Tobacco Products Directive

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Thursday
Apr172014

The hypocrisy of Labour MPs

Breathtaking hypocrisy from Labour MPs following yesterday's announcement that Imperial Tobacco is to close its Nottingham factory.

Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, tweeted:

I hope Imperial Tobacco will work with DWP to redeploy the many affected Nottingham workers who are losing their jobs & need new employment.

Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South, went one better:

Thanks @UKLabour colleagues inc @Vernon_CoakerMP @Nik_McD & @GrahamAllenMP working together to support Imperial Tobacco workers. #onyourside

"On your side"?!!!!!

It was thanks to legislation introduced by the last Labour government that 500+ workers have now lost their jobs.

In case Greenwood, Leslie et al have forgotten, laws included a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, a ban on smoking in all indoor workplaces, a ban on tobacco vending machines and a ban on the display of tobacco in shops.

Today they have the cheek to shed crocodile tears for tobacco industry workers, many of whom may have written to them asking them to oppose those measures in case they cost them their jobs.

The packaging industry has made no secret of the fact that plain packaging could result in more jobs being lost.

Labour supports plain packaging so if plain packs are introduced and packaging companies subsequently announce the loss of jobs, can we expect similar tweets along the lines of:

I hope x will work with DWP to redeploy the many affected workers who are losing their jobs & need new employment.

Thanks @UKLabour colleagues working together to support packaging workers. #onyourside

I think I'm going to be sick.

PS. Via Breitbart.com here's my full response to the closure of the Nottingham factory:

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said, "It's not pro-smoking to mourn the loss of jobs. The reality is however that the closure of Imperial's Nottingham factory will have no impact on consumers.

"What's worrying is that it follows a decade in which successive governments have introduced increasingly draconian policies designed to force adult consumers to quit smoking.

"Instead of focussing on education, government has prohibited tobacco advertising, banned smoking in public places, outlawed cigarette vending machines and banned the display of tobacco in shops. Now ministers want to introduce standardised packaging.

"How many more people are going to pay for the war on tobacco with their jobs? The smoking ban alone led to a huge number of jobs being lost as thousands of pubs closed as a direct result of the ban.

"Sadly, when campaigners are demanding further action on smoking, they don't take the loss of jobs and the impact on workers' families into account."

Via the Nottingham Post, here's an interesting article about the history of Imperial in Nottingham. Worth reading.

Monday
Apr142014

Vaping and tobacco trends 2014

The number of people using electronic cigarettes has tripled from 700,000 to 2.1 million in the past three years.

According to yesterday's Sunday Times:

More than half of all smokers have now tried the electronic nicotine inhalers, up from a third last year …

The proportion of smokers who regularly tape has risen sharply in the past two years from 7% to 18% according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the charity Action on Smoking and Health.

The study of 12,269 adult smokers also found that of the 2.1m ecigarette users, two thirds continue to smoke normal cigarettes.

See: Ecigarettes full of puff as user numbers triple to 2.1m (Sunday Times)

I'm curious to know more about the ASH/YouGov survey but it's clear the ecig market is growing fast.

It's clear too the majority of ecig users continue to smoke. This suggests to me that vapers and advocates of ecigs who have turned their backs on tobacco and are downright hostile to smoking are in the minority and must not be allowed to set the agenda because it will only play into the hands of the tobacco control industry.

Another sign of the times is the fact that the Morning Advertiser's annual 'Tobacco Trends' has become 'Vaping and Tobacco Trends'. It includes comments by Forest on e-cigarettes and tobacco regulation in general.

To read it go to the Morning Advertiser website and click on the current digital edition. Or click here and go to page 32.

Here's our Vaping and Tobacco Trends submission in full:

Impact of the Localism Act
Since the introduction of the Localism Act, whose aim was "to devolve more decision making powers from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils", a number of councils have introduced policies that are designed to outlaw smoking in and around play areas and other places where children might be present.

We are concerned that in the name of public health and child protection some councils may use the Localism Act to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas including beer gardens and existing smoking areas. This is happening in other countries, notably English-speaking nations such as Canada, Australia and parts of the United States where it is becoming harder to light up outside.

The hospitality industry needs to be conscious of this threat because for some anti-smoking campaigners a ban on smoking outside pubs is the next logical step. We can argue on the figures but the smoking ban did an enormous amount of damage to the pub industry. The British Beer and Pub Association may be reluctant to admit it, but the legislation was a significant factor in the closure of thousands of pubs after 2007.

Extending the smoking ban to outdoor areas could have a similar impact on publicans who have spent a considerable amount of money creating comfortable outdoor areas for the many customers who continue to smoke.

Electronic cigarettes
Vaping is increasingly popular among smokers, some of whom are using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid while others view them as a useful alternative to tobacco in places where they are not allowed to smoke.

Some anti-smoking campaigners want the use of e-cigarettes banned in pubs and bars. With no evidence to support their argument, they claim that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking.

Proprietors must be allowed to decide their own policy on e-cigarettes. If they choose to ban e-cigs that's their right but we believe they would be misguided to do so.

Some pubs have banned e-cigarettes on the grounds that they "look like cigarettes". That's like saying water should be banned because it looks like vodka.

E-cigarettes are still in their infancy but as more people use them more people will get used to them and see them for what they are. A simple sign above the bar – 'Vaping allowed here' – will make it clear to customers that people are vaping not smoking.

Smokers know that by lighting up in a bar they put the owner at risk of a fine or worse. That's why the smoking ban was self-regulated. There is no evidence to suggest that people will start smoking in pubs if someone is vaping.

Instead of joining the chorus of disapproval for e-cigarettes, publicans should support their use and defend their freedom to choose a policy that best suits the interests of their staff and customers.

E-cigarettes are an opportunity not a threat. By embracing the use of e-cigarettes publicans have the chance to bring many smokers back in from the cold. That is a business opportunity that should not be wasted.

Smoking shelters
Despite the rise of e-cigarettes, smokers still outnumber vapers by a substantial margin and many vapers are dual use consumers who continue to smoke and don't want to quit.

There are many examples of proprietors spending money on comfortable outdoor smoking shelters and we hope this trend will continue. A well designed smoking area with heating, tables, chairs, even a sofa or two, and an awning is a major attraction not just for smokers but also for their partners and friends.

It may not be politically correct to say so but for a great many people smoking and drinking still go together. In the words of internationally famous artist David Hockney "pubs aren't health clubs" and publicans would be foolish to forget that. A good pub should be an oasis from the stresses of modern life and landlords owe it to their customers not to side with the hectoring public health lobby in areas such as food, drink and tobacco.

For many of us pubs are places where adults go to relax and unwind. The shrill voice of the puritanical health brigade has no place in Britain's pubs and bars but the industry has to take a stand and say so, without equivocation. If they do that they can be assured of a huge amount of goodwill and support from ordinary people, smokers and non-smokers alike.

Saturday
Apr122014

United, Rangers and me

Call me a masochist but I'm back in Scotland for the second time in a week.

Dundee United are playing Rangers at lunchtime today in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and it's a game I couldn't miss, especially after our 5-0 win against Inverness in the last round, which I also went to.

Semi-finals are supposed to be on neutral territory but this one's at Ibrox, home of, er, Rangers. Apparently they've been given the home dressing room too.

Bizarrely, United-Rangers has become a bit of a grudge match. Not sure why. Something to do with United not being sufficiently supportive of Rangers when the latter went into administration and were demoted to the fourth tier of Scottish football in 2012.

There was also the time, a few years ago, when a game at Tannadice had to be abandoned and United had the temerity to charge Rangers fans the full price to attend the rearranged match. (Unlike Rangers, United try to operate within their means and a rearranged match incurs the same costs as the original game. They're not a charity but Rangers supporters took offence.)

Anyway, when the two teams were drawn against each other in the Scottish Cup last year Rangers fans boycotted the game. The idea was to 'hurt' United by reducing the size of the crowd and therefore the gate receipts. In response United organised a 'Beat the Boycott' initiative and thousands who might not have gone to the game, including me, made a special effort to be there.

United won 3-0 with the first goal being scored after 15 seconds. Something similar would help settle the nerves today because I don't feel that confident! Regardless of Rangers' current plight, history is not on United's side. Rangers have won the Scottish Cup 33 times, United have won it twice. (The good news is, I was there on both occasions.)

The first time I watched United was in August 1969. Rangers were the opponents then too. It was a capacity crowd – 22,000 in those days – and my father and I stood in the family enclosure, standing room only.

The enclosure was below the level of the pitch so my ten-year-old head was at ground level. There were adults all around me so I saw very little of the game – which ended 0-0 – but I loved the atmosphere.

After that I became a regular. Most of the time I went on my own, travelling to Dundee by bus, then walking the final mile to the ground from the bus station in the city centre.

Dundee, United's local rivals, were still perceived to be the bigger and more successful of the two Dundee clubs so friends were more likely to support them. In truth, most supported Celtic or Rangers which is one of the problems with Scottish football. Provincial clubs don't get enough support from people in their own area.

I never went back to the family enclosure. My favourite spot was high up on the uncovered north terrace. To my mind you got the best view of the game from there. By modern standards it broke every health and safety rule in the book but I loved it. Later they lopped a bit off the top, reducing the height and making it less steep, and added a roof. Finally the whole thing was replaced by a colourful but rather characterless all-seater stand.

In those days there was no segregation of opposing fans either. Home supporters would stand behind one goal, with visiting supporters behind the other. At half time they would swap ends, rubbing shoulders as they did so.

An average crowd at Tannadice in the early Seventies was 10,000. And that's before the club had any success. Today it's half that.

After I went to university the number of games I could go to fell dramatically but I went to the big games whenever I could.

In 1978 my parents moved to Cumbria. I'd passed my driving test but I had very little experience on the road. Nevertheless I was allowed to drive my mother's Triumph Vitesse from Kendal to Glasgow for a Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden - against, you guessed, Rangers.

The journey took a lot longer than it does today because the current M74 didn't exist. For long stretches north of Carlisle it was a normal A-road, upgraded here and there to a dual carriageway. Instead of motorway services there was the occasional petrol station.

The match itself was disappointing - United lost 2-0 - but after that they got the hang of semi-finals. With two notable exceptions (in 1979 and 1980 United won the Scottish League Cup, albeit not at Hampden), it was the final itself that proved troublesome.

During the Eighties, when I was living in London, I found myself returning to Scotland at regular intervals to watch United lose a succession of cup finals against both Celtic and Rangers. The most frustrating occasion was the 1981 League Cup final. For 80 minutes United played Rangers off the park but lost two late goals and the match, 2-1.

Thankfully I was there in 1994 when we overcame our long-running Hampden hoodoo. After six Scottish Cup final defeats, United finally lifted the trophy with a 1-0 win against the overwhelming favourites - Rangers. Ironically, the team that won the Cup that year was a pale shadow of the teams that did so well at home and in Europe throughout the Eighties.

Today, despite Rangers' home advantage, most people expect United to win. I'm not so sure. I have a sense of foreboding which isn't helped by the weather (it's wet and miserable) and the fact that the last time I saw United play Rangers at Ibrox we lost 7-1.

That was four years ago. Today's kick off is 12.45. Don't let me down, boys.

PS. A friend did once come to Tannadice with me. Bill was a Rangers supporter and came to watch a United-Rangers match in, I think, 1975.

He lives in Ireland now and we see each other two or three times a year. Sometimes he reminds me of that day and why he has never gone to a match with me again.

Apparently my constant shouting - and the torrent of abuse I hurled at the referee and opposing fans - made him feel "unsafe".

That's not how I remember it but it's true that one team brings out the worst in me. I call it The Rangers Factor. I promise I'll be on my best behaviour today.

Thursday
Apr102014

Jail sentence for flicking fag end at neighbour

A man has been given a suspended jail sentence for flicking a cigarette butt at a neighbour's head.

According to the Cork Evening Echo, Anthony Lacey was also fined €300 for threatening to wreck the neighbour's car.

I don't condone Lacey's behaviour – he sounds like a lout – but a four month jail sentence (suspended or otherwise) for flicking a fag end at someone?!

It's hardly GBH, is it?

On the other hand, if someone scratched my car I'd want to string them up.

Threatening to do so is just as bad.

A €300 fine? He got off lightly!

Tuesday
Apr082014

The village in Wales that wants to be "smoke free"

Have you noticed? The definition of "public place" has changed.

When the smoking ban was introduced it was understood to mean an enclosed public place.

Today the BBC reports that a village in Wales has launched a campaign "to stop smoking in public places" - by which they mean outdoor public places.

An Anglesey village is hoping to become smoke-free by asking people not to light up in public places.

Signs will be erected in Llanfairpwll urging people not to smoke but there will be no enforcement.

The voluntary scheme will apply to entrances to pubs and shops, as well as playgrounds and community facilities.

Full report: Llanfairpwll campaign to stop smoking in public places (BBC News)

Update: BBC Wales invited Forest to comment. Here's our full response:

"This is not about public health, it's about control.

"What gives local councils the right to nag and harass people when they are not breaking the law but merely smoking outside?

"The smoking ban was introduced, allegedly, to protect the health of bar workers. There is no evidence that smoking outside is harmful to anyone.

"Tobacco is a legal product. Smokers must be allowed to light up somewhere.

"If the council doesn't want children to see adults smoke it should lobby parliament to amend the smoking ban to permit smoking rooms in pubs, clubs and casinos."

Update: Tobacco control campaigners are tweeting that Llanfairpwll is now "officially" smoke free which is quite different to being smoke free.

Is this another example of Orwellian Newspeak?

PS. I'm discussing this on LBC at 6.20, if anyone's interested.

Monday
Apr072014

Exclusive: forced to flee as smokers gather outside hotel room

I spent a rather wet weekend in Scotland.

It included an afternoon in Largs where we took refuge in Nardini's, "Scotland's most famous café, restaurant and ice cream parlour".

The feuding Nardini family hasn't run the business for over a decade (see Frozen out) and their absence hangs like a cloud over this historic institution.

The cafe overlooking the sea may have had a multi-million pound refurbishment but it lacks the family touch that made Nardini's such an attraction for families with young children.

I wasn't complaining. We were glad just to shelter from the rain with a cappuccino and an ice cream sundae.

On Friday evening we booked in to a hotel in Eaglesham, a conservation village just south of Glasgow.

My wife grew up in a neighbouring village and we got married, 22 years ago, in St Bridget's, a tiny Catholic church overlooking the famous Eaglesham Orry, a long A-shaped green that dominates the centre of the village.

After the service we walked the 20-30 guests across the Orry to a small tea room, and after that an even smaller group (a dozen or so) embarked on a five-hour drive to Skye where we spent a long weekend at this hotel before driving all the way to Gatwick.

Naturally I had forgotten that the night before the wedding I had stayed in the same Eaglesham hotel with a number of friends, but there are quite a lot of things about my wedding I don't remember!

Anyway, on Friday we found ourselves in a room directly above the main entrance while a party took place in the private function room.

Every few minutes two or three people would slope outside for a smoke and although they weren't rowdy we could hear every word.

I soon drifted off but I'm told it was gone 2.00am before the final guest had puffed his last cigarette and retired for the night.

On Saturday we were transferred to a room at the back of the hotel – where we enjoyed an undisturbed's night sleep – but the shocking truth remains:

Director of world's oldest smokers' rights group forced to flee as noisy smokers gather outside hotel room.

You couldn't make it up.

Friday
Apr042014

That plain packaging statement: Malcolm Tucker would be very proud

Postscript to yesterday's events.

Following the announcement by public health minister Jane Ellison that the government is "minded" to introduce plain packaging after a "final short consultation", I spent most of the day doing radio and TV interviews.

They included Five Live, World at One (Radio 4), PM (Radio 4), Sky News, ITV News and the BBC's Six O'Clock News.

Forest's reaction was also featured on news bulletins on these radio stations:

BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio WM, BBC Radio London, BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio York, BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester, BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Norfolk, BBC Radio Wiltshire, BBC Radio Guernsey and BBC Radio Tees.

The press, for some reason, was far less interested in what we had to say. And BBC News online ignored us completely.

The real story however is what went on behind the scenes. I'd like to tell you but I've no idea. It's a job for an investigative journalist.

What I know is, as soon as Sir Cyril Chantler handed in his report last week, we were on red alert in anticipation of a government statement.

Every day there was a new and different rumour as to when Sir Cyril's report would be published. One source even suggested it would be made public last Friday, within hours of it being handed over.

Friday came and went and surprisingly the report wasn't even leaked to a Sunday newspaper.

After that the rumours flew thick and fast. The Government was going to make a statement on Tuesday. Then it was Thursday.

On Wednesday, shortly before noon, I was told, definitely, that a statement wouldn't happen this week or next. I understand this information came from the Department of Health itself.

Lo and behold, shortly before midnight on Wednesday, I got another phone call. The Government was going to make a statement in the House of Commons at 11.15 the following morning.

Unbelievable.

In fact, sources have since told me the government was still flip-flopping as late as 7.30 yesterday morning.

One minute the statement was off, then it was on again. The picture it created was like a scene from The Thick Of It.

There was even a suggestion the statement was only being made to distract attention from the Maria Miller expenses scandal. If true, Malcolm Tucker would be very proud.

Anyway, we prepared three press releases in response to what we thought the government might announce.

(I should add that at no stage did we think Sir Cyril was going to do anything other than support plain packaging. Regardless of the evidence, a paediatrician was never going to upset the medical establishment by advocating the status quo.)

Statement number one: government would acknowledge Sir Cyril's report and announce further discussions with other interested parties without committing to plain packaging.

Statement number two: government would accept Sir Cyril's report, declare support for plain packaging, but announce further consultation.

Statement number three: government would accept Sir Cyril's report and proceed at full speed with plain packaging.

Without being wise after the event, we guessed correctly that the government would go with statement number two, or something similar.

Statement number one would have been justified but it was unlikely to happen because it would have brought the wrath of the tobacco control industry, including the Labour party, down on government.

It would have been right, and brave, but bravery (or principle) isn't a quality I associate with David Cameron's Conservative party.

So we are where we are. The government has made clear it supports plain packaging but there will be a short delay while it consults further.

I'm sure most readers of this blog are as hacked off about this as I am but this "final short consultation" gives us an opportunity to make our feelings known – again – and we must make the most of it.

Next week we will announce how you can help.

I'm off to Scotland now (Glasgow tonight, then Largs on the Ayrshire coast). While I'm gone I'll leave you with this essential reading:

Plain packaging doesn't work (Nick de Bois MP)
Plain packs edging closer (Chris Snowdon)
What we learned from Ellison and Chantler today (Dick Puddlecote)
Protect our children – from nasty politicians (Brian Monteith)

PS. Great contributions in parliament yesterday from the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg, Rob Halfon, and Philip Davies.

Glad to see some MPs are still willing to stand up and fight paternalism and prohibition.

Update: Hear me talking to Shelagh Fogarty (Five Live) here.

The PM report (Radio 4) is here. It features an interview with Mike Ridgeway of the UK packaging industry.

Thursday
Apr032014

Government announcement on plain packaging

Government to make statement in the House of Commons on standardised packaging of tobacco.

Statement expected between 11.15 and 11.30am. Watch this space.