Monday
Sep262016

Why 'smoke-free' consultation should be declared null and void

A quick reminder that today is the closing date for submissions to Birmingham Children's Hospital's 'smoke-free' consultation.

It was hard to complete the online form without getting increasingly annoyed.

For example, in response to Section Two ('Please comment on any changes to the boundary you would like to see') I wrote:

This question demonstrates the basic inbuilt bias of this consultation because it doesn't allow for the fact that we do not support ANY no smoking zone outside the hospital, regardless of size. Likewise the questions in Sections Three and Four assume that a no smoking zone will be introduced regardless of the outcome of the consultation. For that reason we believe this consultation should be declared null and void.

Subsequently respondents are asked, 'Do you have any other comments about how we can create a smoke-free experience around our hospital for our patients and families?', to which I replied:

It is no business of the hospital trust to "create a smoke-free (sic) experience" outside the hospital grounds. Unless we are mistaken, the hospital trust doesn't own the local roads. What on earth are you doing telling people whether or not they can smoke when they're not even on the grounds?

And why are you proposing to use public funds (that could be better spent on other things) to put up signage and monitor the area in order to enforce this spiteful, uncaring proposal? Where is the empathy for patients, staff or visitors for whom a cigarette can offer comfort in what can be a highly stressful environment?

The trust is looking for a problem that doesn't exist. Smoking in the open air doesn't harm anyone other, perhaps, than the smoker, while the idea that children must be protected from the sight of someone smoking is Orwellian.

We understand why the trust doesn't want people smoking around the main entrance to the building but extending the ban to nearby streets is unjustified and extremely petty. Imagine if you're a smoker and you're the worried parent of a sick child in hospital. Why should you be admonished or made to feel like a leper if you choose to relieve some of the stress by lighting up in a nearby street? What harm are you doing to anyone?

As for the inclusion of e-cigarettes in the consultation, why would any health professional consider prohibiting the use of a product used by many people to quit smoking? All it demonstrates is that these proposals aren't about health at all. It seems the trust wants to dictate how adults behave even when patients, staff and visitors are not on hospital property. Do you have any idea what message this sends out about your priorities and your attitude to normal, decent people?

Finally I emphasised my general disgust by adding:

This is an extremely ill-conceived, ill-thought out consultation that is designed to generate only one result – the imposition of a no smoking zone outside hospital grounds. It is our view that this consultation is not fit for purpose and should be declared null and void.

After I submitted my comments I received a standard reply:

Thank you for taking part in the survey. The information will be used to help us understand whether to introduce a zone and if so, what it should look like.

Let me guess ...

Update: Some of the comments on the Forest Facebook page include:

"What a stupid idea and near a major road anyway."

"Right near a major road and the concern is about a bit of smoke? You couldn't make this up."

"They would be better off putting their efforts into sorting out the lack of parking for stressed out and worried parents."

This was my favourite however:

"Where should the signage be put up? I had to put 'inside the hospital' as there was no option for 'up your arse."

Last but not least Rob Lyons, campaigns manager for Forest's sister campaign Action on Consumer Choice, commented:

"As a born-and-bred Brummie who used to work close to Birmingham Children's Hospital I think this is a stupid and illiberal idea, designed by anti-smoking obsessives to colonise our streets.

"If air pollution is really such a problem perhaps the authorities should consider moving the hospital away from heavy traffic on the Queensway and the Aston Expressway.

"In reality this is a fabricated problem designed to demonise smokers even more than they already are."

If you haven't submitted a response you've got a few more hours (assuming the consultation closes at midnight).

Monday
Sep262016

Good morning, Britain

Currently in London where I stayed overnight ahead of an appearance on Good Morning Britain this morning.

I was asked to discuss a call by the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health for a ban on smoking anywhere where children "play and learn".

According to their press release the CIEH wants to ban smoking in children's play areas and then extend the ban to public parks, zoos and themes parks.

(Note: I'm no longer going to use the words "voluntary ban". A ban is a ban, full stop. That's the intention so let's call a spade a spade.)

I was alerted to the story – which was embargoed until midnight last night – on Friday.

Good Morning Britain wanted Forest to go head-to-head with Anne Godfrey, chief executive of the CIEH. The Guardian also invited us to respond.

I thought it might be quite a big story so I spent part of Saturday writing and distributing a press release (No smoking zones "unwarranted" and "Orwellian").

Very few journalists seemed interested so I wasn't surprised there was so little coverage this morning. Apart from GMB, the sum total to date seems to be the Guardian report and a tiny item in the Sun that includes a single word from Forest ("Orwellian").

I did however enjoy my visit to the ITV studios in London because I met Strictly contestant and new national treasure Judge Rinder.

We arrived at the same time and had a very brief chat. What a charming, modest fellow.

Curiously, Anne Godfrey of the CIEH had been replaced by Vicki, the "multi-award winning blogger/ vlogger and filmmaker" who runs the online magazine Honest Mum®.

No, I've never heard of it either but Vicki is a mother and not short of an opinion or two so they'd roped her in to support the CIEH's call for a ban on smoking in children's play areas.

In the half hour we were waiting to go on she tweeted, took selfies and recorded a series of 10-second videos.

She was fun so I couldn't really get cross with her, even when we were on air and on opposite sides of the debate.

In fact, I owe Piers Morgan a drink because he seemed to take an even stronger line on the issue than I did! If I can get hold of a clip I'll post it here later.

Meanwhile, still no sign of the CIEH. One BBC local radio station told me they'd been trying to get hold of a spokesman this morning without success which is bizarre because this is their story!

Update: The Sun has this report online – Campaigners fume at ‘Orwellian’ demands to ban smoking in parks and near playgrounds.

Sunday
Sep252016

Pipe dream

Woke up from an afternoon nap and heard this on Doc Martin (ITV):

"Why are smokers always surprised when they're ill? Why do they think they're going to be the lucky ones who live to be 100? Did you think you'd make it to 70?"

"I'm 75."

"80?"

"My mother smoked a pipe until she was 93."

"And then she died."

"No, she lost her pipe."

Or was I dreaming?

Friday
Sep232016

GTNF: transparent and open for business, unlike COP7

A stern letter has been sent to Dr Christopher Russell, a behavioural psychologist and senior research fellow at the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow.

Co-signed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in the United States and the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP), the letter urges Dr Russell to withdraw from next week's Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum in Brussels (an event I wrote about here):

When informed about the direct links between the tobacco industry and this particular event, some initial presenters have immediately cancelled their participation. Now that the connection is clearly established and brought to your attention, we call on you to do the same and disengage with this event.

I've been writing about GTNF for at least five years and to the best of my knowledge no-one has ever hidden the fact that it's supported by tobacco companies, who also provide several speakers. The company names and logos are on the website.

It's completely open and transparent, unlike many tobacco control events, notably the World Health Organisation's seventh Conference of the Parties (COP7) that takes place in India in November. Now that really is an event shrouded in secrecy.

To read the full letter to Christopher Russell click here.

Forest gets a mention, for which I'm grateful. That alone justifies the small amount of money we are paying to 'sponsor' a networking reception before the gala dinner on Wednesday.

See also: Conference calls.

Friday
Sep232016

Conference calls

Next week I'm attending the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum in Brussels.

Formerly called the Global Tobacco Network Forum, the name was changed a couple of years ago to reflect the increasing focus on emerging products, especially e-cigarettes.

When I say "increasing focus", delegates at GTNF could be forgiven for thinking the tobacco industry has moved on from smoking altogether.

Last year, as Dick Puddlecote reminded me on his blog last night, there was a moment when I felt like a "pork chop at a bar mitzvah".

This year I thought long and hard before deciding to attend. It's not cheap and I couldn't see anything on the programme that would enable me to raise some of the issues that concern smokers who don't want to quit.

Consequently, to ensure the issue of smokers' rights isn't completely overlooked at GTNF 2016, Forest is 'sponsoring' a networking drinks reception.

In its defence GTNF is the only forum I know that brings together a wide range of tobacco stakeholders and public health professionals allowing them to share a platform, network and have proper adult debates.

Next week therefore I will be rubbing shoulders and chatting to many of the people listed here. I may even have a drink with my old friend Clive Bates, the former director of ASH who has been attending GTNF almost as long as I have and is good company over a late night beer (if he hasn't fallen asleep).

Deborah Arnott, Clive's successor at ASH, won't be there, of course. Nor will the usual gaggle of backward-looking public health activists who continue to stick their heads in the sand in the hope that the tobacco industry will eventually become such a pariah it will implode or disappear.

That will never happen, not in my lifetime. What GTNF represents is an industry in transition, working hard to develop harm reduction products that will appeal to millions of consumers worldwide, encouraging smokers to switch to 'safer' products through choice not coercion.

At GTNF however my job is to remind anyone who's prepared to listen that millions of adults enjoy smoking and have no plans to stop.

Even in the UK where smoking rates are at their lowest ever level, smokers represent one in six of the adult population. As consumers of a legal product their rights must be defended.

Also, if the industry wants more smokers to switch to e-cigarettes or other emerging products they will have to develop better products that offer the same or greater level of pleasure and convenience as combustible cigarettes.

So my message to representatives of the tobacco industry at GTNF will be the same as last year and the year before:

"Develop new products but don't forget your core customers. Millions enjoy smoking. Don't abandon them on the altar of public health."

Thursday
Sep222016

An alternative point of view

Further to my previous post here's another interview I did this week, this time on BBC Radio Devon:

I'm publishing it in case some of you think I'm spending too much time talking about e-cigarettes!

Janet Kipling: We spoke earlier on to Simon Clark, who’s the director of Forest, and that’s the political pressure group which campaigns against tobacco control activity. Now have a listen to what he’s got to say.

Simon Clark: I think e-cigarettes have had some impact because the reason they’re popular with a lot of smokers who are looking to quit is that they mimic the act of smoking, unlike, for example, nicotine patches or gum and all the rest of it. We certainly embrace e-cigarettes because they provide the consumer with choice. I think where we draw a line is when government introduces legislation to ban things, for example the smoking ban, which, while we accept that there need to be areas which are smoke free, we think the smoking ban went way too far. Also since the smoking ban, in the last ten years we’ve had a ban on display of tobacco in shops, most recently we’ve got the introduction of plain packaging, which is all designed to denormalise the product, and by denormalising the product you also denormalise the consumer as well. So I think a lot of smokers feel that they’re being coerced, they’re being bullied. If somebody wants to quit, good luck to them, and I can totally understand why there are people who want to stop smoking, but there are millions of people in this country who continue to enjoy smoking and I just wish the authorities would acknowledge that, especially as tobacco’s a legal product and smokers pay £12bn a year in tobacco taxation alone.

Janet Kipling: Tobacco might be legal but we know it’s bad for you. It’s as simple as that, and people should be discouraged in any way at all, particularly by the government which has to pay the health service bills, doesn’t it?

Simon Clark: Well, I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved. The reality is that smokers more than pay their way in society. We’re told that smoking related diseases allegedly cost the NHS £2.7bn a year. That’s an estimate, but what we do know is that smokers contribute £12bn a year in tobacco duty and VAT, so no smoker should feel embarrassed or guilty about smoking on the grounds of cost. Again, I think it’s hypocritical. As long as tobacco remains legal then I think people should be allowed to smoke in peace. Of course government has a role to play educating people about the health risks of smoking. I can’t believe there’s a single adult in the United Kingdom who isn’t well aware of the health risks of smoking. And the reality is, because a lot of people get enjoyment from smoking, they decide that’s more important than the potential health risks.

Janet Kipling: Smoking has fallen to the lowest on record, that’s what we’re hearing now, so it would suggest that actually these measures are having an impact.

Simon Clark: Well, some measures are. Clearly if you introduce punitive taxation, which is what we currently have on tobacco, over 80% of the price of a packet of cigarettes is in tax. Now that’s punitive. It hits the elderly, it hits the low paid, it hits the unemployed, so it’s a very regressive tax, and the problem is it's also counterproductive, because while it does stop some people smoking, or it forces some people to cut down on their consumption, it also drives a lot of smokers towards the black market because the criminal gangs, they move in, and anybody knows that if you raise the price of something to extortionate levels the smugglers, the criminal gangs, will move in, and that’s what’s happening with tobacco. And, of course, criminal gangs don’t care who they sell to. They’re happy to sell to children. So you lose control of the market and actually it ends up being counterproductive. But, of course, if you coerce and you bully people to quit a product, if you make it increasingly difficult for them to consume that product in public places, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, of course some people are going to quit. I just think this should be all about education and if people know about the health risks of smoking we should continue with that education, just as we educate people about the risks of drinking too much alcohol, eating too many fatty foods and dairy products, but I don’t think we should coerce and force and bully people to quit.

Janet Kipling: That’s Simon Clark, the director of Forest, an alternative point of view. What do you think about that?

Wednesday
Sep212016

Defending smoking and vaping

I'm told that a leading vaping advocate had a serious temper tantrum last week after I had the temerity to write:

Forest is a perfectly legitimate commentator on vapers' rights because an increasing number of our supporters smoke and vape. Or, to put it another way, Forest is the voice of the dual user.

I haven't seen his rant (which is on YouTube, apparently) because life's too short and I'm far too busy defending smokers (and vapers) to give a hoot.

Thankfully there are many vapers who do welcome Forest's support. If you're one of them (and even if you're not) you might like to read the transcript of an interview I did yesterday on TalkRadio. The presenter was Paul Ross:

Paul Ross: Now here’s the story we’ve been hearing about in the news all morning. The number of smokers in England has dropped to the lowest level since records began. There are now apparently more ex and former smokers than there are people smoking still. Public Health England says they are double the number of ex smokers compared to current ones, a fifth of people who tried to quit last year succeeded. We’re now joined by Simon Clark, director of Forest, described by some people as a pro smoking lobby. How would you describe your organisation, Simon?

Simon Clark: Pro choice, Paul.

Paul Ross: So is this news a cause for celebration or are you concerned that actually there’s too much propaganda against choice?

Simon Clark: Well, I think smokers have been harshly treated over many years now. Tobacco’s a completely legal product, and, of course, we have a comprehensive smoking ban and we’ve had a raft of legislation in recent years, including the display ban and, most recently, plain packaging, which are designed to denormalise what is a perfectly normal habit for millions of people. But we certainly don’t promote smoking. All we say is, look, if people choose to make an informed choice to smoke then they should be allowed to do so without undue harassment. We’re not against campaigns like Stoptober, which has been launched today, which is designed to help people who want to quit. And the good news is that Stoptober is this year highlighting the use of e-cigarettes [which] come within our domain because we support choice

Paul Ross: These are the so-called vaping cigarettes, the e-cigarettes?

Simon Clark: Yes, that’s right, and they’ve become increasingly popular in recent years, and the great thing is they’re really a free market solution to the issue of quitting smoking because we’ve seen a lot of public money wasted on many anti smoking campaigns over many years but the great thing with e-cigarettes is that it gives control to the smoker. They’re not being asked to go along to some local stop smoking service where they’re being encouraged to use nicotine patches and gum and all the rest of it. This is something that mimics the act of smoking.

Paul Ross: Isn’t the problem, though, that Forest has, and you have with things like nicotine patches and gums, that it doesn’t give money to the tobacco industry whereas vaping does?

Simon Clark: Well, that’s not really our issue. Yes, we’re funded by the tobacco industry but we certainly don’t represent them. I think the great thing about e-cigarettes, as I say, is that they mimic the act of smoking, but the important thing about them is they’re not just a quit smoking tool. They are actually something that people enjoy in their own right, because people have got to get away from this idea that nicotine itself is harmful. Nicotine is no more harmful than caffeine ...

Paul Ross: Which can be harmful, caffeine can be harmful, but so can nicotine.

Simon Clark: Well, again I think you’d have to drink a heck of a lot of coffee ... with e-cigarettes we don’t know about the long term impact, but all the evidence so far suggests that e-cigarettes are much safer than cigarettes. But again it all comes down to choice, and the reality is there are millions of people who don’t want to quit because they enjoy smoking. They still prefer a cigarette to an e-cigarette, and I think we should respect people’s choices.

Paul Ross: Do you think there’ll come a time in this country when smoking cigarettes is banned completely?

Simon Clark: No, because I think, I would hope, that government has learned from the prohibition of alcohol in the United States last century and realised that it simply doesn’t work. You simply drive the activity or the product underground and the criminal gangs move in. We already see this, in fact, with some anti-tobacco policies, like, for example, the punitive taxation on cigarettes, which has driven a lot of people to the black market. The only people who benefit in those circumstances are the criminal gangs who make huge amounts of money from smuggled cigarettes and, of course, not just smuggled cigarettes but also counterfeit cigarettes. So banning a product is totally counterproductive.

Paul Ross: And when you said in the past that money’s been wasted on campaigns, on getting people to go along for meetings and stuff, surely if some, if one person is then convinced to give up smoking and maintains that, if it’s a good and it’s a healthy lifestyle choice for them, that’s not a waste of money, Simon.

Simon Clark: Well, I think it can be when ...

Paul Ross: Not if it saves a life. I’d rather my tax pounds and shillings and pence went to something like that than, for example, buying missiles that we aren’t going to use, thankfully.

Simon Clark: Sure. I think local council budgets are very tight at the moment. Now, we know the number of people using stop smoking services since 2010 has dropped by 51 per cent so I think local authorities have to ask themselves if fewer people are using them should we continue to pump public money into them. And I think the reason a lot of people are no longer using stop smoking services is because people are actually using e-cigarettes. They’re making these decisions for themselves because, I’ll say again, the great thing about e-cigarettes is, it gives control to the user. They don’t feel they’re being lectured. They don’t feel they’re being harassed or coerced in any way. Control is in the hands of the user.

Paul Ross: Well, in fact, you could argue that it’s also prolonging their addiction because it gives them oral gratification and they’re inhaling some form of smoke, so it’s not control.

Simon Clark: You could argue that but again it comes back to this thing that if nicotine itself is no more harmful than caffeine why are we so worried about it? Why are we so worried about this concept of addiction all the time? We hear about people being addicted to chocolate. We hear about people being addicted to all manner of things.

Paul Ross: Yeah, but chocolate doesn’t give you lung cancer and cigarettes do.

Simon Clark: Well, yeah, but I’m talking about e-cigarettes now, not cigarettes.

Paul Ross: Well, that’s what we focus on, addiction, because a cigarette addiction, and that’s what it is, can kill you.

Simon Clark: Yeah, but if you’re trying to get people to switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes because e-cigarettes appear to be much less harmful than cigarettes, why would you worry if somebody continues to use an e-cigarette over many, many years? Again it comes back to the pleasure principle and I think a lot of anti-smoking campaigners often forget that pleasure is important to people, and e-cigarettes appear to give pleasure to a great deal of people, and if they want to continue using e-cigarettes over many, many years and there’s no evidence that it’s harmful apart from perhaps being a little bit addictive, why is that such an issue?

Paul Ross: Simon, thank you for your time this morning. Simon Clark there, director of Forest, the pro choice, some people call it a pro-smoking lobby, talking to me, Paul Ross, on talkRADIO. In the next hour of the programme we’re hearing from an anti smoking organisation, in fact the anti-smoking organisation, ASH, on this topic. It’s 8.44. It’s TalkRadio. We’ll get you talking.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Stoptober - it's only our money

Stoptober, the "28-day stop smoking challenge" run by Public Health England, is launched today.

Last year PHE, which is funded by the Department of Health, hired four "top TV" comedians to promote the campaign. Together they cost the taxpayer £195,000.

Al Murray, one of the four, was also hired to promote the 2014 campaign.

This year the Stoptober budget has been slashed, allegedly, from £5m to £1m and savings had to be made.

Instead of TV and radio ads the campaign is focussing on Facebook advertising - £500,000 worth - in the belief that two-thirds of smokers use social media.

Murray and his mates have departed and the new "celebrity ambassadors" are Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, former Atomic Kitten member Natasha Hamilton, Sky Sports presenter Chris Kamara and former England cricketer Phil Tufnell.

Tufnell is an interesting choice because the last time I saw him (in the flesh) he was addressing the Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists at their annual tobacco trade lunch at Lords.

That was in 2015. I wrote about it here and as I reported the last thing I heard him say was, "If you've got any cigars I'll be outside having a fag."

To be fair, this not the first time Tufnell has been associated with Stoptober. In 2013 he kept up a constant commentary on Twitter, keeping his followers informed of a previous attempt to quit smoking using what looked like a rather primitive e-cigarette called Kwit Cig.

That clearly didn't work because he was still on the fags last year and now PHE has recruited him as their quit smoking "ambassador".

Time will tell how much he and his fellow "celebrities" have been paid but, don't worry, it's only our money.

Update: To promote the launch of Stoptober 2016 Public Health England is pushing the fact that smoking rates in England are at an all-time low.

I guess they want publicly-funded campaigns like Stoptober and local stop smoking services to take some of the credit.

In radio interviews this morning however I've been pointing out that if smokers want to quit they are increasingly using free market e-cigarettes in preference to state-funded stop smoking initiatives.

Last year, as I have previously reported, Stoptober saw a 15 per cent drop in the number of people who signed up compared to 2014. Meanwhile there has been a 51 per cent drop in the number of people using stop smoking services in England and Wales since 2010/11.

This morning the Press Association quoted me as follows:

"Quit smoking campaigns like Stoptober are a waste of public money because smokers don't need the state to help them quit.

"Smokers who want to stop are increasingly using free market solutions like e-cigarettes that cost the public nothing."

See Number of smokers in England falls to record low (Independent).