ASH Want To Turn The World Into A Giant Smokefree Lunatic Asylum

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Although the issue of psychiatric total smoking bans (i.e. even outdoors) is under-reported and under-discussed in society (they may be fully implemented by 2018), there is near unanimity amongst those who have heard of them that they are cruel. The only champions are various ‘public health’ organisations, and they have realised they need stronger arguments to get an easy ride. Sadly, for them, science is not on their side, so they have concocted some of their own “facts”, apparently backed up by “scientific studies” they hope the layman won’t look at (because they actually refute public health’s claims!)

Thus, ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) have now released a 48-page document of turgid reasoning that makes some fantastic claims regarding mental health and smoking. As with claims of this nature, the solutions put forward would be laughable in a free, democratic society were it not for the sad truth Government is taking it seriously.

So for example, ASH inform us that “Mental health conditions affect almost a quarter of the population who die on average 10-20 years earlier than the general population. Smoking is the single largest cause of this gap in life expectancy.” (p.7) This is astonishing stuff. ASH are claiming almost 25% of the population are mad, and that they die earlier from smoking related diseases. Is this true? Thankfully not.

In 2013, there were 506,790 deaths registered in England and Wales. If ASH is right, 25% of these should be mad people who were also smokers – just over 126,000. And add to that all the smokers who died who weren’t mentally ill – ASH says two thirds of them – and our total smoking related death figure should be 378,000.

But the estimated figure for total smoking related deaths is actually only 79,100 per annum (Source: Office of National Statistics). According to ASH, a third of these smokers would have been mentally ill at some point – the figure is therefore 26,366. Obviously this is still regrettable, yet out of a total population in England and Wales of just over 56 million, it isn’t actually alarming.

We also need to interrogate whether the mentally ill really do die 10-20 years younger on average, and what this means. This statistic was established by researchers at Oxford University in 2013, but their lead researcher actually did not pin the blame entirely on smoking.

Dr Seena Fazel, of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, accounted for the higher mortality rate thus:

“High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide. The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical illness when they do see a doctor. Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Unfortunately, people with serious mental illnesses may not access healthcare effectively.”

No mention of smoking in this quotation. Indeed, the broad scientific evidence seems to show that the average decrease in life expectancy for anyone (i.e. regardless of their mental state) from smoking is actually only 7 years. (See Snowdon, C. “Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking”). If the mentally ill were dying 10-20 years younger then, it wouldn’t be smoking related diseases that got them because they are dying before these strike.

As Fazel says, suicide is a problem. If someone commits suicide in their 20s, it throws the whole “mean average” into a distortion. You could have 9 people living to 80, but if 1 dies at 20, the “mean average” becomes 74. Yet to say the average is 74 is to gloss over the fact 90% made it to 80. If this is multiplied across the 25% of the population ASH believe are mentally ill, you get some ridiculous figures that hide the very real complexity. Damn statistics!

ASH of course deny this. Their report fantastically claims that smoking related deaths lower the mean average more than suicide does. Yet the two studies they quote to support this counter-intuitive thesis do not back it up. A study of Americans says “Persons with mental disorders died an average of 8.2 years younger than the rest of the population” – that’s 8.2, not “up to 20”.  Furthermore, it says when you add up all the variables such as lower socio-economic status, demographic factors, and clinical factors, then “the association was reduced by 82% from baseline and became statistically nonsignificant”.  Meanwhile the other source which was a study in Western Australia says, “the life expectancy gap increased from 13.5 to 15.9 years for males and from 10.4 to 12.0 years for females between 1985 and 2005” – not quite the 20 years’ figure touted by ASH.  Furthermore, it definitely does not say this is all down to smoking.  What it does say is that deaths from cancer accounted for 13.5% – but it also says deaths from suicide were 13.9%, i.e. higher, although cardiovascular disease accounted for 29.9%. And if we bear in mind that not all cancers and heart disease are down to smoking, we can reject ASH’s claims outright.

The ASH report goes further than the previous PHE (Public Health England) report in recommending patients are monitored even after discharge from a smokefree lunatic asylum. They want doctors, social workers, and others to keep up the message to out-patients that smoking is really bad. Worse still, in “Ambition 11”, they say they want to identify anyone in society who is “at-risk” of becoming mentally ill to receive these same messages from various professionals. Who are these people ASH knows are at-risk? They say, “”certain groups in society may be particularly susceptible to experiencing mental health problems, including households living in poverty, people with chronic health conditions, minority groups and those who experience family conflict or neglect.” So basically ASH want to colonise Job Centres, Wetherspoons, and the family home whenever a disturbance is reported, or if you receive visits from social workers. And these might be people who have never smoked or never will – they’re all ripe for intrusion in ASH’s eyes, such is their zeal. That this will become an unhinged tyranny should now be obvious.

Of course, ASH would deny they are authoritarian, they would simply say ‘they care’. In Princess Di-sounding language, the report is entitled “The Stolen Years” (without ever saying who the thief is and what they do with the ‘property’ of someone else’s years, if the analogy can possibly make sense).

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ASH Trustee Paul Burstow, from the mis-named Liberal Democrats

ASH Trustee Paul Burstow, himself a former MP who was kicked out by the people in the 2015 General Election says, “Seventy percent of those discharged from a psychiatric hospital are smokers. The result is lives cut short and in their final years lives blighted by heart and lung diseases, stroke and cancer. These are the stolen years – of life, of health and of wealth…This is not a quick fix, nor will it be easy, but without a collective effort we will continue to condemn millions of the most vulnerable people in our society to needless death and disease.” (p.5)

 

Thus for Burstow, leaving people to make their own choices is “condemning them to death”. Burstow, who is of course Immortal and Infallible, needs to urgently realise that if life is to mean anything, we have to be able to be autonomous, at least to a degree. To choose to smoke a cigarette is one small choice that is often a rational choice, and if we’re not even allowed that, then freedom has been condemned to a needless death.

The cruel irony is that it is only in conditions where freedom can flourish that people gain the maturity and resilience to be able to quit smoking. Therefore, ASH’s proposals won’t necessarily work even in terms of lowering smoking rates, they’ll just create misery. Now, in 2016, with e-cigarette technology being excellent, there are potentially more opportunities for people to decide to quit – but if this becomes compulsory they cannot reap any reward whatsoever from what the Government advertising label’s claim “choose freedom”. The question it would instead arouse is “why bother?”

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Watch this YouTube video explaining what is wrong with mental health smoking bans – produced by The Campaign Against Smoking Bans In Psychiatric Units (CASBIPU)

Outdoor Smoking Bans: Defend The Right To Be ‘Abnormal’

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Source: “Annette Schwarz On Set With Annette Schwarz 4” by Photo from http://www.lukeisback.com – via Wiki Commons

In 2007, the UK government, along with many other countries, banned smoking inside all workplaces, all public buildings, and all pubs. Yet although health fanatics are now completely protected from dangers they believe emanate from ‘second-hand smoke’, they were still not content, and from October 2015, it will become a criminal offence to light up in your own car if there is an under-18 year old present, even if you open windows and the sunroof. Still the health zealots are not content. Having protected themselves and ‘The Children’ from wicked smokers, they want more bans on top of this. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which is an influential government-lobbying charity whose president and vice presidents are all Lords and Baronesses, want smoking banned in many outdoor places. This will include all parks, public squares, beaches, school gates and pub gardens.

The casual adding of pub gardens to the list will inevitably pave the way for more bans in years to come since they are privately owned rather than publicly owned. This means a logic is put in place where part of the private sphere will no longer be seen as beyond the jurisdiction of health zealotry. Hence already in New York, the mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to ban smoking inside people’s private homes.  So UK citizens should challenge the RSPH to stop such Orwellianism becoming a reality here as well. Unless we mount a challenge, groups like the RSPH will never stop.

Some people such as smoker’s rights group FOREST have criticised the RSPH saying it will accelerate the rate of pub closures and is authoritarian. Indeed this is all true – smokers will avoid pubs altogether, slashing their income to the point of closure. And there will be no way round it – a pub won’t be able to turn a blind eye to smoking in its garden because they will fear being heftily fined, or shut down by the council. But there’s also something more going on with the RSPH’s proposal that puts it in a new nadir for smoking bans: they are using criminal law to spread their own moral message.

The RSPH’s attempt to ban outdoor smoking differs from the previously mentioned smoking bans because it doesn’t use the argument about ‘second-hand smoke’ as its justification. Even the RSPH are not stupid enough to say there is a physical threat from smoke outdoors. Instead they want to ban it merely out of spite. They say smokers are “abnormal”. They believe the possibility that a child might see someone smoking is a direct influence on that individual possibly taking up smoking themselves in the future. The RSPH wants to nudge the child from growing into that bad adult by preventing them ever witnessing anyone smoking in a public place. Hence the ban is called for not because the smoke is a direct physical threat, but because it might influence a young mind. Arrogantly, the RSPH believe only they should influence young minds, no-one else, and that new criminal offences should be constructed to aid this objective.

But if one thinks about it, one can see that smoking in an outdoor public space or a pub garden is the responsible thing to do, in relation to children. It confirms to children the notion that adults want to protect them by not breathing smoke at them in a confined area (even if passive smoking is actually a threat). We might be dealing with responsible parents who do not smoke inside their houses, but would like a cigarette when outside. This can be a loving caring act, and it is wrong to label such behaviour ‘abnormal’. The RSPH are using criminal law to send out a ‘moral’ message that only they have the legitimate authority to mould a young mind, not parents, teachers, or any other traditional authority, and most certainly not the general public. The RSPH are censoring reality as if it was a soap opera. They are demanding society in all its activities must always send out ‘correct’ moral messages, and anything that is a threat to this must be banned. It is making moral conformity compulsory by threat of legal penalty. This is the stuff of a totalitarian dictatorship, not a liberal democracy.

If the RSPH really do care about the lessons being learnt by children, they might consider their own lesson they are sending out. If the RSPH’s ban goes through, this will teach children that we do not live in a free and tolerant society, and that those old ideals are bad. It will instil in their brains an ideal of conformity rather than diversity. And it will instil an idea that it is ok for the law to harass those deemed by government to be ‘abnormal’. Who wants to live in a society like that?