Social Icons

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Is Craig Dalton Affiliated with Tobacco Control Or Not?

These days, the terms "public health" and "tobacco control" are nearly synonymous.  Everyone who works in the tobacco control industry will tell you they work in public health, or the media and educational institutions attribute them as public health advocates. Whatever. We know it's really not about health for these people.

On the other hand, not everyone who works in public health works for or actively supports the tobacco control industry, however there is so much crossover and back-patting between disciplines that it has become increasingly difficult to work out who does what and who supports who.

Yesterday, an opinion piece titled "Should we set a date for a tobacco-free Australia?" appeared on-line at The Conversation. I will get to that opinion and its author in a moment. The Conversation is an Australian-owned site that describes itself as follows:
The Conversation is an independent source of analysis, commentary and news from the university and research sector — written by acknowledged experts and delivered directly to the public. Our team of professional editors work with more than 3,200 registered academics and researchers to make this wealth of knowledge and expertise accessible to all.

We aim to be a site you can trust. All published work will carry attribution of the authors’ expertise and, where appropriate, will disclose any potential conflicts of interest, and sources of funding. Where errors or misrepresentations occur, we will correct these promptly.
Take particular notice of all of that last paragraph above.  It is pertinent to this blog post.

Returning to the aforementioned opinion piece, it was written by Craig Dalton, who is a "Conjoint Senior Lecturer School of Medicine and Public Health at University of Newcastle."  See, there again we see the words "public health."  Naturally, I become sceptical when I see the words "public health" in conjunction with anything related to tobacco control.  They are nearly synonymous after all.

I particularly become ultra-sceptical when I see disclosure statements accompanying the article like this one:

I would like to draw your attention to the very end of that statement:  "and has no relevant affiliations."  Is that the truth?  I think one could make a case that it's not true. So let's have a look into Dalton's very recent affiliations:

It turns out that Dalton has (or is editing) a recently-created web site called Ban Retail Tobacco.  Call me a crazy starfish, but I think even the loosest definition of "affiliation" applies here.  Below is a screen cap of the site. Note the numerous references to Dalton's previous work. Note the contact in the lower-left corner says Craig Dalton.  If you visit the site itself and click on the "About" link, it presently takes you directly to Craig Dalton's blog.

Can we safely assume this ban retail tobacco site really is owned and operated by Dalton?  Operated, maybe. Owned?  For that, we need to see who owns the domain. When we check that, we see it's been registered by private registrant via a proxy registration company.  Ah,  clever. So we cannot definitively confirm that Dalton truly owns the site or whether a tobacco control industry organisation owns the site on his behalf -- we can only make assumptions as to its ownership given the site's content.  Here's the WHOIS lookup:

Did you see the "created on" date?  This site was just registered on 5 July 2012, just a day before the article was published in The Conversation.  And then it usually takes another day for the DNS to propagate through all of the various servers. Oh, that's fucking sneaky. Isn't it?

So did Dalton lie about his affiliation to the Ban Retail Tobacco web site to the editors of The Conversation?  Assuming the editors and staff of The Conversation did their due diligence to confirm whether Dalton had any active affiliations to tobacco control organisations, it's likely it was done well before the 5th and 6th of July.  They would find no current affiliations, so the disclosure statement would appear to be true to them and they'd run with that.  So, technically, depending on what and when Dalton told them, he may not have fibbed. It is also entirely possible that on the 5th of July, Dalton suddenly decided to make a web site for banning retail sales of tobacco.  Anything is possible in tobacco control, after all.

Even so, Dalton does have a history with tobacco control industry interests and has even done studies.  In fact, his opinion piece on setting an end-date for tobacco sales in Australia is really just a rehash of all his older work (though he cleverly avoids citing any of his work in the opinion piece) and another very recent article he wrote for Drug and Alcohol Review published this month (first published on-line in March 2012) that is mentioned at the end of the opinion piece.

It's behind a registration pay wall, but thanks to Dalton, you can read a draft copy of that article in full here (PDF).

Dalton also used to run a site called, which he started sometime back in 2004 or 2005.  This site is no longer active, and searches reveal that it may have been hacked at one point.  To see what the site was about, we need to use the Wayback Machine, which shows us a snapshot of the site at particular points in time.  As we look at the last snapshot created 6 October 2008, we see this:
Site maintained by Dr Craig Dalton, Public Health Physician and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, School of Medical Practice and Population Health, The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia
And this:

While tobacco manufacturers are considered corporate pariahs, big tobacco retailers seem to operate behind a smokescreen of respectability. This smokescreen is so effective that the Cancer Council can partner with Coles Supermarkets which will sell over a million cigarettes on Daffodil Day - a cancer charity fundraising event that has special meaning and brings hope to cancer sufferers and their families. Understanding the human cost of tobacco sales by individual retailers can help government, charities, the community, and even tobacco retailers to recognise the impact of these sales. Hopefully, greater awareness of the role of tobacco retailers in causing tobacco related disease will help modify the postion of the Cancer Council on retail tobacco industry sponsorship and undermine retailers credibility when they oppose tobacco control legislation such as removing tobacco displays from their stores.

As well as this:
What now?
  • Join in the discussion.
  • Email me at if you are interested in assisting in further retail tobacco related projects - including monitoring of sales and advocacy work.
  • Monitor the ASH website at for more informaton on lobbying and advocacy.
  • Support greater control of retail tobacco sales by writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper or calling your MP.
Oh, dear! Was that a link to ASH Australia's web site? Yes, I believe it was.  Now, this doesn't mean he works with ASH, and I see no current links to ASH on his blog or new site. It's just a hyperlink on a now defunct site. Right?  I link to stuff all the time, including other people's blogs in the Notable Blogs column at right.  Just because I linked to something doesn't mean I endorse or work for something or someone.  So apart from that ASH reference, you see clearly that Dalton was an advocate for the tobacco control industry. He is telling people to write to their MPs specifically about tobacco retail sales control advocacy.

Therefore, I hold an opinion that Dalton is indeed affiliated with tobacco control, and has been since at least the summer of 2004.  It may not be full time (in fact his current passion and true focus is on influenza epidemics or something), but the banning of tobacco sales advocacy is a nice part-time gig for him certainly.

Wow, sorry! I have written all of these words and I haven't even got to the actual content of the opinion piece yet.  I'll summarise it for you:  The basic point that Dalton is trying to make (and has been trying to make for years) is that it is far more compassionate to simply ban retail sales of tobacco rather than create legislation that further stigamatises smokers.

This is what he wrote:
Television advertisements paid for by the government focus on de-normalising smoking. But the collateral damage is the de-normalisation of smokers themselves, leading to stigmatisation. Again and again they are reminded by the government, which taxes them heavily but does not ban the source of their addiction, that they could die an early disfiguring death and never see their children grow up. That’s some tough love.

When will we finally reach the logical conclusion that banning tobacco is much more compassionate than squeezing smokers with more and more painful stigmatisation?
It's kind of nice to see someone in tobacco control saying that human beings who smoke are being denormalised.  I agree with him entirely that it is smokers who are becoming denormalised, though it is not collateral damage, it was the intent of the legislation all along. I do not agree that banning tobacco sales would be a good thing.  But then I wouldn't.

Dalton goes on to compare tobacco prohibition to alchol prohibition, and he said that "We cannot assume that a black market will flourish with a retail ban."  He then cites an independent study that claims that only "5% of current smokers" have ever used illegal or illicit tobacco.

Yeah? And?  Well let me help you with that one, Dalton. That's because currently there is a LEGAL market for tobacco.  If a product is legal to buy, most people will try to seek out the legal option before going the illegal route. If you do make tobacco illegal, then 100% of smokers in Australia will be using illegal tobacco.  Isn't that right? How can that not be any more obvious?

There is no reasoning with tobacco control advocates. They are blinded by their ideology, and facts and the history of the failure of prohibition does not matter. They see only what they want to see, and everything else is disregarded. All in the name of public health, particularly women and children's health, because that makes for sensationalised copy in the news.

Dalton is no different.  He is so focused on a retail ban that he deliberately refuses to see how making tobacco illegal will create a criminal element for tobacco far greater than which already exists. He believes banning tobacco is being compassionate to smokers. He's wrong about that.  A ban will create an illicit market without any manufacturing standards, and people will be greatly harmed by dodgy tobacco.  Smokers who get caught with tobacco will be fined, or go to jail. Some of those in jail will be attacked by violent thugs or gangs and possibly killed.  I wouldn't call any of that compassion.

Anyway, it took me all of one-minute and thirty-seconds to find out that Craig Dalton has connections with tobacco control advocacy and is affiliated in some way to tobacco control.

Maybe I ought to apply for a job at The Conversation and give them a hand researching those pesky disclosure statements.  Would be nice to get paid for something so easy to do.  I can do this job from home.