From Action on Smoking and Health <[email protected]>
Subject ASH Daily News for 4 April 2024
Date April 4, 2024 10:17 AM
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** 4 April 2024

** UK

** Social media use linked to teenagers taking up smoking (#2)

** What is the Government trying to hide about BAT? (#6)

** People continued eating 50 per cent more fast food after lockdown surge, IFS says (#7)

** UK

** Social media use linked to teenagers taking up smoking

Study finds that youths spending more than two hours online were two and a half times more likely to take up smoking.

Spending long periods of time on social media could increase the chances of teenagers taking up smoking or vaping, according to a study.

Researchers say their findings show that promoting healthy online habits for young people is better than “blanket bans and overprotection”.

Academics from the University of Glasgow explored how social media use among 14-year-olds influenced nicotine use when they reached 17.

The team surveyed 8,987 teenagers for the study, which has been published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. Of the respondents, 28.9 per cent were smokers, 23.7 per cent vaped, and 8.2 per cent did both. Mental health, socioeconomic status and past smoking behaviours were also factored in.

Researchers found that spending more than two hours a day on social media platforms increased the likelihood of a teenager smoking by two and a half times. They were also more than three times more likely to vape when compared with their peers who used social media for one hour to less than 30 minutes a day.

Amrit Kaur Purba, lead author of the study, said: “Our findings advocate for the regulation of risky content on social media and tailored guidance for teens on social media use so they can navigate the complex social media environment. Educators, health professionals and care givers must enhance their social media literacy to prepare teens for the realities of the social media landscape. We need to model healthy online habits, instead of resorting to blanket bans and overprotection, to help young people navigate the digital world.”

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of the health charity ASH Scotland, said: “The findings from the University of Glasgow’s research spotlight the urgent need for social media platforms to take robust action to eradicate opportunities for influencers to promote the use of addictive, health harming products to teenage audiences.

“The tobacco industry and its vested interests have long deployed tactics from their marketing playbooks to entice children to experiment with tobacco and related products, such as e-cigarettes, and social media is proving to be a very useful vehicle for them to reach and hook in an expanding customer base of young people to help sustain and increase future profitability.

“Tobacco continues to be the biggest preventable killer of people in Scotland with more than 8,000 deaths each year and there is still work to do to ensure that children and young people are discouraged from starting to smoke. We are alarmed that regular e-cigarette use by 15-year-olds has tripled during recent years and outstrips use of tobacco in this age group […]

“Social media platforms should not wait a moment longer to take all actions necessary to shut out content encouraging teenagers to use products that can have a devastating impact on their health.”

Source: The Times, 4 April 2024

See also: BMJ - Social media use and health risk behaviours in young people: systematic review and meta-analysis ([link removed])
Read Here ([link removed])

** What is the Government trying to hide about BAT?

At last year’s Conservative party conference, prime minister Rishi Sunak declared the UK government planned to increase, year by year, the legal age of smoking to achieve a “smoke-free generation”.

The announcement gave the impression the prime minister was taking on Big Tobacco.

However, the UK has consistently failed to rein in the activities of Britain’s biggest tobacco company, British American Tobacco (BAT), which predominantly operates overseas.

Tobacco kills more than eight million people each year, and up to half the long-term users die from the addictive product. However, BAT has also been accused of other nefarious activities stretching back decades.

In 2000, the Guardian, working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, reported that BAT “condoned tax evasion and exploited the smuggling of billions of cigarettes in a global effort to boost sales and lure generations of new smokers”.

At the time, Conservative grandee Kenneth Clarke, then deputy chair of BAT, “admitted” the company was supplying cigarettes “knowing they are likely to end up on the black market”.

Such was the political outcry about the smuggling scandal that the Department of Trade and Industry ordered an inquiry into BAT. Twenty years later, this report remains wrapped in secrecy, despite attempts to gain access via Freedom of Information laws.

In 2015, the BBC aired “The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco” based on documents from whistleblowers, predominantly Paul Hopkins, who had worked for BAT for 13 years in Kenya.

Journalists and researchers had spent months ploughing through tens of thousands of internal BAT documents which covered its activities in ten countries in Central and East Africa.

The documents appeared to show BAT was paying bribes to MPs and public officials, and to damage local rival companies.

A later detailed analysis suggested there had been at least 236 payments totalling over $600,000, targeting over 50 politicians, competitor staff, journalists, civil servants, and even one magistrate.

In the days that followed the BBC broadcast, Hopkins went with his lawyer to see the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). For 18 months, a team from the SFO poured over his evidence.

Finally, in August 2017, the SFO announced it was launching a formal criminal investigation into the company, including “suspicions of corruption in the conduct of business by BAT plc, its subsidiaries, and associated persons.”

Officially, the SFO never comments publicly on a case but by 2018 it was understood that it was looking at two options: either going to trial or a Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA) with BAT.

Suddenly, in January 2021, the SFO announced it was dropping the BAT investigation.

“Following extensive investigation and a comprehensive review of the available evidence”, the SFO said “it had “concluded its investigation into British American Tobacco, its subsidiaries and associated persons.”

The formal reason given was that “the evidence in this case did not meet the evidential test for prosecution as defined in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.”

The investigation, which had lasted 18,000 hours and cost UK taxpayers over £2.3m, was binned.

There are several reasons why the SFO may have dropped the BAT investigation. Firstly, the SFO is just not fit for purpose and was outgunned by BAT’s deep pockets.

Despite the SFO using Section 7 of the UK Bribery Act to investigate BAT, one legal expert pointed out it “has opted never to prosecute corporate offences using Section 7 of the Bribery Act where a company indicates it may resist.”

Secondly, a year before the SFO closed its investigation, a meeting was held between senior South African law enforcement officials, including the National Director of Public Prosecutions, a senior official from the Prosecuting Authority, the head of the SFO, and a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer seconded to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

It is unknown what happened at the meeting, as both the SFO and Foreign Office, the body overseeing DFID, have refused to release correspondence and minutes. It is plausible the South Africans told the British to stay off their patch, as they did not want any criminal investigation to interfere with their major inquiry into state capture.

Or finally the British found it too politically sensitive. Maybe the case was just too embarrassing for the British state and its revolving door to a corporate giant.

Source: Declassified UK, 3 April 2024
Read Here ([link removed])

** People continued eating 50 per cent more fast food after lockdown surge, IFS says

A lockdown takeaway surge left people consuming 50 per cent more fast food than before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned.

Analysis of people’s food consumption has revealed that the increase in popularity of takeaways caused by successive lockdowns continued.

Experts have raised fears about what the trend means for plans to tackle the country’s obesity crisis, with one in four Britons now considered obese.

Researchers from the IFS found that changes in eating habits caused by the pandemic and the closure of restaurants and pubs had had a lasting impact on the amount of fast food being eaten, despite other trends returning to pre-pandemic norms.

In 2019, households consumed an average of 270 calories each week from fast food outlets and takeaways, accounting for around 31 per cent of their total “out-of-home” food intake.

This surged during the pandemic and hit a peak of 470 calories per week during the third national lockdown in 2021 and has hardly come down since, the IFS said.

The latest available data ends in the first quarter of 2022, by which point people were still eating 400 calories per week on average from takeaways, more than 50 per cent more than before the pandemic.

Andrew McKendrick, research economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic saw huge changes in both how many calories households were buying, and where they came from.

“Lockdowns and closures of hospitality left a bigger role for consumption of food at home and for takeaways. But, by the start of 2022, most of these changes had been reversed: households had largely gone back to purchasing as much as they did in 2019.

“The pandemic did leave one legacy, though, in the much-increased use of takeaways.’

The research, funded by the Government’s Obesity Policy Research Unit, found that there had been no corresponding reduction in calories to offset the increases during the pandemic and this could “still have long-term effects on health and weight”.

Around two thirds of people in Britain are considered overweight or obese based upon their Body Mass Index.

Source: The Telegraph, 4 April 2024

See also: IFS - Longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the dietary purchasing choices of British households ([link removed])
Read Here ([link removed])
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