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Monday 17 September 2012

Into The Black

No matter how many times former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and other ministers say that the government has an "open mind" about the plain packs consultation, the evidence to the contrary continues to add up.  Dick Puddlecote has pointed out just how open the government really is in numerous blog posts -- here are only a few of the many posts he wrote:

How To Rig a Public Consultation
How To Rig the Evidence for a Consultation
If You Disagree, You Will Be Silenced
How To Rig A Consultation By Excluding Relevant Government Departments

Last Friday, the Department of  Health (DH) published a freedom of information request (FOI) to the public in respect of the plain packs consultation.  I became aware of it on Saturday morning, and Simon Clark has today written about it here.

As I read through the FOI on Saturday morning, I thought it odd that the name of the Tobacco Programme Manager had been redacted from the documents. It seems that only senior civil servants' names can be released in any FOI due to privacy concerns or something like that.  Naturally, I immediately searched the web for "Tobacco Programme Manager Department of Health" and came up with the name Andrew Black in numerous references. Not exactly a private matter or secret then if it's all over Google.

"What is Andrew Black's specific role in the plain packs consultation?" you might ask.  In his own words (taken from a letter he wrote to Simon Clark on 14 June 2012 included in the FOI):

"I am the Tobacco Programme Manager at the Department of Health (DH). Within my remit, I have responsibility for the tobacco packaging consultation that is currently underway. I will also have responsibility for the analysis of consultation responses and for supporting ministerial decision making on tobacco control policies in the future."
So, Andrew Black, a junior civil servant, has the very important responsibility of managing the plain packs consultation, analysing the responses, and reporting his analysis to the government. Can we presume that Black will do so in a fair, unbiased way, with a truly "open mind"?

I don't know. I know what I think is likely based on what information I can find about Andrew Black, but I cannot say with any certainty either way.  Looking into Black's history, he is clearly a tobacco control industry advocate.  For instance:

Here is Andrew Black in November 2010 giving a presentation called "Why We Must Tackle Tobacco Use to Improve Public Health."

Here he is again giving a short presentation on smoking and harm reduction at the UK National Smoking Cessation Conference in 2011.

Andrew Black at UKNSCC
Andrew Black, Dept of Health Tobacco Programme Manager giving a presentation on harm reduction
Image via UKNSCC

Black is mentioned here on the Tobacco Free Futures web site (formerly Smokefree North West (taxpayer funded) and obviously a major plain packs supporter) as one of several speakers that "will lead discussions on how to end the tobacco epidemic in the North West" on an article called "The end of smoking in cars to protect children and young people?"

Andrew Black also co-authored this article for the journal Addiction called "Beliefs about the harms of long-term use of nicotine replacement therapy: perceptions of smokers in England." And this is strange, because we also know that Andrew Black's educational background is in geography, communications and management (which just goes to show that the tobacco control industry considers anyone -- such as Stanton Glantz -- who wants to eradicate smoking as an acceptable academic). Black's bio from the Tobacco Free Futures web site says:

Andrew Black Bio
Until October 2007, Andrew led the Department’s Smokefree Legislation Team. Andrew has also worked in other fields with the Department of Health including medicine regulation, social services inspection and was the private secretary to the Health Minister Lord Warner.  Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Andrew studied geography at the University of New South Wales and has post graduate qualifications in communications and in management. Andrew is also a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and Royal Australian Air Force College and served as a Royal Australian Air Force officer for ten years.
Further searching shows that Andrew Black is on the Advisory Board for UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies along with the other usual suspects in the tobacco control industry:

And there is quite a bit more, but I think you get the point by now. Perhaps his title at the DH should be renamed to Tobacco Control Programme Manager. This seems more apt to me.

Nevertheless, if the government truly wanted an honest, transparent consultation, would it wilfully install a known supporter (member?) of the tobacco control industry to oversee it?  Can we trust that the analysis will be fair and impartial and not wholly rigged by the tobacco control industry from conception to conclusion?

In closing, can we really trust this man?
Andrew Black
Andrew Black
Image via Facebook

Update: Dick Puddlecote has more on Andrew Black here.