Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Tuesday
Aug042015

Another day another 'consultation'

Consultation alert.

The Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee is currently inviting written evidence on the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc, and Care)(Scotland) Bill.

Part 1 of the Bill relates to restrictions on nicotine vapour products (NVPs) and smoking in "parts" of hospital grounds, which will become an offence.

Specifically the Committee wants answers to the questions:

1. Do you support the Bill’s provisions in relation to NVPs?
2. Do you support the proposal to ban smoking in hospital grounds?
3. Is there anything you would add/remove/change in the Bill with regards to NVPs or smoking in hospital grounds?

Deadline for submissions is tomorrow, August 5.

If you're short of time there's an online survey. It takes no more than a few minutes to complete and it's anonymous. Click here.

See also: Hospital smoking ban "inhumane" and "impossible to enforce" says Forest

Saturday
Aug012015

Public health: another day, another silly costume

I was on BBC Radio Stoke this morning.

They wanted to talk about the local council's new tobacco control strategy that includes six "strategic priorities":

1. Helping tobacco users to quit
2. Helping young people to be tobacco free
3. Establishing ‘smokefree’ as the norm
4. Tackling cheap and illicit tobacco
5. Effective communications for tobacco control
6. Influencing change through advocacy

Specifically "one of the most important strategies in reducing the uptake of youth smoking is to reduce the rates of adult smoking in the city".

To achieve that children will be encouraged to ask (nag?) their parents to quit. In addition 'voluntary' smoking bans will be implemented in children's play areas and other public spaces.

Now that local authorities have been given the power to tackle 'public' health issues many more councils will undoubtedly follow suit.

Some already have. On Wednesday it was reported that:

The Take Seven Steps Out initiative has been launched by Norfolk County Council in a bid to reduce the risks of second-hand smoke to youngsters.

Bizarrely the campaign featured a man dressed as a giant kangaroo but that's par for the course.

Writing in today's Guardian, public health consultant Dr Lisa McNally admitted:

My team always tries to ensure that our campaigns involve me dressing up in something silly. Recently, my work outfits have included everything from an orange wig (anaphylaxis campaign) to a full length cigarette suit (Stoptober).

Is it just me or are most public health campaigns an extension of children's TV, frequently patronising and more than a little infantile?

More interesting perhaps was the confirmation that 'public' health is now firmly in the grip of local politicians and all the baggage that brings.

According to McNally:

Evenings will often see me in the council chamber. Since public health moved from the NHS into local government, I now work for politicians, and I’ll go along and face the scrutiny of my elected members.

Naturally, she finished her article with an ill-disguised plea for more funding:

There’s more we could be doing to improve people’s health, if only we had the time and resources. There is more that could be achieved through public health work and I constantly feel that we’re only scratching at the surface of that potential. Still, there’s always tomorrow. Another day – and another silly costume.

If 'public' health campaigners are "only scratching at the surface" of what can be achieved to change our lifestyles that's quite a terrifying, Orwellian thought.

The good news is that instead of a '1984' Big Brother type figure, Big Government will in future be disguised as an oversized cuddly toy or puppet.

That's the way to do it.

PS. McNally also wrote:

While this ‘big P’ politics part of my job can be scary, it’s not half as bad as the small ‘p’ politics. Public health operates today within the context of the nanny state debate, which at times can get fierce and personal. Once, after writing an article in a national newspaper about protecting people using mental health services from second-hand tobacco smoke I received a tide of hate mail. One chap called me a ‘left-wing, do-gooder, fascist bitch!’.

As readers know I don't condone such language but who created this climate of intolerance and abuse? 'Public' health campaigners have a lot to answer for.

Thursday
Jul302015

Look who's behind poll that says majority favour smoking ban on Brighton beach

And so it begins, the tyranny of the majority I wrote about last week in relation to the proposed smoking ban on Brighton beach.

According to the Press Association:

The majority of people are in favour of a smoking ban on Brighton beach and think the plans should be considered for other British resorts.

See 'Majority in favour' of Brighton beach smoking ban.

The press release (sorry, report) continues:

Many of those questioned (48%) said they thought stopping people lighting up would make traditional seaside towns more attractive places to visit and one in five (19%) said they would even travel further to visit a no-smoking beach.

Just under a third (31%) of the 2,000 adults polled said they feel Brighton and Hove City Council's proposals are a step too far. One in 10 (9%) said a smoking ban would speed the decline of seaside towns by putting smokers off.

While 57% said they would like it to happen on more of Britain's beaches, even more (60%) said they think smoking should be banned in playgrounds, 45% said they did not want to see it in outdoor restaurants and more than a third (36%) are in favour of a ban in parks.

Curiously the PA report didn't reveal the name of the polling company, or how the poll was conducted (online or by phone, random or self-selecting) so I can only assume the information wasn't included in the press release sent out by the commissioning organisation.

And who did commission the poll? Why, a company called Pharmacy2U, "the UK's leading NHS approved online pharmacy".

If the name is vaguely familiar it might be due to an investigation that was reported in April:

As part of a wider investigation into data handling, the Daily Mail looked into data selling practices at Pharmacy2U and claims that the company has sold information about thousands of patients without proper consent being obtained. Data passed to Alchemy Direct Media, whose clients include Pfizer, reportedly include patients’ names, addresses, dates of birth and the dates of their last prescription.

The company denied any wrongdoing but I'll let you be the judge (Pharmacy2U under fire over data selling practices).

Meanwhile, back to that poll. I can't see any reference to it on he Pharmacy2U website so I'm none the wiser about who carried it out.

I am however pleased to report that Pharmacy2U medical director Dr Nitin Shori did have the grace to admit that while "There does appear to be public support for smoking bans on Britain's beaches … more people say they are concerned about sunburn, litter, rowdy behaviour and how they look on the beach, than breathing in second-hand cigarette smoke."

Fancy that!

Thursday
Jul302015

2004: ASH "surprised more countries don't ban smoking on beaches"

Another day another proposal for restricting smoking outside.

According to the Echo:

A non-smoking area on Bournemouth beach has been proposed at a town council meeting.

Following news that Brighton and Hove Council is considering introducing a ban on smoking on its beaches and in public parks, Boscombe West councillor Philip Stanley-Watts proposed a designated non-smoking area for Bournemouth beach.

Thankfully there was a voice of reason at the meeting:

Lawrence Williams, cabinet member for tourism and leisure, said the move was not deemed necessary ...

Cllr Williams said the council's policy was to ensure everyone on the beach could "enjoy their own personal space".

"The national trend has seen fewer and fewer people smoking, we are working to increase the health offer on the beach rather than attempting to ban smoking," he said.

Full report: Should there be a non-smoking area on Bournemouth beach?

Oddly enough, I thought there already was a no smoking area on Bournemouth beach. In May 2004 our old friend Jamie Doward (The Observer) reported:

So far only Bournemouth beach has introduced a smoking ban in the UK. The ban, introduced in 1997, is in force either side of the town's pier and is designed to encourage a family-friendly atmosphere.

'It works well,' said Beverly Ware, PR manager for Bournemouth Tourism. 'It can't be enforced, and there are no bylaws preventing smoking, but the seafront staff play an active role in reminding people, and there are signs telling them not to smoke on those parts of the beach.'

ASH needless to say leapt at the opportunity to support not just a 'no smoking' area but a complete ban:

'Smoking bans on beaches seem a sensible policy,' said Amanda Sandford, spokeswoman for the health organisation (sic), ASH. 'You can sweep butts up in the street but you can't on a beach - they get buried in the sand. It's harmful for children if they put them in their mouths. I'm surprised more countries don't ban smoking on beaches.'

Just a thought, Amanda, but I'm guessing more countries don't ban smoking on beaches because it's such a stupid, unenforceable idea.

See Beach smoking ban plea to protect sea life (Observer).

Update: The Bournemouth Echo has posted a poll on its website – Should there be a non-smoking area on Bournemouth beach?.

A non-smoking area is not the same as a total ban but it's a slippery slope nonetheless. (Remember non-smoking areas in pubs and clubs?).

Leave adults to smoke responsibly and with consideration for others and, by and large, they will.

Wednesday
Jul292015

'Plain fags debate' rumbles on

I was in Ireland last week when I was asked by the Scottish Sun to contribute 400 words on plain packaging.

I cobbled something together between meetings and before the 4.00pm deadline but, naturally, the feature didn't appear until today, seven days later.

I'm not entirely sure why the paper has chosen to have a 'Plain Fags Debate' now and if you're familiar with the arguments you may wish to give the following a miss.

Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland, writes:

Most smokers started as children and most say they wish they hadn't.

Cigarettes, like perfume, are first sold on image. Any designer or marketing professional knows that packaging is a key part of promoting any product.

The tobacco industry spends millions creating packaging, colours, pack shapes and brands that give impressions of style, sophistication, confidence or ruggedness.

Unlike perfume, this is a product that kills half of its consumers. In Scotland, every year almost a quarter of adult deaths are caused by tobacco.

No other preventable cause of death comes close.

Research shows when young people experiment with tobacco they pick the brands they see most often around them.

This is why we argued to cover up displays which advertised tobacco in shops, and why we want to prevent the packaging from promoting those brands.

Research also shows clearly that plain packs are less attractive to kids.

Standardised tobacco packs – with sludge green backgrounds, plain typefaces and stand-out picture health warnings – will be introduced in the UK from May 2016.

I expect them to make a real contribution to Scotland's vision for a generation free from tobacco.

And here's my piece.

Putting cigarettes in standardised or 'plain' packaging is yet another attempt to denormalise a legal product, stigmatising millions of consumers for their perfectly legitimate habit.

Forest supports all reasonable attempts to discourage children from smoking but plain packaging is pointless and unreasonable.

The measure is based on the fallacy that children find so-called ‘glitzy’ packaging appealing and with cigarettes in dull drab packs fewer children or young people will be tempted to start smoking.

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 experiment or rebel.

The Government ignored a substantial backbench rebellion and the views of hundreds of thousands of people who opposed, by big majorities, plain packaging in two public consultations.

Why do we need plain packaging anyway? We already have a display ban and next year, under the EU's Tobacco Products Directive, health warnings will increase in size. Isn't that enough?

Consumers are fed up being patronised by politicians of all parties. Smokers know there are health risks associated with tobacco.

Plain packaging won't make any difference. Worryingly standardised packs could fuel illicit trade and counterfeit cigarettes.

Criminals will happily sell cigarettes to children so the impact of plain packaging could be the opposite of what's intended.

Oddly enough ASH Scotland hasn't mentioned the feature in its Daily Bulletin. I wonder why?

Wednesday
Jul292015

Control freaks

Stoke-on-Trent city council is the latest local authority to jump on the anti-smoking bandwagon.

According the BBC News website:

People in Stoke-on-Trent are being asked about proposals to "control" smoking in some public spaces.

The city council will launch a public consultation on its plans in October and, depending on the results, will seek to make some areas smoke-free.

The report (Stoke-on-Trent City Council approves Hanley smoke-free plans) includes a quote from Forest.

That headline, btw, is inaccurate. If I read the report correctly, the council has approved plans for a consultation. It hasn't (yet) approved plans to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas, one of which is Hanley bus station.

Then again, we all know where this is heading.

It reminds me of the three or four year period before MPs voted for a national workplace smoking ban.

Prior to the 2005 election the Labour government showed very little desire to introduce a comprehensive, nationwide ban. Instead it was rumoured Tony Blair was happy to leave it to local authorities to decide their own policy.

One day therefore I would find myself addressing a council committee in Plymouth. A few weeks later I'd be doing the same in Middlesbrough, then St Albans, and so on.

A decade or so later we're facing a similar situation, but the issue now is outdoor smoking.

The question is, how soon will it be before an MP or minister (Jane Ellison perhaps) tries to drive through legislation for a national ban on smoking in outdoor public spaces.

Don't give them ideas, I hear you cry. Don't worry, I'm sure someone has already thought of it.

Sunday
Jul262015

No evidence that prison smoking bans lead to riots? Bullshit!

Last week it was reported that:

The Ministry of Justice is drawing up plans for a smoking ban in several jails amid fears that legal actions forcing all to go smoke-free simultaneously would trigger unrest at a time when tensions in the prison estate are high.

See Jail unrest feared over smoking ban plans (Observer).

Today the same paper has this little gem:

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence to support claims that depriving prisoners of tobacco could lead to riots.

“Prisons all around the world have gone smoke-free with few problems and, in the UK, all high-security psychiatric facilities have already gone smoke-free, as have prisons in the Isle of Man and Guernsey, without any trouble,” she said.

It's hard not to laugh because four weeks ago it was reported that:

Police armed with tear gas and water cannons were on Tuesday evening still attempting to contain a riot that broke out at a maximum security prison in Victoria earlier in the day, after prisoners became angered by the introduction of a smoking ban.

See Prisoners riot at Melbourne's Ravenhall remand centre over smoking ban (Guardian) and Smoking ban under spotlight after Melbourne prison riot (BBC News).

Meanwhile, according to today's Observer:

Internal reports commissioned by the Ministry of Justice suggest that it has been aware of evidence of prison staff being at risk of exposure to unacceptably high levels of secondhand smoke for eight years.

Three analyses, all marked “confidential” and written between 2007 and 2008, are likely to put further pressure on the government to introduce a ban on smoking in jails, despite claims that it will lead to unrest: four out of five inmates smoke.

See Whitehall ‘knew about health risks’ to prison warders as anti-smokers push for total ban (Observer)

The paper adds:

The reports found that secondhand smoke levels exceeded the US classification for “unhealthy” for short periods of time. At one prison, levels were similar to those experienced by bar staff before the smoking ban. The MoJ is understood to have rejected the findings.

Note the qualification "for short periods of time".

The evidence on environmental tobacco smoke suggests you would have to be exposed to it day after day, year after year (15 years or more) for it to have any significant impact, and even then the jury is out. Most studies found the effect was either very small or statistically insignificant.

Granted, serious asthmatics should avoid smoky environments but the suggestion ETS is a serious health hazard has never been proved.

Which brings me to my final point. If there was evidence smoking in prisons is a genuine risk to the health of prisoners or staff does anyone really believe the government would have covered it up and done nothing about it?

This of course raises questions about smoking in pubs and bars as well but I'll leave that for another day. Suffice to say I still don't believe here is evidence that justifies – on health or any other grounds – the current legislation.

Personally I don't consider smoking in prison to be a human right but nor is it a breach of human rights to be exposed to someone else's tobacco smoke in prison or anywhere else.

As for Deborah Arnott, I've only one thing to say to her brazen claim that there's no evidence a ban on smoking in prisons could lead to riots:

Bullshit!

PS. For a more authoritative insight into smoking in prisons see this article in the Independent by former inmate Charlie Gilmour – A smoking ban in prisons won't really help cons - but it could destroy their economy.

Friday
Jul242015

Should our beaches be smokefree (sic)?

I'm back in the UK but took the day off yesterday.

First, I had to take my son to the station so he could catch a train to Devon where he's working on a farm for six or seven weeks. Good luck with that.

I then had to drive my daughter to Heathrow to catch a flight to San Diego where she's staying with friends while working as an intern in a local theatre until September.

The downside for me is that I'll have to walk the dog far more than usual – at least once a day. Thankfully it's been raining hard all day in Cambridgeshire and I can't possibly take the mutt out in that weather. Have you ever seen a cockapoo when it's soaked to the skin?

Instead I've been catching up on media coverage of the Brighton beach smoking ban proposal. I particularly liked Chris Snowdon's appearance on Sky News opposite Deborah Arnott of ASH.

In many ways it was a masterclass. I loved the little digs and jibes directed at ASH. I loved too the inevitable moment when Deborah raised the issue of tobacco funding (of the IEA) and, momentarily, Chris had a 'problem' with his earpiece.

When the issue was put to him again by the presenter he brushed it off, suggesting he was only on the programme because he was a local resident. Genius! (I mean that.)

I've also had a chance to see Rob Lyons (Action on Consumer Choice) on Good Morning Britain, which I couldn't while I was in Ireland.

Rob was featured twice on the programme. Click here and go to 0:20:00 and 01:26:00 (approximately).

In addition to a large number of news reports I was quoted in the Guardian which published what I thought was a well-balanced feature headlined Is Britain ready for outdoor smoking bans?.

Forest ("a for smoking group") was even mentioned on CBBC, the pre-teen channel, which broadcast a report on Newsround. (See Brighton looking into banning smoking on beaches.) Naturally the report focussed on the views of several young children who, as we all know, are experts on public health.

Everyone from Deborah Arnott to Daniel Yates, chairman of the Health and Wellbeing Board, is adamant that nothing has been banned and it's only a consultation but we all know how consultations work (Chris put it very eloquently on Sky News) and the chances are the decision will be made not by the public but by the usual public health elite.

Needless to say we're going to fight this all the way because if we don't outdoor smoking bans will spread like wildfire, as these local newspaper reports clearly suggest:

Should East Anglia’s beaches be smoke free? (Eastern Daily Press)
Should the North East ban smoking in public places to help cut smoking by 75%? (The Chronicle)

What's interesting is the way we are consistently being asked to consider the worst case scenario rather than the every day reality of visiting a beach or public park.

For example, the image most frequently used is a crowded bank holiday beach. How often are beaches that busy? Not often.

On Good Morning Britain the presenters kept referring to an imaginary situation in which a smoker sits next to a non-smoker on the beach and puffs away, with smoke drifting over the non-smoker. Seriously, how often does that actually happen in real life?

Anyway, the consultation to consider extending "smoke free places" in Brighton was published yesterday. I suggest you visit it here.

And talking of outdoor smoking bans, Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North East) has launched its own Smokefree Summer (sic) campaign in the North West.

Yesterday I was on BBC Radio Manchester and it was interesting to hear TFF's Andrea Crossfield say, quite definitively, there is "no risk from secondhand smoke in outdoor areas".

She then went on to say "I don't believe in banning things" (!) despite the fact that she supports the indoor smoking ban and will welcome, I am sure, any further restrictions on smoking (voluntary or otherwise) in outdoor public places.

Duplicitous or genuine? You decide.

To hear the interview in full click here (Smoke free family events). It begins around 01:06:40.