Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Clueless Councils - One Year On

Last year, the Freedom Association's Freedom to Vape (FtV) campaign submitted FOI requests to every local council in the UK to ask about their policies on vaping in the workplace. If you have a good memory, you will recall that the responses highlighted that the overwhelming majority of local authorities were imposing rules on their staff from a position of superlative ignorance. I wrote about it here.

But still, back then the subject was quite fresh for them so despite positive reports on vaping having been issued from Public Health England (August 2015), the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (February 2016), and the Royal College of Physicians (April 2016), they could be partly forgiven for being lethargic in applying sane and sympathetic policies for their workers.

Public Health England had only just published their guidance that "e-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not be routinely included in the requirements of an organisation's smokefree policy" in July 2016, so the fact that 87% of those who responded admitted doing exactly that was concerning, but would surely change once the rusty cogs of public sector bureaucracy managed to grind their turgid way towards more knowledgeable policy-making, wouldn't it?

Especially since this year's government Tobacco Control Plan specifically stated that it sought to "support consumers in stopping smoking and adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products". And seeing as public health duties have been devolved to local government now, it should also be their duty to take the government's advice and apply it, don't you think?

So with this in mind, FtV followed up last year's efforts by again sending FOIs to all UK councils to see if there had been a change in outlook over the past 12 months. Surely - with all that positive information out there from prime authorities on tobacco control - the average public sector vaping worker's lot would be a happier one, right?


This year's report is now available to read here, and this is truly incredible.
126​ ​councils​ ​(32​ ​per​ ​cent​ ​of​ ​those​ ​who​ ​responded)​ ​require​ ​vapers​ ​to​ ​use designated​ ​smoking​ ​areas​ in all or some circumstances, despite the fact that vapers are not smokers. This​ ​is​ ​an​ ​increase​ ​from​ ​112 councils​ ​in​ ​2016.
Considering PHE's guidance in 2016 said that "it is never acceptable to require vapers to share the same outdoor space with smokers", you have to marvel at the spectacular ignorance and/or rampant snobbery which has led to an increase in councils demanding exactly that. They have, in general, done the exact opposite of what PHE have advised.

The future doesn't look bright either, as the report highlights:
When asked​ ​if​ ​councillors​ ​are​ ​due​ ​to​ ​debate​ ​the​ ​Government’s​ ​Tobacco​ ​Control Plan​ ​and/or PHE’s advice on vaping policies, a​ ​total​ ​of​ ​287​ ​councils​ ​replied​ ​no​. 
When asked if the council's​ ​policy​ ​will​ ​be​ ​reviewed​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Government's Tobacco​ ​Control​ ​Plan​, 150​ ​councils​ ​either​ ​said​ ​yes,​ ​was​ ​scheduled​ ​for​ ​review​ ​later this​ ​year​ ​or​ ​in​ ​2018,​ ​or​ ​that​ ​the  ​policy​ ​was​ ​under​ ​review​ -​ a measly 38%​ ​of​ ​those councils​ ​who​ ​replied.
So basically, almost two-thirds of councils are gonna do diddley-squat about what are largely appalling and thoughtless policies. 

Here are just a few of the more egregious policy snippets from this year's crop of stunning, bone-headed stupidity. 

Despite the wealth of guidance from PHE, the RCP, NCSCT and the TCP, where do you think Glasgow Council went for their advice? Yes, America, obviously!
“Impartial studies such as Harvard reports and US Food and Drug Administration research state that the vapour has been found to contain detectable levels of several known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed. The reports also suggest that by simulating the use of cigarettes, E-Cigarettes might reactivate the habit in ex-smokers.”
Perhaps we can just save our taxes and stop paying all those UK-based health bodies then, let's just devolve our evidence-gathering to a bunch of conflict-riddled alarmists from across the pond. Glasgow's policy was updated in August this year yet - incredibly - they see absolutely nothing wrong with it!

Cumbria's policy is also out of the ark.
“use of e-cigarettes or ENDS in the workplace is currently unregulated. Extensive trials have not been undertaken to establish if they are safe and tests by Trading Standards have shown that some e-cigarettes are in contravention of product safety regulations. Using e-cigarettes simulates smoking behaviour. Allowing use of e-cigarettes can be viewed as condoning smoking. Cumbria County Council, in line with British Medical Association Occupational Medicine Committee and the Board of Science guidance, does not support the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace. It actively supports employees to stop smoking for their health and also supports actions to denormalise smoking. Consequently Cumbria County Council applies the same restrictions to the use of e-cigarettes that apply to smoking tobacco products.”
Just count the errrors in that paragraph. Isn't it astonishing? The policy dates from 2012, that's why. But they have discussed updating it, as their response details:
Vaping has been discussed at the Cumbria Public Health Alliance and at Cumbria Health and Wellbeing Board both of which contain Cumbria County Council elected members. These bodies both endorsed the advice detailed above. There are no planned further discussions or decision expected from elected members.
PHE? Pah! Cumbrian burghers had a chat this year and that's the end of the matter.

The desperate excuses they use to cling to prohibitionist policy are quite revealing too. Many replied that PHE's advice is just that, advice, so they have ignored it. Others, such as East Devon say they are dedicated to denormalising smoking ... so therefore e-cigs are banned. Burnley says vaping is banned because their policy applies to "anything that is smoked", while the comedy of the piece is provided by South Norfolk.
Employees taking their unpaid lunch break off-site may smoke/vape discreetly to limit them being identified as Council workers. This could be achieved by covering identifiable logos or for depot staff by stepping behind a stationary refuse vehicle so they are not visible from the road etc.
And by Fareham, whose comprehensive ban on e-cigs was updated in August and whose response of 11th October stated:
We follow national campaigns when publicised. We do not encourage e-cigarettes as a means of smoking cessation.
Yes, written slap bang in the middle of the national Stoptober campaign featuring adverts on TV which ... encouraged e-cigs as a means of smoking cessation.

I've been helping FtV recently by doing data-checking on the FOIs and - believe me - a staggering number of them are mind-rotting stuff. Anyone with a good understanding of the vaping debate who reads some of the utter garbage I have would, at some point, consider self-harm.

Cumbria wasn't the only council to still think that e-cigs are unregulated, for example. Brighton and Hove was just one of many others. It's almost like the TPD never happened. In fact, on the subject of the TPD, those who have completely ignored it are only matched by those who have used it as a reason to ban vaping.

A perfect bellwether, I think, is Elmbridge Borough Council which accepts that vaping is not covered by the Health Act 2006, but states that:
However, once the EU Tobacco Products Directive comes into effect in Member States in May 2016, electronic cigarettes and refill containers will come under the requirements of the Directive.
So if e-cigs are unregulated, they're banned. But if they are regulated, that's just another reason for them to be, erm, banned. It's almost like it's not about health and you're damn well not allowed to win if local councils can possibly help it. It's the kind of hysterical mindset that makes you understand how medieval witch-hunts occurred, just a bunch of hive-minded ignoramuses who seem to have no care for evidence or knowledge, just a cult-like bovine sense that banning things and sucking satisfaction out of life must be good ... even when aimed at their own colleagues.

It smacks of an environment where banning things is almost compulsory. It only takes a whisper from PHE or the government about salt, sugar, fast food, tobacco or anything else you can think of, and councils are falling over themselves. They rush to create initiatives, throw money like confetti at "raising awareness" days, publish slick promotional material for their latest anti-fun crusade, actually work weekends to promote it too, and use funereal language to demand you heed dire warnings about the tiniest of risk.

But should the government, PHE and a whole host of other organisations produce reams of research and reports saying that e-cigs should be encouraged, not banned, the same eager council employees cock a deaf 'un.

It's what we should expect from regulators, I suppose. The ratchet, as they say, only goes one way. They know - because it turns them on - how to regulate, while "de-regulate" is not even in their vocabulary. It tells me, though, that we obviously require far more cuts to council budgets. If they are so eager to create policies for problems which don't exist, while ideologically resisting guidance which is good for their employees' health, there are obviously far too many of them and they are working inefficiently.

Remember that these very same councils getting something so simple as vaping policy so very very wrong - even when presented with a wealth of good advice from those in their own profession - are the same ones entrusted with making local roads safe, planning how your town develops, and educating your kids. Just let that sink in for a bit.

Do go read the full report here - along with notes on all the FOIs submitted - and see how ignorant your particular council is. Believe me, there are vanishingly few decent ones. 

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