This has nothing to do with Oxfam. Indeed DFID is also innocent in this. No – this scandal is brought to you by the Department of Health which is the dominant funder of the world’s most counterproductive anti-smoking policy.
Five years ago DH was forced by the EU to allow vaping in the UK. However the department’s true instincts are being unleashed on the rest of the world through its funding of the World Health Organization. DH provides a staggering 72% of the running costs of the WHO’s global efforts to eliminate the competition to smoking. Under the UK’s financial overlordship the WHO is militant in encouraging its 180 member countries to ban anything that smokers would want to use to quit…
The evidence that such alternatives to smoking are extraordinarily successful is not hard to find. In the US the rise of vaping has been pivotal in High School smoking rates halving in just six years. In Japan heat not burn devices have seen cigarette sales fall 27% in just two years while in Norway oral snus has led to smoking among young women plummeting from 30% to an astonishing 1% since 2000.
Yet the WHO opposes them all. Sadly it’s influential. So far 39 countries have banned e-cigarettes with predictable results. World Bank data shows that smoking in Jordan has soared from 25% to 40%, Indonesia from 31% to 41% and Lebanon from 30% to 38%.
The triumph of this ‘anti-smoking’ policy is shown in tobacco share prices. Since an international treaty created the WHO’s strategy in 2003, the share price of BAT has risen 500%. Not wanting to be left out on overregulation, the WHO’s counterpart in the US – the FDA – announced its own crackdown on e-cigarettes two months ago. The result? Tobacco share prices had their best day in ten years. With enemies like these, Big Tobacco doesn’t need friends.
Our DH is certainly not immune from the urge to ban. After all, this is the department which tried very hard to eliminate e-cigarettes. Its core beliefs are woven throughout its 16,000 word “business case” for subsidising the WHO. Despite the document raising the issue of increasing taxes on smoking 28 times, none of the game-changing alternatives even got a mention.
DH could use our money to encourage the WHO to be less ban-happy. But that’s hardly the UK civil service’s modus operandi. Alternatively it could give it directly to foreign health departments which permit alternatives to smoking (developing countries need affordable solutions like oral tobacco rather than cutting-edge vaping devices). Or – and this is an extreme view – DH could even use the money here in the UK to get e-cigarettes into the hands of low-income citizens.
None of this is to say that the ‘stick’ approach in tobacco control doesn’t have an impact. Taxation and public place restrictions have put strong pressure on smoking.
Yet the extraordinary success of the ‘carrot’ approach – of attractive alternatives – has reshaped the nicotine market at a speed that health departments could only have dreamt of a decade ago.
So why have DH, WHO and the FDA all proved so resistant to this revolution? Tone deafness to consumer-led initiatives is part of it. So too their sophistry that emphasises the potential and small risks of vaping instead of the known and enormous risks of smoking.
Yet they have also failed to stand up to the insidious influence of the pharmaceutical mindset that sees all human conditions as needing medicinal solutions. For its part, Big Pharma makes a fortune not just out of gum and patches but also oncology and COPD drugs. No wonder that they have opposed the non-medicinal alternatives to smoking.
Clearly nanny doesn’t know best. Nor are those wearing white coats omniscient. When regulators allow smokers to choose how to quit, change happens through personal expenditure, not public money.
The elimination of smoking by free choice would be possible if smoking policy was run by someone who would not subsidise the WHO’s sabotage of tobacco harm reduction. And who understood that it is no sin for people to enjoy nicotine. Someone who understood that the enemy is not this stimulant. It is the burning of leaves. Put a business leader in charge of DH policy, remunerated by reductions in smoking, and we – and other nations we are ‘helping’ – could catch up with Norway before a decade was out. Branson?