Public Health England Fight Back

Posted 23rd September 2015 by Dave Cross
After the British Medical Journal (BMJ) included an anonymously penned criticism of the Public Health England report, and then carried an attack written by Martin McKee, they released a statement rebutting the points raised.

The statement has been signed by Public Health England, Action on Smoking and Health, Association of Directors of Public Health, British Lung Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Faculty of Public Health, Fresh North East, Public Health Action (PHA), Royal College of Physicians, Royal Society for Public Health, Tobacco Free Futures, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and the UK Health Forum.

“We all agree that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking,” begins the release. “The public health opportunity is in helping smokers to quit, so we may encourage smokers to try vaping but we certainly encourage vapers to stop smoking tobacco completely.”

The approach they advocate is attempting to square the circle: “We know that e-cigarettes are the most popular quitting tool in the country with more than 10 times as many people using them than using local stop smoking services. But, we also know that using local stop smoking services is by far the most effective way to quit.” The solution, they contend, is to marry the two approaches by encouraging smokers and vapers to attend clinics to reach total abstinence.

The gateway effect raises its head all too frequently, but they retort: “The current national evidence is that in the UK regular e-cigarette use is almost exclusively confined to those young people who smoke, and youth smoking prevalence is continuing to fall.”

The issues the likes of McKee continually raise, and that were repeated in the BMJ, have (as the statement says) been addressed and fully countered many times.

They express a fear: “We should not forget what is important here. We know that smoking is the number one killer in England and we have a public health responsibility to provide smokers with the information and the tools to help them quit smoking completely and forever.”

It is the mixed messages that the likes of McKee inspire that results in confusion, exemplified by this letter to The Herald. As the writer points out: “we have been prescribing nicotine patches for over a decade to support smoking quitters, yet across the world the success rate for them is around two per cent.” A failing system that the British Medical Association and McKee would see being continued because of a blinkered process of reasoning.

The statement concludes: “is honouring its longstanding promise to monitor and share the evidence, providing clear messages to the public. There is no circumstance in which it is better for a smoker to continue smoking – a habit that kills 1 in every 2 and harms many others, costing the NHS and society billions every year. We will continue to share what we know and address what we don’t yet know, to ensure clear, consistent messages for the public and health professionals.”

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker