Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A.S.H. are C.U.N.T.S

I’m a smoker. I enjoy smoking. I am also addicted to smoking, something I realise every time I break off from work to trudge outside into the rain for a puff. I’ve also had a coupla years postgraduate training in social science research methods at a leading European institution, but even without that I could still rip ASH’s report on “The economic cost of tobacco in Scotland” to shreds, then wipe my shitty arse on it in an environmentally friendly, recycling styley. In fact, the only thing interesting about the ASH report is what it says about the emerging common-sense now breaking out like a pustular rash across the public sphere.

But, I digress, the ASH report is fucking shite. Notice the choice of title for starters, it’s not just cost, it’s “economic” cost, woooo, cos economists are good at understanding things aren’t they, like I dunno, the credit crunch? Alternatively, its a spurious rhetorical flourish invoked from the outset to tart up a piece of shit exercise in vested interest, cockamammie pseudo scientific spleen venting wank.

That aside, the big problem people who make a living moaning about smoking have is the brute fact that taxes on fags are so high they generate more in revenue than it costs to treat the consequences. End of, or at least it was in Scotland until this report came along to state that smoking generates £940m in fag taxes, but actually costs the economy £1.1bn.

This magic £1.1bn is primarily made up of £271m in treating smoking attributable diseases and £692m in productivity losses (the remaining costs being relative fag ends by comparison. Boom boom).

Starting with the £271m, this is pretty incontrovertible I guess except people tend to die of something and incur costs in the process. Oh and then there’s the rapid growth seen over the last few decades in the old-old population, you know they old-old feckers that are  used to justify fucking everyone else’s pension cos its too expensive. And yet at the same time as everyone else’s (including my) pension is getting the big, hard wahoo, they old-old feckers remain subject to the exponential likelihood of lovely things like dementia, which in turn require care and as a result incur costs. But, that’s OK cos as the ASH report’s authors’ blandly state “in the absence of Scottish lifetime care cost studies, the perspective adopted for this report will not examine differences in end-of-life care costs,” i.e. they refuse to compare the cost of say treating a smoker who dies at 70 with lung cancer with the cost of a non-smoker who dies saturated in pools of his incontinent piss in a state funded care home at 95 having thought his name was Molly for the last ten years of his life throughout all of which he claimed a state pension. So in a report that claims to be cautious, conservative etc., anything likely to get in the way of their argument/prejudice gets discounted, which is a bit of a shame I guess.

Actually hang on a mo, given the kerfuffle over unfunded public sector pensions, shouldn’t we all encourage public sector workers to start smoking 20 a day once they hit 45 to reduce the fiscal deficit? I mean think about it, that would both increase the tax take and shorten life-spans in ways that'd ease the pension deficit etc.,

Anyhoo back to ASH and productivity, which is the trump card they’re trying to play; ASH rightly highlight how smoking varies with socio-economic class, in fact they go so far as to state “Smoking is also strongly patterned by deprivation; 43% of adults in the most deprived 10% of areas smoke compared with only 9% in the least deprived 10% of areas, resulting in marked inequalities in smoking-related disease and mortality”. Fair play to them given that presents taxes on fags as a tax on the poor, except I don’t think that’s what they mean or realise the implications of what they’re actually saying, which is the deprived i.e. in many cases the unemployed, are disproportionately more likely on a systematic basis to smoke fags i.e. people who are unproductive in an “economic” sense.

This is a shame because the subsequent references to extrapolating from one or two studies on the effects smoking has on productivity make no reference to this systematic bias. I think this is a bit of an oopsy in a Scottish context, but, hey ho there is a reference to some bod who studied 200 Scottish working people a few years back when more people smoked, which is nice I guess except that’s not a representative sample in anyone’s fucking book. More importantly the £244m estimate used seems (it’s not clear) to be based on the additional time spent away from work by smokers. Except, to give a personal example, I work more than my contracted hours most days of the week, most weeks of the year; smoking enables me to do that, so on a net basis? No fucking loss. However, the authors also state “It should be noted that, amongst smokers, there may be positive effects on performance associated with smoking breaks …. e.g. improved concentration or reduction in perceived stress versus withdrawal symptoms caused by nicotine abstinence). However as studies to date have not included such variables it has not been possible to estimate any impact this may have.” So there you are then, the potential positives aren’t taken into account.

More fucking generally, going by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “rest breaks helps workers to be more relaxed and calm on the job and helps to enhance productivity and leave the workers more physically and mentally refreshed” i.e. fag breaks can be a clear positive.

Actually, am getting bored with this now cos it’s so fucking shite. It’s like oohh, oooh, they know what fungibility is so if you were to point out smoking generates lovely income tax, national insurance and corporation tax from the people and businesses engaged in making, selling, wholesaling and transporting fags, which they haven’t taken into account, they would then wank on about how smokers would spend the money on something else anyhow and ignore the fucking obvious points like chances are it wouldn’t be made in Britain if it was and chances are it’d generate less fucking tax revenue regardless. It’s just fucking shite really, the kinda shite a real study would show was toss because on a net basis taking direct and indirect costs and benefits fully into account it would be totally clear smoking is an “economic” positive.

So nah, while the fact one of the people who reviewed a draft was an advisor to the Policy Exchange i.e. one of the Tories favourite think tanks, may have given me the willies, the real meat of this report, because of what it exemplifies, is the fact it uses a spurious cost saving argument given all that says about how we’ve moved into an age of austerity wherein if the rhetoric ain’t about cutting costs and/or public sector spending it ain't about jack-shit. More positively, looking at page 13 of their latest annual report the vast majority of ASH’s funding is from the public sector, so hopefully the ignorant fuckers will get the big wahoo next time they go sniffing round for taxpayer's fivers to piss away on shite.

Nov 15th P.S. My personal experience of Brian Monteith, the former Tory MSP, is limited to my having been unfortunate enough to find myself in a rather good French restaurant at the same time as he was engaged in a very LOUD conversation with Michael Fry, who the Guardian describes as a former Tory. The food was good, as always, but due to noises in the background conversation was impossible. To suddenly discover upon reading this today that we’re both critical of the ASH “research” for many of the same reasons gives me even more reason to hate ASH.

Mebbe there’s a libertarian argument to make about it all with ASH a state funded bunch of fannies desperate to impinge on adults exercising their right to choose, mebbe there’s no. Or mebbe ASH illustrates how the therapeutic state (a posh post-modern alternative to the nanny state term of abuse) is as guilty of as many sins as big business what with its lobbying, its self-serving research and its vested interests and as such should be treated with as much disdain and cynicism. Or mebbe it’s simply my view that the rhetoric and approach ASH chose to use is an example of how in this age of austerity, arguing for cuts has become the new common sense. I don’t know. All I know is that ASH are a bunch of bastards that have left me feeling as soiled as a non-smoker’s clothes after spending a day in a room full of 40 a day addicts. Ignorant cunts.

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