Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Tuesday
Sep012015

Reporting Scotland: hospital smoking bans under attack

So, a week after I left Edinburgh following a short holiday, I'm back in the city.

I flew up last night and this morning I joined Sheila Duffy (ASH Scotland), Linda Bauld (Cancer Research) and Andy Morrison (New Nicotine Alliance) giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee.

The subject was the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Bill, stage one of which covers e-cigarettes and smoking in hospital grounds.

I posted Forest's submission here last month so I won't go through it again.

Suffice to say I was a little concerned the hospital issue might get sidelined in favour of a much longer discussion about e-cigarettes.

Thankfully that didn't happen. What happened was even better. Cue the Scotsman:

The prospect of a blanket smoking ban on all hospital grounds in Scotland has come under fire from Nationalist backbenchers who say it would infringe patients’ “human rights.”

Nationalist MSP Richard Lyle said: “I’m a smoker and think people should be able to smoke outside hospital - but maybe at a 100 yard radius from the hospital entrance.”

He suggested shelters could be set up in hospital grounds so people can “exercise their human right to do as they wish and have a cigarette.”

He added: “I want to have a situation where...we respect people who do want to smoke and respect people who don’t want smoking at the entrances.”

Another SNP MSP, Mike McKenzie, suggested that the measure would effectively see smokers forced to go “cold turkey” as it would leave many with a “real, practical problem” in being able to smoke.

See Smoking ban in hospital grounds attacked by MSPs (Scotsman).

Naturally their comments were music to my ears so I piled in as well. According to the BBC:

Plans to make smoking in hospital grounds a statutory offence have been branded "inhumane, petty and vindictive" by a pro-smoking (sic) group.

Simon Clark from Forest made the remark while giving evidence to Holyrood's health committee.

Mr Clark told MSPs: "Going to hospital as a patient or a visitor can be a very stressful experience. It's also quite stressful for many members of staff.

"To ban smoking on all hospital grounds, we think, is totally inhumane, it's totally vindictive, it's petty, far pettier actually than banning smoking in pubs. At least people can still go outside.

"To extend it to entire hospital sites, we think, is absolutely outrageous."

We discussed e-cigs too but it was the hospital story that made all the headlines. For example:

MSPs hear plans to ban smoking in hospital grounds are "inhumane" (Evening Times)
Plans to make smoking in hospital grounds illegal are 'inhumane, vindictive and petty' (Herald)

It even made tonight's Reporting Scotland (BBC1) at 6.30 and 10.25.

One thing I must correct is a remark attributed to me by the Press Association and repeated in several newspapers.

According to the PA I suggested 'designated shelters or a 100-yard no-smoking zone would be more appropriate' than a total smoking ban.

That's not quite right. The 100-yard figure was Richard Lyle's idea. I accepted there was a case for banning smoking around hospital entrances but I would never support a 100-yard exclusion zone around hospital buildings.

As I recall I specifically declined to put any distance on an exclusion zone. Instead I said there should be no 'one-size fits all' approach because hospital grounds vary enormously in size and it should be up to the hospital administrators, not central government, to decide on the exact policy.

That one error aside, I'm pretty pleased with the coverage.

You can follow the session on the BBC's Holyrood Live page (starting at 10:12). Alternatively you can watch the session on the Scottish Parliament website.

Tomorrow I'm travelling to Cork via Dublin to meet Forest Eireann's John Mallon and our new Dublin-based media and public affairs manager Terence Cosgrave.

John has also been busy today. See Smokers group hits out at proposal for 50 cent hike on pack of cigarettes (Newstalk).

Monday
Aug242015

Twenty-five? Prove it!

Another fine morning in Edinburgh.

It's our last full day here and there are several shows I'm going to see including 'Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho' that Iain Dale has threatened to bring to the Conservative conference in October.

Meanwhile I'm sitting in the kitchen of our rented flat overlooking Rutland Square, coffee to my right, newspapers to my left.

They include the Scottish edition of yesterday's Mail on Sunday which features a report headlined 'Under 25? You need to show ID for cigarettes'.

It's not online but here's the gist:

Everyone under the age of 25 will be forced to show proof of age when buying cigarettes in a crackdown on tobacco use by minors.

Scottish Ministers are preparing to pass a law legally obliging shop-keepers to ask for ID from anyone they suspect may be 25 or younger.

The report includes a quote from me:

"It seems excessive and patronising that the Scottish Government is happy to let people vote at 16 yet is bringing in Challenge 25 for cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

"This seems to be petty and designed to make buying cigarettes increasingly onerous."

It's one thing to prove your age if you're 19 or 20, but 25? At this rate smokers will soon need a chip and pin licence to buy tobacco, with licence-holders sent regular texts and emails 'encouraging' them to quit.

The Challenge 25 policy is one of several measures included in the Health Bill that will be discussed by the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee next Tuesday.

I'm giving evidence so it's hardly worth going home.

Sunday
Aug232015

Fringe benefits

Currently in Edinburgh.

The first time I came here for the Festival – or, more accurately, the Fringe – was in 1977.

I was a student at Aberdeen but went with a schoolfriend from St Andrews. We stayed for a week in a dark, damp basement flat off South Clerk Street that was owned by the father of another schoolfriend (who I met for coffee this morning).

I remember very little about it apart from the fact that we quickly got bored of going from one Fringe event to another and found the Film Festival far more interesting and better value for money.

The Film Festival also introduced me to a strange new world far removed from Hollywood (or Aberdeen) - hookers and long distance lorry drivers in rural America.

A few years later a friend co-wrote a revue with a handful of other students from Aberdeen and I dutifully trotted along to support their efforts.

It was clear they were having a great time; the audience less so. The location was good but far better productions were condemned to be performed in front of a dozen people in tiny halls far from the city centre.

And that, in a nutshell, is the strength and weakness of the Fringe. Anyone can book a venue and put on a show. Location has little to do with talent.

Another strength and weakness is the size of the Fringe, which has got bigger and bigger with every passing year. There's plenty to choose from but unexpected treats are few and far between.

Anxious to avoid a dud production, audiences play safe. Thirty-five years ago Cambridge Footlights was a pale shadow of its Sixties heyday but it was a 'safe' choice so that's what everyone went to.

Today audiences demonstrate their conservatism by booking tickets for Paul Merton and other household names. Far better shows are ignored or reviewed only when it's too late.

Curiously, when I lived in Edinburgh in the Nineties the Festival was little more than background noise. If anything it was a nuisance, bringing hordes of people to the city and making it impossible to enjoy a quiet drink or coffee in my local pub or cafe.

In short, it's been a long time since I went to the Festival/Fringe and the only reason I'm here this year is because my godson is performing and his parents booked a luxurious flat in a quiet square in the city centre so they could see his shows.

Thankfully Thomas and his fellow performers are staying elsewhere so the traditional Fringe routine - very late nights and general squalor – don't apply to us. (I'm middle-aged, for goodness sake!)

Anyway the highlight of my visit so far has been bumping into actor, writer, director and producer Guy Masterson.

I first met Guy in 1992 when I interviewed him for a magazine I was editing. Great nephew of Richard Burton, he was performing The Boy's Own Story in which he played a goalkeeper.

Two years later Guy directed a small show I produced at the BBC Concert Hall in London.

We worked together a couple of times after that. One event was a dinner at the House of Commons where Guy recited excerpts from Under Milk Wood.

An adaptation of Dylan Thomas's most famous poem, Under Milk Wood (the show) is one of many solo productions Guy has taken around the world but the Fringe is his natural and most successful habitat.

He's been coming here for over two decades, winning numerous awards. In 2005 he directed one of Edinburgh's most successful shows, 'The Odd Couple', starring Bill Bailey and Alan Davies.

Anyway, as a result of our chance meeting in the street, we went to his latest show, Dylan Thomas: The Man, The Myth, which was written by and features the poet's granddaughter Hannah Ellis. (I'd recommend it but it was the final performance.)

You can have a little too much culture of course and so on Friday we drove down the coast to Gullane and had afternoon tea at Greywalls, one of our favourite hotels.

Here I am with my old friend Gary Ling. Afternoon tea doesn't come much better than this.

Friday
Aug212015

See hear - 'Wine, Water & Bread'

Light blogging at the moment because I'm on a ten-day break.

After four days in Yorkshire we arrived in Edinburgh yesterday for five days of arts and entertainment.

Coincidentally (cue tenuous link) Juliette Tworsey and Jules Shapiro, aka Firebug, have just released a video to promote a new track 'Wine, Water & Bread'.

As readers know, the pair travelled from New Orleans to take part in the Forest Freedom Dinner last month. Click here to listen to a rough edit of an interview I did with them.

Their new album, Homeostasis, will be released shortly.

Thursday
Aug132015

Smoking or vaping, nicotine 'addicts' will never be left in peace

Smoking should be banned outside pubs and bars say 'experts'.

The aim is to force smokers to switch to less harmful e-cigarettes.

BBC News reports that:

The Royal Society for Public Health said smoking should be seen as "abnormal" and more controls are needed to cover areas where people gather.

The RSPH is also calling for greater use of e-cigarettes by smoking cessation services, all places selling cigarettes to be forced to also offer e-cigarettes, and e-cigarettes to be renamed vapourisers or nicotine control products as the term is 'misleading'.

It's pretty clear what they're trying to do – make it even harder for people to smoke, forcing them to quit or switch to medicinal e-cigarettes (or nicotine sticks as they'd like to call them).

If that were to happen, and the number of smokers and vapers were to be reversed (ten million vapers, two million smokers), rest assured public health lobbyists would launch a series of campaigns against nicotine addiction and vaping in public places. It's only a matter of time.

I'm not saying smokers shouldn't be encouraged to use e-cigarettes or other harm reduction products but forcing them to make a choice between combustible and electronic cigarettes isn't the way to do it. It's simply another illiberal attack on people's freedom to choose.

It's clear too that even though some admit that nicotine is no more harmful than caffeine, in the eyes of most public health campaigners e-cigarettes are a smoking cessation tool – nothing else.

The idea that people might use e-cigs as a recreational rather than a medicinal device is anathema to them.

Anyway, here's Forest's response to the PCHE report:

"We support proposals that make it easier for smokers to use e-cigarettes but we reject measures that will make it harder for adults to smoke tobacco.

"While it makes sense to encourage smokers to switch from combustible cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, public health campaigns should be based on education not coercion and prohibition.

"Banning smoking outside pubs and bars would discriminate against adults who enjoy smoking.

"Renaming e-cigarettes is a silly idea. It ignores the fact that e-cigs are popular because they mimic the act of smoking. The name is part of their appeal.

"Calling them nicotine sticks or vapourisers suggests a medicinal product and that misses the point.

"For many consumers e-cigarettes are a recreational product. If public health lobbyists don't understand that they could sabotage a potentially game-changing device."

See Encourage use of e-cigarettes but don't discriminate against smokers, says Forest.

We're quoted by the BBC (Call for pub garden smoking ban), Mail Online (Call for smoking ban OUTSIDE pubs) and Guardian (Promote e-cigarettes over harmful tobacco smoking, say experts).

PS. ITV's Good Morning Britain also featured the story this morning. In the studio, discussing the issue, was Rob Lyons of Action on Consumer Choice.

I had to get up early to see that – he was on at 6.20 – but not as early as Rob!

Update: Fancy that! No sooner had I posted this than I read this in a letter in the Scotsman:

"The government should step in and ban e-cigarettes immediately."

There's no pleasing some zealots.

Update: Rob was also on ITV's This Morning and BBC Five Live. I did a handful of local radio stations and later, between four and five, I'll be doing a whole lot more (nine) from the BBC's Cambridge studio.

Wednesday
Aug122015

Sorry we were late, we were just tuning

In the words of Lou Reed (Live: Take No Prisoners, 1978):

"Hello. Sorry we were late, but we were just tuning."

Yes, after several delays (my fault) we have finally launched the Action on Consumer Choice website.

The campaign, as I've mentioned before, is modelled very loosely on the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington.

Unlike CFF, which focuses exclusively on food and drink, ACC will cover eating, drinking, smoking and vaping.

Here's a bit of the press release:

Consumers opposed to excessive regulations have launched a website that will defend the rights of adults to eat, drink, smoke and vape without disproportionate government intervention.

Action on Consumer Choice will feature news and commentary highlighting the latest threats to consumer freedom. Campaigners say they want the site to become a focal point for adults who believe in freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

Launching the new website, Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest that manages the Action on Consumer Choice campaign, said:

"Enough is enough. It's time to put consumer choice and personal responsibility back on the political agenda.

"The freedom to smoke has been eroded to such an extent that anti-smoking campaigners now want smoking banned in outdoor public places including beaches, parks and beer gardens.

"The zealots in charge of public health are also targeting other products such as alcohol, sugary drinks and convenience food.

"Even the e-cigarette, a potential harm reduction product, is threatened with restrictions that could severely limit the choices available to consumers."

Rob Lyons, campaigns manager for Action on Consumer Choice, said: "It's crazy that governments think it's appropriate to dictate how and what we eat, drink, smoke or vape.

"If we're to defend consumer choice we have to start with an unabashed defence of our right to indulge in so-called bad habits."

Full press release here.

To register your support for the campaign and receive occasional newsletters sign up here.

See also Hey, Shut Up! (Extract from Lou Reed: The Life).

Tuesday
Aug112015

Temporary outbreak of common sense in Scotland

The Scottish Daily Mail reports that the Scottish Government has dropped proposals to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

Ministers ruled that so-called e-cigs are not 'risk free' but conceded that they could help reduce levels of smoking.

In January this was Forest's response to a Scottish Government consultation on the issue:

Do you believe that the Scottish Government should take action on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces?

We acknowledge there are serious health risks associated with primary smoking, although their nature and the degree of risk remains debatable, but the risks to non-smokers as a result of so-called ‘passive smoking’ has, we believe, has been greatly exaggerated to justify increasing interventions in the lives of adult smokers. Introducing similar legislation to combat the use of electronic cigarettes makes no sense on a number of levels.

As already stated, there is no evidence that vaping is harmful. At worst the health risks of vaping are significantly less than the health risks associated with smoking. There is also no evidence that bystanders are at any risk from exposure to the vapour exhaled by consumers. We therefore object strongly to nationally imposed restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public places.

Vapers are almost exclusively smokers who wish to cut down or quit or are looking for an alternative nicotine delivery system in places where smoking is banned. Given the lack of evidence that the use of electronic cigarettes is harmful to (a) the user and (b) bystanders and the significant uptake in vaping among smokers, many of whom are using the product in an attempt to cut down or quit smoking, it would be hugely counterproductive to the stated aims of tobacco control to discourage the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

Forest supports consumer choice and evidence-based policy and to penalise vapers in the unsubstantiated belief that it ‘normalises’ smoking is self-defeating and immature. It also ignores the important point that the success of e-cigarettes compared to other smoking cessation aids is due largely to the fact that vaping mimics the physical act of smoking. This is crucial because it’s the main reason why many smokers find electronic cigarettes a more effective and appealing smoking cessation aid than nicotine patches or other forms of nicotine therapy. Without that USP it’s highly unlikely that e-cigarettes would have been so successful so quickly.

The logical position is that if tobacco controllers want to reduce the number of smokers, and vaping helps achieve that goal, there is no good reason to restrict the use of e-cigarettes in public places, enclosed or otherwise. Given current evidence it makes far more sense to leave things as they are until such time as further evidence becomes available.

Are you aware of any evidence, relevant to the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed spaces, that you think the Scottish Government should consider?

The exhalation or smell of vapour may, in a small enclosed space, be offensive to some people but to the best of our knowledge there is no evidence that the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed public places is harmful to anyone. Landlords, proprietors and businesses must be allowed therefore to decide a policy on e-cigarettes that best suits their business, including the interests of staff and customers.

In terms of evidence, we draw your attention to the ASH (London) briefing paper on e-cigarettes (November 2014) that declares: “In the UK smokefree legislation exists to protect the public from the demonstrable harms of secondhand smoke. ASH does not consider it appropriate for electronic cigarettes to be subject to this legislation, but that it should be for organisations to determine on a voluntary basis how these products should be used on their premises.”

We do not agree with ASH about the alleged dangers of secondhand smoke, which we believe have been greatly exaggerated. We do however agree that banning the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public places would be highly inappropriate and, in our opinion, counter-productive if the Government’s aim is to reduce the number of people who smoke.

So common sense has triumphed, for now. Sadly, normal service will be resumed soon. According to the same Mail report:

The Scottish Government will still clamp down on smokers however. It will be illegal to purchase e-cigs under the age of 18, or advertise them, while cigarette smoking will be banned in hospital grounds.

As it happens I've been invited to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee on those very issues next month.

Watch this space.

Monday
Aug102015

Vapefest in two and a half minutes

Love this video.

And, no, it's not because I'm in it. (Blink and you'll miss me.)

H/T Andy Sutton (aka @smoke2vape).

See also: Vapefest – a breath of fresh air.