Doctor and activist

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Category: Public Health

Fracking for Gas Destroys Farmland

15 March 2023

Some years ago, I was a farmer in New Zealand.  I met a cashed-up American who was in NZ trying to buy farmland.  I asked him why he was NZ rather than Australia.  He said, ‘Australia is fuc*ed , mate.  The governments have let them frack it all, and soon they won’t be able to farm’. 

He was from the US and had seen it happen there. The problem is that politicians are mostly  lawyers and accountants and do not know what they do not know.  Perhaps they are easily conned by lobbyists in suits.  The fact is that the surface of the earth is like a layered cake with rock strata that stop water simply going to the lowest level.  If an underlying impermeable level is broken, the water which may have been kept in the overlying soil drains to a deeper level.  So big mines or fracking, which means fracturing and cracking the stratum, allows gas to be released upwards, but also allows the water to flow downwards. This leaves the topsoil without water, which eventually will turn it to sand as the organic matter dies. 

The nett effect is that the gas is released once, but the water escapes forever. The gas company makes its money and moves on- the yield of the land is forever damaged. The farmer is the first economic casualty, national production notices it more slowly.  The chemicals used in fracking also pollute the groundwater, so bores used for stock produce undrinkable water. There is no method for removing these chemicals from the groundwater.

The advocacy group, ‘Lock the Gate’, are doing their best but are still losing the political battle and the gas companies are still expanding activities.  Some of the best agricultural land is the Darling Downs in Queensland and the Liverpool Plains in NSW, which are both under threat.  What is also likely to happen is that they will frack near the Great Artesian Basin, which is a huge water body under a third of Australia. It is currently unpolluted by fracking chemicals, but if it becomes polluted, which seems inevitable, there will no usable water in huge areas of arid Australia. It will be a national ecological disaster.

The words of the American entrepreneur are ringing in my ears.

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Please Write Submission re Vaping by 16 January

28 December 2022

Vaping is now own by tobacco companies who are following exactly the same path as they did with tobacco. They managed to get out of having to prove it was safe because a few naive doctors, still fight the tobacco wars said it was ‘better than tobacco’, an incredibly low bar to clear- not really a bar at all.

Then they said it could be used to quit, and a handful of doctors who made a living from Quit clinics when 99% of people quitting just do so, supported this. Now it is being marketed in new ways to that the adds are not visible to those who are likely to oppose vaping and the habit is growing hugely, with the Industry also using peer-to-peer marketing to evade and futures regulations or prohibitions.

Vaping is now more of a gateway to smoking than a path from it, and that suits the Industry just fine.

It is likely that the solvents will be harmful in the long term, so the precauti0onaly principle would mean that it should be banned until it is proven safe, which is frankly unlikely.

In London there is now a coffee shop that advertises Vaping and Coffee’ which assumes that indoor vaping is not smoking and will be tolerated by non-vapers. Presumably they will resists vaping controls indoors until passive vaping is shown to be harmful and tat might take 30 or 40 years- a total tobacco epidemic re-run. So please write a submission to the inquiry.

Now here’s a deadline: We have until January 16 to help stop toxic vaping

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British American Tobacco launches new Campaign to legitimise Vaping.

23 November 2022

Almost all the vaping products are owned by tobacco companies, and the marketing is almost a re-run of their tobacco campaigns. i.e:

1. Assume that it is here to stay, and hence legitimate and unstoppable.
2. Suggest that ‘courtesy and consideration’ is all that is needed.
3. Fight regulation as much as possible.

Naturally they are keen to say that any attempt to restrict nicotine is doomed to failure as it is already totally available on the Black Market.

It might be noted that when there were different regulations in Canada from the US for tobacco labelling, cigarettes were smuggled through the Indian reservations, and all labelling that used to allow the source of the cigarettes to be identified was removed from the packaging, which showed what contempt the tobacco industry had for regulations that lessened their sales.

We might expect that similar things are happening in sales of vaping products and liquids. Naturally as they talk about how hopeless it is to regulate vaping products they want to hark back to the failure of alcohol prohibition in the 1930s, which led to Al Capone and his gangsters.

Older folk will remember that as the tobacco control movement grew stronger in the late 1970s we were attacked as ‘wowsers’ and ‘killjoys’, with the implication that we were stopping people having a good time, which was what smoking was all about. It is the same tactic again. We want to stop all the happy vapers.

The tobacco industry used the fact that some doctors think that vaping can help people QUIT to allow them to sell their product without having to prove it was safe. They only had to prove it was less dangerous than tobacco- a very very low bar.

Now vaping is used more as a gateway to smoking than a path from it, and often if there is nicotine in the vape it can be used alternately as a substitute. So presumably will be a move to push vaping in smoke-free areas. Then vaping will be the ideal product for the tobacco industry, being used everywhere, helping consumption, and keeping some people smoking at other times. Just like the good old days.

Health interests have to keep the government onside, but also demand some serious anti-vaping campaigns.

Vaping uses solvents, which dissolve fats. If this is the case, it is like upmarket petrol sniffing, as it will dissolves cell membranes, especially in the brain, which has the highest blood supply of any fatty tissue in the body. This is likely to lead to gradually progressive dementia. Naturally this may take years to manifest, and even longer to be identified and scientifically proven, given that a highly sceptical Industry that will criticise the research; in short a re-run of the tobacco wars.

If we look at the history of tobacco, it was used in relatively small quantities until the invention of the cigarette rolling machine by Duke in 1898. It was massively marketed during and after WW1 from 1914. It was shown to cause lung cancer in 1950. Advertising bans started in the mid 1970s, but full sponsorship bans and smoke-free indoor air did not come until 2000. The tobacco epidemic lasted a full century; so watch out for a vaping re-run with a dementia epidemic in older folk. Unlikely? No;. quite possible. So will the tobacco industry prove it is is safe. They can’t, don’t want to; now don’t have to, and have put out this BS new organisation.

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BUGA UP –  the issues keep resurfacing

19 November 2022

BUGA UP originated in 1979, when its 3 founders were prevented from a regular evening out to re-face tobacco billboards by pouring rain.  As it they sat and waited, they thought about how to publicise their work so that it did not appear as random anti-tobacco graffiti. They wanted a word that would be irreverent and would embody the concept of hitting back against the unhealthy promotions. After some discussion, the word BUGA UP was developed, an acronym for Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions. From that night they signed all the re-faced billboards with BUGA UP.

The major problem at that time was tobacco promotion, which accounted for over half outdoor advertising, with alcohol second. The concept was self-regulatory in that anyone taking up a spray can had to make their own decision about what they wanted to say, i.e. what they were willing to be arrested for. 

A relatively large number of graffitists, especially from the medical fraternity, were inspired by what appeared to be a large campaign and were willing to be arrested for spraying on tobacco billboards. Other activists were concerned about alcohol promotion and some were concerned about sexism in advertising.  A relatively small percentage were willing to be arrested for junk food or drink ads. (There were no ads for gambling at that time).

BUGA UP, however, looked at the whole issue of the regulation of advertising, asking that it not be one-way communication with no input from consumers or regulators as to the content or consequences of the promotions.  The advertisers’ position was that it was their money, they could  say what they liked, as this was ‘freedom of commercial speech’. Note the extra word in the cliche ‘freedom of speech’.

The advertisers set up a farcical ‘Advertising Standards Council’ which had very loose ‘codes of practice’ and an industry dominated judicial system, which took so long to work that the ad campaign was invariably over even if they banned an ad, which very rarely happened as they had the numbers in the kangaroo courts.  One hapless paediatrician was recruited onto one of these committees, had his name used to champion the quality of its membership, and of course was outvoted in every deliberation.  He eventually acknowledged sadly that he had been ‘used’ and he resigned.

But BUGA UP was active, producing a publication, ‘Billboard’, which was sent to all the major players in the advertising industry to emphasise to them that their regulatory systems were recognised as farcical.  BUGA UP invented the ‘Advertising Double Standards Council’ to satirise the ‘Advertising Standards Council’.  Its slogan was ‘If advertising standards are good, double standards are twice as good’.

One of BUGA UP’s members, Peter Vogel, wrote over 400 complaints about many ads. He was labelled a ‘serial complainer’ and they wanted not to respond to his complaints. He insisted that by their own charter they had to. They rejected all 400+!

Eventually there had been so much publicity about advertising regulation that the advertising industry wanted the Trade Practices Commission to re-legitimise its self-regulatory system, presumably as they thought government regulation was possible in the future.  The Fairfax newspapers fronted this action, and it was opposed by ACA, The Australian Consumers’ Association. The advertisers said that their codes and practices were working well.  At this stage Peter Vogel of BUGA UP came out of the woodwork, with his huge file of denied complaints. He had systematically made complaints using every item of the advertisers codes of practice and had a farcical response to every item, which the Commission could judge for itself.

Two academics, Shenagh Barnes and Michael Blakeney  wrote a book called ‘Advertising Regulation’ (Law Book Co 1982) which concluded that the self regulatory system manifestly lacked credibility’. But despite the moral victory, the consequences of the trial were not good. The Trade Practices Tribunal concluded that it was not able to set up a regulatory structure, but could only either approve or reject what was put in front of it, so in the absence of any alternative it approved the self-regulatory system as it might have a bit of benefit over nothing at all. ACA, the Consumers’ organisation, was almost sent bankrupt by the legal fees involved, and overall the Industry had got what it wanted.  A few years later when the issue had faded from the public eye, the Advertising Standards Council faded too.

The original BUGA UP guide, ‘Ad Expo- a self-defence course for children’ from 1983 is still available  online, but of course its ads are now dated. (

But now, as gambling wreaks havoc with families, and childhood obesity skyrockets, the issue of irresponsible advertising is back in the spotlight. Let us hope that there is more success this time, but a lot of work will be needed even to get up the momentum that BUGA UP had in 1983.

Here is an article on sugar and obesity: 

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BUGA UP Nostalgia

16 November 2022

BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) was most active fro m 1979-1985, and had a big effect on tobacco and smoking. It was also a high point in the demand for advertising to be responsible for the consequences of its use of its products.

In the end, the advertisers accepted a ban on tobacco to keep the threat of stronger regulation at bay. They cut back on sexism a bit and the movement to regulate them died down. So alcohol, gambling annd junk food ads have survived.

Here is a link to some of the TV programs from that time and a little after.

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Vaping- A WHO Guide

10 November 2022
The World Health Organisation is trying to lessen vaping, which is now reaching epidemic proportions in young people. The attached article clarifies the tobacco Industry’s gobbledygook, though it is fairly soft on their rapacious marketing.

Social media has allowed the tobacco industry to target children and young people without adults noticing, which is different from the tobacco marketing days, when everyone saw the same ads.

The Industry claims that since vaping is less harmful than smoking, it should be legal, and most importantly that they should not have to prove it is safe. They have achieved this latter, and now because this has allowed them to achieve high sales they have made it hard to ban. They also use a lot of kids marketing to kids, as happens with illicit drugs, to make it harder again.
Of course not very many people use vaping to quit, and it now seems that vaping is a gateway to smoking, and a way of not quitting. But do not expect the Industry to do anything except maximise their profits.
The health interests are ponderously getting their resources together, for a battle that will take a generation or two, if tobacco, asbestos, lead etc are any guide.

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Priorities for a Pro-Life US State Senator

3 July 2022
One of my US friends quipped that ‘Republicans are pro-life until it is actually born’. During the birth
process Republicans are against free health care and after the birth they are against welfare, child
support, living wages, equal opportunity in education etc.
The Pro-life senator in Oklahoma, Wendi Sherman, who was the proponent of the abortion ban
there, said, “The purpose [of government] is to protect life, not to provide for citizens.”
The practical corollary of this definition of the role of government is that women are forced to have
children that they did not want and then forced to care for them, when they knew before the birth
that this was too difficult to attempt. One might ask whether this is the same religious view that was
extant when I was young that having a baby was punishment for the sin of having sex. There is no
quote or evidence of a question on this subject, but these sort of fundamentalist views do seem
extant in the US.
I wonder if political hardheads in the Republican party just use abortion to shore up the significant
religious vote. Abortion is painted as a ‘life and death’ issue and so has great weight. Other policies
like foreign wars, tax cuts for the wealthy and cuts to Medicare and welfare programs can sail
through because of this preoccupation/obsession.

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What is Needed in Health

12 May 2022

Dr Stephen Duckett was an architect of Medicare and is one of our leading health policy experts. His opinion of what is needed for the health system has a lot of implied criticism of what has been happening, with excessive resources on late-stage treatments rather than prevention and early diagnosis, which comes in Primary Care.He speaks of the dis-cordination, cost shifting and political nature of decision-making.

He does not even mention the need to fix Medicare- saving it is not enough!

What I would do if I were the Minister for Health and Ageing in the next government

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Belated Federal Govt. Action on Vaping

13 April 2022
The Federal government has made statements to try to lessen vaping especially in children. Health Minister, Greg Hunt has made statements and asked for State help on the issue. This is only days before the Federal government goes into ‘Caretaker’ mode before the election, so can have no real effect. Hunt himself is retiring at the election. Perhaps he is doing his best, but he has been undermined by a determined ‘pro-vaping’ group within the Liberal government, which includes Trent Zimmerman, MP for North Sydney. (One might wonder whether the vaping groups are funding the major parties, as they have significant tobacco company ownership. Presumably this will come out eventually- too late to be relevant)
Vaping has been increasing due to the same sort of marketing that launched tobacco, making it exciting, sexy and rebellious. With the internet, social marketing and ‘social influencers able to be paid and target certain groups, this can happen much more under the radar than in former times. As my son commented recently, ‘People believe what their algorithm feeds them’. Older folk who are not fed the ads do not notice what is happening. But now even student correspondents are complaining that there is so much vaping that the school toilets are polluted.
As one Professor of Medicine commented on Radio National Life matters today, ‘We should not be comparing vaping to smoking, we should be comparing it to breathing fresh air’. Exactly.
There were two articles in the SMH this week, ‘Federal bid to stop children vaping’ by Dana Daniel on 7/4/22 and on 9/4/22 (below).
We can only hope that the vaping members lose their seats and that the new Labor government takes a much more active stance. It is late to act on this, but better late than never.

Greg Hunt urges state governments to stop vapes being sold to children

By Dana Daniel April 9 2022

Health Minister Greg Hunt has written to his state counterparts urging them to halt the illicit sale of e-cigarettes to children, but state health ministers want the federal government to stop them at the border.
Community concern is growing about e-cigarettes in schools as increasing numbers of teenagers take up vaping – despite state laws making it illegal to sell the devices to under-18s, regardless of whether they contain nicotine.
“I ask that you take active steps to enforce these laws by taking action against retailers contravening your laws, for example by selling NVPs to school children,” Mr Hunt wrote in the letter, seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Under Commonwealth law, it has been illegal to import liquid nicotine, unless prescribed by a GP as a smoking cessation aid, for the past six months.
But e-cigarettes and vape juices containing nicotine remain widely available through a black market both online and in retail stores and schools are grappling with an escalating problem.
Mr Hunt’s letter dated March 18 linked to a report in The Age about a five-year-old boy who was hospitalised with breathing difficulties after vaping with his brother and a seven-year-old classmate at school.
In that case, the vape was not alleged to have been sold to a child by a retailer, with the child’s father telling the ABC it belonged to another student’s mother.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley hit back on Friday, telling the Age and Herald: “We need more action from the Commonwealth to strengthen e-cigarette regulation at a national level – and we encourage the Morrison Government to get on with it.”
A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who is recovering from COVID-19, said a national approach was needed to tackle vaping, which the state had formally requested “on multiple occasions, including during feedback on the new National Tobacco Strategy”.
“The federal government previously tried to get a uniform approach on e-cigarettes, but was met with opposition from supporters of vaping,” the spokeswoman said.
Mr Hazzard had already asked NSW Health to “step up its compliance action” before receiving Mr Hunt’s letter.
“Hopefully, it will be possible for federal compliance to be stepped up to minimise the importation of illegal vaping products.”
The federal health department is finalising the National Tobacco Strategy, a draft of which recommends new restrictions on “the marketing, availability and use of all e-cigarette components in Australia, regardless of their nicotine content”.
Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram told a Senate estimates hearing in February that the ABF had not committed any additional resourcing to the detection and seizure of nicotine vaping products since the ban on importation without a prescription began last October.

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COVID19 Viral Shedding is unrelated to Symptom Severity

8 March 2022

A new, rather bold study involving health infected volunteers has shown that the severity of symptoms experienced is unrelated to how much virus is shed.  In other words, even someone with minimal symptoms can shed and spread the virus a lot.

The bottom line of this is that people should wear masks to stop them spreading the virus.

Here is a cut-down version of the Nature Medicine article in Australian Doctor.

COVID-19 symptom severity ‘no indication’ of viral shedding

A world-first study offers insight into a key public health question about transmission, researchers say

4th April 2022   By Reuters Health

The world’s first ‘human challenge’ trial in which volunteers were deliberately exposed to SARS-CoV-2 has found that symptoms have no effect on how likely an infected person is to pass the infection on to others.

The UK study showed that among the 18 participants who developed COVID-19, the severity of symptoms, or whether they displayed symptoms at all, had nothing to do with the viral load in their airways.

Viral load was measured by a focus-forming assay (FFA) and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) in the project led by Imperial College London and contract research company Open Orphan.

“There was no correlation between the amount of viral shedding by qPCR or FFA and symptom score,” the researchers said in Nature Medicine.

“Furthermore, our data clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 viral shedding occurs at high levels irrespective of symptom severity, thus explaining the high transmissibility of this infection and emphasising that symptom severity cannot be considered a surrogate for transmission risk in this disease.”

The trial exposed 36 healthy young adults without a history of infection or vaccination to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain of the virus and monitored them in a quarantined setting.

Since two volunteers were found to have had antibodies against the virus after all, they were excluded from the analysis. 

Slightly more than half of them contracted the virus.

No serious adverse events occurred and the human challenge study model was shown to be safe and well tolerated in healthy young adults, the research team had said earlier this year.

“With virus present at significantly higher titres in the nose than the throat, these data provide clear evidence that emphasises the critical importance of wearing face coverings over the nose as well as the mouth,” the study team wrote.

A key unresolved question for public health had been whether transmission was less likely to occur during asymptomatic or mild infection compared to more severe disease, the researchers said. 

More information: Nat Med 2022; 31 Mar.

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