Plain Packaging? No, Prime Minister!

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Thursday
Aug212014

Recycled story

True story.

Friends returned from holiday a couple of weeks ago to find they had been burgled.

The alleged thief was subsequently apprehended because of a DNA sample on a carton of fruit juice he allegedly drank from.

The most impressive thing about this story is the fact that the alleged intruder had the presence of mind to put the empty carton in the recycling bin.

Allegedly.

Wednesday
Aug202014

Mirror 'vote' highlights lack of public enthusiasm for plain packaging

This made me laugh.

The Mirror asked the most loaded question I have ever read and still couldn't get a majority of their predominantly Labour supporting readers to vote in favour of plain packaging.

Here's the question:

A tobacco firm gave Tory MPs £50k worth of freebies as as the industry fights the planned plain box laws. Should cigarettes be sold in plain packaging?

The result was 50-50 yet five of the six comments they published highlighted the futility of the policy while the sixth ("Yes, but they should stop making cigarettes altogether") was on the barking end of the spectrum.

If that's the best they can do ...

Tuesday
Aug192014

Last chance saloon

Forest is hosting two events at the Conservative conference in Birmingham next month.

One's called 'Stand Up For Freedom'. The other is 'Last Chance Saloon'. Geddit?

Last Chance Saloon
ThinkTent Marquee
ICC, Birmingham
Monday September 29
21:30-23:00hrs

Yeehaw!

Sunday
Aug172014

Help! I'm being followed

The 'Head of News Development' at The Times and Sunday Times is following me (and Forest) on Twitter!

You may recall we had a brief spat which I wrote about here. Breitbart then published my post here.

Well, Pat Long has now tweeted:

Not only is Pat now following us, he's added me to a personal Twitter list called 'Parties & policy'.

Meanwhile, here's another insight into that calm, dispassionate mind:

Seriously, is this normal behaviour for the 'Head of News Development' at "one of the world’s greatest newspapers"?

Friday
Aug152014

Why Joe Jackson's CAMRA resignation is still relevant

What is the point of the Campaign for Real Ale?

I guess there's a clue in the name but does anyone really think real ale wouldn't exist without an organisation extolling its virtues?

It's like suggesting that without Mensa clever people wouldn't exist (or, to be more accurate, people who can do IQ tests).

Anyway, CAMRA has been in the news this week. According to a BBC report (Law change needed to save pubs, says Campaign for Real Ale):

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) says 31 UK pubs have closed every week this year - a rise of five a week on 2013.

The group said it was "perverse" that pubs could be demolished or converted without council planning permission and has called for a change in the law ...

CAMRA has called for the government to tighten planning legislation, making it harder for developers to convert pubs and obliging them to apply to local authorities for permission.

What's perverse is the fact that CAMRA said and did nothing about the smoking ban when 52 pubs were closing every week five years ago.

I expected nothing more because CAMRA actively welcomed the ban. In fact, in CAMRA's brave new world the smoking ban would breathe new life into Britain's pub industry because it would attract thousands of new customers.

Curiously this never happened. Instead, in the years following the ban, thousands of pubs closed. Yes there were other factors but research commissioned by Forest using information from a respected industry database demonstrated there was a direct connection between pub closures and bans in England, Scotland and Ireland. (See Smoking ban and pub closures.)

Despite this CAMRA continued to say nothing to oppose the ban. In 2009, when we launched the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign and called for separate smoking rooms, they didn't want to know.

In 2011, when we organised a reception at the House of Commons to lobby MPs and draw attention to the plight of Britain's pubs, they didn't even bother to reply to our invitation.

The previous year I briefly considered attending their members' weekend on the Isle of Man. I thought we might book a stand to raise awareness of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign. Someone (the person trying to sell me the stand, I suspect) suggested they could arrange for me to address the 300 or so delegates.

Needless to say it didn't happen. I imagine there was no enthusiasm for the idea at CAMRA HQ which was a pity because I fancied a weekend off the coast of Wales, even if it meant spending time with several hundred real ale huggers.

Bizarrely I was later sent an email inviting Forest to advertise in a CAMRA publication:

I look after the advertising for CAMRA’s membership publications What’s Brewing and Beer magazine as well as www.CAMRA.org.uk that is soon to be re-launched.

If you are interested in appealing to the 117,000 members let me know and I can put together a proposal. In the meantime please find out media pack attached. Obviously CAMRA would be a good organisation to work alongside with there [sic] campaigning background!

I wish.

CAMRA's spineless attitude to the smoking ban goes back a long way. The most damning indictment of their position is a letter written by Joe Jackson. I don't think I've published it before, although Joe did write an article on the subject that was published in Spiked (via The Free Society).

Written in March 2006 Joe's letter read:

Dear CAMRA,

I hereby resign my membership of CAMRA. I do so with great regret, since I've been a member for over 20 years. But I have been exasperated by your stance on the imminent smoking ban in pubs, and your cover article 'Relief Over Smoke Ban' is the last straw. True, CAMRA has expressed a preference for 'separate rooms without bar counters'. But this was hardly very supportive of smokers, and elsewhere, in editorials and articles, you've shown a distinct antismoking bias.

I thought CAMRA stood for freedom of choice and respect for the tastes of minorities (eg real ale drinkers). Now you greet a total ban not with outrage or even regret, but 'relief'. You have the nerve to add: 'the pub is for everyone'. Everyone, apparently, except smokers. (And it's disingenuous to say we're still welcome as long as we don't smoke. It's like telling a steak-lover that he's still welcome in his favourite restaurant even though it's gone vegetarian.)

Perhaps, like Messrs Blair and Brown (who wouldn't commit themselves until the last minute, when they saw which way the wind was blowing) you want to be seen as 'backing the winner'? You even celebrate that old cliché, the 'level playing field'. Well, I suppose it's 'level' for the antismoking lobby, since they win a 100% victory. And 'level' for those of us who like a pint and a smoke, since we will have precisely zero places to do so.

'Level' doesn't always mean fair. I would say that rather than being levelled, the playing field has been laid waste so that no one can play at all. I believe CAMRA is making a big mistake here, and is certainly not speaking on my behalf; I am far from 'relieved,' and not just because I want to smoke. There are other issues and principles involved.

Do you seriously believe that the government is entitled to pass a law banning smoking in every pub, restaurant and club in the country on the basis that some people don't like smoke? Even if a lot of people don't like smoke, this is none of the government's business. It is for the hospitality industry to address, with better ventilation and more nonsmoking zones, and this was already happening.

I'm all for pubs going nonsmoking voluntarily if they see a demand. But most pubgoers accept that pubs have been smoker's havens for centuries, and don't mind people smoking around them as long as the air isn't too smoky. Good ventilation/air filtration systems (as used in hospitals and laboratories) can quite easily make smoke barely noticeable. Add a bit of tolerance and we could avoid segregation and 'tribal warfare' between smokers and nonsmokers. I don't know what percentage of pubgoers drink real ale, but the percentage who smoke are (depending on who you believe) anything from 45% to 49%. You can't discriminate against that many people without affecting the whole atmosphere, culture and purpose of the pub.

CAMRA should have been a voice of reason and compromise. Instead you print countless letters from people calling for a total ban just because they personally really hate smoke. (Oddly enough, they didn't seem to have too much of a problem a few years ago.) Have they been in a properly-ventilated pub? Have they even been in a pub since the 1960s? And if they're in a nonsmoking room or nonsmoking pub, does the knowledge that there are people smoking in another pub around the corner really spoil their evening? These people should be politely told to grow up.

Of course, the ultimate justification for a total smoking ban is the idea that so-called 'secondhand smoke' poses a grave, even mortal, threat to the health of bar staff. As someone who has studied this issue in depth I can promise you that there is not a shred of proof of this. The 'death counts' are computer projections based on junk science statistics; there are no documented, proven cases of death specifically caused by 'secondhand smoke'.

It is true that 27 out of 147 studies to date have managed to come up with a tiny degree of 'risk elevation' (the highest being the much-quoted 25%, which in context is actually statistically insignificant). But if you really look at the lousy methodology of the studies and the biases involved, and put things in proportion, it adds up to nothing much. There are higher proven health risks in eating mushrooms or Japanese seafood. There is more arsenic in tap water, and more benzene in coffee, than there is in 'secondhand smoke'. The flimsy evidence has been exagerrated beyond all reason because it's such a great propaganda tool.

But you're not doctors or scientists; how are you supposed to know about this stuff? Fair enough: but in a way, that's the point. CAMRA is not a medical organisation. Surely issues like social harmony in the pub, or the rights of licensees to run their own businesses how they want, should be more important to us than what the Chief Medical Officer wants? To really make pubs 'healthy,' we should ban alcohol, which causes infinitely more damage to society than tobacco.

Even if you don't believe, as I do, that there is currently a 'witch-hunt' against tobacco, can't you at least see that antismokers have an agenda? Of course they want a smoking ban. But what about pleasure, freedom of choice, tolerance, tradition, business, civil rights and property rights? What about debating the appropriate limits of government intervention in our lifestyles? Instead everyone seems eager to cave in to people like ASH, who are just a bunch of bullies who've been given lots of money to say and do anything they want so long as it's anti-smoking (and incidentally I'm convinced that CAMRA was targeted by an ASH letter-writing campaign).

I think that, unwittingly perhaps, you have joined a dismaying trend in this country towards intolerance, whining, scapegoating, fear-mongering and nannying. (We can see this in the changes to the Licensing Laws: on the one hand the scare-mongering of the Daily Mail, and on the other, the mean-spiritedness of local councils not allowing pubs to stay open even an hour later). The pub is supposed to be a refuge from all that.

The antismoking lobby has long demanded a ban on smoking in 'public places' or 'workplaces'. But a pub is neither. It is a privately-operated business, and a place to get away from work, and nagging and restrictions. Yes, a small minority of the people present are working, but even if they wanted a smoking ban (and according to a survey by The Publican, 90% of them do not), the world doesn't revolve around them. Anyway, they, like the customers, have a choice. Even if there were some small risk from smoke, why should they be forbidden to assume that risk when they are still free to work down coal mines or on lifeboats or oil rigs? Is it really 'cleaner and safer' to work as a mechanic, a welder, or a motorcycle courier?

Are you aware that the smoking ban you're so 'relieved' about will be the most draconian in the world? It will be as restrictive as Ireland but with even higher penalties. It's true that basing a compromise on the sale of food didn't really make sense. But at least it was a way of finding a compromise, and I find it unbelievable that you prefer none at all. Meanwhile the Italian ban allows separate ventilated smoking rooms. The Spanish ban only mandates smoking rooms in places above a certain size. Even New York has exempted a few bars and in Los Angeles there are many places where you can smoke outside, under awnings etc. (Neither our climate nor our urban geography are conducive to that).

Best of all, the Dutch parliament, unlike our own, actually studied the evidence on 'secondhand smoke' and concluded that it didn't justify a ban. Instead they allowed the hospitality industry a 5-year period to introduce better ventilation and more nonsmoking zones. The only people who will be unhappy with this are a small minority of fanatics - the same people who, in this country, are being allowed to set the agenda.

Some of us will continue to campaign for something more reasonable, but we are bracing for all the same things that have happened in New York and Ireland: pubs going out of business, crowds of people standing outside, publicans being made responsible for noise and litter control, confusion as people try get around the law, social disruption, and a biased media proclaiming it all a big success because it's not politically correct to stand up for smokers.

As long as there aren't riots in the streets, authorities will portray the ban as 'popular', and the stage will be set for more and more restrictions on food, drink, noise and who knows what else. I think you are naïve not to see this.

Many people will of course find that the ban personally suits them. But many others will feel angry and unwelcome. For us, a pub that forbids us to smoke is just not a pub. It's like a fish and chip shop that forbids us to use any salt or vinegar. We'll just have to put up with it for as long as it lasts - which, I have no doubt, will not be forever. Meanwhile the culture of the British pub will have been damaged in a way which zealous smoke-haters simply fail, or refuse, to recognise.

Yours, with great sadness,

Joe Jackson

Meanwhile, here's an email to Forest from a CAMRA 'insider', dated September 2009:

It is official CAMRA policy (adopted at our 2005 AGM in Glasgow after a policy planning workshop and a fierce floor debate and preceded by a string of articles in What's Brewing) to back the 'smoking room' option, which you also propound. You might get in touch with the CEO Mike Benner to remind him forcibly of the fact and demand CAMRA's support. He will be embarrassed because after the Glasgow AGM CAMRA's campaigns team did precisely nothing to put our policy before ministers. But he can't deny that it is CAMRA policy.

There is a genuine freedom issue here and that is the freedom of the licensee to operate his/her business according to the wishes of the customer. When the smoking ban came in the Government at a stroke devalued both the income and capital value of what is, for most licensees, an enormous investment and their home as well as their living. Licensees are small businesspeople and in most cases simply can't afford to lose such a chunk of revenue and capital.

In addition here are some notes – written by a former Forest colleague – from a March 2010 meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Save The Pub Group (run and administered by CAMRA in the same way that ASH runs the APPG on Smoking and Health).

Described as a "public debate" on saving the pub, it was attended by approximately 80 people and chaired by Greg Mulholland MP (Lib Dem). A panel of speakers consisted of Tobias Ellwood MP (Conservative), Don Foster MP (Lib Dem), Gerry Sutcliffe MP (Labour Licensing Minister) and Mike Benner (CAMRA chief executive).

Greg Mulholland welcomed everyone and let everyone know that NO questions were to be taken from the audience and NO comments allowed from the floor. He then handed over to CAMRA's Mike Benner who enthused about how wonderful it was to see this level of support for the British pub etc etc.

Benner emphasised that the debate was about community pubs (urban Wetherspoonites not invited). He noted how society has become too individualistic, pubs needed to bring more social cohesion etc, then added that 70 per cent of all alcohol purchased in UK is from supermarkets (cue hisses and boos). His main point was that the next government needed to involve itself in 'joined-up thinking'.

Lots of questions on planning aspects, beer duty, pub ties etc. Then finally, as we're almost out of time, Mulholland announced, "And we have two questions on the smoking ban, one from John Porter of A Pie and A Pint and one from Forest."

After reading out the questions GM threw it open to the panel, saying, "Is anyone prepared to put their head over the parapet on this one?" Much laughter ensued and eventually Tobias Elwood spoke.

He said it was "naive of anyone to think that the smoking ban did not have an impact on pubs". He noted that the consequences of the ban were not properly thought out. He thought the way in which the ban was issued dealt a "hammer blow" to the trade and the effects of the ban along with the recession created a "double whammy which has definitely hurt the pub trade".

Don Foster said that for all this, if the free vote were taken again, he would still vote the same way (ie for the comprehensive smoking ban). He did however say that it would be "crazy" to impose a doorway ban but he thought the ban was an important step in improving the health of the nation.

GM then asked for a show of hands and only ten or so went up in favour of rescinding the ban entirely.

He then rephrased the question to ask how many would support an "amendment" to the ban (ie separate smoking rooms). This time 40-50 hands went up. GM said of this response, "I hope this will please Forest who asked the question."

He turned to Gerry Sutcliffe to ask what the [Labour] Government's current stance was. Sutcliffe replied that the industry and the Government needed to find more "creative ways of dealing with the issue" and called for a proportionate response. He said quite clearly that if a landlord has provided an outdoor garden for smokers then he "sees no problem with that, and will support them" and there should be no extensions of the smoking ban into doorways.

CAMRA'S Mike Benner did not comment.

Chris Snowdon has also written about CAMRA this week. I urge you to read his post, CAMRA: Still ignoring the elephant in the pub (Velvet Glove Iron Fist).

See also: The smoking ban, not cheap supermarket alcohol, has decimated British pubs (Breitbart News).

I also note this comment on the Friends of Forest Facebook page, posted in response to another article that mentions CAMRA, Time to revive pub-lic life (Spiked):

I was a member of CAMRA right from the beginning but resigned in disgust at their support for the smoking ban. July 1st 2007 was most definitely CAMRA's sell by date! Many publicans actually believed the nonsense that millions of non smokers were going to rush into their pubs on July 1st. It never happened and most will now admit they were wrong and should have stood up against the ban.

Friday
Aug152014

Paradise lost

My 'Visit Scotland' post aroused some comment here and elsewhere.

The gist of it was, "We're smokers and we won't go to a country that makes us feel unwelcome."

I'm sympathetic to that point of view but my post wasn't about smoking (I do have other interests!), it was about the forthcoming referendum and the fact that a huge number of English people who say they support the union have never been to Scotland, which I find difficult to fathom.

This phenomenon pre-dates the smoking ban so while it may be a reason not to visit Scotland today it wasn't a reason before.

Now, if you support the union it follows that you believe Britain to be one nation – the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland.

So if you're going to boycott Scotland because of the smoking ban and other anti-smoker legislation, surely you have to boycott other parts of the UK as well?

England has had a smoking ban since 2007 so logically you must refuse to visit Cornwall or the Lake District, for example, unless you have no choice (business, perhaps).

All of which leads me to Pat Nurse who has just returned to Britain following a six-week holiday in Italy.

Pat has commented that she won't spend a penny in Scotland, Wales or Ireland because of anti-smoking legislation but there's law banning smoking in most indoor public places in Italy so why would she visit that country but not those closer to home?

As it happens I know the answer because I've read Pat's account of her trip on The Free Society.

Clue: it's the culture of tolerance and common sense which is sadly lacking in the UK and other English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada and parts of the United States.

'Italy, a smoker’s paradise' is a great read. I thoroughly recommend it.

Above: Pat during her recent holiday in Italy

Wednesday
Aug132014

Visiting Scotland

Practising what I preach I'm travelling to Scotland today.

I was going to get the train. Then I thought about all those people heading to Edinburgh for the Festival and decided to drive instead.

It will add a few hours to the journey but I'll be able to make one or two detours – a late lunch by the harbour in Anstruther, for example, just down the coast from St Andrews.

If I get a chance I'll post some pictures later.

Anstruther Harbour at 4.00pm this afternoon

Late lunch courtesy the Anstruther Fish Bar

View from my hotel room in Dundee

Monday
Aug112014

Sport: played and watched by individuals not automatons

Remarkable victory by Rory McIllroy in the US PGA Championship last night.

I didn't see it because I fell asleep at midnight when he was on the eleventh and still a shot behind Rickie Fowler.

Earlier they were predicting it would be too dark for the leading competitors to complete their rounds - bad weather caused the start of the final round to be delayed - and the tournament might have to be finished today.

Few top golfers smoke on the course these days but there are exceptions and last week I was asked to comment ahead of next month's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

The question was framed as follows:

From the standpoint of Forest, does having world class professional golfers smoking either cigarettes or cigars on course during play at the 2014 Ryder Cup send out the correct messages to smokers and non smokers alike, young and old, with the event seen around the world on TV by over 500million viewers in almost 200 countries worldwide?

"The great thing about golf," I replied, "is that it's played by individuals not automatons.

"Smokers like Miguel Angel Jimenez are expressing their personality and perhaps their individual flaws. What's wrong with that?

"Some of the most popular [modern] golfers have been smokers. Jimenez, Darren Clarke, John Daly. The golfing public clearly doesn't mind so why should politicians and lobbyists?

"The idea they're encouraging young people to smoke is nonsense. Everyone knows the health risks of smoking. Seeing a golfer light up during a round isn't going to change that.

"It's not as if they're playing in a stadium or enclosed arena. They're in the open air, for goodness sake.

"The Ryder Cup should be a celebration not an opportunity to impose unnecessary regulations on players who already have enough to think about."

Of course it's not just golf that's played by real people not robots. The same is true of every other sport and the idea that every top sportsman (Arsenal footballer Jack Wilshire, for example) has to be a role model for our children is quite disturbing.

I'm told that both the Scottish Government and ASH Scotland have commented on the golf/smoking issue and it doesn't take a genius to work out what their position will be.

Frankly (and I don't care how much money the former has invested in the event) it's none of their business.

How dare the Scottish Government use an event like the Ryder Cup to make a political statement about people's lifestyle? Because that's what it is. It's lifestyle socialism and the sooner we use that term more often the better.

Today hardly any sporting event is immune from the politics of health. The London Olympics and Glasgow Commonwealth Games were both hijacked by lifestyle socialists who wanted to ban smoking and even vaping in every venue, the outdoor ones included.

At least London had designated smoking areas in the Olympic park and village. Needless to say ASH Scotland considered even that too tolerant for Glasgow. (ASH Scotland wants Commonwealth Games to be 'smoke free').

Hopefully the R&A and the organisers of the Ryder Cup will tell interfering outsiders where to go.

A ban on smoking on the golf course would be final proof the lunatics really have taken over the asylum.