Terry Barnes: The Big Public Health donkeys

Public health Pooh-Bah bullies are at it again. With the Victorian and federal elections heaving into sight, this week a coalition of twenty-four public health and medical organisations, including the Cancer Council Victoria and the Australian Medical Associations, issued a manifesto calling for the virtual elimination of smoking by 2025.

‘Victoria must eliminate the uptake of youth smoking and increase the number of adult smokers’, the do-good manifesto declares. And what does it offer as the wonder weapons to win the war on smoking?

Just these five scathingly brilliant ideas:

  • Use TV-led public education campaigns.
  • End remaining forms of advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
  • Embed smoking cessation into routine healthcare in Victoria.
  • Close remaining loopholes in smoke-free legislation.
  • Reduce the widespread availability and visibility of tobacco products.

What imagination. What originality. What vision. What tosh.

This magical prescription for victory is simply more of the same of the last four decades. The Pooh-Bah bullies continue to plan their grand strategy with the assumptions that we are gullible saps who are readily persuaded by a telly ad. That simply waving a legislative magic wand will make deadly cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products disappear in a puff of their own smoke. That as legal access to affordable ciggies gets harder because of retail restrictions and eye-watering tobacco excise increases, that hundreds of thousands of Australians are not turning to the ‘chop-chop’ black market.

There is no recognition in this election-motivated manifesto that there are new technological weapons capable of disrupting the traditional cigarette and tobacco market, helping smokers to reduce or quit, and of leading to the sorts of real reductions in the number of lives to smoking the Pooh-Bah bullies dream of but, because of their arrogant bone-headedness, can never achieve.

Vaping with nicotine-containing solutions, as well as heat-not-burn and smokeless tobacco products, have turned the tide in overseas markets. This is notably the case in the UK, EU and US, where until recently smoking rates were stubbornly stuck well above Australia’s. This latest Pooh-Bah bully manifesto defines achieving a five per cent smoking rate in 2025 as being smoke-free. Yet in Sweden, that rate is already a reality because of the extensive take-up of a popular smokeless tobacco product, snus.

In terms of harm reduction vaping, heat-not-burn and snus are embraced overseas and not spurned. Health authorities are willing to give credence to the growing weight of evidence and overseas expert opinion that when it comes to consuming nicotine, each of these product alternatives is safer than combustible tobacco – up to 95 per cent safer according to the UK Royal College of Physicians, the very body that in 1962 blew the whistle on the links between smoking and lung cancer.

In Australia, however, the Pooh-Bah bullies are determined to stick to the same tired formula and Big Tobacco conspiracy theories and refuse to accept any innovation that disrupts their vision and worldview. With blinkered thinking like this, is it any wonder the headline smoking rate in Australia has flatlined for years, while rates in comparable countries like the UK, which accept vaping as a legitimate part of the tobacco harm reduction scene, have plummeted? That sister countries Canada and New Zealand are abandoning their former opposition to legalise and encourage nicotine vaping means nothing here?

In how they wage their war on smoking, the attitude of Australian public health Pooh-Bah bullies is comparable to the attitude of Sir Douglas Haig and the British general staff on the Western Front.

In offensive after offensive hundreds of thousands of British soldiers, including the magnificent lads of the Australian Imperial Force, were sent over the top armed with rifles and bayonets against machine guns, poison gas and barbed wire. Haig’s sticking to the same methods proved time and again to be futile in the face of mechanised killing, wrote the horrific butcher’s bill of killed and wounded in epic battles including Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele that destroyed the flower of a generation and left homes all over the Empire tragically bereft of husbands, brothers, fathers and sons, not to mention the thousands of men maimed and damaged.

To Haig and like-minded generals, the lives of the individual soldiers they sent to their deaths seemingly mattered little. Believing in their own rightness, they refused to change their strategy of ghastly attrition. It took innovative military thinkers from outside the British establishment, like Australia’s Sir John Monash, to break this mould of futility, and find new ways to win the war without incurring the astronomical casualties that Haig seemingly took for granted. And – lo and behold – Monash and other like-minded, new-generation officers engineered the decisive Western Front breakthroughs of 1918 that broke the Western Front stalemate of four long years and finally ended the war to end all wars.

As with Haig’s stubbornness and lack of imagination sending many, many thousands to oblivion, the resistance to innovation of Australian public health Pooh-Bah bullies risk sending thousands of Australian smokers to needless premature deaths. Their determination to stick to tired, outdated strategies and demonise vaping and other new tobacco harm reduction alternatives is not only unwise, not only foolish but is an abdication of their self-proclaimed duty to improve the health of all Australians.  Like Haig in 1917, the Australian public health establishment insists doggedly it is on the right track and will be vindicated in the end.  In doing so, however, they prefer to deny evidence of more effective but disruptive ways to achieve everyone’s desired goal, an end to smoking, rather than change their minds.

Referring to Haig and the British general staff, German general Erich Ludendorff is supposed to have remarked that British soldiers were ‘lions led by donkeys’. When it comes to the quality of leadership in the war against smoking in Australia, his comment a century ago has a certain resonance.

Terry Barnes is a fellow of the UK Institute of Economic Affairs, with a special interest in nanny state regulation. This op-ed was first published at The Spectator.

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27 Responses to Terry Barnes: The Big Public Health donkeys

  1. Tim Neilson

    Use TV-led public education campaigns. Transfer taxpayers’ money to “creative” luvvies. Benefits? Zero.
    End remaining forms of advertising and promotion of tobacco products. What are they? I can’t recall the last time I saw tobacco promoted or advertised.
    Embed smoking cessation into routine healthcare in Victoria. What does this mean? Is it just going to require pompous arrogant lecturing every time a smoker wants to get any sort of health care (e.g.stitches in a cut), or is it more sinister?
    Close remaining loopholes in smoke-free legislation. What are they? Is it a “loophole” that people are allowed to smoke somewhere where there isn’t actually a ban in force? If they want to ban it outright, then why not just say so?
    Reduce the widespread availability and visibility of tobacco products. In which galaxy is there widespread visibility of tobacco products?

  2. Dr Fred Lenin

    These people should be made to work for six months at a mental facility or prison where smoking is the only pleasure the poor bastards get . The incidence of assault on staff by mental patients has risen dramatically since smoking bans were introduced . I have heard of one place which has lost valuable trained staff members who were seriously assaulted . My advice to staff is you don’t see tobacco ,ciggies or lighters ,and you lose your sense of smell where smoke is concerned you will be safer that way . The union has been useless about this danger to its members ,don’t they realise less members means less dues to steal ?

  3. Tintarella di Luna

    But were they wearing Hi-Viz Vests?

  4. hzhousewife

    Will be rather fun trying to get the staff stop smoking. I see a little gathering out under the awning around near the heating/cooling equipment most mornings and every afternoon at the hospital I drive past, a nice multi-culti group of porters and cleaners they are too. I’d like to see them clean up the Melbourne Airport staff too, they block the entrances sometimes on “smoko” ( or did, last time I was there.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    Vaping with nicotine-containing solutions, as well as heat-not-burn and smokeless tobacco products, have turned the tide in overseas markets. This is notably the case in the UK, EU and US

    Not for much longer.

    Stop smoking: E-cigarettes are no better than regular cigarettes, say insurance companies (22 July)

    Stopping smoking cigarettes could be achieved by gradually reducing intake, or switching to alternatives like electronic cigarettes to help avoid the health risks.

    However, life insurance providers consider the switch to be just as bad as smoking.

    E-cigarettes along with patches and other nicotine products, are placed in the same bad as regular cigarettes, meaning users still need to pay higher life insurance rates.

    The groundbreaking discovery, found by the price comparison website, said insurers “do not generally make a distinction” between the products.

    “[This is] because they contain nicotine, and any long-term health benefits haven’t yet been established, independent from the market.”

    Kevin Pratt, consumer affairs expert at the website told The Daily Mail: “Using nicotine in any form, including patches and gum, means you’ll be regarded as a smoker – you have to be nicotine free for 12 months to get the lower premiums.

    From the Daily Express in the UK. Never stand between an insurance company and someone’s wallet.

  6. Fred Furkenburger

    It’s well past time governments stopped funding these NGO’s, etc whose only function in life appears to be lobbying governments to implement legislation the rest of us don’t want. All they seem to do is suck up government money to pay their executives (and staff?) a lot of money to do nothing of use to our society or economy!

  7. Simple solution. Ban the sale of cigarettes.

    No more money required for the medical fraternity, government saves billions in health care costs and untold millions of lives are saved.

    Why is this not done?

  8. Who’s going to school this Terry Barnes donkey on his total & complete cluelessness on General Haig?
    It’s been done so often, but I don’t have the energy tonight to spend on updating yet another who got their WWI knowledge from a Socialist Alliance pamphlet.

  9. Adelagado

    Smokers contribute about $7 billion in taxes each year. Smokers cost the public health system less than $1 billion per year.

    When all the smokers are gone there is going to be a $6 billion annual shortfall in revenue. No-one ever seems to mention this.

    (The figures come from a report I read on the Victorian Cancer Council website. a couple of years ago.)

  10. Egor

    The reason the comrades hate vaping is you look like you have a cig in your mouth, suggesting possible non compliance from a distance and at the very least a thought crime against the anti smoking style guide. The look is offensive to their eye.

  11. Simple solution. Ban the sale of cigarettes.
    No more money required for the medical fraternity, government saves billions in health care costs and untold millions of lives are saved.
    Why is this not done?

    Total mystery.
    I can’t figure it out.

  12. Nato

    The sophistication of the black market cigarettes has come along hugely since Drab Olive Green packaging was introduced. It’s not just a 1/2 kg of soggy weeds in a Safeway shopping bag being sold to Westies, but choices of varieties that, while not quite Nat Shermans, are still better than a lot of the same-every-time packets of processed seasonal product that cost 5 times as much.
    I wish I had the conscience to sidestep the law on this one, but sometimes it’s just not worth it.

  13. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Referring to Haig and the British general staff, German general Erich Ludendorff is supposed to have remarked that British soldiers were ‘lions led by donkeys’. When it comes to the quality of leadership in the war against smoking in Australia, his comment a century ago has a certain resonance.

    It was those donkeys, who commanded the British Army, when it won the most long running series of victories in that Army’s history – the “Hundred Days” of August to November 1918, and, contrary to later Nazi propaganda, drove the German Army from the field, in confusion. As the military historian John Terraine points out, it was a German delegation that crossed the lines with a white flag, to ask for an Armistice, not the other way around.

  14. Adelagado

    Serena at the Pub #2770591, posted on July 23, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Ban the sale of cigarettes… government saves billions in health care costs…
    Why is this not done
    ?

    Serena, your assumption is wrong. Even allowing for medical costs ‘The Government’ makes about $6 billion in profit from cigarette sales. See my post above.

  15. Adelagado: You may wish to direct your statement to Bemused, who made the comment I was quoting.

  16. Bruce

    How will the pillagers of the public’s wallets react when they finally work out that the loot obtained from “excise” and taxes on tobacco and booze exceeds the amount sprayed about the national health “system”. Riotous glee, I suspect.

    If everyone kicked the smokes and booze overnight, there would be utter chaos, at least until the thieving mongrels came up with some outrageous new way of gouging the peasants. Bear in mind that the EXCISE on booze is levied at the point of production, not sale. All those “free” tasting samples on your Hunter Valley winery crawl were hit for excise whilst still in the vat, long before you took your first sip.

    Given how few LEGAL tobacco growers are left in Oz, imports are levied mightily. I doubt there are more than two or three of our “duly elected representatives” who even vaguely comprehend any of this, but you can guarantee that the public “servants” will have had their own tame actuaries working on it for quite a while, primarily to determine just how far they can screw the peasants before the wheels fall off.

    And then there are the excises and taxes on fuel……

  17. Paridell

    Oh dear, the phrase “lions led by donkeys” was popularised by Alan Clark in his The Donkeys (1961), which included the epigraph:

    Ludendorff: ‘The English soldiers fight like lions.’
    Hoffman: ‘True. But don’t we know that they are lions led by donkeys.’

    When challenged as to the source of the quotation, Clark admitted that he had made it up.

    More to the point, if the British leadership were donkeys for attacking in the way that they did, why were the German generals not also donkeys? After all, the Germans pursued mass infantry attacks as well, and throughout the war. By 1918 they had come up with mass attacks by specially trained storm troopers supported by sophisticated use of artillery, and ultimately even that solution failed. And it failed under Ludendorff’s leadership. He was hardly likely to call his opposite numbers “donkeys” when he was using similar tactics himself.

    The fact is, both sides tried ingenious ways to find a way out of the trench warfare impasse, but until the invention of the tank, neither of them could.

  18. Nerblnob

    Donkeys or not, do you think either Haig or Monash would ever have attacked their own soldiers for smoking?

    Quite the opposite.

    https://www.worldwar1postcards.com/smokes-for-the-troops.php

  19. Some History

    Terry, you’re a prohibitionist. You’re part of the big problem.

    https://imgur.com/MHwKfp5

  20. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    More to the point, if the British leadership were donkeys for attacking in the way that they did, why were the German generals not also donkeys? After all, the Germans pursued mass infantry attacks as well, and throughout the war.

    I’m reading accounts of the German infantry attacking, almost arm in arm, in the opening battles, singing FFS and being shot down in heaps by the B.E.F.

  21. Some History

    The Anti-Tobacco Racket: History Revisited

    Anti-tobacco/smoking has had a long, sordid, 400+ year history. Pretty well all of the antismoking crusades have been prohibitionist, usually banning the sale/use of tobacco. There was one notable exception – King James I (‘tis he who commissioned the King James Bible translation) in the early-1600s. Jimmy did a few things. He penned the antismoking piece, “A Counterblaste To Tobacco”, a work loaded with inflammatory drivel written in ye olde English (He also penned a book on Daemonology). It was important to clearly indicate moral outrage because this provides the pretext for taking action on the tobacco “issue”. But Jimmy didn’t prohibit tobacco/smoking. Armed with the appearance of moral high ground, he banned the growing of tobacco in England and arranged for the importation of tobacco from Virginia, America. Banning the growing of tobacco in England reduced the risk of locally produced contraband. So, King Jim manufactured a monopoly on tobacco (entering through imports) in England. And didn’t Jimmy have a field day with the monopoly. He set a ration on the sale of tobacco per person and super-inflated the price of tobacco. He was robbing his tobacco-users blind. What a good “Christian” king. Unfortunately the racket had a limited life. The mass-scale robbery invited contraband. Tired of losing revenue to contraband, Jim eventually relented and lowered his price.

    Fast-forward some 400 years to the island nation of Australia. Since the early-1900s, growing tobacco in Australia has required a government permit. The only ones issued these permits were tobacco companies.

    Australia bought into the antismoking hysteria in the 1980s. The leaders of the current antismoking crusade are prohibitionists. Their goal, as it was in early-1900s America, is to destroy the tobacco industry. The prohibitionists have brought to the table the “moral outrage”. Having partnered with the prohibitionists, the moral outrage permits the government to act on the tobacco “issue”. The beginnings were small. The goal was to put the heat on the “evil” tobacco industry – banning of advertising, constantly referred to as the “merchants of death”, etc. By 2014, the tobacco companies have been chased out of Australia. The tobacco companies no longer contract tobacco growing and no longer manufacture tobacco products in Australia. All tobacco products are now imported into Australia. The growing of tobacco in Australia, based on early-1900s law, is effectively banned; tobacco-growing permits are not issued to individuals. If someone wants [legal] tobacco, they have to buy the officially-imported, government-tax paid stuff. The Australian government finds itself in a manufactured position not unlike King James. It has a monopoly on [imported] tobacco in Australia and has complete control over its price through excise tax. Unlike Jimmy, the government hasn’t even had to get its hands dirty sourcing imports. It uses tobacco companies as offshore growers/manufacturers that then import tobacco products into Australia. And, just like Jim, isn’t the Australian government having a field day with the monopoly. It just keeps jacking up the taxes on tobacco. It’s, again, mass-scale robbery.

    It’s important to note the collusion between government and zealot prohibitionists. The prohibition sought this time is not the sale of tobacco but to effectively ban smoking in all the places that people typically smoke. Taxation is also a “punitive” tool. Important is that the same step is interpreted differently by prohibitionists and the government. Increased taxation is viewed by the zealots as a coercive tool to antismoking conformity, whereas the government views it as a means to increased revenue (through robbery). To maintain the appearance of a moral “high ground” the government needs the moral outrage of the zealots. It doesn’t matter if the moralizing zealots are constantly lying in their claims. All that matters is the moral outrage and the appearance of moral high ground. To keep the zealots on-side, it has to appease the antismoking whims of the zealots, e.g., smoking bans, plain packaging. In doing so, it legitimizes what are baseless claims by the zealots. The government can then claim that extortionate taxes, which it’s really interested in, are necessary to “help” people to quit and will receive full support from prohibitionists. The fact of the matter is that those who smoke are being fleeced by baseless, ever-increasing taxes. The government knows that most won’t quit smoking and it counts on increased revenue from tax hikes in its budget forecasts. It’s robbery based on the moral fraud of antismoking rhetoric. It’s a racket. Worse is that some of the zealot prohibitionists want kick-backs in the form of funding to further “educate” the public, advance their careers, and remain in comfortable employment.

    This results in the utterly perverse situation that those who smoke are further and further marginalized through baseless antismoking laws, smoking deemed “unfit” for normal society while they’re also being robbed through ever-increasing extortionate taxes. Smokers are forced to pay for their own “denormalization” and further fleecing. And this is occurring not in the autocracy of 1600s England but in a one-time relatively free society like Australia where the government is supposedly a servant of the people (which includes those who smoke). It’s the greedy government in its partnering with zealot prohibitionists that is conducting itself like a criminal entity.

    Bring on the contraband.

  22. Dr Fred Lenin

    This smoking propaganda will result in a drop in excise revenue it’s like the u.n.communist de industrialisation meme of the gangrenes less industry ,less revenue from tax ,less money to pay the gangrenes in the government “jobs less ,money to pay welfare to the illiterate peasant migrant voteherds Imported to keep the career polliemuppets in their “jobs” . This is simple economics ,everyone suffers in the usual socialist way . They never think anything through ,never list pros and cons of actions .

  23. Serena, your assumption is wrong. Even allowing for medical costs ‘The Government’ makes about $6 billion in profit from cigarette sales. See my post above.

    My post was complete sarcasm. There is no way cigarettes would ever be banned because of the massive revenue that it brings.

    However, it’s a simple question that should be directed at all medical ‘experts’ and government ministers and put them on the spot. Why is something that’s considered by them to be so dangerous and costly not simply banned?

    In contrast, there’s serious talk about banning (or significantly limiting) the use of sugar, fat and salt in food products.

  24. Petros

    So the left wants to ban tobacco but legalize cannabis? Aren’t they both bad for the lungs when smoked?

  25. Leo G

    …‘lions led by donkeys’. When it comes to the quality of leadership in the war against smoking in Australia, his comment a century ago has a certain resonance.

    The resonance seems to have changed its fundamental to “donkeys led by budworms”.

  26. Pauly

    In Japan the government doesn’t apply ‘sin taxes’ to alcohol and tobacco yet society seems to function without descending into the chaos the poohbahs insist is the reason why we need ‘sin taxes’.

    Health in Japan is measurable better than in Australia (life expectancy is the simple measure). Could it be that they have a proactive health care system which encourages earlier intervention and prevention. Walk around the streets in any city in Japan and you will be hardpressed to find any fatties, apart from Western tiurists, yet our poohbahs insist we need sugar taxes.

  27. stevem

    A simple solution would be to totally ban the sale of tobacco products to anybody born after the year 2000. Simple to remember and will phase into a total ban eventually.
    The problem is, of course, that would mean the end for anti-tobacco lobby and that would be a very bad thing for all us non-smokers. They would just focus their zealotry elsewhere – indeed they are already refocusing their efforts onto sugar, fat and alcohol as well as carbon, plastic and countless other things sensible people want.

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