I came across Sheila Duffy’s appearance before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Headrambles late last week, and it’s been bubbling away at the back of my mind for days.
Her petition starts at about 54 minutes in, and lasts about 5 minutes, and the gist of it is that she would like to remind that the Parliament that they are signatories to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and she wishes to draw their attention to article 5.3 of the convention, which requires the parties to protect the policies from the vested interests of the tobacco industry, which meant that parties should have as little to do with the industry as possible. i.e. they shouldn’t admit them for consultations.
I’ve taken the trouble of roughly transcribing her little speech (emphasizing the most egregious claims). But it’s worth watching for the smirking expression on her face throughout (click to enlarge).
“Scotland has a proud record of tackling tobacco, and it’s hard for me to believe that next year will see 10 years since Scotland implemented smoke-free public places. I’d like to take a moment to remember what tobacco is. It is widely available, with 8 tobacco retail outlets for every one pharmacy in Scotland, so it’s easier to buy poison than it is to buy medicine. It is addictive and dependency-forming, and engineered to be as highly so by tobacco companies. It is primarily a childhood addiction, not an adult choice. And it is lethal to at least one in two consumers, and recent research suggests maybe two in three consumers when used long term in accordance with the manufacturers intentions. In Scotland tobacco is estimated to be responsible for around a quarter of all adult deaths recorded each year – some 13,000 lives lost early. And behind each death there are likely to be 20 people living with chronic and disabling disease caused by tobacco. So this is a major and largely hidden epidemic. And it is a commercially driven epidemic, driven by an industry with a long and well-documented history of denial, delay, and deceit with regard to health measures. And an industry that has demonstrated that its main interest lie with its profits. And because the tobacco industry is a world wide predator, the WHO developed and put forward the first and only international public health treaty, which has 180 signatories, including the UK and EU, and which covers 90% of the world’s population. Now this treaty requires parties to introduce broad-brush measures to try to reduce the harm from tobacco, so things that we already have like tobacco tax, smoke-free enclosed spaces, curbs on tobacco advertising. But this petition relates to article 5.3 of the FCTC which requires parties, in setting and implementing public health policies, to act to protect the policies from commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. Now that could be quite a wide instruction, but fortunately the conference of the parties developed further detailed guidance about how this article could and should be implemented…. For example, “Parties should interact with the tobacco industry only when, and to the extent strictly necessary, to enable them to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products. Now I believe we need to raise awareness of this treaty in parliament. I believe there have been recent actions, unknowingly committed, which have gone against our obligations under the treaty. So the point of this petition is to ask parliament to consider the international treaty and its article 5.3, to think about Scotland’s obligations under it, and to develop guidance for parliamentary staff to ensure that we meet those obligations. Thank you.”
The first MSP to respond said that he didn’t smoke, but regarded smoking as a legal choice people made. Other MSPs came in even harder, even accusing her of being part of the tobacco industry, because she lived off the existence of tobacco. But in the end they conceded that maybe they’d need to find what ‘best practice’ was in other countries.
But what stuck in my mind was what a conceited little prig Sheila Duffy was. She had delivered a little potted lecture setting out TC vision of the tobacco industry selling ‘poison’ to children, all the while with an insouciant smile playing on her face. If I’d been one of those MSPs, I’d have been very angry at the way she was talking down to them.
In fact, what she was doing wasn’t ‘petitioning’ them, but threatening them. You have obligations under the treaty, so do something about them, or else…
And as I watched the menacing, smirking, slit-eyed performance, I suddenly saw Sheila Duffy as an enormous snake, which had slid out of darkness into the committee chamber, leaving half of its huge bloated bulk outside the door.
And that was enough of an image for me to work up using my new touch-sensitive tablet and Manga Studio 5. Here’s the result (click to enlarge):
It could have been better, but it pretty much captures the image that had sprung to mind, and it didn’t take all that long to do (1 or 2 hours). Indeed, it would have been done even quicker if I’d known how to use Manga Studio 5 properly.
But at least I managed to get a little grin on the mouth of the snake.