Coalition should stop funding anti-smoking groups

Much of the analysis of the Comprehensive Spending Review focused on the big picture and the multi-billion pound savings the coalition hopes to make in a wide range of areas – most obviously on welfare payments. However, a lot of detail needs to be filled in on exactly how each government department will actually make the savings outlined by George Osborne. There remains a significant challenge in converting intended cuts outlined on a spreadsheet in Whitehall into genuine savings in the real world.

The initial analysis of the Comprehensive Spending Review focused on the term “comprehensive” as essentially meaning “substantial”. And given the size of the budget deficit, this is hardly surprising. But a report published by the smokers’ rights group FOREST this week highlights another important meaning of the term “comprehensive”.

FOREST’s report details the state funding given to anti-tobacco campaigning groups by public bodies. The numbers are, unsurprisingly, tiny in terms of the overall budget deficit – eliminating ASH’s annual grant of £142,000 from the Department of Health is very small beer when tackling a deficit of £150bn – but they do raise significant issues for the coalition and for David Cameron’s Big Society agenda.

No one can object to citizens establishing campaigning groups to draw attention to the potential health risks of tobacco consumption or to pharmaceutical companies aggressively lobbying to promote their alternative nicotine products, such as chewing gum and patches. But for taxpayers’ money to be given over to such causes is wholly unacceptable.

In so far as the Big Society agenda is comprehensible at all, it applauds and encourages private initiatives as opposed to state-run or state-sponsored programmes. Surely this must apply to the field of public discourse and debate, not just to public spirited behaviour such as keeping the local park tidy and repainting the church hall.

The problem with taxpayer support of groups such as ASH is not just that it forces people to fund campaign groups they may disagree with, but that there is a danger that the public believe that such groups really are private and completely independent. There may be a debate to be had about what sort of role the Department of Health should play in encouraging or facilitating smoking cessation, but at least when you hear from a health minister you can be reasonably clear where they are coming from.

The government needs to be clear about limiting the scope of the public sector, not merely its size. Removing taxpayer-funded grants to groups such as ASH will not make a substantial impact on the deficit, but it would indicate that the government is opposed to using public funds to “load the dice” in areas of campaigning. The coalition should ensure that anti-tobacco groups are obliged to stand on their own two feet.

9 thoughts on “Coalition should stop funding anti-smoking groups”

  1. Posted 28/10/2010 at 16:51 | Permalink

    Yes, and it’s worrying that the advertised government spending cuts are forecast to severely reduce the income of so-called ‘charities’.

    My proposal, in the interests of transparency, is that a clear distinction should be made between:

    (a) voluntary charities, which depend for all their income on voluntary donations, and
    (b) coercive charities, where some or all of the income comes from taxpayers.

    Maybe all charities which receive money directly or indirectly from taxpayers already report this openly in their accounts. But if they don’t now, they should in future.

    There could be a percentage in brackets after a charity’s name, to show what percentage of its income comes from taxpayers.

  2. Posted 28/10/2010 at 19:57 | Permalink

    That reminds me—I must get back up again…


  3. Posted 28/10/2010 at 20:19 | Permalink

    It’s definitely not on for tax payers to pay to marginalise, stigmatise and denormalise themselves.

    Charities are currently allowed to be extensions of government departments without transparency and accountability to their funders.

  4. Posted 28/10/2010 at 21:19 | Permalink

    They certainly should be “branded” in this way.
    Fot the time being, if in doubt, just check out

  5. Posted 28/10/2010 at 23:04 | Permalink

    @DK – It would be terrific if you could get back up again, particularly if the ‘Big Society’ ends up being largely state funded and directed, as many people fear.

  6. Posted 29/10/2010 at 07:45 | Permalink

    As Mark correctly notes the money is not that great per se but it is the culture of state hand outs to charities that one can object to most. What has not been mentioned is the £51 million the taxpayer spends on nicotine replacement such as patches and gum. Also councils employ Smoking Ceassation Offices, I was button holed outside Leytonstone station by two “Smokefree” employees of Waltham Forest Council three days ago.

    If the government was serious about reducing smoking it would embrace electronic cigarettes even I have one as a 20 day smoker. However it looks like the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (an ajunct of the Department of Health) will all but ban them.

  7. Posted 29/10/2010 at 08:30 | Permalink

    For the state to fund fake charities is not just unacceptable, it is dishonest. How can anyone, even the antismokers, defend the inherent deceit?

    If any antismokers are planning to comment here, please answer this-


  8. Posted 29/10/2010 at 09:27 | Permalink

    A change in attitude at the Charities Commission would help which is an unremittingly political quango and the sole arbiter of what groups deserve to identify themselves as ‘charities’.

  9. Posted 31/10/2010 at 21:26 | Permalink

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