued to read an article entitled "Poverty causes ill-health"

It is the work of two Doctors and it stands out because it is full of common sense and truth and lacking in lies and falsifications. Refreshing in other words.

It deals with the inequality in our living standards and the simple fact that access to medical services takes far longer with a medical card than it does with a wad of cash. It can take a year to get an MRI scan with the card, but you don't even need an appointment to pop into one of the many private clinics around the country for a date with the scanner, if you have the money of course.

The conclusion is simple too. You need money to be healthy. If you are broke, therefore, you are more likely to be a sick bunny. Access to justice is run the same the way here as well. An hour in the High Court could cost you your house, and if you don't own a house you won't get a look in. Never mind that our Constitution states that we are all born equal. Never mind also that we live in a Democracy and the Government is supposed to treat us all equally. In Ireland of the 21st century, when you discover that you are poor, you will get sick or jailed.

The Doctors in their article took smoking and drinking into account as well, and the rule still held. It doesn't matter whether you do either or both, the poor will still take to their beds. It occurs to me, on this evidence, that the real fight in society should be the war on poverty, if everybody was being above board. But, when there is money to be made by the individual in demonizing smokers, then the real problem can be overlooked.

The article referred to above comes from the "Irish Health" website, a very useful tool which is run by the more decent elements in the Medical Profession. Another site, www.ash.ie is run by the self-serving parasites from that same profession. A measured examination of each will show the massive gulf in decency and integrity that exists in the caring professions.

Wednesday
Feb272013

A bad dream

Hot on the heels of the spat over illicit tobacco in Ireland comes the devastating health news regarding the quality of the smuggled variety.

For some time now the ‘Caring Charities’ have been hinting darkly at the increased health dangers contained in this ocean of illegal tobacco that has flooded the land since the high tax-price increases began. While skilfully avoiding any suggestion that there is a safe tobacco of any kind (even one cigarette could wipe out an army etc), they have consistently claimed that tobacco that has not been seriously overcharged for is absolutely lethal. It would appear that for any individual cigarette to become safe to smoke it would need to cost €10,000.00, but I digress.

So this morning I was only mildly surprised to hear that in a new exhaustive study conducted by the MRBI on behalf of the ICS, horse DNA was found in a cigarette in Dublin!!!

Well, it wasn't actually found as such. The MRBI asked two women on Moore Street about the taste of their cigarettes and one quipped that "It bleedin' might as well taste of a f***** horse, for all of a sh*** I give." The other one apparently just said that hers were "grand".
The ICS then cranked into action and immediately issued a press release with the startling headline that read: "Deadly horse DNA found in smuggled tobacco."

Warning that over 50% of all the tobacco smuggled illegally into Ireland is badly contaminated with horse meat, the 'charity' gave this stark warning to the lower social orders.
"Smoking even one of these cigarettes may cause your face to grow quite long. Persistent users will develop hooves and within a week of exposure to secondhand smoke from this source, innocent non-smokers may notice that they are growing a tail". Their spokesperson, Kathleen O'Dreary, went on to warn of many other dangers inherent in buying reasonably priced tobacco products.

"There is tons of research to show that many other poisonous substances have been found in these illegal products, and it is obvious that the smugglers do not care about the innocent children they are murdering. One brand is actually called "Camel" and it is our belief that buyers of this product run the risk of 'humpy back syndrome' in the short term," President O'Dreary claimed.

Mainstream tobacco companies got a broadside from the Saintly Lady too. Field Marshall O'Dreay told of plans by one of the 'evil empires' to launch a brand called "Lassie" aimed squarely at dog lovers. "We have seen how these companies spend billions on targeting specific groups with their slick marketing and this latest outrage wants to encourage dog-owners to have a smoke while they are out walking their pet."

She ended her tirade with the usual demand for hundreds of millions of euros for the ICS from the Government to "do things with." Saint Kathleen-Of-The-Privaleged-Classes appealed to everybody to give generously to the ICS and spoke of ambitious plans of theirs to run Daffodil Day every day in the future.

"Cheques can be made out to me personally, but cash is preferable", she went on, "And you can rest assured that, after costs, and that sort of thing, your money will go directly into exterminating smokers in this country and Ireland will once again lead the World …….. and all that kind of thing."

I woke up in a cold sweat at that point, so I didn't hear the rest of that interview. But you get the gist of it I'm sure!

Thursday
Feb212013

Libertine or libertarian?

On radio in debate with Chris Lacey from the Irish Heart Foundation recently, he called me a "libertine". Foolishly believing that it meant one who is in favour of liberty, I did not set him right on his accusation.

But language is a peculiar thing sometimes, and to make sure I looked up 'libertine'. It is actually defined as "a person, especially a man, who freely indulges in sensual pleasures without regard to moral principles. A freethinker in matters of religion."

Now, I do not know about Chris, but looking back over my lifetime, I didn’t engage half enough in the sensual pleasures. Around every corner, as I remember, there lurked some serious issue that needed to be urgently addressed in lieu of any pleasures. So at best, while I might unfortunately not qualify as a libertine, I am something of a libertarian. My views on liberty have remained the same over the years. I was born a free man and wish to die in that state also. If I had lived during any time of oppression, I believe I would have taken up the gun and dedicated my life to destroying the oppressor. Better free and dead than alive and enslaved, would have been my motto.

"Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase is meant to exemplify the "unalienable rights" with which all human beings are endowed. For the protection of these, they institute governments. Though your elected Government may bring in laws, they are supposedly there to protect your personal freedom.

The anti-smoking legislation in Ireland denies me many freedoms I used to have. The freedom to associate now comes with the proviso that I may only associate and socialise in public if I do not smoke. The freedom to enjoy a pint with a cigarette has been curtailed too. I must now have one or the other, at different times and in different places. I can sip my pint in the pub, but must go out into the rain and cold to have my cigarette. Could you imagine bread and butter being so separated? Or indeed, a gin and tonic for that matter? “Breakfast for one, Sir? Very good. Your bacon will be along to your table shortly and your egg will be served in the car park.”

It all severely curtails my pursuit of happiness as well. Monotone people like Chris Lacey want society to frown on me and shun me for my free choices. He and his cohorts, in their attempts to de-normalise me and over a million Irish citizens like me, have made society itself “abnormal”. I have been in a pub on a wet afternoon where out of the ten customers one is inside and the other nine of us stand huddled on the back step, the barman included. Don’t tell me the one girl left on her own inside didn’t feel things were a bit abnormal. And to spite the puritans, we had a laugh out there too. Weddings I have been to have separated after the meal in similar fashion.

So Chris, if you are about these parts, you may have got the law to force me outdoors and you may have ruined several friendships I once enjoyed, but you will never win. It is you and the other grey men around you who need to be de-normalised. Get a bit of colour and variety into your life, Chris. Laugh a bit, and not just at other people’s misfortune. Indeed, have a shot at some of the sensual pleasures while you let it all hang out. You’d never know, ‘Chrissy’, you could well be a closet libertine yourself!

Wednesday
Feb202013

Why tobacco?

You may have missed this little gem from the Irish Times letters page on Monday February 11.

Though I may not agree with all of the good doctor’s observations, he certainly puts his finger on the pulse.

If tobacco growing was as big an industry as alcohol production (or indeed meat and potato production) in this country, would the government have smoking in its sights as public menace number one?

Thursday
Feb142013

Welcome to the world of public health!

"Multinational Food, Drink and Alcohol industries are using similar strategies to the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies, a new paper has said."

Thus began a recent article in 'Journal.ie'. You are hardly going to believe this, but private companies engaged in bringing food and drink to the market are actually advertising, marketing and talking up their products. Dr Reilly refers to that kind of thing as 'evil'. Just recently, Guinness spent €6m on a long black and white ad that so was so obscure I thought it must be a trailer for a movie. Last Saturday in my local supermarket a pork producer from West Cork had a stand with a frying pan, and they were actually giving away cooked sausages.

This surely is profoundly wicked. If that's not bad enough, our local boozer had a Heineken event for the rugby international last Saturday with cute little honeys giving out vouchers for free pints of the Dutch nectar. And as price wars in food and drink are an everyday thing now, the papers report this morning that prices in those sectors have come down by 8% since 2008.
How then are they aping the strategies of the tobacco companies? Those companies here have the highest prices in the EU for their products. Far from in-store promotions, their cigarettes are hidden from public view in every outlet. They do not advertise at all in any media and, as such, the media lose nothing by criticizing them regularly. I have not heard our red-faced Health Minister refer to the Kerry Group as evil, to the best of my knowledge. Indeed, tobacco is the best kept secret in town. In fact, the only reliable place to buy tobacco now is out of the booth of a stranger’s car.

So where, you ask, could such an article come from? Enter those well-heeled, non-regulated, non-elected lads in Public Health. With an apparently bottomless pit of money to spend, the Public Health boys can turn their "Public Purse" to researchers anywhere and prove the world is flat if they feel the need to. They have already made a fortune from demonizing the tobacco companies and perhaps sensing that this goldmine is all but exhausted now, they are turning their attention to another fat cow (if you'll excuse the pun). The Lancet and other medical journals have simply become weapons in the arsenal of Public Health. Dare I say, it is in fact Public Health that is now employing the same tactics they have used against tobacco and just switched their target.

Research with pre-determined results is paid for by pharma money via Public Health, peer-reviewed by paid lackeys of like mind, and published in the Lancet and other bibles of Public Health. Senior figures from Public Health in several countries will then congregate at lavish conferences in exotic locations sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Here, they decide the strategy, tactics, and terminology to use. Back at base, the agitation and lobbying begin until governments cave in and legislate for them. A recurring theme of these puritans is money and tax. They recommend increasing prices for commercial products as a deterrent to consumption, but their true aim is to provide government with funds to give to their Public Health crusade. This is their "public purse" and as we have seen in Ireland, such funds are completely unaccountable.

The amounts involved are staggering and allow Public Health to buy the media through expensive ad campaigns that warn against almost everything. When you read the Journal article though, you will spot the pay-back to Big Pharma. The main thrust of it is the need for regulation and medication. This translates into laws that force your money away from food and drink products and point you instead to pharmaceutical products. It is actually as simple as that. The Public Health lads get a generous and regular income, the pharmaceutical companies make wild profits and the Food & Drink lads pay the piper.

Welcome to Public Health, which has nothing to do with the health of the public!

Wednesday
Feb132013

Investment and return for Big Pharma

Given that the biggest financial beneficiaries of the Tobacco Control Industry are the pharmaceutical companies, shouldn't we have transparency as to who they are giving their money to?

Researchers and charities in other countries have already been warned by the WHO not to accept funds from Big Pharma!

In Ireland, the Government has sub-contracted all smoking cessation measures to the Irish Cancer Society. They are grant-aided to provide the Quitlines, send out the literature and provide counselling to smokers who contact the Quitline. Judging by the variety and amount of advertising at smokers on Radio & TV they must be receiving millions of our money. In this way, they have the opportunity to direct smokers’ money away from tobacco companies and re-direct it to pharmaceutical companies instead. The Irish tobacco market stands at about two billion euros a year, so the stakes are high.

The Irish Cancer Society, then, is coaxing you to take your daily intake of nicotine, but they just want you to change your supplier. They have lobbied the Irish Government relentlessly for more legislation that points smokers to this racket. The big question is where does the lobbying money come from? We know for sure that this 'charity' gets an annual amount of taxpayers’ money, has high cost, full-time staff, and some of the medical profession’s leading lights draw generous expenses for their activities with the ICS alongside their careers running elsewhere.

But because they are a registered charity we are not permitted to know where their money comes from, nor what it is spent on. They turned over €17m last year and have fixed assets of €6m too. However, I would suggest that if the hard-nosed executives in the pharmaceutical industry are in receipt of a potential two billion euro market from them, then they are no doubt willing to pay a high price for it.

Indeed, the pharmaceutical industry has made a big contribution to bans and restrictions around the world by lobbying politicians, and it appears that the big pay-back for all this activity is the referral of smokers to their products.

Easily worth all of the investments in junk science, foreign junkets for the white coats and local political lobbying and whatever their allies in the ICS ask for.

Tuesday
Feb122013

A new campaign that might really work!

In December, Tom highlighted a fun letter on the topic of gruesome images on cigarette packs and I want to develop the idea further in light of recent interviews I have given on the subject.

Like the smoking bans, the high pricing policy, the petty restrictions and all of the other devices used to de-normalise us, plans for grotesque images on cigarette packs will make absolutely no difference to the numbers smoking in this country. I am weary from locking horns with various fanatics that seek to demonise me personally while simultaneously lying through their teeth about smoking generally. It is leading me to believe that they are not serious about helping to reduce the numbers smoking at all. Instead they appear to be engaged in attracting more people to smoke to ensure their long time grant-aided employment.

As you know, Forest supports the efforts of individuals to quit smoking if they choose to do so freely, and in that spirit I have come up with an ingenious campaign designed to really put smokers off the dreaded weed for life. My suggestion is that truly repulsive images should decorate every pack, each carrying an appropriate warning. Let me explain.

The twenty pack of Carrolls Number One should have a full sized shot of James Reilly on the front and back. It should carry the legend "You are only making this sucker richer". I see the Rothman's Pack with a tent like full frontal of Mary Harney, with the legend, "You are paying this bitch's pension". The Benson & Hedges Pack lends itself to a photograph of Michael Martin with the legend, "You are only encouraging this fool". The Silk Cut pack should have a photograph of Phil Hogan to scare the teenagers. This might warn that "This idiot is loaded already". The Marlboro pack might have that photograph of Enda Kenny kissing Merkel while warning the would-be smoker that "You are paying this idiot to mortgage you children's future."

If those truly revolting images with their hard-hitting but truthful messages don't immediately make a difference, we could start using pictures of high profile bankers instead. If we did that, I could see shop-keepers refusing to stock tobacco under any circumstances. But I don't think we need to get that extreme. The picture of Bertie Ahern on the blue Player's pack with the legend "Go on you langer, give him some more of your money" would have smokers throwing up outside shops all over the land. It would be serious revulsion therapy, a bit on the extreme side I know, but we are apparently dealing with an epidemic here.

And these library pictures with their economic health warnings are so flexible and interchangeable that they can be used on alcoholic products and fatty foods packaging as well. Our political system also ensures a steady supply of new faces (and bodies) to repulse even the hardest of the hard. Who knows, if it is the soaraway success that I expect it to be, we could safely legalise heroin with the proviso that it be sold with such images too!

Tuesday
Feb052013

Smugglers' tales

The instances of tobacco smuggling are now so numerous that I hardly mention them here anymore. The discovery of millions of illicit cigarettes is so routine that it is hardly worth reporting.

But the stories still trickle through, usually when they reach the courts. The big smugglers are nasty lads and I fully support the Customs and Gardai in their battles with them. But what about the small guys?

Having returned recently from a weekend trip to Poland with enough rolled tobacco to take me through 2013, I speak with some authority on the matter of the small guy. My imports are legal, but nonetheless the savings involved in my Polish purchase practically paid for my flights and hotel there.

So two minor incidents in the papers caught my eye this week. "A 22-year-old Latvian national and resident in Gran Canaria was found carrying 14,600 ‘Ronhill’ cigarettes, with a retail value of €6,658 and a potential loss to the Exchequer of €5,244." When you work it out he had 73 boxes of 200's in his luggage. Now, that is not a case full, but it is not far off. And Gran Canaria is not one of the destinations from which you cannot legally bring back an amount for personal consumption. If he was resident there, then he was on a visit here, and it would take him two years in Ireland to consume that lot himself.

"In a second incident on Tuesday, 29,960 ‘Ronhill’ cigarettes – worth €13,663, and with a potential Exchequer loss of €12,592 – were discovered in the baggage of a 36-year-old Latvian national living in Tenerife." Now, this guy could legally bring in his own supply for his time here, but 30,000 cigarettes is pushing it, isn't it?

But, as with everything else, smuggling is a matter of scale. These two lads from the Baltic States were chancing their arm to make a few quid on the side. The IRA and the ex-drug Lords, though, are funding a war against society with their containers through our ports. So, which is the greater crime? One of the unlikely ex-communists got two months and had the gear taken from him and the other guy is awaiting sentence. You might expect therefore that the Kingpins should get ten years in jail. Watch this space, because it hasn't happened yet.

Friday
Feb012013

Will the assault on branding backfire?

One of the more pleasant aspects of buying an "Apple" product occurs when the parcel arrives. The packaging and branding illicit great confidence in the quality of the product inside and clearly differentiate an Apple product from any of its competitors.

That distinctive Apple logo (with the bite out of it) is the second most recognised logo on the Planet. An economic study in the USA four years ago attempted to put a price on the Apple logo and concluded that it was actually priceless.

Branding, packaging, logos and corporate image are core to intellectual property rights and are a corner stone of capitalism. Could you imagine a law in Italy that forced Ferrari to remove the prancing horse from all of its cars, insisting that every one must be painted brown, and all new Ferraris must have graphic pictures of people dying horrifically by the roadside, screened onto the bonnet and doors of that awful brown body? It is unimaginable. Ferrari may as well start making "Trabants" if that were the case.

And yet, we don't bat an eyelid when a law here states that another manufacturer must do just that with their products. Tomorrow, all Tobacco Companies must cover their packs with revolting images and by the summer, all of their logo markings and competitive branding must be removed. Laughing Joe Stalin could not have done it better.

Why not insist pharmaceutical companies make their tablets black, pack them in boxes that show the possible visually grotesque side effects, and deliver them in brown paper bags? Anyone for a picture of a diseased liver on the wine bottle at their next party? Perhaps the Irish rugby shirt should have an image of a young man in a wheelchair on it?

We in Ireland depend greatly on the foreign corporates that have sited their European Headquarters here. Each must be looking nervously now at a precedent being set that could apply to them on a political whim. Make no mistake, this is a most dangerous precedent for this vulnerable little country to set. If Apple or Ferrari, or Pfizer for that matter, were forced to add nearly 90 per cent in tax to the price of their products sold here, they would quickly pull out. Arthur Guinness would turn in his grave at such nonsense. And yet, this is already the law here on cigarettes.

The National Association of Manufacturers lobby group has warned Enda Kenny about this move on tobacco companies here. "We are deeply concerned that Ireland's proposed revisions of the Tobacco Products Directive will violate its international trade and investment obligations and undermine the rules-based international trading system well beyond tobacco," they warned in a letter to Mr Kenny.

“Well beyond tobacco, Mister Kenny". In other words, this threat to all corporates in Ireland is actual, not just implicit. Irish people might wake up too late when Microsoft or Google announce that they are moving to the UK or Germany because of actions taken by our own Government on our half. By then, Enda will be on his vulgar pension and will be only a bad memory.

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