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Friday, 6 July 2012

Tobacco Control Creeping Ever Further into Alcohol Control

You've probably already seen it, but today Dick Puddlecote posted about the minimum pricing for alcohol survey being undertaken by Bath University.  I took the survey and told them that minimum pricing was a terrible idea.  But afterwards, thinking that the results of these surveys are always skewed in favour of a particular policy agenda, I decided to look into who at Bath is actually running the survey. 

I was not surprised to learn that one person who works in tobacco control is one of two people running this survey.  Funny that, eh?  

This is what the survey site says:
This study is being conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Rob Branston and Dr. Phil Tomlinson.

So, who is Rob Branston?  Oh, he's just some random economics lecturer at Bath who thinks that tobacco companies make too much profit, so he and Anna Gilmore want government to tax the companies even more:
Dr Robert Branston, Deputy Director of the University’s Centre for Governance & Regulation, said: “A handful of companies dominate the market and cream off massive profits. With such a deadly product, competition isn’t attractive, so we’ve identified regulation as an alternative that stands to benefit both government and public health.

“The market has failed to curb cigarette manufacturers in terms of pricing power and profit, and tobacco control policies have unintentionally exacerbated the problem.

“Clamping down on the extreme profitability of cigarettes would reduce the incentive for tobacco companies to fight public health measures and mean they have fewer funds at their disposal.

“A move to regulation would enable tobacco control policies to be expanded as companies would be partially insulated against impact on revenue and less able to argue against them.”

He went on to say that regulation would also be a way of preventing people from down-trading to cheaper products and restraining the behaviour of companies when it comes to cigarette smuggling and marketing to young people.

OK, so we have another known tobacco control industry supporter who, along with Anna Gilmore, has decided to branch out into alcohol control too. Lovely. I particularly enjoyed reading about this recent conference where Branston and Gilmore presented their views on the "tobacco end game":
Dr Robert Branston from the School of Management will also be attending the conference to present on research undertaken in collaboration with Professor Anna Gilmore, who is Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group. Rob’s presentation will form part of a panel discussion that looks at ‘planning for a tobacco end game’, with his focus being on the regulation of tobacco product prices.
So, if they are presenting on a possible tobacco endgame, can we safely assume that they need to move into other areas to keep the research funding coming in for their academic careers?  I dunno, but I would think probably yes.  All I can tell you is that I do not trust anyone who works in tobacco control to do genuine, honest research. 

You can see a PDF of Branston's and Gilmore's presentation slides here.

The other guy is Dr Phil Tomlinson, also interested in economics, particularly in respect of economic governance and transnational corporations -- so I can understand his academic interest in this study, since tobacco companies are transnational. To be fair, I didn't see any obvious connection to him and the tobacco control industry (apart from working at Bath with known tobacco control industry people, but I'm going to disregard that aspect).  Tomlinson's involvement may simply be because he and Branston work well together in other projects. Maybe they share a few pints at the pub after work each day.  Nothing wrong with that. In any case, perhaps Dr Tomlinson will provide balance for this study and help keep the results from being deliberately skewed in favour of any particular result or political health-motivated agenda. 

And in fairness to all, I will say that the questionnaire seems to be straightforward and fair. I did not see any misleading questions designed to provide a positive answer in favour of minimum pricing.  You are given ample choices to say "this sucks!" if you want to do that as well as a few free comment areas to have a rant in if you so desire.  So, as Dick said in his post today, "why not spend a few minutes of your time by taking their survey here and telling them precisely what you think about the idea."   If you want to participate, better hurry, it's only going to be running for another week or so.

Image via the Virtual Absinthe Museum