BMA prohibitionists shame medical profession

Ever get the feeling you've been here before?

The British Medical Association yesterday called for e-cigarettes to be outlawed in bars, cafes, restaurants, museums and schools. (Evening Standard)

E-cigarettes should be banned from public places like bars and restaurants because of the risks of "passive vaping," medics say. (Daily Telegraph)

Studies have found e-cigarettes are less harmful than fags but the vapour holds so much nicotine bystanders can absorb significant amounts. While the vapour is less likely to cause cancer, experts warn it could have other health effects. (Daily Record)

Those of us who have been fighting the smokers' corner for an indecent number of years knew it was only a matter of time before the prohibitionists turned on vapers.

This is obviously the more extreme wing of public health but 15 years ago we said the same about campaigners who wanted to ban smoking in every pub, club and bar in the country.

It'll never happen, most people said. Don't bet on it, we said. And look what happened.

Anyway we were a bit late to this story but Forest's response reads:

The smokers' group Forest has condemned a call to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in bars and restaurants.

Responding to reports that the British Medical Association wants e-cigarettes banned in enclosed public places to avoid the risk of 'passive vaping', Forest director Simon Clark said:

"The BMA has taken leave of its senses. E-cigarettes are often used by smokers who are trying to quit.

"Banning vaping would be counter-productive because it would completely undermine the number one reason for switching to e-cigarettes.

"There's no evidence that 'passive vaping' is a risk to anyone so bars and restaurants must be allowed to decide for themselves what their policy is."

He added: "Once again the BMA has underlined its prohibitionist tendencies. Doctors should disown this ridiculous organisation before it brings the medical profession into disrepute."

Oddly enough the New Nicotine Alliance, which advocates the use of e-cigarettes, used exactly the same language when they tweeted this:

I may use it again when I discuss the issue on LBC after 7.00pm.

If I get a chance I'll also point out that as well as allowing vaping there is absolutely no reason why publicans shouldn't be permitted to allow smoking as well, subject to certain air quality standards.

Meanwhile we're still waiting to hear pro-vaping bodies like the NNA criticise smoking bans (even outdoor ones) in the manner that Forest opposes bans on vaping.

Safe to say I'm not holding my breath. If I did I'd have been dead long ago.

Update: You can listen to me on LBC here.


Ahoy, there!

As of this morning 200 people have registered to attend Forest's annual boat party on the Thames next week.

Given the state of the weather that's pretty remarkable. People are either incurable optimists or they just don't care!

Or perhaps they see it as a chance to recover from all this referendum madness.

It's not too late to join us but guests must register in advance. RSVP or call Kristina on 01223 370156.

Full details here.


Tragedy and trivia

I haven't posted this week for two reasons.

One, I was on a short break (in Edinburgh).

Two, what is there to say about the major news story of the week that hasn't been said or written about already?

I'm conscious too that comments about smoking will seem trivial in comparison to the murder of an MP.

Nevertheless it's a rare week that Forest isn't asked to respond to a smoking-related story and this week was no exception.

On Monday for example BBC Radio Wales invited me to discuss the news that a PA system is being launched to discourage smokers from lighting up at hospitals in mid and west Wales:

Hywel Dda University Health Board is the first in Wales to launch the "Push the Button" system to curb smoking at Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire hospitals.

It enables people to anonymously push a red button which triggers an announcement reminding them hospitals are smoke-free.

The most unsettling aspect of the policy is the use of a child's voice on the PA announcement and the claim that by lighting up – even in the open air – smokers are putting other people's health at risk.

The level of manipulation and scaremongering is staggering.

I did however enjoy the way Steve Moore, chief executive of Hywel Dda Health Board, described it as a "unique project":

"I don’t think anybody else has brought together local schoolchildren and the ability to anonymously press a button and remind people smoking outside that they really shouldn’t be doing it."

I wonder how long - and how many meetings - it took them to come up with the "unique" idea of combining children's voices with, wait for it, "the ability to anonymously press a button"?

If that wasn't laughable enough the policy includes e-cigarettes demonstrating once again that tobacco control isn't about health or harm reduction.

Another story concerned a World Health Organisation report that urged Syrians to stop smoking.

I did my best but I couldn't better this response from Robert Fisk, the Independent's Middle East correspondent:

I can see the problem. While fleeing from air strikes, mass graves and ethnic cleansing, Syrians have just got to resist the temptation of a quick gasper to calm their nerves.

Your home may be in flames, your family enslaved, your torturers itching to pull out your fingernails – but above all you've got to ignore the pretty ciggy packet in your pocket.

Try not to join the other 280,000 victims of the Syrian war – but above all ignore the temptations of those who urge you to puff away on “menthol fresh” cigarettes.

I also liked this soundbite from Nigel Farage who found time in his busy nautical schedule to tell the Sun:

"If I was living in Syria I would be more worried about the risks of Islamic State than a comforting cigarette."

The paper included this comment from me:

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “It’s shocking how out of touch the World Health Organisation is with ordinary people.

“Syrians are fleeing for their lives yet these appalling unelected puritans think now is the time to tell them not smoke.

“The only people who will take comfort from this report are the fanatical anti-smoking extremists within ISIS whose barbarous treatment of smokers is reminiscent of the Dark Ages.”

Others quoted by the paper included Alex Wild of the TaxPayers' Alliance and Drew Johnson from the US-based Taxpayers' Protection Alliance.

I was pleased to read their comments because it demonstrated general incredulity towards this madness.

Sadly we were denied the the thoughts of Cancer Research, the Department of Health or ASH.

In fact I haven't heard a peep from anyone in tobacco control suggesting the World Health Organisation has got its priorities badly wrong.

I wonder why?

See WHO are you? Fury as World Health Organisation launch campaign to warn Syrians about dangers of smoking — as they flee ISIS (The Sun).


Truth lies bleeding

OK, so this is what we're up against.

On Thursday I took part in a 30-minute discussion about smoking on Mustard TV (Freeview Channel 7, Norfolk area only).

My fellow guests were a nurse and chair of a local NHS group, and an ex-smoker who now works for a stop smoking service. The debate was lively but respectful of other people's opinions.

Off air the atmosphere was friendly and there was none of the tension I sometimes experience with anti-tobacco lobbyists.

Nice as they were there was nevertheless a problem.

Tracy, the nurse, insisted there is evidence that exposure to tobacco smoke in the open air is dangerous to non-smokers.

Bill, the smoking cessation man, took a similar view. To make his point he explained that he invites groups to picture the following scene.

"Walking down a road you see a nice friendly old guy sitting at a bus shelter smoking a pipe; on the other side there's a man on a park bench injecting heroin."

He then asks, "Which side of the road are you going to walk?"

"They always choose the side of the smoker," he told us, but before you cheer his point was this.

Psychological issues aside, "passively the heroin user will not harm anybody". In contrast, smoking "harms everybody", even outside.

Now Tracy and Bill struck me as decent and likeable people. Unlike some anti-smoking campaigners I don't think they would deliberately lie, exaggerate or deceive people.

In other words they genuinely think that passive smoking, indoors or outside, poses a risk to the health of non-smokers.

Worse, Bill seems to think that even the briefest exposure to an old bloke smoking his pipe at a bus shelter is putting other people's health at risk.

The terrifying thing is, Bill and Tracy aren't ordinary members of the public. They are actively engaged in public health yet they believe what I can only describe as mumbo-jumbo.

And there are thousands of Bills and Tracys throughout the country.

Where are they getting their information from and why is no-one in the public health industry challenging it?

The former needs investigation but I've no doubt about the latter.

The reason no-one is challenging this and other myths about smoking is because the endgame (smoking cessation) is considered so important it justifies almost any means.

We see this again and again in public life. If it produces the desired outcome the truth can be twisted and tortured beyond recognition.

The EU referendum is a classic example, with both sides at fault. It's particularly disappointing though that a democratically elected government should resort to such ruthless and systematic propaganda.

Public health campaigns are the same. Myths, estimates and calculations are repeatedly presented as 'facts'.

If the referendum does nothing else it may open people's eyes to the reality of public debate in Britain today.

Meanwhile the truth lies bleeding. How rotten is that?


Coming soon ...

The announcement of the Queen's birthday honours reminds me that Forest is about to launch its own awards.

The inaugural Voices of Freedom Awards will be presented at The Freedom Dinner in London next month.

It's not too late to nominate someone so feel free to suggest some people in the comments.

Note: they don't have to be household names!


Hold the front page ... 

City AM, June 10, 2016.


Cutting the Mustard

Norwich City Council has become the latest local authority to introduce a 'voluntary' ban on smoking in children's play areas.

Forest was quoted in the local paper last week and yesterday I was interviewed on BBC Radio Norfolk.

I was also invited by to discuss the issue on Mustard TV. I'd never heard of the station so I was curious and said yes even though it meant a four-hour round trip.

Bizarrely Mustard TV is named as a "nod to Colman's mustard in Norwich" although there's no direct connection between the two.

Instead it's owned by Archant, a local community media group with an extensive range of titles including the Eastern Daily Press.

I had a pang of regret when I arrived because this is exactly the sort of company I wanted to join when I left university.

Instead I was side-tracked by an offer of work in London, where I had always wanted to live, and found myself in public relations instead.

Anyway, I enjoyed my visit. There was a green room, and make-up facilities, and after a short wait we were ushered in to a small studio where we met the presenter, Clare.

Fellow guests were Bill, an ex-smoker who now works for a local stop smoking service, and Tracy, an NHS nurse.

Recorded 'as live' the atmosphere on the 30-minute programme was relaxed and friendly. It was lively - we disagreed on several points - but it never got personal or unpleasant.

Although Bill and Tracy are committed to helping smokers quit, I sensed an empathy for smokers you never get from anti-smoking politicians and professional lobbyists like ASH.

At one point Bill even accepted that designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs might not be a bad idea.

The programme was broadcast on Freeview in the Norwich area last night.


Brussels diary

I spent part of last week in Brussels.

The last time I was there, in December, my hotel near the European Parliament had armed guards outside and before you could enter guests had to empty their pockets, reveal the contents of their luggage and submit to an airport-style security check.

This time things were far more relaxed, although it probably helped that I was staying in a smaller hotel a bit further away.

Wherever I went I was asked about the referendum. Most of the people I spoke to were not so much pro-EU as, "This is the way it is, there's nothing we can do."

No-one tried to change my view that Britain should leave. Instead there was a sense of amusement that we're even debating the issue let alone voting on it.

What you have to understand is that in Brussels many people genuinely believe the EU is a single political entity and a major world power in its own right.

"Rival powers" are Russia and the United States.

For many therefore it is incomprehensible that any member state would decide to walk away from the strengh and security this self-proclaimed world power allegedly provides.

Far from being alarmed they find it funny. Let's see who's laughing on June 24.

En route to Brussels I got a call inviting me to comment on a recent OECD report that suggested tobacco tariffs could rise by 70 per cent if Britain left the EU.

Some analysts suggest this figure is exaggerated and ignores the possibility of the UK importing more from outside the EU if tariffs do go up.

Truth is, no-one knows what will happen if the UK leaves, or remains. There may be more unknowns if we leave but for me that's part of the appeal.

More of the same – including further integration in a federal 'super state' – is a foul, grim, wretched and even hellish prospect. So threaten us with higher tariffs (and worse), nothing is going to change my vote to leave.

I didn't say any of this of course because Forest has no position on Brexit. Instead I fell back on that time-honoured ruse:

"I'm sorry, it's a very bad line ... can hardly hear you ... train about to enter the tunnel ... hello?" [Silence.]

On this occasion however it was entirely true.

Tuesday was World No Tobacco Day. To 'celebrate' this annual event the European Parliament hosted two events, a half-day conference and a cocktail reception.

The latter was hosted by the Smoke Free Partnership, "a strategic, independent and flexible partnership between Cancer Research UK, the European Heart Network and Action on Smoking and Health (UK)."

Naturally I applied to attend but five hours after my registration was confirmed I received this reply:

Due to limited capacity and very high demand of participation to the event, I regret to inform you that we will not be able to accept your registration this time.

Very high demand? Possibly, but I suspect my application fell victim to this restriction:

The tobacco industry and those representing tobacco industry interests are not welcome, in accordance with the Guidelines of Article 5.3 FCTC. Due to the fact that the relationship between individuals and organisations representing [the] tobacco industry’s interest is not always declared, all registrations will be screened.

I'm not complaining. Assuming it was a private event they can invite or exclude whoever they want (although I would dispute that Forest represents "tobacco industry interests").

Nevertheless it's not a great advertisement for the European Parliament when events that actively prohibit legitimate stakeholders from engaging with elected representatives are supported and effectively endorsed by the host institution.

The sad thing is my expectations of 'public health' and the European Parliament are now so low I expected nothing else and so I double-booked dinner safe in the knowledge I wouldn't have to cancel.

While the World Health Organisation used World No Tobacco Day to promote plain packaging, pro-vaping advocates seized the opportunity to promote e-cigarettes.

Leading the way was Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on E-Cigarettes whose byline appeared on an article published online by New Europe, a weekly Brussels-based newspaper.

Responding to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan who last year stated that “all governments should ban e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems”, Pawsey declared:

E-cigarettes are helping millions of people to stop smoking. So I find it inexplicable that the World Health Organisation is threatening to ban them.

To this he added:

Given the mounting scientific evidence around the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes common sense dictates that we should be doing all we can to endorse, promote and advocate their use among tobacco users – not ban them.

I've no problem with that. I do however have an issue with the fact that Pawsey finds it "disturbing" and "mind-bogglingly incomprehensible" that millions of people still smoke, commenting, "There are too many smokers in the world."

Too many? Who does he think he is to make that kind of judgement? And how many is "too many"?

Like me Pawsey is a non-smoker but at least I've made an effort to understand why many people smoke. I also recognise that smokers aren't easily categorised. (Ditto vapers, btw.)

There are many types of smoker including one very important group – adults who know the health risks but enjoy smoking and have no wish to stop.

David Hockney, now in his seventies, is a member of that group. He has explained many times why he smokes. In 2007, for example, he told the Guardian:

I smoke for my mental health. I think it's good for it, and I certainly prefer its calming effects to the pharmaceutical ones (side effects unknown)

In 2009, also in the Guardian, he wrote:

There are a lot of people who don't like smoke or smoking but there are a lot of people who do. Tobacco is a great calmer, it relieves stress, it can put you in a contemplative mood.

Hockney, a friend of Forest, has continued to write and comment in a similar vein.

Meanwhile, in an interview in the Mail on Sunday last week, actor Jeremy Irons said of smoking:

For me it's a sort of meditation, it calms me."

There are other reasons why people smoke but like the never smoker he is Pawsey finds it "disturbing" and "mind-bogglingly incomprehensible".

Personally I find it "disturbing" and "mind-bogglingy incomprehensible" that anyone, especially a politician, would admit to having such a closed mind.

Unfortunately an increasing number seem to wear their ignorance and incomprehension as a badge of honour.

The result is that even pro-vaping advocates like Pawsey are as much a part of the nanny state as the Brussels' bureaucrats they condemn for over-regulating e-cigarettes.

His comments also demonstrate that on issues like this there's very little to choose between Brussels and Westminster. In Britain as in Europe state paternalism is alive and well.

See WHO celebrates World No Tobacco Day, ignores potential of e-cigarettes (New Europe).