Monday, May 25, 2009

The Irish Smoking Ban: A Deception Revealed

By Blad Tolstoy

The peculiar thing about smoking bans is that their proponents have to lie so much to bring them about and then lie again to convince people that their implementation is a success. Here is an interesting story about Ireland which reveals just what a farce their ban has become.

What follows is an e-mail interaction between a Forces Germany activist and Elaine Phillips of the Irish Office of Tobacco Control followed by some comments from Irish pro-choice activist, John Mallon, who has contributed to this blog before.

What Forces Germany pointed out is that in terms of one of its key goals the Irish smoking ban has failed with smoking rates in Ireland going up not down (as is, in fact, the case in many parts of the world). Phillips then counters by trying to pretend that this was not a primary goal at all, but that the primary goal was just to save workers from second hand smoke. This is not true either as the German activist demonstrates in their second e-mail.

An interesting exchange and John Mallon’s comments at the end are particularly illuminating.


1) From Forces Germany

Subject: Smoking trends
Dear Tobacco Research Department,

Now, at the fifth anniversary, I am eager to learn the actual smoking trends in your country, but all I can find, are data from last year. And even these are devastating regarding your goal. The trend raised again, right? Or why do you not publish data since a year - while you conduct monthly surveys?

Could you please inform me about the actual smoking trends in Ireland, the impact of anti smokers legislation on this smoking trend and the opinion of the Office of Tobacco Control about the success of Irish anti smoker's laws?

I would like to inform you, that I will use your answer for a planned publication in Germany, about tobacco prohibition.

Yours faithfully, etc.


2) Elaine Phillips’ Reply

Thank you for your recent query.

In relation to your query re prevalence data, the OTC will be publishing further data on its website in the coming months and through its 2008 Annual Report.

As regards your comment re changes in prevalence, this appears to link the success of the smoke-free workplace legislation in Ireland to changes in the numbers smoking. This legislation was implemented first and foremost, to protect the health of all workers – including those in the service and hospitality industries – by eliminating the harmful effects of second-hand (environmental tobacco) smoke. Of course, any measure that reduces the numbers smoking is very welcome but this was not the primary aim of the legislation.

In terms of content for your planned publication, you may find the following of interest. These are links to the findings of studies that were undertaken to assess the early health benefits arising from the introduction of smoke-free workplaces:

The OTC part-funded - through the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society (RIFTFS) - the All Ireland Bar Study led by Dr Shane Allwright on the health impacts of the smoke-free workplace legislation. The study clearly indicates that the high rate of compliance with this new measure is translating into better air quality in bars resulting in improved health for workers.

The first results of the study were published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) during 2005.

http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/331/7525/1117

Another study, led by Professor Luke Clancy, Director General of the RIFTFS, was published in 2007 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The paper showed the findings of a major Irish study on the reduction in air pollution and improvement in respiratory health of workers in Irish pubs as a result of the workplace-smoking ban.

http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/175/8/840

The introduction of smoke-free workplace legislation in Ireland has been highly successful, as the studies above indicate. Please also refer to the following press release marking the 5 year anniversary. This also includes compliance figures for use in your publication:

http://www.otc.ie/article.asp?article=430

Finally, I am pleased to confirm that as of from July 1 2009, it will be a requirement that all tobacco advertising and product display is removed from retail premises. The commencement of the relevant provisions of the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts, 2002 and 2004, will result in:

1. A ban on all in-store / point-of-sale advertising of tobacco products, for example, branding backdrops in shops and change mats on counters;

2. A ban on the display of tobacco products in retail premises;

3. The introduction of a closed container / dispenser provision;

4. Tighter controls on the location and operation of tobacco vending
machines;

5. The introduction of a retail register.

(this policy has failed in both Canada and Iceland with youth smoking rates now up not down but tobacco control bodies still hail these countries as successes - my italics)

These measures are being introduced to tackle the issue of youth initiation into smoking. The location of prominent tobacco displays in retail outlets plays a role in promoting tobacco consumption. Its placement in proximity to everyday consumer goods such as newspapers and sweets helps tobacco to be seen as another benign consumer product. Research shows that tobacco advertising is a key factor in a young person starting and continuing to smoke. If smoking initiation can be delayed, the numbers of young people becoming addicted and suffering smoking related illnesses will be reduced. Smoking initiation is largely a childhood phenomenon. More than three-quarters of all smokers in Ireland started to smoke before they reached the age of 18. Over 6000 Irish smokers die every year from tobacco related diseases.

The Office of Tobacco Control is committed to working with all stakeholders within the tobacco control community to reduce the terrible burden of death and disease caused by the tobacco epidemic. What is required to reduce the numbers smoking is a concerted and sustained effort across a number of areas. These include:

(“stakeholders” seldom includes smokers – only those interested in doing things for them for their own good – my italics)

- Protection of children and young people from the dangers of tobacco to include regular price increases significantly above the rate of inflation. Best national and international evidence indicates that the single most effective means of addressing tobacco consumption is through price increases.

(so why are smoking rates going up in so many places? and no wonder the black market is booming – my italics)

- Further awareness building around the dangers of smoking and passive smoking;

- Continued investment in cessation supports;

- Commencement and full enforcement of all measures outlined in the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts, 2002 and 2004.

I trust you will find this information of interest.

Regards,
Elaine Phillips
Office of Tobacco Control


3) Forces Germany’s Reply to Elaine Phillips

Thank you for your rapid and thorough response.

In the meantime, I found Data in the SLAN [Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition] survey, showing that smokers prevalence went up from 27% in 2002 to 29% .

In linking the success of the ban to changes in numbers smoking, I may cite a speech of Health Minister Martin during the legislative process in 2003:

“Our success in improving the health status of the nation is linked to further reducing the level of tobacco usage and in particular preventing young persons from starting to smoke. If the incidence of tobacco use can be reduced further we can make considerable progress towards a tobacco-free and a healthier society in the years to come. I am not suggesting that legislation alone, no matter how comprehensive, can create and sustain the environment necessary to prevent people from starting to smoke and to assist those who have already started to quit. Our anti-tobacco strategy will be multifaceted, containing as it will strong legislative controls and effective enforcement powers. However, the strategy will also have a fiscal element and the supports required by smokers to quit.

The implementation of this comprehensive strategy will, in time, effect the necessary attitudinal changes in society to tobacco consumption followed by the necessary behavioural changes. We owe it to ourselves, to the younger generation, and, indeed, to future generations to ensure that the war against tobacco is won. We must ensure that the children and young people of today do not become future victims of the tobacco industry, whether through being induced to smoke tobacco products or through exposure to and inhalation of
environmental tobacco smoke.”

He didn't even mention bar workers and only one sentence of his speech was about reducing secondhand smoke for workers.

The goals he stressed are clearly missed. Prevalence was rising, young people did not reduce tobacco use. And general health data indicate, that there are no statistically significant improvements that could be linked to the smoking ban or other legislative cures.

Ireland is still, as OECD health data show, the country with the highest rate of respiratory diseases. Twice as many Irish people die from as in Greece, but Greece has twice as many smokers and a public smoking ban in Greece had to be overturned because it was thoroughly neglected. I would not call the Irish way a success, but an example of misled efforts.

The studies you mentioned do NOT show real health data. They rely on questioning and self assessment instead of facts. So they just prove that bar workers believe they are healthier now, but they lack 'hard' data like working hours lost due to respiratory illness.

You say: "Research shows that tobacco advertising is a key factor in a young person starting and continuing to smoke".

But almost all advertising is already banned and these existing bans had absolutely no positive influence on smoking habits. So, the reliability of this research should be questioned.

Do you really think, the scheduled display ban, a mere prick compared to all the other bans, will now turn the tide after many bigger efforts failed to do so? I doubt strongly. And you will secretly agree.
My opinion.

Faithfully etc.


4) John Mallon’s Commentary on This Exchange

Folks,

I have spoken to Elaine Philips in the past and the experience was akin to talking to the radio.

Might I suggest that a visit to the Irish Central Statistics Office (www.cso.ie) might be of benefit to the writer of this article for Forces Germany.

I might add a few observations on the OTC response:

1. Smoking is on the increase since the introduction of the ban here but pubs continue to close at the rate of one per day.

2. Those smokers who decided to "cut down" rather than quit, switched to packets of ten and then the OTC had these banned also.

3. I do not know who is behind bans in other countries, but here, The Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation were set up as 'charities' and are funded by taxpayers money (and some limited fund raising by their own volunteers). The award of charitable status in Ireland is a joke though. In theory, anyone can apply and then a faceless civil servant in the Dept. of Finance decides on whether you qualify. Needless to say, it's based on who you know but its a tax free scam with no accountability.

4. ASH Ireland also registered as a charity in the same funding and then in turn, gets its funding from the other two societies. What is laughable is that the characters involved such as Looney-Luke Clancy, Shane Allwright and Fenton Howell have at various times, appeared on the boards of one or more of these societies. The OTC set up it's operation and then at just the moment Dr Looney Luke stepped down as Chief Exec. of ASH, the OTC announced a new research arm and guess who pooped up as head of this? Looney Luke had a new income as researcher for the OTC and his first project which took a year to complete, found incredibly, that since smoking was banned in(side) pubs, "THERE WAS LESS SMOKE INSIDE PUBS" !!! That's what passes for serious research over here.

5. Take note also that since all of these characters are Doctors, they have long standing and formal ties with the Pharmaceutical Industry.

6. The most regular old chestnut dredged up to defend the ban is compliance. Please report in large capitals that failure to comply brings a fine of €3,000 for the offending customer and up to €6,000 for the pub owner. I imagine that the original intention was that these fines would go towards funding the OTC. And speaking of that, in every press release from these sleazy characters, you will find a reference to the urgent need for more investment in their crusade. These bastards are in it for the money ......