ASH Daily News for 14 May 2020


  • Councils in England fear they will have to make cuts of 20%
  • Retailers face challenges in last week of sale for menthol cigarettes


  • How that rumour that “smokers can’t get COVID-19” started
  • France: 27% of French smokers smoked more during Covid-19 lockdown
  • New Zealand: Tobacco control group welcome tobacco tax stagnation in 2020 Budget


Councils in England fear they will have to make cuts of 20%

Councils in England fear they will have to make budget cuts of 20% and face a social care funding shortfall of £3.5bn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Labour claims local authorities are facing a £10bn black hole as they encounter spiralling costs while revenue streams such as parking charges dry up amid the lockdown.

The government announced on Tuesday a further £600m for social care, on top of £3.2bn given to councils in the last two months. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick told the Commons on Wednesday: “I said we would stand behind councils and give them the funding they need, and we are doing exactly that.”

James Jamieson, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) and Conservative leader of central Bedfordshire council, has estimated councils will face costs of nearly £13bn to tackle the crisis this year.

Labour’s analysis shows that if local authorities did not touch their social care budgets, to make cuts they would have to close all libraries, children’s centres, leisure centres, stop all spending on parks, turn off all street lights, carry out no winter gritting, end all planning and building control work.

Nick Forbes, leader of the LGA Labour group and leader of Newcastle city council, said: “The funding gap that councils now face is terrifying. Social care is largely funded by councils up and down the country, and makes up a huge proportion of our spending. We have a legal duty to balance budgets, so unless the funding gap is closed then cuts are inevitable. Councils have been trying to care for more people with less money every year for a decade, but unless the government acts there is only so much councils will be able to do to protect those most in need.”

The analysis comes as councillors claim they were told to expect to share the financial burden of fighting the virus by Jenrick, who also said local authorities should not “labour under the false impression” that all of their costs will be reimbursed. There is also concern that councils have been asked to give estimates to the government on what is needed based on a lockdown period lasting three months only. Labour has said it is obvious that some elements of restriction are due to continue for longer.

Councils are suffering revenue losses during the coronavirus pandemic, with closed car parks leading to zero income in April for some local authorities. There has also been a severe reduction in council tax as thousands move onto universal credit. Business rates and rents from commercial properties have also been drastically reduced due to the pandemic.

Source: The Guardian, 14 May 2020

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Retailers face challenges in last week of sale for menthol cigarettes

Convenience retailers are attempting to prepare for one of the most significant changes to tobacco legislation to date, when the ban on menthol and capsule cigarettes is enforced on 20th May. Jamie Patel, owner of Weybridge News in Surrey, said she expected “a large number” of menthol smokers to stick within the tobacco category and switch to newly updated versions of their former menthol tobacco brands, while “some” might switch to menthol heated tobacco and vape.

The store has increased its range of alternative products, including new vape and heated tobacco kits in the lead up to the ban, however, Jamie said it was “very challenging,” to talk to customers about the ban at the moment. “We had thought that we would be able to step up education in the weeks leading up to the ban but with the virus it’s been difficult as obviously people are trying to limit the amount of time they spend in store,” she said. “Fortunately, we have some leaflets that various manufacturers, including PMI for its Iqos brand, have supplied us with, which we are handing out for menthol smokers to read at home.”

Research by HIM & MCA suggests that 22% of current menthol smokers will switch to reduced risk products (RRP) after the ban. “Of these, 16% say they will switch to vaping and 6% say they will switch to menthol heated tobacco,” HIM & MCA senior insight analyst Alice Dolling said. A recent survey by HIM and MCA also revealed relatively low consumer awareness of the looming ban, with two in five adult smokers unaware of it. The findings are supported by a further survey of 2,091 adults conducted by Populus for the smokers’ group Forest which also found that almost 40% of smokers were unaware of the new regulations. London independent retailer Kay Patel said that while most adult smokers said they did know about the ban, there were very “low levels of awareness about the actual date,” something which he and store staff were attempting to rectify, despite the current social distancing challenges.

The menthol ban is part of the EU Tobacco Products Directive 2014 and will remain in force after the end of the transition period for leaving the EU comes to an end on 31 December 2020. It is the latest step in the government’s tobacco control strategy designed to reduce youth uptake of smoking and encourage quitting, as it seeks to achieve a “Smokefree England,” by 2030.

Source: Convenience Store, 13 May 2020

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How that rumour that “smokers can’t get COVID-19” started

Salon has spoken with three experts about rumours that smokers might be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19, all of whom said the same thing: it is almost certain that smoking puts you at greater risk of dying from a coronavirus infection.

“They’re not saying that smoking prevents [coronavirus]. They’re saying that nicotine prevents it,” Dr. William Haseltine, chair and president of the global health think tank Access Health International, told Salon regarding an April study in “Comptes rendus biologies” led by French neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux. “Smoking clearly exacerbates it. The nicotine, maybe an acetone,” Haseltine continued. “I can tell they have to show the data, and I don’t think they show the data here. All they do is speculate. But the danger is that many people may conflate nicotine with smoking. That’s definitely bad for you. There are many studies around the world, many different populations have shown that if you are a current smoker, your chance of dying from an infection is much higher than if you were not. This paper opens the possibility that nicotine may be a useful treatment; it doesn’t show it, but speculates based on some detective logic. That logic may be correct. I can’t say because I have to do the experiments to know if it is correct.”

Dr. Russell Medford, chairman of the Center for Global Health Innovation in Atlanta, shared his own thoughts with Salon about the studies in question. “The nicotinic acid hypothesis that is the basis for all of these studies is not unreasonable from a molecular standpoint,” Medford explained. “The data that relates to cigarette smoking to the progression of COVID-19, in the most recent study that I’m referring to, shows a significant risk of progression of disease in patients who have a current or recent or have a history of smoking. The two are not linked.”

He added, “The nicotinic acid hypothesis and cigarette smoking are not to be linked together. I think that there is an incorrect assessment of the available data, that for some reason cigarette smoking is somehow protective, and it is simply not borne out by any of the data that I’ve seen. And indeed, a great deal of the data on meta-analysis suggests just the opposite — that outcomes and disease severity are enhanced by cigarette smoke.”

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, echoed Haseltine’s and Medford’s observations. “People should not think that smoking is going to help them with their disease,” Benjamin explained. “We know that that is not the way the pathology of the disease works. When you smoke, you injure the lining of your airway and your lungs, and you may actually make yourself more susceptible to the virus. Now it may very well be that nicotine has some impact on the virus, but it’s not going to be outweighed by the injury that you have by smoking.”

John Maa, M.D., the past-president at San Francisco Marin Medical Society, and Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, wrote an editorial in The Hill warning that “a careful review of the data [from the French study] instead reveals the findings are more likely due to statistical flaws and sampling error, along with poor rates of screening and documentation of smoking history by physicians.” They also expressed concern that the lead author of the French study, Jean-Pierre Changeux, had “ties to the tobacco industry, having previously accepted $220,000 from the tobacco industry-funded Council for Tobacco Research in the 1990s, and collaborated with RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris.”

“Until we have unbiased data, supported by solid research design, and free of any tobacco industry influence, we would caution against the likely myth that smoking protects from acquiring COVID-19,” Maa and Halpern-Felsher wrote.

Source: Salon, 13 May 2020

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France: 27% of French smokers smoked more during Covid-19 lockdown

More than a quarter of French smokers said their tobacco consumption increased during the coronavirus lockdown, according to a study published on Wednesday (13 May), with rates of increase highest among those whose routines were most disrupted.

27% of French smokers said they increased their consumption by an average of five cigarettes per day, according to a study by public health agency Santé Publique France. However, they were a minority among smokers: 55% of tobacco consumers said their habits remained stable and 19% had reduced their amount of smoking. Those who smoked more were more likely to be in the 25-34 age bracket and to be among those obliged to work at home due to the confinement imposed to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The study was based on online responses of 2,003 adults aged 18 and over between 30 March and 1 April, about two weeks into the nationwide confinement imposed on 17 March. The agency indicated the initial period probably saw the largest rates of increase in tobacco and alcohol consumption, citing changing levels of calls to hotlines for addiction support.

Tabac Info Service, the hotline for smokers, saw 19% less activity in March and 15% less in April of this year compared with in 2019. “The shock of the crisis, at the beginning of confinement, may have caused a decrease in the use of these services,” the authors of the study wrote.

Source: RFI, 13 May 2020

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New Zealand: Tobacco control group welcome tobacco tax stagnation in 2020 Budget

For the first time in four years, no increase to New Zealand’s tobacco tax was announced as part of the Government’s Budget.

Anti-smoking advocacy group Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH New Zealand) say this is good news as too often it was vulnerable groups that were hit the hardest and it wasn’t effective to helping people quit. Director Deborah Hart told the Herald the increase in tobacco taxation over the years had helped New Zealanders who could not afford tobacco to quit. “But now what we have left is people from low socio-economic groups who are smokers and increasing the taxation is just punitive and wouldn’t be serving what we want which is to help people to quit.”

The last annual tobacco tax increase of 11.5%, on 1 January 2020, took an average pack of 25 cigarettes to over $41 (approximately £20.05). Hart said ASH supported the Government’s call not to hike tobacco tax, particularly at the moment where a lot of people were finding themselves in economic hardship. “Increasing the taxation would just be inappropriate.”

Hart said if smoking rates increased it would not be because of lack of increase in tax. “What we need to help people quit is targeting specific groups, community-led initiatives, smokefree plan, we need the vaping legislation, we need a lot but it doesn’t include more taxation.”

Source: New Zealand Herald, 14 May 2020

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