I have written before about councils’ tendency to politicise their spending from the public health budget rather than keep the focus on practical measures to help residents lead longer, healthier lives.

One example comes from Kent County Council. They have paid consultants £9,900 to investigate “undue influence” on the local authority from the tobacco industry.

So, in summary, KCC has spent nearly £10,000 to find out it doesn’t have a problem with something, though it suspects that if it looks harder there is a theoretical chance it will find that it does. It then commits further funds and a consultant to design a strategy to educate staff and councillors to recognise that something that isn’t happening might happen to them, too.

The findings were as follows:

‘Overt major tobacco industry interference or activity has not been found

There may be covert tobacco industry interference that is not yet been identified

KCC council employees and Members are not currently adequately knowledgeable nor equipped to identify tobacco industry interference’

So it decided further work was needed. Here are the “next steps”:

‘Develop a strategy with focus on:

  • Raising awareness on tobacco industry tactics, strategies, front groups,
  • Developing simple tools  and systems  ( guidance tools, information , checklists, focal point for info sharing)
  • Revising /amending existing policy, codes, policy
  • Developing and disseminating clear statement/policy’

If we could point to some proven examples of any incidences of undue pressure from the tobacco industry on public health policies either nationally or locally that would be interesting. But I don’t know of any. The whole tone is of anti-smoking McCarthyism.

Bureaucrats, in search of a role, pushing paranoia, egged on by the lobby group ASH, are wasting public money. Councillors need to get these antics under control.

Smoking is a legal activity. Smokers are entitled to serve as local councillors. Does their habit mean they are under “undue influence”? Or what about newsagents? I gather they earn more from selling cigarettes than from selling newspapers. How would a newsagent elected to Kent County Council cope with the positive vetting from the “Monitoring Officer”?

Also, this is money that could be spent in an effective way. What about pregnant women trying to give up smoking, for example? Hypnosis can be very effective for those willing to try it – but it costs about £100 a time. £10,000 would pay for a hundred pregnant women on low incomes to be given the treatment.

Anti-smoking campaigners are seeking to help themselves to public funds for their own interests. For them anti-smoking is part of a war on liberty and the capitalist system. For councils it should be about practical assistance to those who want to give up.