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Wednesday
Jun202018

Scotland's new tobacco control plan tightens the net on smokers

I was expecting the Scottish Government to publish its updated tobacco control plan this week or next, but the timing, late yesterday afternoon, still took me by surprise.

I was on a train at the time, returning from London where I had been doing an interview for BBC Look North on an initiative by Hull City Council to ban smoking at the gates of local schools.

Suddenly I began getting requests for a response to the Scottish Government's proposals to create a 'smoke free generation' by 2034.

The plans include 44 measures some of which – banning smoking in prisons and hospital grounds, for example – are already in the process of being implemented.

As a result the papers that have run the story have focussed on a 'new' idea – that of banning people from smoking in social housing:

We will explore with local authorities and housing associations the idea of tobacco-free clauses in tenancy agreements and smoke-free housing alternatives being offered in social housing.

I say 'new'. It was first flagged in October last year following which ASH Scotland denied that they wanted to ban people smoking in their own homes.

Anyway, back to yesterday's announcement. The Times took a slightly different tack, leading its report with the headline 'Smokers face minimum price for tobacco'.

You can read Forest's response here. So far we've been quoted by The Times (Scotland), The Scotsman, Scottish Daily Mail, Scottish Daily Express, Daily Record and Edinburgh Evening News.

Indicative, perhaps, of a certain anti-smoking fatigue, the Scottish Government announcement has not been reported universally. BBC News Scotland, for example, has ignored it.

Personally I'd like as much coverage as possible so we can demonstrate how little public support there is for further anti-smoking measures.

The plan to ban smoking in social housing is particularly egregious. Last night I was trying to get my head round it because it wasn't clear whether the idea is to ban smoking in people's homes or in communal areas such as stairwells.

This morning I read that some people are already banned from smoking in their homes by their tenancy agreements. The result is they smoke in stairwells and other communal areas, hence the proposal to ban smoking outside their homes as well.

In short, it's clear that the goal is to ban smoking inside and outside social housing. That, along with the ban on smoking in hospital grounds (under threat of prosecution if you light up), is truly despicable.

Inch by inch the net is tightening on smokers despite (as our latest poll suggests) a general lack of public support for further anti-tobacco measures.

The good news? Some of the Scottish Government's plans are, for now, merely up for consideration so there's time to make as much noise as we can. And we will.

Sunday
Jun172018

Government versus the people

The Scottish Government is expected to announce its new tobacco control strategy before the end of the month.

It will almost certainly go further than the tobacco control plan announced last year by the Conservative government in Westminster.

That stopped short of further legislation although it did include a target of reducing smoking rates from 15.5 per cent to no more than 12 per cent by 2022.

In contrast Scotland's previous tobacco control strategy, published in 2013, set 2034 as a target date for reducing smoking prevalence to just five per cent.

Earlier this year however doubts were expressed that Scotland is on course to meet this target so it doesn't take a clairvoyant to predict that Shona Robison, Scotland's under pressure health minister, is likely to respond with some headline-catching initiative.

Anyway, ahead of the forthcoming announcement, Forest commissioned a poll of 1,000+ adults in Scotland.

Conducted by Populus, the results demonstrate for the umpteenth time that the general public is not as anti-smoking as politicians and tobacco control campaigners want us to believe.

Here are the headline findings:

  • Most Scots think government policies to reduce smoking rates have gone too far or far enough.
  • A majority would allow smoking rooms in pubs and clubs and permit designated smoking areas in prisons and hospital grounds.
  • An overwhelming majority think smoking should be allowed in the home and in private vehicles.
  • The public believes the Scottish Government has more pressing concerns than tackling smoking.

Specifically:

  • 54 per cent think government policies to reduce smoking rates have gone too far or far enough. Only 37 per cent think they have not gone far enough with nine per cent undecided.
  • Nearly three in five adults (57 per cent) think pubs and private members’ clubs, including working men’s clubs, should be allowed to provide a well-ventilated designated smoking room, with only one in six (16 per cent) opposed to the idea and a quarter (27 per cent) undecided.

Significantly, given that banning smoking in prisons and hospital grounds are flagship policies for the Scottish Government, Populus also found that:

  • Overall there is support for inmates in Scottish prisons to be permitted to smoke, with two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents agreeing that prisoners should be allowed to smoke in designated smoking areas.


  • Over half of all respondents (56 per cent) – and 82 per cent of frequent smokers – believe that NHS hospital trusts should be allowed to provide designated smoking areas in hospital grounds for patients, visitors and staff.

Meanwhile, in response to those who want smoking prohibited in social housing and in all private vehicles in Scotland, Populus found that:

  • 86 per cent think smoking should be permitted in the home.
  • 74 per cent think smoking should be permitted when smokers are alone in their own vehicle.

You can read our news release here.

The Sunday Times Scotland has published a short report that begins:

Most Scots believe smoking should be allowed in special ventilated rooms in pubs and private clubs, it has emerged as ministers prepare to announce stronger tobacco controls.

A poll of more than 1,000 Scots, for Forest, the pro-smoking lobby group, found that 57% thought bars and clubs, including working men’s clubs, should be allowed to provide smoking rooms.

The paper includes this quote from me:

“The Scottish political establishment is clearly out of step with the general public who support fair and reasonable restrictions on where people can smoke, not prohibition.

“The fact that a majority of adults support designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs suggests that the smoking ban is not as universally popular as we are led to believe.

“Any further regulations to tackle smoking would be a distraction from other more important issues facing central and local government in Scotland.”

The headline however reads: Expert stubs out pub ‘smoking room’ idea.

And who is the 'expert'? Why, none other than taxpayer-funded lobbyists Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland. You couldn't make it up.

Truth is, the paper has missed the real significance of the poll and it's this.

Most people in Scotland do not support comprehensive smoking bans (even in prisons and hospital grounds) and the majority are in general far less anti-smoking than our so-called elected 'representatives'.

Unfortunately it's difficult to condense that into a short, snappy headline, nor does it suit the narrative the Scottish establishment, including the media, likes to promote.

Anyway, we'll do our best to get the message across although, understandably, the news in Scotland is dominated by the Glasgow School of Art fire that broke out on Friday night.

Friday
Jun152018

Come dine with us

Currently at Dublin airport waiting for a flight to Stansted.

Last night's 'Burning Issues' dinner, with guest speaker Ella Whelan, former assistant editor of the online magazine Spiked, was a fairly boisterous affair.

Twelve guests, including four opinionated journalists and a troop of forthright Irish libertarians, was always going to be lively.

The evening began at 6.30 with drinks on the smoking terrace. An hour later we sat down to dinner in a small private dining room.

Ella spoke for ten minutes on the subject 'Smoking is a feminist issue'. It was then thrown open for general discussion.

I'm not a great moderator at the best of times and keeping guests on topic proved an impossible task so I soon gave up.

The main aim of these events however is to build upon a small network of like-minded individuals and in that respect the evening was a success.

There were the usual familiar faces but we also attracted some new people one of whom enjoyed herself so much she invited us to host the next dinner at her house.

Perhaps we should rename the event 'Come Dine With Us'.

Anyway, I got back to my hotel shortly after midnight and, not for the first time, I wasn't the last to leave.

Ella, meanwhile, was on the radio this morning talking about feminism during which she was asked about smoking during pregnancy. That was quite lively too, apparently.

Update: Our next 'Burning Issues' is in Edinburgh on June 27. Guest speaker is former MSP Brian Monteith who now writes a weekly column for the Scotsman. Watch this space.

Monday
Jun112018

Beyond nicotine

To no-one's surprise:

Jennifer Motles Svigilsky detests cigarettes. A former human rights lawyer with the United Nations ... [she represents] one of the world’s largest cigarette companies, Phillip Morris International (PMI).

But wait, there's more:

"[In the short term,] we need to provide alternative choices to smokers who cannot quit [or cannot quit yet]."

In the long term, she says, "we may not even be in the nicotine business."

Let that sink in.

"In the long term, we may not even be in the nicotine business."

You couldn’t make it up.

Full article: Philip Morris Is Quitting Smoking — But Don't Take Their Word for It (Sustainable Brands).

Saturday
Jun092018

Smoking in cars

According to today's Yorkshire Post:

Only one person in the whole of Yorkshire and the Humber was fined in the first two years after it became illegal to smoke in cars carrying a child, a new analysis has found.

An investigation by The Yorkshire Post also uncovered confusion among local authorities about just who is responsible for enforcing the legislation.

Crime reporter Georgina Morris asked Forest to comment so I said:

"The figures vindicate the argument that a ban on smoking in cars carrying children was unnecessary and would be impossible to enforce.

"The reality is that even before the ban very few adults were smoking in cars with children present. The overwhelming majority of smokers knew it was inconsiderate and had stopped doing it.

"The only impact the law has had is to stigmatise ordinary, decent people who don't need the government telling them how to behave in their own private space.

“Let this be a lesson to politicians and campaigners who want to extend the smoking ban to other areas. Allow smokers to use their common sense when lighting up and most will behave responsibly and with consideration for others.

"The last thing we need are more rules and regulations governing people's behaviour."

I was quoted in full. ASH also responded:

Chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “Compliance with the legislation on smoking in cars with children is dependent on the level of public support not enforcement action. And people are complying with this popular law which protects children from the harm caused by secondhand smoke."

She argued that there is now growing support for a ban on smoking in all cars, quoting a survey which found 62 per cent of adults in England backed the idea in 2016 compared to 45 per cent in 2009.

“Prohibiting smoking completely would make the law simpler to enforce as well as protecting all car occupants from the harmful toxins in tobacco smoke,” she added.

I'd like to see the survey she cites and the question that was asked.

In June 2016, on behalf of Forest, Populus interviewed 2,089 UK adults online and one of the questions was 'Do you think adults should or should not be allowed to smoke when alone in their own private vehicle?'

The response:

Should be allowed – 64 per cent
Should not be allowed – 30 per cent

Anyway the Yorkshire Post has posted online a fairly meaningless reader poll ('Would you support a ban on all smoking in all cars?') but I'm competitive enough that I want to win it so do pop over and cast your vote. The score, as I write, is Yes, 46 per cent; No, 54 per cent.

To vote click here and scroll down.

Saturday
Jun092018

The waiting game

Another honours list and still no recognition for the work of two of Britain's leading anti-smoking campaigners.

I first commented on this extraordinary oversight in December 2013:

Why no gongs for the likes of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH; Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland; Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West; or Andrea Crossfield, director of Tobacco Free Futures?

After all, it's titans of Tobacco Control like Deborah and Sheila who are often credited with introducing smoking bans and other measures that have saved tens of thousands of lives. Allegedly.

Surely they should receive recognition for their services to public health? But, no. The years tick by and Deborah remains plain Ms Arnott. Ditto Ms Duffy.

The following year Fiona Andrews (Smokefree South West) and Andrea Crossfield (Tobacco Free Futures) were indeed awarded MBEs ('Was it something I wrote?') but still nothing for Sheila or Deborah.

It was a similar story in 2015, 2016 and 2017 (Sheila and Deborah snubbed again).

There was however an OBE for Ailsa Rutter, director or Fresh North East (formerly Smokefree North East).

I'm genuinely perplexed. If Deborah's mini me is given an honour, why not the lady herself? And if Sheila Duffy's predecessor Maureen Moore can get an OBE, why not the current CEO?

The good news is that while Duffy has missed out (again) on one of Britain's top honours, her organisation hasn't gone empty-handed this week.

Tobacco control looks after its own.

Thursday
Jun072018

Thunderbolt and lightning

I haven't been posting much recently because I've been very busy, as will become apparent over the next couple of weeks.

Today I'm in Brussels for an event to mark the first anniversary of the launch of Forest EU and the publication of a new report, 'Smoke and Mirrors – The Role of Anti-Tobacco Lobby Groups in Promoting Tobacco Control Policies in the EU', which you can download here.

'Smoke and Mirrors' is the work of our man in Brussels, Guillaume Perigois (above), who says:

The report identifies at least 24 different organisations operating in Brussels pushing for more pervasive anti-tobacco policies. These organisations are staffed with 94 lobbyists and have a self-declared lobbying budget of between €5 and €6 million as per the EU Transparency Register. Far from David vs Goliath, it’s Goliath vs Goliath.

The report also sets out how in 2016 €6 million of EU taxpayers’ money was channelled to these organisations by the European Commission to lobby in favour of policies which the Commission has put forward. For us, such funding amounts to Government lobbying Government and does not promote transparent policy making.

Both the report and tonight's event have been attracting quite a bit of media coverage (no small achievement in Brussels). Yesterday Politico reported:

TOBACCO SMOKERSRIGHTS GROUP GOES AFTER ANTI-TOBACCO NGOs: Forest EU, a group advocating for smokers’ rights in Brussels that is funded by the tobacco industry, is going after “the big four” NGOs that are promoting anti-tobacco policies. In a report to be launched Thursday, Forest EU names the Smoke Free Partnership, the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP), the Association of European Cancer Leagues and the European Public Health Alliance as the organizations relying heavily on EU funding to push “more invasive anti-tobacco policies.”

Forest EU criticizes the funding they receive from the Commission, saying the NGOs do not provide any health service to EU citizens (such as smoking cessation) and are focused instead on reinforcing whatever anti-tobacco policies the Commission comes up with. “The Commission should no longer be the primary funder of lobby groups and should instead focus on funding health outcomes and organizations whose focus is the delivery of health outcomes,” the report says.

This morning Politico carried this response from the Brussels-based tobacco control lobby:

TOBACCO NGOS RESPOND TO SMOKERSRIGHTS GROUP: The four anti-tobacco NGOs singled out in a report we published on Wednesday by the smokers’ rights group Forest EU reacted in a written statement to Morning Health Care.

“We’re delighted with the recognition from tobacco industry front-groups that health organisations are challenging them. It confirms that we’re having the positive impact that our members — health researchers, health workers and patient groups from across Europe — expect us to deliver,” the Smokefree Partnership, the European Network on Smoking Prevention, the Association of European Cancer Leagues and the European Public Health Alliance wrote.

Responding to Forest EU’s accusation that they don’t provide any health outcome, the four said they do work directly with smokers, ex-smokers and patients, including providing cessation support, through their members spread across Europe. The NGOs launched an accusation of their own, saying that Forest EU doesn’t really represent smokers’ rights, “but rather the wishes of their tobacco industry paymasters to keep people hooked."

They may say they're "delighted with the recognition" but the fact that they've issued a written statement suggests we may have ruffled a few feathers.

Meanwhile the following reports are in French or Flemish so I’m a bit in the dark but your language skills may be better than mine:

Rokers houden eigen rokersfeestje (Zita), Waar is dat feestje? In die rookwolk is dat feestje (De Standaard), Les fumeurs se rebiffent et défendent leurs droits (Metro), Rokers krijgen eigen feestje om rustig hun sigaret op te steken: "Volwassenen moeten zelf kunnen beslissen zat se doen of laten” (HLN), Une terrasse à Bruxelles pour défendre les droits des fumeurs: «Les adultes ont le droit de choisir» (L'Avenir.net).

I'm told that last headline reads: 'A terrace in Brussels to defend smokers' rights: "Adults have the right to choose"' while the Metro headline declares, 'Smokers fight back and defend their rights.'

'A terrace in Brussels' is a reference to our venue tonight which features an outdoor smoking terrace with tables, chairs, heaters and twinkling fairy lights.

This morning Guillaume was interviewed by Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF) which broadcasts to the French-speaking community in Belgium.

He has also been asked to appear on RTL, Belgium's leading French-speaking TV channel, at the weekend.

The weather forecast suggests that Brussels is going to be hit by a thunderstorm tonight – maybe even a thunderbolt or two – so if that's not an omen I don't know what is.

Update: The dark clouds swirling overhead threatened rain but, miraculously, it held off. Someone – perhaps God himself – was on our side.

Friday
Jun012018

Staff divided on hospital smoking ban

The Royal United Bath Hospital is to ban smoking throughout its grounds by the end of the year.

Nothing unusual in that. But here's the interesting bit. According to a local report:

A survey showed that staff are divided on the issue.

49 per cent thought the RUH should go smoke free, while 49 per cent thought it should be permitted in some capacity.

Furthermore:

Some 90 per cent of smokers thought that smoking should be allowed.

Despite that the ban will go ahead, although managers are very open about the challenges they will face – notably enforcement and complaints from local residents:

James Scott, the trust’s chief executive, said: "This is a significant challenge for us and every hospital I've ever been in, including abroad.

"Don't think this is an NHS problem.

"We will be forcing smokers off-site - that's our patients and staff.

"The consequence is we will get more and more complaints from our neighbours.

"That's what's happened every time we've done this in the past.

"Legally, provided staff are outside our curtilage, they can smoke.

"There's nothing we can do about that, other than be aware about the increased risk of complaints.

Needless to say the issues of enforcement and annoying the neighbours could be easily avoided by creating a designated smoking area in the grounds of the hospital.

Instead they've chosen to pass the problem on to local residents who may find strangers loitering outside their homes at all times of the day and night.

The report adds that 'patients, visitors or residents have not yet been consulted but this is planned for later in the year'.

Am I missing something? Why consult patients, visitors and residents after the decision has already been made?

Either way the policy is doomed to fail. I know that, you know that and, judging by his comments, the chief executive of the Royal United Bath Hospital knows it too.