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Voices of freedom

Just boarded a train at Cork, destination Dublin.

Spent last night in the affable company of John Mallon, Forest's spokesman in Ireland. A few drinks may have passed my lips so I'm feeling a little delicate.

Before it's too late I want to congratulate Conservatives for Liberty for organising an excellent event at the House of Commons on Wednesday night.

Billed as a "lobby evening" to promote the moral case for choice and responsibility there were six speakers – five Conservative MPs and the IEA's Chris Snowdon. They were each given ten minutes and a short Q&A.

The five MPs were Chris Philp and Lucy Allan from the 2015 intake, John Redwood, James Cleverly and David Nuttall.

David is a familiar face at Forest events (shortly after he became an MP in 2010 he put forward a 10-minute rule bill to amend the smoking ban) so I was pleased to hear him attack the Brighton consultation on extending the ban to beaches, parks and squares.

Cleverley was humorous yet robust but Snowdon got the biggest laughs with a speech that mocked recent public health scares – cheese as addictive as heroin and so on.

However the real revelation – because I had never previously heard her speak – was Lucy Allan, Conservative MP for Telford. Unapologetically libertarian, she was fun, fearless and admirably honest about her long-term parliamentary prospects.

Allan has a majority of 700 and her attitude seemed to be, "I may only be here for one parliament so let's make the most of it."

That includes standing up for people's right to make responsible decisions about their own lives, deciding for themselves what's right. "I don't want to live in a country where we have codified personal choice," she declared.

Conservatives for Liberty can be very pleased with the evening. A full house was proof that liberal values are alive and well in the Conservative party. Unlike the CfL event at the party conference in Manchester there were no free drinks to entice people to come.

This was a proper political meeting on an issue that divides society but unites many individuals who don't want their lives governed by an authoritarian bully state.

Encouraging too that two of the new intake were so forthright in their opinions and happy to pin their libertarian credentials to the mast. I hope others will have the courage to come forward and join them.


Sign language

This made me laugh.

It's behind a paywall but it's part of Matthew Parris's column in The Times today:

I support the ban on smoking in public places but surely everybody now knows it's an offence? The signage may at first have had an educational purpose, but in that case shouldn't the legislation have a built-in expiry clause for the duty to put up signs? After all, there's an almost limitless list of things we're prohibited from doing in public – offending against public order, spitting, importuning, or littering, for instance. You could plaster every square inch of every wall with notices reminding us of our legal duties. Or shall we live to see a flasher explain to the court: "I'm sorry, m'lud, there wasn't a sign telling me it was against the law to pull down my trousers"?

Parris is right. There's no need for all these 'no smoking' signs. We're not stupid but it's part of the infantilisation of society.

Another reason they're still there is because 'No Smoking' signs are an important part of the ongoing denormalisation of smoking.

The idea is not only to draw people's attention to something they already know (ie you can't smoke here), it's to make smokers feel as uncomfortable as possible about their habit.

Conceivably it could eventually incite some nutter to take the law into his own hands: "Oi, you, can't you read? It says you can't smoke here!"

I'm reminded of what David Hockney wrote in 2007, shortly before the smoking ban was introduced:

Two million anti-smoking signs are going up on July 1, including inside Westminster Abbey. The uglification of England is under way by people with no vision. I detest it.

David Hockney: 'I smoke for my mental health' (Guardian).

What a pity though that Matthew Parris, a thoroughly decent man whose opinions I always respect (even if I don't always agree with him), supports the ban and can't see that the intolerance behind the "uglification of England" goes much deeper than a superfluous sign on the wall of his apartment block.


Message to government: stop splashing the cash on 'public health'

The Chancellor will shortly announce the government's latest Spending Review.

Reports suggest public health spending could be cut, which can only be a good thing:

Health will be a central part of the Chancellor George Osborne's spending review … But it is understood that the Treasury wants cuts in other areas of health spending over the next four years - including public health run by local authorities covering work like sexual health and smoking cessation – £200m has already been removed from this year's council public health budgets.

See Public health spending 'under threat' (BBC News).

We've been arguing for a long, long time that funding the likes of ASH – a political lobby group in all but name – is a disgraceful and ineffective use of public money.

It's shocking that ASH receives public money and even more scandalous that local councils give more dosh to their doppelgängers around the country.

People (including the prime minister) complain that frontline services are being cut yet councils still give handouts to Smokefree South West and other anti-smoking lobby groups.

SFSW shares an office in Bristol with Public Health England. What's the point of SFSW when PHE is making exactly the same noises about smoking cessation? The same is true of many more anti-smoking groups.

I suspect a great many smoking cessation services could have their funding cut with few people noticing the difference. How successful are they? Are there any figures?

E-cigarettes seem to be the most successful smoking cessation tool around (according to vapers, anyway) and they're driven by the private sector.

And let's put a stop to all those dreary conferences public health campaigners spend so much time attending. Seriously, it's a wonder Linda Bauld and Deborah Arnott are ever at home.

I'm delighted £200m has already been removed from this year's council public health budgets. Let's cut those budgets even further and make councils think twice before spending finite funds on unnecessary anti-smoking initiatives such as signs designed to stop adults smoking in outdoor public places.

Some matters should be beyond the remit of local councils. Smoking outside is one of them. It's also none of their business if adults choose to smoke at all.

I'll be watching the Chancellor's statement with interest. Fingers crossed.

PS. See also Council spending on Public Health is being largely wasted (ConservativeHome).

My old friend Harry Phibbs writes:

£160 million is spent by councils on smoking cessation. For Leeds City Council the programme included someone dressing up as a kangaroo and going round a shopping centre telling people smoking was bad for them.

Some of the money meant for smoking cessation has been diverted into political lobbying (in contravention of the rules that Council funds should not be spent in that way).

For example Public Health Action/Smoke Free South West has been paid over a million pounds this year (from Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Plymouth, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Swindon, Torbay and Wiltshire councils). The organisation is quite open about its lobbying activities – for instance in support of plain packaging. Similar concerns arise with FRESH North East and Tobacco Free Futures.

My own council [Hammersmith and Fulham] is spending £924,000 on anti-smoking campaigning and activity of various sorts. I suspect those who quit would have quit anyway.

Well said, Harry. If one London council is spending almost a million pounds on anti-smoking initiatives, how much money is being spent nationwide? I think we should be told.


Director's cutting comment

The director of A Billion Lives has posted this comment on another blog:

It seems that many pro-smoking (sic) advocates would like to hurt our film because they are delusional veterans of a lost war. Lost.

It's laughable to me that they are still fighting. It reminds me when they found Japanese soldiers on an island many years after WWII was done. They were still on alert, waiting for orders. They were still at war.

You can read it in full here (scroll down). No further comment, m'lud.

Update: Ouch! Documentary filmmakers of a sensitive disposition should look away now.

The rest of you should pop over to Head Rambles where you can read Grandad's take on A Billion Lives. Click here.

Further update: Want to "Learn more about the statistic that 165,000 kids die each year from second hand smoke"? Then visit the film's website where you can also "Learn more about the statistic of a billion deaths predicted this century".

The good news? "Despite all this death and suffering … Truth is coming."

And here's another quote from director Aaron Biebart:

"The bottom line is that people are harmed by cigarettes. Pro-smoking (sic) groups can debate the numbers all day, but we're really more focused on helping the vast majority of smokers who'd like to quit."

Hang on, I thought A Billion Lives was all about exposing the lies of public health. I'm confused. I guess I'll just have to wait and see the film.


A billion comments

Some interesting comments here, on Dick Puddlecote's blog and on Twitter in response to yesterday's post about the trailer for A Billion Lives, a documentary about vaping.

Carl Philips is someone I respect enormously because he strikes me as a genuinely independent, open-minded and pragmatic commentator and his analyses are invariably thoughtful and well worth reading.

Occasionally he gently scolds me for something I've written but here's what he had to say about the forthcoming film:

The title alone has made me wonder. It seems to imply that every one of the world's one billion smokers' lives would be improved - nay, saved!! - by vaping. Seems like rather a stretch, to say the least.

The whole "lives saved" concept is rather tenuous even apart from that. You could say the same thing about olives: About one billion people alive today have their lives saved!! - which means extended by some amount - by the existence of olives (because they are a healthier source of oil and calories than what they usually substitute for).

That seems about right to me. Nevertheless Dick Puddlecote made a spirited attempt to justify the "billion lives" reference and of course I'm never going to argue with DP (in public at least) so I suggest you pop over to his blog and decide for yourself (A Billion Lives, My Take).

What DP and I agree on is the fallacy of the claim, repeated in the trailer, that 165,000 "kids" die from passive smoking every year. Even Clive Bates, a leading advocate of e-cigs and a former director of ASH, is sceptical about that. (See his comment on DP's post.)

Again, I'm not in total agreement with Clive's response because having found the source of the claim he then declares, "The filmmakers can't really be blamed for relying on a statistic originally published in a prestigious medical journal like The Lancet."

Hmmm. If you're producing a film whose central thesis concerns the "lies" being perpetrated by the public health industry against e-cigarettes, it makes sense to double-check or treat with suspicion other statistics emanating from that source.

I'm surprised too that Clive considers The Lancet a beacon of probity because according to recent reports:

An editorial in the current issue of The Lancet criticises Public Health England (PHE) for using weak evidence in its recent review of evidence on e-cigarettes, and a press release that followed.

In particular, The Lancet takes aim at the claim that e-cigarettes are around 95 percent less harmful than tobacco. It argues that the evidence for this statistic is weak, and that it originates with researchers who have relevant conflicts of interest.

See The Lancet attacks UK health agency’s claim that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than tobacco.

As you can imagine many vapers and other advocates of e-cigarettes were furious when they read that. Can you imagine if someone had then said, "The media can't really be blamed for reporting an article originally published in a prestigious medical journal like The Lancet."

I'm not having a dig at Clive, btw. On several issues (including, it seems, the global impact of passive smoking) our views appear to be edging closer together. I doubt they'll ever converge but at least we're moving in the right direction (ie we can now have a drink together without arguing).

My point is the producers of A Billion Lives would be making a huge mistake if they accept, with questioning them, public health statistics about passive smoking (or smoking itself) while attacking the PH industry for its often negative attitude to e-cigarettes (especially in the States).

Meanwhile another commenter wrote:

The intent of the film isn't to attack smokers or their rights, it's to damage or destroy the withdrawal of choice being pursued by pharma, tobacco companies, PH, ideologists and greedy politicians. I think that's something that everyone here can agree on?

The intent may not be there but why say 165,000 children are dying of passive smoking each year unless you believe it or it suits the film's agenda? Hearing it from the mouth of the director himself is especially galling.

Repeating a tendentious statistic like that is hugely damaging to smokers and their rights because if it was true it would be used to justify even more anti-smoking regulations. The present smoking ban would seem trivial in comparison.

Anyway, I'm told that particular stat won't appear in the film so let's leave it there.

As for people's right to choose to use e-cigarettes without undue interference from the state, I'm already there. And so is Forest. But what about people's right to smoke?

I appreciate A Billion Lives is about vaping but I hope it recognises, even in passing, that choice applies not only to those who want to vape but also to those who choose to smoke and don't want to quit or switch to e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, such is their enthusiasm for this 'miracle' smoking cessation aid, some ex-smoking vapers seem to forget that smokers (who pay a huge amount of tax on tobacco) have rights too.

Have they also forgotten the trope involving the little old lady who doesn't want to cross the street but is nevertheless helped across by a Samaritan-style passer-by:

Whenever a character wants to be good (or, perhaps, only appear good), he or she will often resort to public acts of kindness to random strangers.

Upon seeing a frail little old lady standing on the side of the road, our 'hero' will naturally try to help her get to the other side, usually without asking her if she wanted the help or not.

If the character is particularly strong, they will often pick the poor granny up and just carry her across, especially if they are in a hurry.

Usually, this ends with the old lady complaining that she never wanted to cross the street in the first place, but our "hero" has usually rushed off to do some other heroic deed by then.

See 'Helping Granny Across There Street'.

Sound familiar?

Finally I notice the debate about A Billion Lives has annoyed one or two people. Some have taken exception to the likes of DP and me querying the "165,000" statistic in case our comments undermine the 'real' purpose of the documentary.

Another dismissed the discussion as "boring" although, amusingly, instead of closing it down the remark provoked even more comments.

It strikes me that many activists live in a bubble and unless they hear exactly what they want to hear they stick their fingers in their ears and mumble, "Boring" or "Not interested". Their intolerance of alternative opinions and their sensitivity to even the mildest criticism or 'negative' remark ends up defining them – and not in a good way.

Thankfully there are others who are far more tolerant of contrary opinions and are willing to accept that the fight for a genuinely liberal society goes way beyond smoking or vaping but has to include both.

Liberals (in the truest sense) are a broad church and we're never going to agree on everything. We all have our likes and dislikes. What matters, as I've said many times before, is that we're united on the underlying principles of choice and personal responsibility.

Now, if only someone would make a film about that.


More prejudice and propaganda

Like many people I'm curious to see A Billion Lives, a film about vaping, when it's released next year.

It's ironic however that a trailer for a pro-vaping documentary should begin with the bold statement 'YOU ARE BEING LIED TO' (about the risks of e-cigarettes) before making the utterly bogus claim that "One hundred and sixty-five thousand kids die from secondhand smoke [pause] every year."

To be fair, the vaping community was split last night with several vapers voicing their concern on Twitter and another saying the matter had been "dealt with", whatever that means.

Many more however are happy to pass on the message. At the time of writing the trailer has been retweeted 273 times and viewed by more than 20,000 people.

As for the film's snappy (and tendentious) title, the producers are clearly content to promote the anti-smoking mantra that half of all (long-term) smokers worldwide will die as a direct result of their habit, ignoring other factors such as diet, poverty and genetics.

If the film is as evidence-based as the trailer (and the title), I can't wait to review it.


Stuff ASH Scotland and their pathetic petition

Dick Puddlecote has done an excellent job highlighting some of the exchanges that took place when ASH Scotland CEO Sheila Duffy gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee this week.

The session took place in response to a petition by ASH Scotland that calls on the Scottish Parliament "to develop guidance for all those working in the Parliament, to ensure adherence to obligations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as set up by the World Health Organisation, and to which the UK is a signatory".

You can read the petition here but essentially ASH Scotland wants to restrict and control the extent to which tobacco companies and other "vested interests" can communicate with our elected representatives.

Although she was careful not to directly accuse the Scottish Parliament of being in breach of an international treaty, that was the implication.

Specifically, the petition highlights Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation's Framework Treaty on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that says:

In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

Tobacco control activists frequently cite Article 5.3 as a reason ministers and elected politicians shouldn't meet representatives of the tobacco industry.

In fact, nowhere in the FCTC does it say that governments cannot engage with the tobacco industry. The guidance merely stipulates that meetings with the industry and its proxies should take place "only when strictly necessary".

"Only when strictly necessary" is open to interpretation, of course, but at the very least it should include issues such as illicit trade, taxation and proposed legislation that directly or indirectly affects the industry, its supply chain (farmers, distributers, wholesalers, retailers) and customers.

Most important, I would suggest it's up to our elected representatives to decide what is "strictly necessary" not unelected taxpayer-funded lobbyists citing a clause in a treaty signed by dozens of regimes for whom the words 'free trade' and 'open government' are unfathomable if not abhorrent.

If I understand ASH Scotland's petition correctly, this ridiculous organisation (currently in receipt of £800k per annum from the Scottish Government) wants unelected bureaucrats to have the power to edit or veto tobacco industry missives to ministers and other parliamentarians in order to spare them exposure to contentious or allegedly misleading information.

Laughably Duffy tried to justify this by telling the Committee it "would save you time". (Why not go the whole hog and do away with parliamentary democracy completely?)

Meanwhile ASH Scotland and the entire tobacco control industry will continue to be free to make whatever statements they like without fear of censorship. Goebells would be very proud.

Thankfully several members of the Public Petitions Committee, including the convenor (Labour's Michael McMahon), seemed less than impressed with this pitiful attempt to restrict and even censor communications between a legitimate industry and our parliamentary representatives.

I won't quote what Dick Puddlecote had to say other than to repeat his recommendation that you read the relevant section of the Committee report (scroll down to 'New Petitions').

The only thing I will add is, look out for the robotic nature of Duffy's replies as she repeats the same points time after time. You wouldn't want to get stuck in a lift with her.

There was however some light relief. Responding to Duffy's warning that having the chief executive of a tobacco company as a constituent might be an "issue" for MSPs ("You might then have to consider how you interacted with them"), Labour's Hanzala Malik noted drily:

It is unlikely that I have a chief executive in the constituency, but one lives in hope.

Do you think he was making fun of her? One lives in hope.

PS. I've written about Article 5.3 several times. One post in January 2011 (It's good to talk: why UK ministers must ignore this foreign diktat) pretty much sums up my feelings:

It seems to me that dialogue with the manufacturer of a legal product is the least we should expect of any government. Anything else is a dereliction of duty and morally ministers give up the right to govern if they adopt such a policy.

Likewise, a government that refuses to engage with the consumer cannot complain if the consumer decides to operate outside the normal parameters.

History tells us that governments - even democratic ones - are never shy to engage with terrorists and other opponents of the state.

When it comes to tobacco, a legal product that generates billions of pounds of revenue for governments worldwide, different rules apply. Scandalous, really, and yet few people ever mention it.

If I have a wish for 2011 it's that Big Government liaises far more closely with tobacco manufacturers and the consumer. Stuff the FCTC. If they have any self-respect UK ministers will use their common sense and not be dictated to by foreign diktat.

When I wrote that I possibly gave Article 5.3 too much credence. As we now know, it's more flexible and open to interpretation than some would have us believe.

Nevertheless, in the same spirit as that 2011 post, my message to the Scottish Parliament in 2015 is – stuff ASH Scotland and their pathetic, sanctimonious petition.

If they have any self-respect MSPs will use their common sense and not be dictated to by unelected political lobbyists who have no mandate to control anything, least of all what politicians can and can't read.

The arrogance of ASH Scotland's position is staggering but no more than we've come to expect.

The remarkable thing is the petition wasn't thrown out there and then. Instead it stumbles on. Watch this space.

Update: I've just read Grandad's latest post. He doesn't have much time for Sheila either. Or, to put it another way:

"She seems to like wallowing in shit."


Nicotine wars – choice is king

Interested to read that BAT is to test a "hybrid product that combines tobacco and e-cigarette technology".

According to Reuters:

Like an e-cigarette, the iFuse heats nicotine-laced liquid into an inhalable vapor, but the vapor passes through a bit of tobacco near the tip that imparts flavor, said Kingsley Wheaton, BAT's managing director of next generation products.

Relative to BAT's other tobacco-only vapor product, the iFuse is "simpler to use, more compact, more convenient, neater, cleaner and probably attracts a lower excise position," Wheaton said. Excise tax is often calculated using the amount of tobacco.

See British American to test tobacco/e-cigarette hybrid.

Philip Morris, of course, has its own tobacco-based vapour product (the Marlboro Heatstick) while JTI has Ploom, a tobacco vapour pod device.

Given that Forest stands for Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, any device that involves tobacco has to be of interest.

It's encouraging too to know that tobacco companies are focussed on developing harm reduction products designed to appeal to smokers who want options other than a non-tobacco vaporiser.

Some people seem to think these devices are a threat to e-cigarettes. Maybe they are, maybe they'e not, but it will be fascinating to see how this plays out over the next decade. Personally I think there's room for these and other devices (some still to be invented).

Truth is, e-cigs are not universally popular with smokers. If they were millions more would have switched. The fact that they haven't suggests there must be a gap in the market for other nicotine devices.

That said, if they're not over-regulated, e-cigarettes have a big advantage because they have an established and growing consumer base.

In contrast tobacco vaporisers have a lot of catching up to do and it's possible they will never be anything more than a niche product with a devoted but small following.

The important thing is to offer consumers a wide range of products and allow them to make an informed choice.

In other words, let the market – not politicians – decide.