Youth smoking way down

March 14th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The latest data from the ASH survey of Year 10 students is encouraging.

  • Only 3.2% of Year 10 students smoke daily, down from 15.6% in 1999
  • Only 8.5% of Maori Year 10 students smoke daily, down from 30.3% in 1999
  • Only 6.8% of Year 10 students smoke regularly, down from 28.6% in 1999
  • Only 14.7% of Maori Year 10 students smoke regularly, down from 42.8% in 1999

Most Year 10 students are 15, so ideally the smoking rates should be 0%. There’s still a fair way to go, but the trend is encouraging. It’s one thing for adults to decide to smoke (fine so long aas they pay the costs of their healthcare, not me) but a very bad thing for teenagers to start smoking.

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The OIA is for all

January 14th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Sam Sachdeva at The Press reports:

Tobacco companies are trying to pry confidential documents from government departments as they battle a possible crackdown on their trade.

Really? Are they breaking into offices? Blackmailing officials? Stealing secrets?

Information obtained by the Sunday Star-Times revealed legal representatives for several tobacco companies filed at least nine Official Information Act (OIA) requests to the Ministry of Health in the past two years for documentation relating to plans to ban brand marks and logos on cigarette packets.

Oh my God. A company asked under the Official Information Act for government papers regarding a proposed policy which would have a massive impact on their business. What a scandal.

Here’s what even funnier. The information on these OIA requests would have been obtained itself under the OIA. So whomever planted this story has used the OIA to attack someone else for using the OIA.

The companies’ requests covered a wide array of information, including documents relating to:

All communication about plain packaging between the Ministry of Health and its Australian, Canadian and British equivalents;

how plain packaging would affect youth and adult smoking rates in New Zealand;

how plain packaging would impact on the intellectual property rights of tobacco manufacturers;

and whether plain packaging would violate any of New Zealand’s trade and investment treaty obligations.

This seems absolutely appropriate requests to make. In fact such info should be public automatically.

British American Tobacco was the most prolific company, with its legal representatives filing six OIA requests during the period.

Six over two years. Hell I sometimes file six OIA requests in a single month.

The requests were largely declined, with Turia citing the “substantial collation or research” required to gather much of the information and the confidentiality of some documents.

However, several Cabinet papers related to plain packaging reform were released, while the companies were told that other information it had requested would soon be publicly available.

The director of anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), Ben Youdan, believed the companies were trying to “hold up and bog down” civil servants who had to process the requests.

Nonsense. It annoys me that a taxpayer funded lobby group is complaining about the cost to taxpayers of government departments obeying the OIA law.

If the companies were filing a request every few weeks, they may have a point. But nine requests over two years is stuff all.

If I wrote this story I would ask the MoH how many OIA requests in total they received over two years, and what proportion came from tobacco companies. I’d also ask ASH how many OIA requests have they made.

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Taxpayer funded lobbying

May 14th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

This is an issue that should be investigated by the Government or the Auditor-General. Yet again we have evidence of taxpayer-funded groups using their funding to lobby the Government for specific law and policy changes.

This is an extremely bad thing. The Government should not be effectively paying people to lobby Parliament and the Government a specific way.  Just as Ministries are forbidden to lobby, it is equally wrong for them to contract other groups to lobby.

This was first exposed in 2003. Then ACT MP Rodney Hide revealed that Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and five other NGOs were receiving taxpayer money from the Ministry of Health to help lobby MPs on the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill (the one that banned smoking in bars and cafes).

The Director-General of Health then ordered a State Services Commission investigation into the matter (the Hunn/Brazier inquiry). Hunn and Brazier considered that the advocacy and lobbying clauses in six contracts were unacceptable under public service standards and in their view could compromise the political neutrality of the Ministry of Health. They recommended that future agreements with NGOs explicitly exclude lobbying activities.

The Treasury’s most recent guidelines (2009) for contracts with non-governmental organisations also make it clear: “Government agencies should also be careful to ensure that contracts do not breach public service standards of political neutrality”.

However, the Health Ministry is still funding the “advocacy” and “awareness raising” that these organisations engage in. The Ministry still funds ASH and other organisations like the Public Health Association – it is just more careful about what it puts in the contracts.

The current ASH contract allows it to “liaise with government and private health agencies, the media and any other appropriate organisations to raise public awareness of tobacco related issues and developments”. It says it will “prepare and distribute media briefings, commentary and releases on key tobacco issues. This will include maintaining relationships with key media.”

A quick look at the ASH website makes it clear it is a lobby group, but a lobby group that gets 89% of its funding from the taxpayer. I am all in favour of taxpayer funding quit smoking initiatives, but not funding a lobby group. One of its values is “A dedication to influencing public policy and social norms to tobacco related harm.” It has a page on its current campaigns, of which seven are about law changes, only one is actually about quitting smoking,

The current ASH contract provides for it to receive $578,000 p.a of taxpayer money in 2012. I’d say the vast majority of this goes on lobbying and media activities.

The Public Health Association received $311,967 from government grants in 2011, $305,843 in 2010 and $323,498 in 2009. In its financial statements it lists an item of income as “Advocacy/Healthy Public Policy”, as well as “Informed Debate/Communications”.

The PHA says that it “takes a leading role in promoting public health and influencing public policy…Our goal is to improve the health of all New Zealanders by progressively strengthening the organised efforts of society by being an informed collaborative and strong advocate for public health.”

On its website it has a letters to the editor guide.  It says: “Do you feel strongly about a public health issue? Write a letter to the editor using our simple letter writing techniques, list of email addresses and examples of sample letters (alcohol, housing, tobacco, oral health and preventing family violence).”

Smoke-free Coalition

The Smokefree Coalition (www.sfc.org.nz) says it is “committed to preventing the uptake of smoking among young people and reducing the smoking rates of all New Zealanders” and it has published a road-map for how to make NZ smoke-free by 2025. It received $167,213 in 2011 and 2010 and $179,890 in 2009 from government. This represented 98%, 96% and 95% of its funding in each of those years.

Those are just three examples where there is over a million dollars a year of government money going to NGOs for lobbying.

Another example is  the Turanga website (a government funded anti-smoking research initiative) has posted a page listing “3 ways to support a tobacco tax increase.” One of the ways is to write to MPs. The website directs readers to http://www.taxtobacco.org.nz/ in which readers can fill in their name and write a personal message to Key, Ryall, English or Turia. Readers can select from a range of sentences that they have written for them.

Now I personally support an increase in tobacco tax. But that is not the point. Government money should not be used for NGOs to campaign for what the law should be. It is the thin end of corruption.

The second way of supporting a tobacco increase is: “ASH have some tax postcards to send to John Key, Bill English, Tony Ryall and Tariana Turia. If you would like a batch please email ash via their website www.ash.org.nz with your postal address and let ASH Director Ben Youdan know how many you need.”

That is also explicitly political lobbying.

As an individual taxpayer I’d be quite happy to donate some of my money to anti-smoking groups. But the Government should only fund anti-smoking groups which actually provide stop smoking services or genuine medical research. They should not fund advocacy groups to influence public opinion on future law and policy changes. ASH and the PHA should have their public funding removed, and they should rely on donations like all the other advocacy groups out there have to.

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