A while back we wrote to the Faculty of Public Health regarding the behaviour of their President John Ashton and his abuse towards vapers on twitter.
This is the letter we sent: https://saveecigs.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/letter-to-professor-ashton/
Below is the reply we had back. Once you have read it, you will understand why we felt it necessary to respond.
Dear Save e-cigs,
Thank you for writing to FPH regarding your concerns about our President, Professor John Ashton. I have investigated the issues raised in your complaint and am writing to advise of the outcome.
FPH agrees that Professor John Ashton’s use of language on Twitter on Saturday September 6 was inappropriate and offensive. Both Professor Ashton and FPH apologise unreservedly for the comments he made.
In investigating your complaint, I have worked closely with FPH’s Board to ensure a thorough process has been followed. FPH’s Board has discussed the matter at great length, given the nature and seriousness of the situation.
The Board has registered its strong disapproval of Professor Ashton’s comments, whilst noting the mitigating circumstances. The Board also agrees that Professor Ashton should continue in his role as President and has given clear direction on the necessary steps to support his return.
You refer to Professor Ashton’s interview on the Jeremy Vine show on Friday 5 September. FPH’s position on e-cigarettes was not as clearly articulated as it might have been, nor was the possible link between nicotine and blindness fully explained. However, I believe that it would be wrong to try and stifle scientific debate or exclude passion from argument. If you would like to read our position, it is available at: http://bit.ly/1p2zEq7 We keep our position under review, considering latest developments and emerging evidence.
When it comes to engaging with the public, we usually do this through our members, as well as partnership work with stakeholders such as other charities and representative bodies.
I would like to personally reassure you that Professor Ashton’s tweets do not in any way represent what FPH thinks about people who use e-cigarettes. Regardless of whether someone represents themselves or an organisation, there can be no place in public health debate for the kind of language that occurred.
FPH keeps our position on e-cigarettes under review, considering the latest developments and emerging evidence. If you would like to read our policy position on e-cigarettes, it is available at: http://bit.ly/1p2zEq7
We are absolutely committed to working to achieve the very best standard of health and wellbeing for everyone.
Thank you again for writing to FPH and raising your concerns.
This to us is a very poor attempt at an apology, does not address the issues raised, and is basically a ‘whitewash.
This is our follow on letter.
Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to our recent complaint. As you are aware, our complaint related to the behaviour of Professor Ashton, not just in his activities on Twitter, but also his conduct in two discussions on BBC radio.
We wish to put on record our profound disappointment with how this whole matter has been dealt with by the Faculty of Public Health and in particular the content of your letter to which we are now responding.
For the record, it is worth pointing out the exact nature of our complaint again.
On Friday the 5th of September, Professor Ashton took part in at least two BBC radio debates, one with Professor Robert West and one with the former head of ASH Clive Bates. He participated in these debates not simply as Professor Ashton, but in his official capacity as President of the Faculty of Public Health – a vitally important fact.
It is fair to say that these were rather ill mannered debates on his part. Whilst Professor West focussed on actual evidenced based facts, Professor Ashton preferred to highlight his concerns for which in many instances there was little or no evidence. In Professor Ashton’s debate with Mr Bates he even went as far as to say nicotine made people go blind and despite repeated requests from the interviewer he was unable to provide a single piece of evidence to back up this statement. Such ill-founded statements not only serve to raise concerns amongst established vapers, they also serve to put smokers off making the switch to a less harmful alternative.
Over the following weekend Professor Ashton then engaged with a number of vapers on Twitter. We were not engaged in these exchanges but we have seen the tweets in question.
In our complaint we acknowledged the fact that Professor Ashton may have been subjected to a number of antagonistic tweets, which we did not condone. As we wrote at the time, there can be no excuse for bad behaviour on Twitter. However, Professor Ashton did not just respond to tweets directed at him, he went out of his way to search through Twitter to find historic tweets that vapers had posted weeks or months earlier, he then used these tweets to insult them. Professor Ashton set out that evening to deliberately seek out and abuse some very vulnerable people.
Whilst we do not condone any abusive e-mails directed at Professor Ashton, he is the professional head of the Faculty of Public Health. He was the one appearing in the news and debating on national television and radio. He is the one who heads up a body that should make pronouncements based on evidence based research.
It is here that we reach the crux of our complaint, a point that you failed to address neither in your complaints procedure nor in the letter to which we are responding.
It is clear from Professor Ashton’s tweets and by his increasingly alarmist pronouncements on radio that he (and remember he never disassociated the Faculty of Public Health from his comments) is not a supporter of e-cigarettes and holds vapers in complete contempt. Please remember that virtually all vapers rely on e-cigarettes to prevent them going back to smoking tobacco cigarettes.
Professor Ashton has therefore laid bare for all to see a total bias against e-cigarettes and vapers; he has also by association inferred that the Faculty of Public Health shares that bias. Furthermore, Professor Ashton has made it abundantly clear that his position (and remember he was speaking not as a concerned individual, but as the President of the Faculty of Public Health) is not in any way based on an objective review of the available facts. How therefore can he continue in his role as president of such an august body?
It is likely that the issue of e-cigarettes will continue to be of significant interest to both the media and policy makers, it is therefore also likely that the Faculty of Public Health and/or Professor Ashton will continue to be invited to opine on the subject. Whilst Professor Ashton remains president of the Faculty of Public Health it will be impossible for the organisation to speak on the issue of e-cigarettes with any credibility. This is hugely disappointing. As a campaign representing e-cigarette users, their friends, and their families we have no interest in a purely one-sided debate in which only pro-e-cigarette people are allowed to speak. We want a wide-ranging debate with all arguments expressed and robustly debated. Professor Ashton’s actions have made this more difficult. It would therefore be better for all concerned if the Faculty of Public Health had told Professor Ashton to step aside. We are left wondering what Professor Ashton, or any other of your employees, would have to do to be sacked. Professor Ashton by his behaviour and the Faculty of Public Health in its feeble response to the said behaviour have brought the Faculty of Public Health as a whole into disrepute.
We strongly urge you to look again at this matter.
We will be publishing this letter on our website and copying it to the Secretary of State for Health.