Put the constitution down Herr Wikström. It’s not yours.

One of the most important purposes of a nation’s constitution is to protect all individuals, organisations and companies – without discrimination – from the ever-present temptation amongst politicians and other rulers to restrict or destroy their rights and freedoms. Two of the sacred pillars of the Swedish Constitution are those which protect the freedoms of speech, expression and the press (encompassing all printed information). Which is why current events are sending shockwaves through the country, as well as chilling reminders of darker times.

The reason for this concern is the news that Public Health Minister Gabriel Wikström is planning to re-write Sweden’s Constitution in order to drive through his proposed policy of plain packaging for tobacco products.

You see, thanks to the constitution, the government can’t simply order companies to dispense with the intellectual property that constitutes their products’ packaging. Which makes sense. Otherwise governments could run roughshod over all manner of things that they personally happen to disapprove of at any given time. Think of it as a baby-harness to stop immature politicians from running astray.

So rather than break the constitution, the government intends to re-write it. Extraordinarily stupid policies require extraordinary measures.

It’s a distressing sign of the times that an elected politician in a modern democracy feels the need (and the power) to change the rulebook so drastically, purely in order to railroad through a policy that has had precisely zero effect on youth or adult smoking rates elsewhere. But that’s the inevitable result when you prostrate yourself before the ideological gods of the Public Health and Tobacco Control industries. You end up abusing the law to appease their addiction to increasingly far-fetched and illiberal demands. It displays such a shameless disregard for the democratic process in and of itself. But the consequences of such tyrannical action are as far-reaching as they are ominous.

Wikström isn’t acting alone of course. Not only will his policy be welcomed by a worrying number of politicians from all the major parties, he is also being egged on, as always, by the notorious gang of prohibitionists at anti-smoking, anti-snus, anti-vaping lobby group Tobaksfakta. Here’s their Chairman:

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It’s incredible that this group of fanatics is still thriving, considering the scandals that it’s been involved in over the years. But I suppose it’s easy to thrive when you have a sugar daddy. It’s particularly sweet when that sugar daddy is Gabriel Wikström, who is always eager to dig deep into Swedish taxpayers’ pockets in order to hand out ludicrous sums of money to Tobaksfakta and their web of spin-off groups.

Of course, Wikström’s plans may yet be defeated, and be forgotten as a sad but ultimately harmless footnote in history. If it is waved through parliament, this disregard for a basic yet hard-won freedom is a trivial development for almost everyone outside of Sweden, and will likely go un-noticed by many within. But it serves as yet another reminder that nothing is sacred in the eyes of the world’s health fascists – not even the law.

As Christopher Snowdon has documented on countless occasions, this will not (and was never intended to) stop with tobacco. If Herr Boëthius and Minister Wikström succeed in destroying a freedom that is set in stone in the nation’s constitution, on the flimsy justification that it is necessary “to support health”, who can possible predict where it will end?  Boëthius & Wikström are polishing the most slippery of slopes. It’s not just the alcohol or food trades that should be speaking out, before they too become victims. This concerns anyone who believes in the right of the individual, the organisation, the company to be free from the puritanical diktats of an authoritarian regime.

No matter what your views on smoking may be, it’s vital that people speak out while they still can. You might even think that plain packaging is a good idea (and if you do, feel free to post your “evidence” below for us to laugh at). But no policy is worth it if the price is the trampling upon of basic, universal freedoms. Throwing the tobacco industry under the “public health” bus is a dangerous game. Because there’ll be another one bus along any minute.

 

Of interest: a conflict.

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Picture the scene: Martin Mckee and Simon Capewell discover that a controversial piece of research on e-cigarettes, that made headlines around the world, was tainted by a conflict of interest. Imagine their outrage! Imagine their campaign of letters to the Lancet and BMJ, penned with lashings of venom and spite! Now imagine their reaction if it was discovered that this conflict of interest was not declared by the author. Supernova!

There’s a simple reason why they won’t be running for a coffee with Sarah Knapton to wibble about an industry-funded study author hiding their conflicts of interest. It’s because the study in question concerns their mate. The man who runs the charity of which Simon Capewell is a trustee. The study co-author was Robin Ireland, who is the Chief Executive of Pfizer-funded Hearts of Mersey, Director of SanofiAventis-funded anti-vaping pressure group Healthy Stadia, and a political activist who encourages and promotes the national prohibition of vaping in public places.

There are some rules concerning conflicts of interest that authors are expected to adhere to when publishing research in BMC Public Health, over and above the standard reporting of who funded the research (emphases mine):

Are there any non-financial competing interests (political, personal, religious, ideological, academic, intellectual, commercial or any other) to declare in relation to this manuscript? If so, please specify.
It would appear that Robin considers himself to be above such niceties. From the study, as published:

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Doesn’t look good, does it?

Of course if Capewell & Mckee were concerned with real science, and not simply stirring up the anti-vaping mob and generating controversial headlines for journos, they would be less interested in Mr. Ireland’s COIs and more interested in the actual quality of the research. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters isn’t it? Sadly, I doubt that they would have dismissed this study with the calm and rational authority of genuine experts in a given field. Thankfully, that is precisely what Carl Philips, Igor Burstyn and Brian Carter did. (It’s well worth a read – Carl’s review begins at page 24).

But scientific integrity isn’t really Public Health’s bag, is it? If you’re vehemently and vocally opposed to vaping and tobacco-harm reduction, real science isn’t going to be much help. Instead, you’re forced to resort to screaming “The Dark Forces of Industry have brainwashed scientists by funding them or something” – which is precisely what the anti-vaping fanatics sought to achieve with the sustained attacks on the PHE report.

The scandal here isn’t about taking pharma cash, or any other ideological or political conflicts of interest that Robin Ireland or anyone else in the anti-vaping camp might have. The purpose of this and my previous blog was to highlight their hypocrisy and lack of shame in using the declared funding of others to smear them. The real scandal is that anyone takes these people seriously, from the media who parrot their propaganda without scrutiny to the politicians who hand them our cash and make policy at their behest.

So much damage can be done by activists and ideologues when you can convince the media and politicians that no matter how good (or in the case of Hughes et al bad) the scientific method and evidence is, it is rendered impotent by conflicts of interest, both real and imagined. It’s high time our political leaders understood this phenomenon, and acted accordingly.

 

Vaping prohibited. Funding welcome.

The most pathetic aspect of the relentless smear campaign against the Public Health England report on e-cigarettes is that, rather than responding to the scientific evidence and positive public health messages contained within, the small group of fanatics who object to it (one of which even attempted to prevent it being produced), have focussed on an irrelevant funding issue from one of the researchers who contributed to a miniscule element of the overall report and its important public policy conclusions.

The sheer pettiness of this “shock revelation” by Mckee & Co is actually an admission that it was the only thing they could find to attack. Sadly, they succeeded in getting global coverage for their impotent complaint – aided and abetted by their chums’ medical journals and a media that delights in putting the boot into ecigs at any given opportunity. Sadder still is the fact that the PHE report is now often labelled “controversial”, and even (hilariously and wholly incorrectly on many levels) “tobacco funded”. The truth is that the only controversial thing about the report, is that it is so utterly balanced and (whatever your views on the 95% safer estimate, when it’s more likely to be 99% or more) evidence-based compared to the sea of junk science on ecigs that we are used to seeing from public health and tobacco control.

It’s truly illuminating that the most prominent and outspoken UK figures the attack on the PHE report – Martin Mckee, Simon Capewell and Robin Ireland – like to pretend that e-cigarette industry funding of a single piece of research in the distant past has in some way tainted an entire government department’s report. Of course we’re all aware, as Dick Puddlecote highlighted last week, that Mckee likes a good swivel-eyed conspiracy theory. And it’s always been a classic tactic of tobacco control to smear perfectly good scientific research with the “industry-funded” brush. Their hysterical knee-jerk reaction to the one minor piece of irrelevant “dirt” that they could dig up speaks volumes. Not least because it it is hypocrisy of the highest order.

“Exactly! What about Hearts of Mersey and Healthy Stadia” I hear you cry (well, I don’t, so I’m going to have to explain.

The Health Equalities Group comprises Hearts of Mersey, HM Partnerships and Healthy Stadia, which are wholly owned subsidiaries of the umbrella “charity”, as well as Food Active, which runs the truly pathetic GULPnow campaign. It is run by Robin Ireland, and low and behold, one of the trustees is none other than the hashtag-haiku-tweeting phenomenon that is Simon “Capslock” Capewell. HoM/HEG is partly funded by the taxpayer, via tasty grants from a number of the North West Directors of Public Health. (Getting very cosy this, isn’t it!)

It is also happy to take “kind contributions” from Pfizer:

HoM Pfizer Smokefree MH Conference

I wonder if, in his position as trustee, the self-declared “exposer of industry funding” Professor Capewell might have taken Mr. Ireland aside, and said something along the lines of “This just isn’t cricket Robin – we can’t take cash from a company in the NRT business. It would be a conflict of interest and leave our fake charity open to accusations of being industry stooges. It’s bad enough that organisations such as ours are viewed by the public as tax-leeching illiberal prohibitionists, but “industry-funded tax-leeching illiberal prohibitionists” is a step too far.” It would appear that he did not, because another sack of cash arrived in 2012/13:

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And as late as March 2014, they were still “collaborating on developing resources” with the global floggers of patch:

 

HEG Pfizer

“So a “charity” got some Pfizer cash for anti-smoking programmes. Nothing new or shocking in that, despite the obvious hypocrisy,” I imagine you’re thinking. Indeed, and ’tis merely an amuse bouche, Dear Reader. To achieve real notoriety, you’d have to piss off not just the smokers, but vapers too.

In 2005/6 Heart of Mersey put in a bid for with the EU’s DG SANCO for another sack of taxpayers’ cash for their Healthy Stadia project. DG SANCO didn’t have any sacks, so they sent a truckload. €532,000 to be precise.

So what do vapers & smokers have to fear from Healthy Stadia? Put simply, they actively, aggressively and successfully encourage football, rugby, cricket and other clubs to ban smoking and vaping in any indoor or outdoor part of their sports stadia and surrounding areas. That’s right – if you’re planning on visiting Euro2016 this summer, you won’t even be allowed to vape in the concourse outside the stadia. And it’s all thanks to the shitpuffins at Healthy Stadia. It’s a horrendous policy that divides rather than unites sports communities and exemplifies the unscientific, fanatical and frankly inhuman creatures that dominate the public health industry today.

And what do you know? Robin’s Healthy Stadia is also funded by patch floggers. Yes indeed ladies and gentlemen. Vape-free stadiums, brought to you in association with and thanks to funding from the makers of Nicoderm:

HoM Sanofi Aventis

I wouldn’t like to put words in Robin’s mouth about the enormous hypocrisy and massive conflict of interests that arise when you encourage and promote anti-vaping measures whist receiving funding from not one, but two global Nicotine Replacement Therapy giants, so I’ll let him dig his own hole with a piece on advocacy and funding. That Capewell can sit in the trustees’ chair while penning poisonous attacks on vaping and Public Health England’s report in medical journals and on social media is a disgrace.

Robin and Simon seem to think that they can reduce smoking rates in the North West (and everywhere else) by attacking vaping and getting more industry and taxpayer funding for their fake charities. However, the success of independent ecig manufacturers, vaping retailers and of course the success of tens of thousands of former smokers in the region suggests that ecigs are doing the job that HoM were supposed to do. Only they’re doing it much faster, much more effectively, with no moralising or hectoring from public health loons, and with no state funding or intervention. I suspects that’s the real reason that Mckee et al hate vapers. We’re too independent of these meddling fanatics by half.

Rather than giving in to demands that the taxpayer give these hypocrites more of their hard-earned readies, the swamps inhabited by the likes of HEG and Healthy Stadia cannot be drained by government soon enough.

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Don’t go there. Don’t… Oh. They went there.

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In a poorly disguised piece of political lobbying, two state-funded Swedish ANTZ groups wrapped up a call for extreme measures on vaping in a huge “Think of the Chiiildren” blanket this week.

Their demands for public vaping bans, total bans on advertising and marketing of e-cigarettes and flavour bans are ridiculous measures that will have the biggest effect on adult smokers, vapers and vendors. So the only way they could present them to the public (without provoking laughter, followed by calls for their funding to be stopped), was to link all these prohibitionist wet dreams to the fact that it isn’t currently illegal to sell ecigs to under-18s.

As I have written before, the only reason why the Swedish government has been unable to follow other EU countries and introduce sales bans to under-18s is because they can’t legislate such restrictions while the Medicines Authority is busy in court trying to classify (and therefore ban) all ecigs as illegal medicines. Whatever your views on the potential harms/benefits of under-18 sales bans, the “problem” is one created by Sweden’s bureacracy, NOT by “evil” vendors. And as also covered before, vendors in Sweden are displaying admirable responsibility in this area. Under 18s are likely to be getting hold of ecigs from the same people they get cigarettes and snus from, despite the long-standing bans on under-18 sales for these products.

They even had the gall to squeal about rising “ever-use” of ecigs as evidence of the inevitability of the now legendary “gateway to smoking”. Yet the National CAN Survey of 16-18yo Swedish students that they cite with such outrage shows quite clearly that smoking rates have been dropping (as they have in every other country with ecigs, eh Prof Chapman) with each and every year that ecigs have been available. If 16-year-olds have actually discovered this mythical gateway, they’re taking an age to walk through it.

The authors represent two groups that might be familiar – one became infamous for organising a “fall-down-and-die” prank – a la South Park (complete with a Pfizer fiddler to call the tune), and for their bizarre “Let’s peer-pressure (sic) Daniel Radcliffe into stopping smoking” campaign and also for building a “Fear Clinic” in Minecraft, complete with burny, smoky things on the wall and a shrink to talk to. They also have some dubious partners when you consider their attitude towards vaping. The other group seem to like to spend their time throwing “snus cushions” around at political events. For this article, they threw in all the usual lies, misinformation and junk-science to “support” their demands, which were exposed by Atakan Befrits here.

But the real humdinger, hidden at the tail-end of a paragraph about health risk wibble, was a statement of “fact” that, as far as I am aware, has only ever been reported second-hand by journalists and ANTZ groups, in a “Don’t blame me, I’m as thick as pigshit when it comes to reading and understanding science, so I’ll use the handy prefix “according to this study/ this researcher”” kind of way.

They wrote “E-cigarettes can cause…an increased risk of lung cancer.”

Now that’s a pretty bold thing to write in a national newspaper. Particularly when the assertion is made with no evidence whatsoever to support it. I contacted a few Swedish vendors to bring this to their attention, figuring that at the very least they ought to demand some sort of official, written apology, even if they refrain from calling the lawyers. One of the vendors got on the case immediately, and penned this reply to the article.

It actually contains a reasonable response to the gist of the article given the limited space allowed, stating that everyone in the industry would welcome sensible but proportional regulations. But it then drifts into an oddly protectionist vibe, calling for a stop to the trade in “unregulated products, mostly from China”, which, given there is currently no regulation anywhere (apart from the 17-odd national & EU regs covering electronics & general consumer, natch), is exactly what they themselves sell.

The reply does make vague reference to the original authors’ wild and unsupported scaremongering, but stops short of mentioning the elephant in the room. Then it encourages the government to slap sin taxes on ecigs.

Some days, there simply aren’t enough facepalms to go round.