Tag Archives: Deborah Arnott

The Great E-cigarette Confusion

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) with its punny acronym of a name seems reluctant to embrace the only action that would solve the smoking problem once and for all: calling for banning tobacco. I recently asked their Chief Executive, Ms Deborah Arnott, by email, twice, whether this is ASH’s policy, and if not, why not. The answer was no reply. Or the reply was no answer.

Instead, the action that this organisation seems to favour is of the following kind.

Deborah Arnott:

There are currently 2.9 million e-cigarette users in Great Britain, over half of whom have quit smoking. E-cigarettes are playing an important role in supporting smokers to switch from tobacco smoking…As the market continues to develop we hope to see products go through the more stringent licensing process and become licensed as medicines and available on prescription. (Source: ASH Daily News 4 July 2017)

The sentence ‘E-cigarettes are playing an important role in supporting smokers to switch from tobacco smoking’ is muddled.

Presumably Ms Arnott means ‘E-cigarettes can help smokers switch from tobacco smoking to e-cigarettes’ but this isn’t very satisfactory either. Let me try again. ‘E-cigarettes have a role (we can forego the ‘playing an important role’ cliché) in helping smokers switch from smoking to other, allegedly safer, ways of satisfying their nicotine addiction.’

The end of the paragraph is more promising but likewise doesn’t seem to have been properly thought through.

If alternative nicotine products (alternative to cigarettes, that is) become licensed as medicines and available on prescription, that implies they won’t be available for the general public to buy in every corner-shop and supermarket. And they will, presumably, be prescribed only for a limited time – the time that it will be deemed sufficient for a smoker, having switched to an alternative product, then to stop using that product in the same way that patients stop using a prescribed drug when the have recovered from the illness for which it was prescribed.

This same sentence also shows confusion about the idea of products being licensed as medicines. Although it certainly has effects on the human body, nicotine has no current orthodox medical use – unless one stretches the concept to include treatment of nicotine addiction. But this would be contradictory because it would mean using nicotine for a limited time to treat nicotine addiction!

But if it is accepted, as it seems to be by the likes of Ms Arnott, that medicinal nicotine can legitimately be used as an indefinite treatment for cigarette-induced nicotine addiction, then we shall have the situation where doctors – presumably the burden will fall on GPs, who already have more than enough to do – will have to take on the new task of treating nicotine addicts, that is, smokers, who will likely flock to them for prescriptions for cigarette replacement therapy.

This defeatist and muddled thinking over using e-cigarettes to stop smoking is all too widespread. Even as far away as India, where a number of states have banned e-cigarettes, The Indian Express (3 September 2017), quotes unnamed experts as saying: ‘E-cigarette ban wipes out less harmful alternative for smokers.’

It does not appear to have occurred to these experts that not only is there a less harmful alternative for smokers, there is a completely harmless alternative for smokers: not smoking at all. And no one needs any nicotine product as an alternative for smoking!

In any case, are e-cigarettes really so much less harmful than ordinary cigarettes?

Other Indian experts think not. I quote again from The Indian Express:

…the Union Health Ministry has recently ruled out acceptability of e-cigarettes in the light of research findings by experts who concluded that they have cancer-causing properties, are highly addictive, and do not offer a safer alternative to tobacco-based smoking products.

So there. Ms Arnott please note.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Steam and Smoke on Love Island

There was recently on the ITV network in Britain a so-called reality show, ‘Love Island’, although it seemed rather a far cry from everyday reality to me. It featured a number of attractive young men and women who appeared to be on holiday in a villa in Majorca. The object of the series was to see who had sex with whom and how soon. There were certain rules that needed to be followed and the winning couple got £50,000 – with a lot more to follow in endorsements, etc.

The participants all had enviable good looks and beach-ready bodies, with several of the men sporting tattoos and fancy haircuts. The dialogue, carried on in Estuary accents, was notable for its emptiness and repetitive use of a certain vulgar word. Naturally, it was wildly popular.

But what was truly shocking about this boring series was not the vulgarity or the sex, but  that some of the participants were seen – dare I say it? – sm*k*ng! What a let-down! What a turn-off!

Apparently a daily supply of cigarettes was dished out with the condoms, but of course this activity – the one with the cigarettes, that is – should not be shown on television in case it encourages others.

But the point I want to make is this. Ms Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), when asked to comment on this aspect of the series, said:

I consider it reasonable to require programme-makers to have very strong justifications for showing smoking in a programme likely to be seen by young people, particularly if it depicts smoking by glamorous and attractive characters or people. I have seen no such justification in this case.

It seems to Ms Arnott, then, that there are some circumstances where it could be justified for smoking to be shown in programmes, whether or not the characters are glamorous and attractive. Perhaps she would tell us what these are. I have to say that, however much I wrack my brains, I cannot think of any such circumstances. Therefore, surely Ms Arnott – and especially Ms Arnott whose day job is discouraging smoking as much as possible – should say unequivocally that she considers there are no justifications for showing smoking in current TV shows likely to be seen by young people, or by old people for that matter, whether the characters depicted are glamorous and attractive or even if they are dowdy and ugly.

And how did an ITV spokesman respond?

The islanders are only shown smoking if this happens at the same time as they are having conversations we believe to be editorially important to the narrative of the show.

This is even more idiotic than Ms Arnott’s qualified criticism. What difference does it make whether smoking is shown at the same time that the participants are having conversations that are deemed editorially important, or even just ordinarily important, or indeed if they are entirely unimportant to the narrative of the show?

The inane conversations, important or not as they may have been, are one thing. The connection, let alone justification, however, between smoking and the narrative is non-existent. I cannot think of a single good reason for smoking to be shown in a modern play, film or TV show.

It’s an entirely different matter in a period piece such as Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), in which two hard-drinking couples set about having a furious row with each other. It was made into a film in 1966 starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. In the film the protagonists are portrayed as smokers, but at that time smoking was regarded as normal and was an integral part of the characterization. Today, of course, knowledge about and societal attitudes towards smoking have been transformed.

Any depiction of smoking in a contemporary film, play or TV show should not be countenanced; it looks ridiculous and wrong.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Calling out Philip Morriss

We have to thank the BBC for bringing us news of a major scandal (online 30 November 2016).

Andre Calantzopoulos, the CEO of Philip Morris, a tobacco company that turned out 850 billion cigarettes in 2015 from which it generated net revenue of about $74 billion, was recently interviewed on the BBC.

AC:  We produce a product that causes disease and I think the primary responsibility we have…is to develop products like this [the unpronounceable ‘Iqos’] and commercialize them as soon as possible. These products hold very great promise obviously for consumers and also for public health.

BBC:  Conventional cigarettes might eventually be taken off the market because of public health…aren’t you doing this because you’re concerned not about the consumer but because you’re concerned to have a future business?

AC:  First of all we are concerned about the consumer. Secondly even based on WHO projections there will be in 2025 still one billion plus smokers around the planet and there are 9.6 million smokers in the UK. Once we have the ability and innovation to offer these products to consumers we have to offer it to them.

BBC:  If you were concerned about the consumers you wouldn’t sell cigarettes.

AC:  I think consumers choose to use cigarettes. I don’t think Philip Morris has invented cigarettes. I think for us is to offer our consumers the best product we can in the category we all know is addictive and causes harm. Once we have the alternative and we have it today and I’m very happy…and we’ll do everything we can to convince them to switch to this product.

What an utterly breathtaking load of self-serving hypocrisy! I am sure Mr Calantzopoulos is very happy and concerned about the consumer, especially the amount of money he can continue to extract from those who are hooked on his company’s poisonous products. So he thinks consumers choose to use cigarettes, does he? They chose to use the first one, no doubt, but they didn’t choose to become addicted to them. Addiction is the only reason smokers continue to smoke and why they find it so difficult to stop. Does a heroin or cocaine addict choose to continue to use heroin or cocaine? It would be an insult and a lie to talk about these unfortunate people in such a way. What’s the difference between cigarette (nicotine) addiction and other drug addictions? The only difference is that heroin and cocaine are illegal but nicotine is legal. And it wasn’t Philip Morris who invented cigarettes. So that’s all right then? But it’s Philip Morris – the world’s second largest manufacturer of cigarettes – that chooses to continue to make and sell them (together with others in the Big Tobacco cartel). Then he says ‘…the best product…in the category [cigarettes] we all know is addictive and causes harm.’ So he’s contradicting himself: if cigarettes are addictive, how can he say smokers choose to use them?

If he were sincere (don’t laugh), he would forthwith arrange for his company to stop making cigarettes and instead concentrate on alternative products like ‘Iqos’ which, he says, they have today. What’s he waiting for?

Then we hear from Deborah Arnott of ASH:

DA:  On current trends smoking will kill a billion people in the 21st century mostly in poor countries. If Philip Morris really want to [inaudible] smoking then it has to stop promoting smoking to new young smokers around the world using methods which are quite rightly illegal in the UK. You know smoking’s coming to an end here, we’re seeing a smaller and smaller proportion of young people taking it up, and if these products can help adult smokers quit then all well and good but they still need regulating as tobacco products and we still need to be very cautious about what the industry’s up to.

BBC:  [Andre Calantzopoulos] extended an invitation for groups like ASH to come and check their science, would you take them up on that?

DA:  We’re not scientists, it’s not for us to do…but yes we need more independent verification…and that will take a lot of time and money.

What is it with ASH? Why does Ms Arnott think Philip Morris only needs to stop promoting smoking to new young smokers? What about Philip Morris stopping making cigarettes? As for her admission that ASH lacks the expertise to check out the scientific basis of the claims that ‘heat not burn’ and similar products are safer than ordinary cigarettes, do you need to be an Einstein to form a view on this? Nobody can know the effects of these new products, including e-cigarettes, until they’ve been in use for a long time, say ten to twenty years.

While this huge unregulated public health experiment is going on, what about banning conventional cigarettes in the meantime?

Text © Gabriel Symonds