Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why Transform supports the smoking ban

As the smoking ban comes into force in England it is an apposite time to talk about what effective drug regulation is and what it is not.

It is a common misconception that those who support the legalisation of drugs are against any kind of drug control. This is why legalisation/regulation is often – wrongly - referred to as liberalisation or relaxation of the drug laws.

In fact, apart from the most libertarian of libertarians, most of those in the reform movement actually support more control, not less. Bear in mind that it is prohibition that has abrogated all control of the drug market to organised criminals and unregulated dealers.

So, just for the record Transform supports the ban on smoking in enclosed public places, partly because of the health issues, but crucially because smoking is anti-social. In essence smoking inflicts smokers’ drug use on non-users, and to that extent it is irresponsible drug use. The issue isn’t nicotine use that is the problem, it is the route of administration. This is not an affront to civil liberties, rather it is legislation that stops users inflicting their drug use on others. If someone wants to use nicotine, they can: there are no plans afoot to ban the use of patches, inhalers, snuff, or Nicorette chewing gum in pubs (although, strangely, some oral tobacco products have been banned at EU level). Indeed if the Government had any sense they would have used this new legislation as a cue to promote the use of smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to existing smokers (it is approximately 99% less risky). It is bizarre, indeed scandalous that smoking harm reduction has yet to bother UK policy makers, given that smoking is the most deadly of all drug habits by a vast margin: the WHO estimates smoking will kill a billion people in the next 30 years.

Returning to the subject of effective regulation, Transform also supports the raising of the age of tobacco sales from 16 to 18. We also call for ingredients lists to displayed on both alcohol and tobacco packaging, for health warnings to be displayed on alcohol products, and for a ban on alcohol advertising, starting with sponsorship of sports, music events and other advertising that directly reaches/targets children and young people.

We want better regulation not softer law. And for those politicians who claim that drug law reformers are soft, why have they not been calling for tobacco to be sold under licence, or for alcohol licensing laws to better enforced? Why have they repeatedly caved in to the alcohol and tobacco industry lobbying efforts to stall or water down any measures to strengthen regulation? How many publicans have been prosecuted for sale of alcohol to people who are drunk (illegal under the Licensing Act 2003)?

One of the problems we have in convincing the wider public to support reform is that governments of all shades have made such a pig’s ear of the regulation of currently legal drugs. The shorthand for which is the trite argument, ‘Why would we want to legalise more drugs? Look at alcohol and tobacco.’ The aim of any drug policy should be the optimum regulatory framework for minimising harms and maximising wellbeing. For legal drugs this can mean more and bettter regulation, whilst for illegal drugs, bringing them within a framework where they can be regulated at all.

When we began asking questions a few years ago as to why alcohol did not carry a health warning, we were told by the Department of Health (DH) that, ‘Alcohol drunk in moderate amounts in appropriate circumstances is not a danger to health’ - something that remains true for almost all drugs, legal or otherwise (see blog on alcohol policy). As for why ingredients are not displayed on tobacco packaging, the story from DH was that tobacco is so dangerous, additives are irrelevant. The Tobacco Manufacturers Association kindly sent us the booklet on the list of allowable additives in tobacco products. In this long list of noxious substances, was sugar, allowed at a level of up to 10% of the total in cigarettes – nice on your cornflakes, but do you want to smoke it? It goes against the central ethos of consumer rights that we are denied access to this information.

We must begin to put pressure on all governments and regulators to legislate so that legal drug dealers are obliged to conform to recognised codes of practice with regard to the sale of consumables, particularly in light of the fact that we are asking for new products to be added to the list of legally ‘regulated’ drugs.


Bob said...

I think there needed to be a ban on smoking, but I dont think it needed to me as heavy handed as it is. There could easily be a stipulation added into bars/clubs licence that if they could though extraction and air changes create an 'effectively smoke free zone' inside they could keep a smoking area.

Steve R said...

I agree bob. i wouldnt have been so absolutist in the legislation, but I didnt write it. It may be that it was for political convenience or for convenience of legislation and enfrcement but, personally (this isnt a Transform position)I would have allowed some flexibilty for individual licences, or one off events, if certain conditions could be met. Still, on balance, i think the positives outwiegh the negatives to an extent that it is still a good thing overall.

One regret for some may be that it means, presumably, that dutch style coffee shops will now never happen in the UK.

That said, there was some interesting news from Holland today where apparently smoiking is to remain legal in coffee shops.

not quite sure where I stand on this one, but I suppose if you are starting frpm scratch you need to be consistent.

Bob said...

Frankly when cannabis is sold here legally I'd like to see it in quite boring shops. I think opening dutch style coffee shops here could encorage use. It needs to be a bit sterile, a bit boring and there needs to be lots of information about what the person in buying.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Bob. The original version of the legislation - the one that John Reid held out for - would have been far more effective, confining smokers to smoking zones and leaving all other public areas smoke free. In the final version, zealotry trumped pragmatism. The negative consequences will include more parents smoking around children in the home (that was the traditional point of the pub and working man's club, to give men somewhere to smoke outside the home), and a huge sugre in global-warmimg patio heaters as pubs try to make outside space habitable.

Peter @ Eden Lodge said...

That the smell of cigarette smoke for many non smokersis unpleasant is undeniable, as indeed is a smoky atmosphere. However banning it in enclosed places because of 'health reasons' is unacceptable when the evidence to support such a view is so weak,as to be scientifically unacceptable.

Each and every time some rabid anti smoker claims x number of deaths due to passive smoking, they are when challenged, unable to offer any empirical evidence to support their claim, which in many instances seems to be plucking figures out of thin air.

In a democracy smoking would be regulated by offering a choice of smoking and non smoking rooms in public places, a policy that has worked exceptionally well for many years in most hotels where, guests are invited to choose a smoking or non smoking room, thus a guest who is a non smoker would not be put in a room where the previous occupant smoked, and lingering stale tobacco smells non existent. equally a hotel should have the legal obligation to of offer seperate rooms for dining.

It should also be a matter of choice for pubs restaurants etc to opt whether they wanted a smoking, or non smoking environment, but exercising such an optionj needs be a legal requirement, thereby offering customers the option of whether or not to spend their money there. let market forces prevail.

Such would be the policy in a democracy, sadly we in the UK are no longer living in such a priveleged situation.

It is also true to note that the existing legislation has been passed under false pretences, not only in respect of the non existent empirical evidence on the 'dangers' of passive smoking, but also the evidence that polls showing 65% of the population were against an outright ban, were deliberatly and wilfully supressed.

All of the foregoing is fact and I have the documentation to prove it.

Steve R said...

Its seems that the above posts are at least partly in agreement with you on the absolutism of the ban.

I also agree with you, as i have stated before, that the evidence on passive smoking is problematic and controversial. That said, the WHO, whom you have cited as a creditable source in the past, do maintain that there is a measurable risk, which, even if only a small or marginal one, when multiplied by the huge population of smokers and exposure to smokey environments does become a real public health concern. Their conclusions are supported by various other credible sources including the United States government's Center for Disease Control 2006 report, summarised by the US surgeon general thus:

"The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought. The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults."

The study estimated that living or working in a place where smoking is permitted increases the non-smokers' risk of developing heart disease by 25–30% and lung cancer by 20–30%. The study finds that passive smoke also causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks in children. These various meta studies look at loads of published evidence.

Agreed its controversial, but can we reject it in its entirety?

Im aware that there is an 'anti smoking lobby' but given that the WHO estimates 1 billion people will die prematurely from smoking over the next 30 years, I am not suprised that the WHO, and much of the medical establishment is part of it. I wouldn't call them rabid but there you go. Ofcourse The flip side of the 'anti smoking lobby' is the multi billion tobacco industry lobby that has fought any kind of tobacco regulation at every stage - if it effects their profits- from controls of advertising, to health warnings on packaging.

I agree that the government was wrong to use passive smoking as the key reason for the legislation. The reduction in consumption generally, and the increase in people quitting has a far bigger (and easier to measure) positive imnpact on public health than reduction in risk from passive smoking - as suggested by the reduction in smoking rates and lung disease in california (more than other states), and reduction in cigarette sales in Scotland.

The point the blog was making however was more about responsibility and not imposing ones drug use on others. We also think an opportunity has been missed to promote the use of smokelss nicotine products that are both far less risky than smoking and also dont effect the environment.

Peter @ Eden Lodge said...

Fair comments Steve. on the other hand research commissioned by a major international cancer association, and supported by WHO was so disappointing in the findings of any significant relationship between passive smoking and heart/lung disease, that it chose not to publish it.

Needless to say the tobacco industry, whose morals are on a par with the alchohol industry, naturally siezed the opportunity to 'sponsor' its publication. Serious attempts to discredit the findings were made, but without success.

Another puzzling fact is the findings published on Medscape wherein following a ten year study of 27,000 'high risk'individuals, , such as smokers ex smokers, those occupationally exposed to smoking and various other 'toxics,' embracing many countries including China where smoking is endemic all of whom were subjected to regular CT scans resulted in less than 400 of them being diagnosed with lung cancer.

The studies were supervised, and accredited by The Early Lung Warning Organisation.

It's a funny old world when published evidence in the public domain such as this was not offered in evidence when discussions regarding the ban were taking place. Of course being the cynic that I am, I think it might be possible that the decision for such draconian measures had already been taken, and that the so called consultation process, was simply spin.

Must go, got my own blog and clients to attend to.


Steve R said...

it certainly wouldnt be the first time the government had sought the evidence in support of a policy descision after the descision had been taken....

more often with drug policy no evidence is forwarded atall.

darkblue750 said...

Just for info, the reason smoke free areas couldn't be allowed was because the strength of ventilation required to reduce the risk from smoke to an acceptable level roughly equates to a tornado! Not practical in a pub...

Anonymous said...

Well, for what it's worth, you've lost my support.