Plain Packaging? No, Prime Minister!

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Friday
Feb272015

Cancer Research: shabby propaganda speaks volumes about tobacco control

Talking of risible and ridiculous (see previous post), Cancer Research UK has just scaled new heights.

According to the headline of a CRUK press release embargoed until a few minutes ago, 'Half a million children predicted to die from smoking as MPs head toward a vote on standard cig packs'.

The implication is that half a million children will die from smoking but standardised packaging could reduce that catastrophic loss of life in the under 18 age group.

Needless to say the headline is a crude and inaccurate sleight of hand:

Around 500,000 children will die from smoking when they are adults [my emphasis] unless more is done to cut smoking rates according to new Cancer Research UK figures released today (Friday).

Based on current smoking rates Cancer Research UK estimates that of today’s 12 million under 16 year olds, 2.7 million will become smokers as young adults. This could lead to around half a million smoking related deaths unless rates fall.

This shocking statistic has prompted the charity to renew its call for MPs to back the introduction of plain, standardised tobacco packaging when they vote on the issue in the coming weeks.

See what they've done?

To claim, in a eye-catching headline, that half a million children will die of smoking when they are really talking about adults, most of whom will live well into their sixties, seventies and even eighties, is pretty sick.

Forget the "shocking statistic". What's shocking is the depth to which the tobacco control industry will sink to force through a policy that an overwhelming majority of people have opposed in not one but two public consultations.

I'll be interested to see how much coverage this shabby piece of propaganda gets. In the meantime here's Forest's response, issued yesterday:

Campaigners urge government to postpone introduction of plain packaging

Campaigners have urged the government to postpone the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco until it has assessed the impact of the tobacco display ban and larger health warnings.

Responding to new figures from Cancer Research UK which claims "around 500,000 children will die from smoking when they are adults unless more is done to cut smoking rates", Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, said:

"There's no evidence plain packaging will reduce youth smoking rates. Packaging isn't responsible for children smoking. It's mostly peer pressure, the influence of family members or the fact that some children will always want to experiment or rebel.

"Ninety-nine per cent of responses to last year's public consultation on plain packaging opposed the measure. That included retailers, unions and members of the public.

"The real scandal is the fact that the government is pressing ahead with a policy that has been rejected by an overwhelming majority of respondents to its own consultation.

"We urge the government to wait until it can assess the impact of the display ban, which is still being implemented, and larger health warnings which are being introduced next year as part of the European Union's revised Tobacco Products Directive."

Update: Via Dick Puddlecote and Guido Fawkes I have just learned that CRUK's "head lobbyist" earns £230k a year. Nice.

Update: CRUK's child-centred propaganda appears to have bombed. The only national media that appear to have covered the story are i, the condensed version of the Independent, and the Express.

Thursday
Feb262015

The risible, and ridiculous, regulation of colour schemes

Dick Puddlecote has written an excellent review of our Stop The Nonsense event on Tuesday night.

To read the full post click here.

Of the ten speakers DP highlights the contribution from Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs (above):

Lastly came a cracker of a speech by Mark Littlewood which I asked those filming on the night to just bung up on YouTube when they had time. Calling plain packaging laws "risible, and ridiculous", he was incredulous that while we have Russian planes flying over Cornwall, a £100bn deficit, Greece causing ructions in the Eurozone and a general election in our imminent future, "the last act of this government is to regulate colour schemes".

We will indeed post Mark's speech on YouTube. (We're currently editing a video that will feature soundbites from speakers and guests.)

In the meantime you can listen to an audio file here.

Thursday
Feb262015

Muted media reaction to "totalitarian" policy on smoking in open spaces

Today's call by for a ban on smoking in parks and squares attracted only a modest amount of media attention.

We've been here before of course because former Labour health minister Lord Darzi made a similar plea in October 2014 before he was shot down by Boris Johnson who called the idea "bossy".

Darzi will no doubt return again and again to the subject, aided and abetted by an increasing number of politicians and anti-smoking campaigners, but for now there seems little enthusiasm for the proposal.

As I mentioned in my previous post I was put on standby for BBC Breakfast but nothing materialised.

BBC News did cover the story online – with a quote from Forest (Experts debate smoking ban in outdoor public spaces).

The Guardian also quoted Forest (Call for New York-style ban on smoking in public in UK) and there were reports in the Express and Mail Online.

All four reports featured comments by Australia's leading tobacco control campaigner Simon Chapman who surprised many of us with the vehemence of his opposition to the measure.

According to the British Medical Journal, which featured a debate on the subject:

Professor Simon Chapman at the University of Sydney says there is no scientific justification for such a draconian attack on basic freedoms.

He points out that no studies have looked at exposure in parks or on beaches - “almost certainly because researchers with any knowledge of airborne exposures would appreciate that such exposures would be so small, dissipated, and transitory as to be of no concern.”

He argues that outdoor bans based on communities’ amenity preferences “should not be dressed up in the language of public health” and says the line of shielding children from the sight of smoking “is pernicious and is redolent of totalitarian regimes in their penchants for repressing various liberties, communication, and cultural expression not sanctioned by the state.”

Coercing people to stop smoking in settings where it poses negligible risk to others is openly paternalistic, he writes. If it is fine to tell smokers that they cannot be seen to smoke anywhere in public, why not extend the same reasoning to drinkers or to people wolfing down supersized orders in fast food outlets?

This apparent rift between leading "health experts" was highlighted by Politics.co.uk which headlined its report, Call for public smoking ban splits anti-tobacco lobby.

Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it. I welcome Chapman's comments but he will never be an ally. Far from it.

I'm beginning to think he just likes picking fights and is never happier than when he's arguing with someone, anyone, even colleagues and former tobacco control allies (like Clive Bates on e-cigarettes).

Anyway, there's no doubt that bans on smoking in open spaces is the next goal for the anti-smoking lobby in Britain.

We've known this for some time but we've been pre-occupied with plain packaging and smoking in cars.

The problem is that bans are likely to be introduced at a local rather than national level. How many battles we can win remains to be seen but forewarned is forearmed.

Remarkably we don't have to resort to words like "totalitarian" or "draconian" in relation to this policy because Simon Chapman has already done it for us.

All we have to do is quote him. How bizarre is that?

Update: Cancer Research UK has issued a press release with the most misleading and pernicious headline I've seen in a long time.

It's embargoed until midnight so you'll have to wait ...

Wednesday
Feb252015

Ban smoking in UK parks and squares says Labour peer

A Labour health minister is calling for ban on smoking in UK parks and beaches.

An article in the BMJ (published on Thursday) asks, "Is a smoking ban in UK parks and outdoor spaces a good idea?"

Lord Ara Darzi and Oliver Keown at the Institute of Global Health Innovation want a ban to help smokers quit and to protect children from seeing people lighting up.

Extending anti-smoking legislation in the UK to encompass a ban in parks and squares “is an opportunity to celebrate the great beacon of healthy living, clean air, and physical activity our green spaces are designed for,” they write. “And, crucially, it is an opportunity to support our population - young and old - to make healthier lifestyle choices easier.”

Remarkably, and to his credit, our old friend Professor Simon Chapman "says there is no scientific justification for such a draconian attack on basic freedoms":

He points out that no studies have looked at exposure in parks or on beaches - “almost certainly because researchers with any knowledge of airborne exposures would appreciate that such exposures would be so small, dissipated, and transitory as to be of no concern.”

He argues that outdoor bans based on communities’ amenity preferences “should not be dressed up in the language of public health” and says the line of shielding children from the sight of smoking “is pernicious and is redolent of totalitarian regimes in their penchants for repressing various liberties, communication, and cultural expression not sanctioned by the state.”

Coercing people to stop smoking in settings where it poses negligible risk to others is openly paternalistic, he writes. If it is fine to tell smokers that they cannot be seen to smoke anywhere in public, why not extend the same reasoning to drinkers or to people wolfing down supersized orders in fast food outlets?

I suspect Lord Darzi's comments will attract most of the publicity but here's Forest's response, which we released earlier today (the BMJ press release was embargoed until 11.30pm):

"The ban on smoking in enclosed public places was introduced, allegedly, to protect the health of bar workers.

"There's nothing to suggest that lighting up in the open air is harmful to anyone other than the smoker.

"Campaigners say a ban will discourage children from smoking but there's no evidence that the sight of a stranger smoking encourages children to start.

"The principal reasons are peer pressure and the influence of family members.

"We must be careful we don't create a world only puritans can inhabit.

"Tobacco is a legal product and smokers pay £10 billion a year in tobacco taxation alone.

"If they're not permitted to smoke in any pub or club, smokers must be allowed to light up outside without being harassed or made to feel uncomfortable."

I'll be interested to see how much coverage this story gets. I've no doubt though that we can expect a lot more in this vein.

In the words of Darzi and Keown:

The existing UK ban has been “a public health triumph" … Banning it in public parks and squares is “a logical progression”.

PS. This afternoon I was asked about my availability to appear on BBC Breakfast in the morning. Thankfully I've heard no more. For once I won't be getting up at 3.00am and driving to Salford ...

Wednesday
Feb252015

Stop The Nonsense: great turnout and excellent speeches

Great turnout for last night's event on plain packaging at the IoD hosted by Forest, Parliament Street and Liberal Vision.

Speakers were Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), John O'Connell (TaxPayers Alliance), Madsen Pirie (Adam Smith Institute), Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas), Rory Broomfield (Freedom Association), Emily Barley (Conservatives for Liberty), Angela Harbutt (Liberal Vision) and Chris Snowdon (IEA Lifestyle Economics Unit).

Each speaker was given a couple of minutes to make their point and the rapid fire format worked rather well, I thought.

Soundbites (courtesy of Dick Puddlecote who was live tweeting), included:

Pirie: "Anti-smoking is a faith industry, not based on evidence."

Harbutt: "MPs, stick to the facts, not fiction. Vote no, stop the nonsense."

Fox: "Plain packaging is a free speech issue" and "My nephew has watched hundreds of ads for washing up liquid but has never washed the dishes."

Snowdon: "There is no doubt that this will be studied by those who want to do the same with alcohol, food and sugar."

Littlewood: "Deficit of £100bn, international instability, Ukraine/Greece, yet last act of government is to regulate colour schemes."

Former criminal justice minister, the Rt Hon Damian Green, also sent a message that was read out by former Forest spokesman Brian Monteith:

As a former Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice I cannot support the current proposals on plain packaging. Our police are engaged in a permanent battle against organised crime gangs which this proposal would make more difficult.

Last week’s report from RUSI [Royal United Services Institute] makes disturbing reading. It describes how organised crime operates in Britain today. It is diverse, sophisticated and largely invisible to the general public. The Report highlights the danger of illicit trade.

Many of these criminal gangs are global. As a Home Office Minister when I visited China I was told by officials there that whole villages were devoted to producing cigarettes for smuggling, and they were now concentrating their activities on Australia, which was the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. They were politely incredulous that Britain would follow suit, as they knew it would make life easier for criminal gangs.

This is what worries me about the Government’s stated intention to proceed with the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco. Standardised packaging will make it easier for counterfeiters to produce and sell counterfeit cigarettes. Australia has seen the illicit trade in tobacco reach record levels.

As a Minister I saw at first hand the damage that crime does to people’s lives and the dangers it poses to society. We should be making criminals’ lives as difficult as possible. I hope that the Government will now reconsider standardised packaging. As it stands this is a dangerous proposal.

There was a strong reaction from the audience to the news that a Conservative-led government was pressing ahead with legislation when 99 per cent of the responses to last year's consultation were opposed to plain packaging.

A video of last night's event will be posted online later this week and sent to MPs and ministers.

I'm told Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby was also at the IoD last night. We didn't invite him to our event and I can categorically deny he was there!

Finally, I haven't totted up the bar bill but it was substantial. I think people enjoyed themselves.

Monday
Feb232015

Outdoor smoking bans? Let battle commence

Following the "voluntary ban" on smoking in Bristol's Millennium Square, which I wrote about here, Nottingham is considering a similar policy in one of the town squares.

According to the local paper:

Smoking could be 'banned' in Old Market Square if enough people get behind the idea …

It would follow similar proposals for the city's hospitals, as well as rules prohibiting smoking in playgrounds in Nottingham.

The city council has said it will look at designating more smoke-free public places "where local people want it".

Full story here.

What I find interesting is the suggestion that such an illiberal and unreasonable policy could be introduced "if enough people get behind the idea".

How many is "enough"?

With smokers now a fifth of the adult population it doesn't take a brain surgeon to deduce that opinion polls will favour the views of the non-smoking majority most of whom won't care that strongly but, if pushed, will probably opt for a ban.

That alone would justify the term "tyranny of the majority" but my guess is that "enough people" will be tens rather than hundreds or even thousands of people.

In practise "enough people" will probably be a coalition of public health professionals and NGOs augmented by a handful of anti-smoking fanatics and a small child who doesn't like the smell of tobacco smoke.

(I'm not making this up. The Nottingham Post report really did feature a six-year-old girl who doesn't like the smell of smoke.)

As a potential battleground Nottingham is much better than Bristol. Millennium and Anchor squares in Bristol are privately owned and if we're to be consistent we have to accept that private landlords have the right to decide their own policy on smoking, however much we may disagree with it.

Council or government-owned property is different because smokers are taxpayers and that should give them certain rights.

Clearly we've a battle on our hands to stop outdoor smoking bans spreading from town to town but Nottingham is a good place to start.

I know Dick Puddlecote shares my view and since he was the mastermind behind the Stony Stratford rebellion I'm confident we can win this initial skirmish too.

Watch this space.

Update: Hundreds vote against banning smoking in Nottingham's Old Market Square (Nottingham Post).

Update: I'll be discussing a potential ban on BBC Radio Nottingham tomorrow morning. Lead item after 7.00am news bulletin.

Friday
Feb202015

Taken to task by "pure-blood" vapers!

Some vapers are never happy.

Ten days ago a BBC journalist asked Forest for a quote about the forthcoming ban on smoking in hospital grounds in Scotland.

The Scottish government has given health boards until the beginning of April to enforce the “smoke-free hospital grounds” policy.

It is up to individual health boards whether they include e-cigarettes in their smoking ban, but from my research it appears that most of them are going to ban them from their grounds.

Would you be able to send me a comment about these plans? In particular the line about e-cigs?

I replied as follows:

"There's no justification for banning smoking in hospital grounds. Smoking in the open air doesn't harm anyone, apart perhaps from the consumer.

"There's even less reason to ban the use of electronic cigarettes. There's no evidence e-cigarettes are harmful to the user or encourage non-smokers to take up smoking.

"Many smokers use e-cigs to cut down or quit tobacco so it seems perverse to prohibit their use.

"Banning them is counter-productive because if both products are prohibited there will be no incentive to switch to e-cigarettes. Smokers will simply carry on smoking, ban or no ban."

I looked for the story the following day but it didn't appear and I forgot about it.

Then, two days ago, a report was published on the BBC website: E-cigarettes to be banned from Scotland hospital grounds (BBC News).

I was quoted, and so was ASH Scotland's Sheila Duffy. For once we were in agreement, on e-cigs at least. I disagree with her view of tobacco:

"There is a clear case for hospital grounds to be free from tobacco use, which is always dangerous."

A story I thought was dead suddenly had legs. The Times and Scottish Daily Mail rang me for a comment and we were also quoted by the Scotsman and Metro (Scotland) which reported:

ASH Scotland joined smokers' rights group Forest in condemning the move to ban e-cigarettes in hospital grounds

The Scottish Daily Express even published a leader that began, somewhat comically:

When anti-smoking campaigners Ash Scotland and pro-tobacco group Forest unite to oppose a ban on e-cigarettes in hospital grounds, it doesn't take a genius to work out that there might be a flaw in the policy.

So it was hardly a surprise when BBC Radio Scotland rang and asked if I would discuss the proposed ban on their Morning Call phone-in this morning.

Frankly I had better things to do (we're organising an event on plain packaging next week and the shit has been hitting the fan all week in Ireland) but I agreed.

Shortly before ten a producer from Morning Call rang and told me I'd be on in a few minutes and as we often do we tweeted the information to our Twitter followers.

Within minutes one or two vapers began to question our involvement which was both funny and odd, given the context and the fact that Forest had repeatedly denounced the decision to ban vaping on hospital grounds.

Anyway, I sat patiently for 20 minutes – listening to ASH Scotland's Sheila Duffy, who was the studio guest, and several callers – before the producer told me I wouldn't be needed.

I've no problem with that. That's how it goes sometimes.

I've less sympathy with the suggestion, by some vapers on Twitter, that Forest shouldn't have been invited to comment on e-cigs in the first place.

Seriously? The majority of vapers are dual users. They smoke and vape. Ex-smokers who vape are a smaller group. Many Forest supporters are in the first group. We represent them. (We're also opposed to excessive regulation and junk science regardless of the product but that's another matter.)

I am reminded, in a strange way, of the Harry Potter books. Smokers who vape are Muggles. Ex-smokers who vape are "pure-blood".

And we all know how that turned out!

Wednesday
Feb182015

Ireland: Children's minister plays David versus Goliath card

According to the Irish Times yesterday:

One of the world’s largest tobacco firms has told the Government to immediately halt plain packaging legislation in the Dáil or face a High Court claim for damages.

JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands, has told Ministers James Reilly and Leo Varadkar that it will take legal action if they fail to promise by Friday that no further steps will be taken to enact the draft law.

See Tobacco giant issues legal threat over plain packaging (Irish Times).

Cue faux outrage from former health minister (now children's minister) James Reilly who immediately seized the spotlight, using the letter to portray both himself and the Irish parliament as David versus Goliath:

The Oireachtas "will not be intimidated by external forces" in legislating to control tobacco use which is responsible for 5,200 deaths each year, Minister for Children James Reilly has said.

See Legal threat will not halt tobacco packaging plan, says Reilly (Irish Times) and Big Tobacco is threatening James Reilly but plain packs ‘will be in shops by May 2017’ (The Journal.ie).

I'll leave you to judge who leaked the letter but it was published just hours before the Irish Parliament health sub-committee was due to debate plain packaging.

Had it not been leaked opponents of plain packaging – including Forest – might have enjoyed greater publicity for our own message:

The Dáil health subcommittee has been urged to consider "very carefully" the risks of introducing standardised packaging of tobacco.

Speaking ahead of a debate on measures to introduce plain packaging, John Mallon, spokesman for the smokers' group Forest Eireann, said:

"James Reilly desperately wants Ireland to be the first country in Europe to introduce plain packaging but he's taking a huge and unnecessary risk with taxpayers' money.

"Standardised packaging could not only fuel illicit trade by playing into the hands of counterfeiters and criminal gangs, it could also cost the taxpayer billions of euros in compensation to the tobacco companies.

"We urge the health subcommittee to consider these risks very carefully."

Mallon said the government should wait and assess the impact of the larger health warnings that will be introduced next year as part of the EU's revised Tobacco Products Directive.

See Plain packaging a "huge and unnecessary risk" (Forest Eireann).

Anyway we weren't totally ignored. John appeared on the TV3 and UTV news programmes and today's Irish Sun features a head-to-head 'debate' between John and the man he calls "Stubbs Reilly".

Here's what John had to say:

James Reilly desperately wants Ireland tone the first country in Europe to introduce plain packaging but he's taking a huge and unnecessary risk with taxpayer's money.

Standardised packaging could not only fuel the illicit trade by playing into the hands of counterfeiters, it could also cost the taxpayer billions of euros in compensation for the tobacco companies.

The Government can't deny intellectual property rights. If Steve Jobs had been told that he could sell his Apple products but couldn't have the logo on them he'd have taken action so it is understandable that tobacco companies are doing the same.

Putting cigarettes in standardized packs is yet another attempt to de-normalise a legal product, stigmatizing those who consume it.

The measures are based on the fallacy that children find so-called glitzy packaging appealing. But children aren't allowed to smoke, and if you go into a shop, cigarettes are out of view, so removing the brand is not going to make a bit of difference.

Meanwhile expect more 'David versus Goliath' nonsense as the tobacco companies understandably try to protect their intellectual property.

Update: Our old friend John Crown has called for a 99 per cent tax on the profits of tobacco companies - if they pursue their threats of legal action against the State.

See: Senator calls for 99% tax on tobacco profits amid legal threat (Irish Examiner).

He really is a plonker.

Update: The Irish Times has an online readers' poll on plain packaging. Please vote. Click here.