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Thursday 18 October 2012

Plain Packs Corruption

By now I suspect you have already seen Dick Puddlecote's, Christopher Snowdon's, and Simon Clark's blog posts on the plain packaging consultation corruption scandal.  Yeah, I'm using the word scandal.  Because to call it anything different, such as an inadvertent error or a lapse in professional judgment by a junior staff member of UKCTCS, would be like saying all MPs are honest, decent people who would never fiddle their expenses. Oh, perhaps a better and stronger analogy is that Genghis Khan was a pacifist.  I'm torn.

(Jay's note: Can I be called "That Ghengis Khan Blog" now?  Or should I have used another Hitler reference?)

As I casually perused the documents of the FOI release, I noticed that the release is a bit one-sided, meaning that I would guess that not all of the relevant documentation was released.  What I mean by that is, there are no responses to the any of the e-mails sent by anyone.

Granted, I send personal e-mails to people and sometimes I get no response nor any kind of acknowledgment, which I must confess is incredibly frustrating because I sit there wondering if my e-mail was received or read.  Nobody likes to be ignored, particularly when you take the time to write to someone.

But having worked in the professional world, I know for a fact that you almost always send a response to an e-mail, even if it's simply to acknowledge receipt.  I cannot imagine that there wasn't a least a "Thanks for this info!" e-mail sent by anyone in the correspondence chains.  This may not be that big of a deal, though. I have no evidence of a cover-up -- maybe the FOI officer deemed those responses irrelevant and omitted those documents. Perhaps it is DH FOI policy to exclude those kinds of e-mails, since they're only allowed to work on any given request for three days, it seems.

I also need to give Andrew Black some credit for at least striving to officially appear neutral in respect of the consultation. I note that he refused to let CRUK take photos of their consultation responses drop-off at the Department of Health offices in London, saying that he had to treat them the same as he treated FOREST.

But this doesn't let him off the hook, because when you read through all of the FOI documents, one thing is very clear:

The DH, Smokefree Southwest, ASH, CRUK, BHF, FRESH, and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health are all working together. They all advise each other on what is coming, what should be done and how exactly to go about making it all happen in their favour.  They don't even try to hide it. Maybe there is no need to do so.  The DH subscribes to ASH's e-mail circulars, or perhaps ASH just sends them to the DH addresses of the people they know, which are clearly numerous.  It's obvious that all of these organisations are essentially one group in respect of tobacco control policies.

It's also not surprising.  In my view, this is clearly a case of government using charities and other departmental institutions to lobby itself.  The whole system is incestuously corrupt from top to bottom.

But nobody cares, nobody will do a damn thing about it. It's business as usual in government.

Anyway, I note that Smokefree Southwest (SFSW) had tried to allay any concerns about the rampant duplication of signatures of plain packs supporters by insisting they were not cross-promoting CRUK's petition, for instance. This is not entirely true, nor is it entirely false. What SFSW actually did falls somewhere in a grey area.  In other words, not exactly asking people to sign the others petitions, but also not asking them not to sign other petitions too while blogging and tweeting CRUK's plain packs site and propaganda videos. Plausible denial.  Hypothetically, of course, if one is going to rig a consultation, then it behooves one to at least avoid looking like you are doing so.

So here's what SFSW wrote:

Click to enlargify
These two paragraphs are fascinating.  First, we see that someone at the DH (Andrew Black maybe? Who knows?) was advised by SFSW to set up an internal process to check for duplicates.  Should SFSW be "advising" the DH how to run a consultation or how to check for duplicates?  Doesn't that seem a bit naughty?  More than a bit?  The second paragraph says SFSW was careful to not cross-promote the sign-up methods between the various organisations.  Really? Were they?  As said above, they didn't explicitly ask people to do so, but they had no trouble referring people to CRUK's site.

For instance, this blog post from April 2012 embeds CRUK's video, which explicitly promotes CRUK's petition:

Is that not a form of cross-promotion? Indirect cross-promotion? Certainly it's an endorsement of CRUK, for the Plain Packs Protects (which is Smokefree Southwest if you didn't already know) wrote (emphases added):
"We have been working closely with Cancer Research UK since well before the launch of the [plain packs consultation] campaign and they have been fantastic partners on plain packaging evidence and generating support for the plain packaging of cigarettes and other products."
(Jay's note: did they really say "other products"? That doesn't say other tobacco products. No, it says other products. Which products do they mean?)

So you know, CRUK and SFSW are de facto partners. They admit it on their blog, although they didn't need to do that because it's "plain as day" to anyone who bothers to look into the anti-smoker lobby.

Here's another endorsement by SFSW, this time via a retweet of CRUK's tweet on Twitter:
SFSW retweeted this - third from left and annotated..
Guess what happens when you click on the link in that tweet.  It takes you to CRUK's petition for signing! Is that not an indirect cross-promotion of CRUK's petition by SFSW?  You bet it is. But since they didn't ask people to sign, then it's OK. No, they'll just quietly provide a link to CRUK's site.  Because if SFSW didn't want to promote CRUK's petition, they could have modified CRUK's tweet and removed the link.  They didn't, though.

And just for fun, here's SFSW also retweeted this gem:

Hey! That's my blog he's talking about. "That Hitler Blog."
Fantastic! Thanks for the plug, David.

Naturally, leads to ... da-da- dah ... CRUK's petition. Hey, SFSW isn't saying to sign it, but they aren't saying don't sign it either. They have NEVER said don't sign CRUK's petition from what I can see on-line. I will correct that statement when I do find it or if someone can point it out to me. I do try to be fair.

You can read more about CRUK's ambassador David on Simon Clark's blog here. Although I strongly disagree with David's views on tobacco control, I actually quite like David in many ways. He's tenacious for starters. He's like a pitbull and he's been consistently dogging HOOPs for the last 7 months or so, even after every other CRUK ambassador gave up campaigning for plain packs. You have to admire that, even when you're on opposing sides.  Someday maybe David will let me buy him a pint or three if I ever make it to his area (which is unlikely because I do try to avoid going up north), or next time he's in London schmoozing it up with ministers in Parliament or something. Of course, sharing a pint with me, David, could get you added to the naughty wiki. They might see that act as you being corrupted by a "pro-smoking" blogger.  Hey, it could happen. Big Tobacco Control Industry is always watching, David!  Seriously, David, you make me smile and laugh sometimes with your dry repartee, which is a good thing. I very much appreciate your sense of humour about some things.

Well, I haven't had time to go through all of Smokefree Southwest's Tweets, or the tweets of Plain Packs Protects, or indeed any of the accounts listed by SFSW as partners to see how far down the rabbit hole the cross-promotion goes:

Perhaps we could crowd-source going through these orgs and seeing what they've been up to the past half-year.  If you want to help, drop me line in the comments and we can then submit all that we find as evidence to our MPs and maybe even Jeremy Hunt to show that the plain packs consultation stinks to high heaven. What do you say, people?  Want to help?

[Insert sounds of crickets here: (chirp .... chirp... chirrup)]

PS:  The FOI also makes very clear that they are indeed coming for your homes and cars, smokers. Just sayin'.  Anne Milton used the word "eradicate" in fact. Marvellous.

PPS:  See also my later post More Evidence of Plain Packs Cross-Promotion