27 October 2012


It may be that you have never heard of John Dalli. I hadn't. He was, until recently, a European Commissioner. Now you know why you've never heard of him. Despite the importance of these people who make the laws that affect the lives of half a billion people we tend not to hear much about them. Nor do we plebs have any influence over who they are or what they do. I don't mean to imply that what they do is necessarily bad. In the case of John Dalli I suspect that quite the opposite is the case.  Because John Dalli was European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy and was about to launch legislation related to tobacco control. Nothing too remarkable about that.

I used to go to school by bus. One day the bus conductor shouted,  "Two more for the cancer ward." It was 1962 and the Royal College of Physicians had just published its report highlighting the link between smoking and lung cancer. The bus conductor had clearly got the message and had cheerily adopted a topical way of pointing out that there were still two seats on top where, for those readers too young to remember, the smokers were confined. I well remember having to take a seat next to the smokers upstairs. Even as a child I noticed that in the winter months the passengers on the top deck were constantly coughing and the windows were stained brown from smoke deposits. Friends at school who smoked used to do a party trick. After a deep draw on a cigarette they would inhaled deeply and then breathe out through a clean white handkerchief leaving an unsightly dark brown stain. It was no surprise to me that smoking might not be good for you.

What might have surprised me was how long it took for smoking to be controlled. Reasonable measures to protect people from the consequences of smoking have been opposed at every step by those making money from tobacco who have used every trick in the book. Now I'm older and know more and more about how the world works I'm not, of course, surprised.

Fast forward to 2012 and these battles are still going on. There's been progress but it has been slow. Children are still dying from the consequences of secondhand cigarette smoke and lung cancer, COPD and circulatory diseases continue to take their toll of adults.

Given this background, when I heard that  John Dalli had resigned suddenly following an allegation from a tobacco manufacturer I couldn't help but smell a rat. So I did a bit of delving.

What are the facts? As is so often the case the facts are hard to come by. While it is said that John Dalli resigned suddenly it would seem that Dalli himself takes the view that he was ousted. Certainly he has lost his job. A second fact is that he was about to launch tough new tobacco legislation.

At this point I need to introduce you to snus. Snus is a form of tobacco which is placed between the gum and the lip. It comes in a variety of flavours: coffee, aniseed, elderflower, cranberry and mint. Nice to know if you fancy some but the important thing about snus is that it is banned in all European countries except Sweden. Which means, of course, that there is a company out there who is concerned about the future of snus and that company is Swedish Match.

It turns out that Swedish Match complained that a Maltese entrepreneur had asked for money in return for using his contacts with John Dalli - presumably with a view to ending the ban on snus sales in countries other than Sweden. Enter now Olaf. Olaf might sound like a Norseman but is actually the name of the European Commissions anti-fraud office. Olaf investigated and following the investigation John Dalli resigned or was made to resign with the consequence that progress of the long-awaited tobacco directive was frozen.

This did not escape the notice of my friend Sir Richard Thompson and my virtual friend Dr Clare Gerada who, along with Professor Lindsey Davies, wrote to the Guardian pointing out that delaying the directive would be a victory for the tobacco industry. Which does rather make me wonder if perhaps that was the point of the original complaint to the commission.

And then, to make matters even more mysterious and sinister, we learn that not two full days after the resignation of John Dalli the  premises of three anti-smoking groups were burgled: the European Respiratory Society, the European Public Health Alliance and the Smoke Free Partnership.

It's a good story isn't it? Some would say it has all the makings of a Hollywood film. Why has it has so little publicity?  Could it be that the lobbyists are now busy putting  journalists off the scent? Or is that too fanciful? Who do you think produced this blog post cataloguing past allegations relating to John Dalli within hours of his resignation?

Are those of us who see conspiracies in these things bonkers? Draw your own conclusions.


Jay said...

You wrote: "Children are still dying from the consequences of secondhand cigarette smoke and lung cancer [...]"

Find one example of a child who died from second-hand smoke. Because I've looked, and looked. I've sent FOIs. I've talked to GPs. I've talked to those in tobacco control. And you know what? No one, ever, has provided one. Because it's never happened.

You may wish to qualify your blog post with verifiable facts -- it's considered good form, after all. Are you able to do so, or are you just going to propagandise the second-hand smoke issue with baseless assertions?

Get the real facts, please, and kindly do not write based on emotive arguments that are designed to make people feel rather than think.

the a&e charge nurse said...

Jay - according to american figures 'In 2005, it was estimated that exposure to secondhand smoke kills more than 3,000 adult nonsmokers from lung cancer, approximately 46,000 from coronary heart disease, and an estimated 430 newborns from sudden infant death syndrome' (foreword pi).

Dr Grumble said...

Nobody is ever going to provide the name of a child who died from passive smoking because you can't ever day that a particular child did. But thats not the same as saying it never happened.

Dick Puddlecote said...

So wrong, on so many levels. I thought you said you had done research?

Firstly, you didn't find out that the directive was bludgeoned through despite a consultation where the overwhelming majority of responses were of the opinion that the snus ban should be lifted (quite rightly, for the overall health of the EU). One of your tweets bemoaned the way "democratic process" is subverted by "companies with money". You might try to think about which "companies with money" might be interested in seeing the snus ban stay despite democratic objections.

You also fail to notice that Swedish lung cancer rates are by a hefty margin the lowest in Europe. Probably because they have by far the lowest smoking rates in Europe. They're the only country in Europe which is allowed to sell snus. Go figure.

You mention the burglary. So please explain why you seem to be insinuating that it is a tobacco industry plot, when Swedish Match made their complaint in March IIRC. Would it not make sense, then, that such a burglary would happen then. You know, when SM knew that these things were going to be investigated? And not the day after all the dirt came tumbling out and Dalli was wheelbarrowed out.

Hmm, publicity. Those of us (yes, that's me with my hand up) who believe that assaults on tobacco have gone far too far, are asking the very same question. We would LOVE the British press to pick up on this story because - reading between the lines - Dalli was shoved out of the EU faster than his legs could carry him. The EU is unrepentantly and hysterically opposed to tobacco in any form. Do you really think Barroso would be as trenchant as he is if it were big tobacco pulling the strings? I mean, seriously?

Perhaps your conspiracy theory is able to imagine Barroso as being in the pay of tobacco. But The Guardian too? And the Independent who have their own cozy nest of compliant journos in regular contact with ASH etc.?

I think the best thing you said in this post was that you hadn't heard of John Dalli. It's why you have written something, with all due respect, which is like someone who stumbled into an area where you have not even a basic understanding.

It IS well-written though, I can applaud that wholeheartedly. And it's clear that you're genuine, but please don't get carried away like the one-eyed anti-tobacco lobby because there is clearly a lot to come out yet. It's the MSM's job to write junk without checking facts, bloggers tend to look into things more deeply.

Personally, I'm on the edge of my seat and my legs are dancing like a teenager in anticipation of what's to come. And that's from someone who is from the opposite end of the spectrum from you. That should tell you something. ;)

Jay said...

Estimates are not facts. Indeed, they are unsubstantiated guesses based on statistics that do not even consider the actual cause of death. Smoking "attributable" does not mean causation. It's an assumption only, but it is not categorically true. SIDS is called SIDS -- and I know this might shock some people -- because nobody knows what the baby died from. So, please, spare me the estimates. I do not require anyone's name. I only require a certified cause of death of a child or even an adult from ETS / SHS exposure. Not speculation. Not anecdotal. A redacted coroner's reports will do nicely. Just one, guys. Please. Just one. Is it really so much to ask for one?

I'm not being sarcastic, nor facetious here, either. I'm asking, politely (using nice language and everything). I'm telling you, people are making these figures up to support their anti-smoking agenda. It's not factual. It's make-believe.

Dr Grumble said...

I doubt it will help but for anyone interested this document addresses passive smoking and children.


the a&e charge nurse said...

So, 'they are unsubstantiated guesses' or 'the burden of disease caused by passive smoking in children in the UK, is substantial. Passive smoking results in over 165,000 new episodes of disease, 300,000 primary care contacts, 9,500 hospital admissions, at least 200 cases of bacterial meningitis, and about 40 sudden infant deaths each year' (from p180 in the report linked to by Dr G)'.
Additionally, 'Passive smoking is an involuntary exposure that is directly harmful to children’s health, and increases the risk that the child will become a smoker'.


Dick Puddlecote said...

Nicely O/T, A&E. Just to drag it back to the EU, there is the Labate Case, of course.

"Manifestly unfounded" was the term, I seem to remember. ;)

You see, that is legal certainty. What you posted was "unsubstantiated guesses" from a carefully selected source.

Anonymous said...

Asbestos, smoking, x-rays, Genetically Modified crops, Wireless technology, the chemicals used to spray crops - its all the same. The Power of the corporations and Multinationals means it takes years to prove the harmful effects of these products. Meanswhile millions suffer ill health effects while the scientists who speak out get threatened and silenced.