Saturday, 27 February 2016

Much public health campaigning is about snobbery not concern for people's wellbeing


Whenever you read a piece - most typically in The Guardian or Independent although sometimes these days in any media going - that talks about some or other 'public health crisis', the focus is always on things that people other than the writer is consuming. The problem with lager, fags and junk food isn't merely their supposed unhealthiness but that the sort of person who reads a broadsheet newspaper and goes to dinner parties with doctors doesn't consume these things. Indeed many of these writers only see these bad and unhealthy things being used - I'm guessing 'used' is the right word here since the stigma is akin to the taking of drugs - in the parts of society they only frequent vicariously via TV and magazines.

I'm reminded that this casual distaste for other people's choices makes little sense with food - there's no real calorific difference between a Big Mac and the sort of hand-formed, artisan burgers our Guardian reader enjoys on his night out. And let's not poke too closely into the sugar question - suffice it to note that uber-hypocrite Jamie Oliver peddles sugar-laden cakes and puddings in his books, newspaper columns and TV shows while ranting and raving about how much sugar there is in a can of coke.

All of which brings me to the matter of vaping, a practice that is, compared to the other snobbishly rejected bad habits, pretty benign and harmless - at least if we are to take the advice of Public Health England and the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT):

We begin by acknowledging that e-cigarettes are considerably safer than smoking cigarettes, are popular with smokers and that they have a role to play in reducing smoking rates

By considerably safer we mean at least 95% less harmful than smoking cigarettes - at least according to PHE. So what's the problem with vaping? Why are those public health officials in every town not rushing to support people switching from fags to vaping? And why aren't places becoming vape friendly, welcoming former smokers back into the warmth of indoors?

Partly the answer lies in a long puritanical campaign conducted - without any evidence - by a handful of well-connected academics and lobbyists. Partly, it's a classic case of 'not invented here syndrome' as public health campaigners and their friends in the pharmaceuticals business fail in believing that a consumer market can resolve the smoking'problem' that they've tried and failed to deal with over decades. But mostly it's just rank snobbery - vaping is something that fat, ugly working class people do. Even when the user is anything but:

It jarred against his crisp tux and stylish stubble, but there was no mistaking the object in Leonardo DiCaprio’s hand at the SAG Awards in January. That was a vape pen, which turns liquid nicotine into vapour.

When photos of the incongruous image began to emerge, the mockery was swift and slightly delirious. “That photo of Leonardo DiCaprio vaping at the awards dinner makes it easier to watch him die at the end of Titanic. #DoucheFlute,” one Twitter user wrote.

The scorn seemed baffling. Why would something designed to help smokers quit incur the snarky wrath of the Internet hordes? But while public-health experts continue to debate the risks and benefits of such smoking-cessation aids – e-cigarettes, as most people know them – cultural critics have reached a decisive verdict: Vaping is incredibly uncool.

The article in question goes on to describe the vaping community as "united in its tackiness" throwing out negative descriptions like this:

It is “vaped” with a gesture that looks disarmingly like a baby drinking its bottle: clutched with the full hand and suckled with pursed lips from a kind of nib.

The journalist in question then runs a quick canter round the usual lies and misinformation about vaping - noting the PHE research but then gleefully celebrating the fact that politicians are ignoring all this, buying the myth of a gateway effect and banning vaping indoors. What's driving this isn't that any of these politicians know whether vaping is dangerous but rather that it's simpler to whack on a ban knowing that those vaping - Leonardo Di Caprio aside - are a bunch of low life losers who are better kept outside.

Vaping is lumped in the same box as cheap kebabs, cans of premium strength lager, fizzy pop and salty corn snacks plus the evilest of evils itself, smoking. Instead of celebrating that Di Caprio has joined millions of others in taking up vaping to reduce harm and quit smoking our health reporters, so-called public health experts put on their finest sneer, peer down their upturned noses and wave away the vape as another distasteful lower class habit to be despised.

Public health campaigns remain unrelentingly snobbish - from forcing children to eat undernourishing salads rather than pies and puddings to clipboard wielding officials lecturing fried chicken shops on reducing salt and sugar, the whole sorry mess is about promoting an approved set of behaviours onto everybody. With the result being a passionless diet of tasteless low salt and sugar free food, an almost total abstinence from booze, the complete rejection of smoking and a preference for giving people dangerous mood altering drugs rather than supporting vaping.

If public health campaigners really cared about people's wellbeing they'd ask why it is that poor people die younger. They'd wonder why the single mum overeats, the unemployed twenty-something smokes and the old soldier drinks rather than simply trying to nudge them out of these habits with the policy equivalent of a baseball bat. But these public health fanatics don't ask these questions, they just ban stuff, control stuff, lecture, nanny and fuss. Public health campaigning isn't about health, it's about the snobbish promotion of a lifestyle set by passionless middle-class puritans.



Anonymous said...

Well said. What happened to the days when a problem was investigated for its cause? But then, that takes thought, compassion and hard work.
Instead we get a constant barrage of crap, contentious articles masquerading as news driving fear into the population followed by screams for ill-concieved bans.

One must conclude that the latter is the easier and faster route to fame & fortune, or perhaps a seat on the right-hand of God.

Personally, I know of no one who actually heeds the words of these time wasters anymore. The problem is they can't always be ignored e.g. when a ban is imposed. People are getting angry. For some, it may exacerbate the original problem; some may even dispair.

How did the few causing all this meyhem get so much power over the rest of us who just want to get on with our lives?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this excellent analysis of public health today. This is particularly striking to me at the moment, as I am a vaper and see this sneering from the zealots and their followers, on a daily basis.

I also see this type of snobbery and sneering in regards to those who happen to get cancer. For example, recently 3 women I know personally were diagnosed with breast cancer, 2 of them were non smokers, didn't drink alcohol, were thin, (one very thin), and had none of the so called "lifestyle" risk factors. When these women were diagnosed, all I heard was shock and sympathy for these women, not because they had cancer, but because they were "good" women, who looked after their health and obeyed all the public health edicts. It was akin to sainthood apparently, and both these "good" women were given lots of support and the best of care. Both were well off financially as well but were still given financial support.

The third woman to be diagnosed, was an ex-smoker, and liked a social drink now and again, she was also slightly overweight according to PH ideals, and worked as a cleaner in a hotel. The difference in the way she was treated could not be more stark. It was assumed that she was to "blame" for her cancer, because she was "bad", (meaning she didn't live a puritan lifestyle), she was "fat" and poor, and less educated. She was given no financial support to help with the cost of treatment, and was treated as if she "deserved" to get cancer. It took longer for her to receive treatment.

Cancer charities in Australia, (where I live), spend their money and effort vilifying the "lifestyles" of poorer people, as well as the people themselves, with nasty bullying campaigns, and calls for bans on things like vaping, (harm reduction), and taxes on anything "they" perceive as "causing" cancer. What they don't do is look for a cure. They have turned a disease that can afflict anyone, into a moral crusade against those that do not blindly obey PH dictates.

Anonymous said...

Well said, indeed.

The opprobrium isn't confined to the righteous middle-class, though: the working-class can be every bit as sanctimonious and smug, perhaps hoping to be accepted as middle-class!

As for the baby drinking from its bottle look - nowhere is it better exhibited than by the joggers and cyclists with their 'sports' bottles.


castello said...

Great article. Thanks!