Wednesday
May252016

Dan Donovan: "Brooding cocktail of coal black imagery and nocturnal poetry"

If you've attended Forest events with any regularity you'll be familiar with Dan Donovan (right).

Dan is usually present is his role as a professional photographer but he's also a film-maker, graphic designer and musician.

Over 30 years Dan has recorded twelve albums. The last four have been recorded with his two-piece garage band King Kool.

Released in February, his thirteenth album, Dan Donovan 12_12, Acoustics Sessions, was a return – as the title suggests – to his acoustic roots.

Revisiting his back catalogue, Dan chose one song from each of his previous twelve albums and recorded new versions. According to his website:

Live performances throughout the UK, Belgium and Netherlands followed the release of the album.

International folk and blues magazine Rock’n’Reel wrote “Twelve shots of howling murder blues, part growling part soaring” and gave the CD a high 4 star rating.

FATEA magazine called the album “a tribute not only to the quality of Donovan’s writing but also to his performance - a brooding cocktail of coal black imagery and nocturnal poetry.”

Dan has now combined his photography with lyrics from the album for a book that also offers insights into each song.

The book launch takes place on Friday (May 29) at The Angles Theatre, Wisbech. As well as wine, visuals and song, there will be music videos from the album.

I can't make it unfortunately but if you're in the area and want to go, Dan would be delighted to see you. RSVP info@battenberg.biz.

PS. You can preview the book here.

Tuesday
May242016

Smoke On The Water 2016 – register now

We began promoting our annual boat party in earnest yesterday and within hours over 100 guests had registered.

Smoke On The Water 2016 takes place on Wednesday 29th June, the week after the EU referendum, so as one parliament based person commented, "I may need an unwind by then."

As usual guests board the boat, a Mississippi style paddle-steamer, at Westminster Pier from 7.00pm.

At 7.45 we'll leave the pier and cruise down river to Canary Wharf, returning to Festival Pier where guests disembark at 10.00.

There will be complimentary drinks for the first hour, cash bar after that.

Smoking and vaping are permitted on the rear open deck and the two covered walkways either side of the upper deck.

If the weather is nice The Elizabethan benefits from a unique sliding roof that gives passengers a fantastic view of London's skyline and the many famous bridges we pass under.

One guest registered after our event email was forwarded to him with this personal recommendation:

"Thought this would be right up your street. Their events are always very good and what more would a Tory smoker want than this?"

Unconvinced? Here are some more comments:

"I'm really looking forward to it."

"Sounds great fun."

"I'll be there!"

"Can't wait!"

Click here for full details. Places are limited so advance registration is essential.

Finally, the picture on the Smoke On The Water poster (top right) was taken by Dan Donovan at last year's event, together with these equally fabulous photos.

Tuesday
May242016

Axa – what would Orwell say?

According to the BBC yesterday:

Axa, one of the world's biggest insurers, will stop investing in the tobacco industry and sell investments worth more than €1.7bn (£1.3bn).

It said investing in the sector made no sense given that smoking killed some six million people a year.

The move by Axa is an attempt to support government efforts to reduce the number of people who smoke.

The reported added that:

Axa wanted to send a signal to other institutional investors and encourage others to follow suit.

According to incoming chief executive Thomas Buberl:

"The business case is positive," he said. "It makes no sense for us to continue our investments within the tobacco industry. The human cost of tobacco is tragic - its economic cost is huge."

Spokesmen for tobacco control were delighted:

Cary Adams, chief executive of the Union for International Cancer Control, said: "We need companies like Axa to signal that investing in an industry which kills its customers is simply the wrong thing to do, and this announcement ... is a milestone step in the right direction."

See Axa stubs out €1.7bn tobacco industry investment (BBC News).

The announcement – which coincided with the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva – has been very widely reported, as Axa no doubt intended. You can't buy that publicity – well, you can but it would cost a fortune.

Funny enough it reminded me of the announcement by the UK pub chain Wetherspoon in 2005 that it was going to ban smoking in every one of its 650 pubs.

Like Axa, Wetherspoon got a huge amount of free publicity promoting themselves as innovative, socially responsible pioneers. According to chairman Tim Martin:

"An increasing percentage of the population are giving up smoking and a significant number of people are staying away from pubs and restaurants because they are too smoky."

He said the firm had pioneered non-smoking areas in its outlets, but felt "it is the right time to go one step further".

Like Axa, Wetherspoon also got the thumbs up from the tobacco control industry. According to the Telegraph:

The decision, which pre-empts the Government's limited clampdown on smoking in pubs, bars and restaurants in 2008, was welcomed as a "bold move" by health campaigners.

JD Wetherspoon has pioneered no-smoking areas in its bars and lounges. Action on Smoking and Health said the move was a "significant development" and urged other pub chains and companies to follow.

Deborah Arnott, the director of ASH, said the pub was responding to customer demand. She said: "This is very encouraging news and we're sure that now Wetherspoon has set the trend, other pub chains will soon follow suit. It shows that the Government has nothing to fear from introducing legislation to make all pubs smoke-free."

Oddly enough other pub chains didn't follow suit. In fact, within a year Wetherspoon had abandoned plans to ban smoking in all its pubs after a "backlash" from customers.

In March 2006, a month after MPs voted to ban smoking in pubs and clubs, The Independent reported:

The pubs group JD Wetherspoon has shelved plans to turn its entire chain non-smoking until the Government ban comes into force, after seeing a steep drop in sales in venues that have been converted.

Wetherspoon backtracked from plans to turn its entire 655 managed pub estate non-smoking by May, and decided to wait until the middle of next year when its rivals will also have to be smoke-free under a UK-wide ban.

We'll have to see if other companies follow Axa's lead but I'm guessing most won't.

Anyway I hadn't intended to comment on the story (investment is one of many things I know nothing about) until the Guardian invited Forest to say something.

I hummed and hawed and then made a rookie mistake. The quote I sent them was too long and the message I really wanted to get across was at the end, not the beginning.

Inevitably (I don't blame the paper at all because I gave them permission to edit it) only the first two sentences were used:

"Axa's decision is a slap in the face for millions of adults who choose to smoke.

"By supporting the government's anti-smoking programme the company is endorsing some of the most illiberal tobacco control policies in the world.

The full quote went on:

"These policies are being used to denormalise a legal product and stigmatise the consumer.

"It's all very well taking the moral high ground but Axa would do well to remember that freedom of choice and personal responsibility are essential factors in a free society.

"Take those away and you are left with governments and corporations dictating how ordinary people live their lives."

I didn't mention George Orwell's 1984 but that was what I had in mind.

Naturally ASH had their say too. According to CEO Deborah Arnott:

“The withdrawal of one of the world’s biggest insurance companies, Axa, from tobacco investments shows just how morally repugnant the tobacco industry has become, and we hope others will follow suit,” she said.

“However, despite the lethal nature of the product, tobacco remains one of the most profitable businesses in the world. Until we make smoking history it is likely to remain so.”

See Axa to divest €1.8bn of tobacco investments (Guardian).

The idea that tobacco control is some kind of moral crusade is nothing new (the temperance movement was built on the idea) but I doubt that's the reason for Axa's decision.

Giant corporations are rarely driven by altruism, misguided or otherwise. The bottom line is they want to make money and to do that they have develop a competitive advantage over their rivals.

In its way Axa's policy on tobacco investment is no different to that of Wetherspoon eleven years ago. They're testing the policy to see if it works, dressing it up in a cloak of self-righteousness.

Well, Wetherspoon's policy failed and it needed the intervention of government to enforce a measure that ordinary people, voting with their feet and wallets, had rejected.

Axa operate on a different level where ordinary people are mere ants by comparison. To them we're just a number. Sound familiar?

Update: Last night I received an email from a journalist in Spain who had read my "very interesting" comment in the Guardian.

He had two questions:

1. Do you think that this decision could fix a trend for other big companies that will follow this path for publicity reasons?

2. Do you think that this kind of movement is a shortcut to avoid a broader philosophical debate about smoking and free will?

In response to the latter I send him the bit of the quote the Guardian didn't use. In response to the first question I wrote:

The first announcement will get headlines but with every subsequent announcement there will be diminishing returns so I don't see this becoming a trend for other companies seeking publicity.

A lot of people would also consider that to be jumping on the bandwagon and that can have a negative rather than a positive impact on a company's image.

I didn't go into any detail but he's touched on an important point – there does need to be a broader philosophical debate about smoking and free will.

But that's for another time.

Monday
May232016

Oh dear, did the DH really think this through?

ASH is quick to claim that plain packaging has the public's support.

They were at it again this morning when I was on BBC Radio Leicester with Amanda Sandford.

Well, I'm not suggesting a self-selecting poll on the Daily Mirror website is any more accurate but it does suggest a degree of scepticism about the measure.

Combined with an hilarious report on Vice.com at the weekend (What do smokers think of the UK's new sludge coloured cigarette packets?) and you do have to question the sanity of ASH and their friends at the Department of Health.

Do they have any idea how ordinary people think?

Whoever thought plain packaging was a good idea is beginning to look rather foolish.

Monday
May232016

What next, tobacco retailer licensing?

Most of you probably have lives so this may have passed you by.

For people like me however Friday was the closing date for submissions to an HMRC consultation on Tobacco Illicit Trade Protocol – licensing of equipment and the supply chain.

The official description read:

This consultation is about Article 6 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Protocol. The aim of the Protocol is to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products.

At Autumn Statement 2015 the government announced its intention to consult on Article 6 of the Protocol. Article 6 of the Protocol is concerned with registration or licensing of participants who trade in tobacco and tobacco products.

The consultation is seeking views on two aspects of Article 6:

– the mandatory control of tobacco manufacturing equipment
– whether the UK should license wholesalers, retailers, brokers etc of tobacco products

The government is keen to ensure that any response to the illicit tobacco trade is proportionate and does not add an undue administrative burden on business. It will therefore be seeking views from a wide range of stakeholders to establish clear evidence-based rationale for its decisions.

No decisions have yet been made in relation to whether parties in a supply chain should be licensed or whether some but not all parties should be licensed.

What should set alarm bells ringing for consumers (as well as retailers) is the suggestion that the UK should license retailers of tobacco products.

Curiously, though, the government doesn't seem interested in the views of the consumer. Section 2 of the consultation began:

Understanding your interest in this tobacco consultation

Businesses, organisations and individuals may have different perspectives and HMRC is interested in understanding the context of the answers you give to all the questions in this consultation.

– a tobacco retailer
– tobacco wholesaler
– a tobacco manufacturer
– a manufacturer of tobacco equipment
– a manufacturer of component parts of manufacturing equipment
– an importer/exporter of tobacco products
– an importer/exporter of tobacco manufacturing equipment
– a transporter/broker/warehouser of tobacco or manufacturing equipment
– a representative body – please specify
– a public health body or group
– Local Government (including Trading Standards) or other enforcement agency
– a member of the public
– Other: please specify

Consumers could, I guess, come under 'a member of the public' or 'other' but why not include 'consumer' as an actual category?

Undeterred, Forest submitted a five-page, 40-point letter on behalf of the consumer. Here are the first ten points:

1. Tobacco is a legal product and it would be wrong to introduce regulations that might unnecessarily restrict the number of legitimate tobacco retailers.

2. Tobacco retailer licensing would place an unnecessary administrative burden on legitimate retailers. It would discriminate against small and independent shops and some retailers could be forced to stop selling tobacco.

3. Current tobacco retailers denied a licence to sell tobacco could lose many of their regular customers. This in turn could force some retailers out of business. Such closures would affect not only customers who smoke but also non-smoking customers who might lose an important local facility.

4. A reduction in the number of retailers selling tobacco would unnecessarily inconvenience many adult smokers by forcing them to travel longer distances to buy tobacco.

5. To save them the inconvenience of these journeys it could encourage consumers to buy larger quantities of tobacco rather than, say, the single pack of cigarettes they might buy currently. This in turn could conceivably increase their consumption of tobacco.

6. Increasing the administrative burden on retailers could lead to higher prices as retailers pass the cost on to the consumer. Price increases could be added to non-tobacco products so the impact of licensing would unfairly hit non-smoking customers as well.

7. By making it difficult to buy tobacco close to someone’s home or place of work, the government will make it more attractive to buy tobacco on the black market.

8. Offered illicit cigarettes in a pub, for example, and it won’t only be the price that’s enticing. The fact that it’s so much more convenient because the local shop no longer sells tobacco could push many more people towards illicit tobacco.

9. There is no good reason we can think of why tobacco licensing should reduce illicit trade. People turn to the black market for one reason only – it’s much cheaper to buy illegal cigarettes than it is to purchase tobacco from legitimate, law-abiding retailers.

10. Tobacco licensing won’t change that. Instead, by potentially reducing the number of retailers selling tobacco, demand for illicit tobacco could increase because cost and convenience could combine to make black market tobacco even more attractive than it is already.

Tobacco licensing is being considered, apparently, as part of a wider programme to tackle illicit trade but as our response above makes clear there is no good reason why it should.

There are already laws to prosecute retailers who sell illicit tobacco. Why would tobacco retailer licensing deter anyone?

Trading Standards already have the power to prosecute shop owners who sell illicit tobacco. Councils can also revoke a premise's licence.

So enforce existing laws, don't introduce new ones that won't make any difference other than inconvenience legitimate, law-abiding retailers and consumers.

Call me cynical but I suspect the real motivation behind tobacco retailer licensing is not to tackle illicit trade but to reduce the number of retailers selling tobacco in order to make it more difficult for people to buy legal products. This is turn will force people to quit.

Anyway we concluded our submission with these three points:

38. We urge HMRC to enforce existing regulations rather than imposing new regulations on small businesses.

39. We also urge HMRC to put the needs of legitimate retailers and consumers first and not succumb to the demands of the tobacco control industry whose goal is to force smokers to quit regardless of whether they want to.

40. If adult consumers choose to purchase a legal product on which they pay a huge level of taxation, their lives should not be made unnecessarily difficult by the imposition of regulations that could conceivably fuel illicit trade and affect many more people including legitimate and hard-working retailers.

A summary of responses to the consultation will be published later this year. I'll keep you posted.

See also: The Government should reject tobacco retailer licensing and If the Government ignores tobacco retailers, regulation will be poorer for it (ConservativeHome).

Sunday
May222016

Absolutely shocking, a politician with principles

A few months ago, as the votes in the Irish election were still being counted, Forest Ireland tweeted:

At that moment it seemed that McGrath, a smoker, was in serious danger of losing his seat, which was bad news for anyone who believes there should be places in parliament for mavericks and independent thinkers, even if you don't always agree with them.

Smokers had a particular reason to be grateful to McGrath. An independent TD since 2002 he was probably the only friend they had in the Dáil.

Well, not only did McGrath hold on to his seat but thanks to the horse trading that followed the election as rival parties sought to reach agreement on who should form the next government and who should be Taoiseach, something remarkable happened.

Finian McGrath, the Independent TD for Dublin Bay North, sensationally found himself appointed Minister of State at the Department of Health with special responsibility for disability.

If that was a surprise, what followed was a minor miracle, a politician refusing to compromise his beliefs simply because he had been given a role in government.

Interviewed by the Sunday Business Post last week, McGrath said smokers were a "soft target" and Ireland should have designated sections for smokers.

The full article is behind a paywall but other Irish newspapers were quick to report his comments. The Irish Times, for example, quoted him as follows:

“I can understand people’s concerns about the health implications, but the reality is a significant number of us smoke."

The report went on:

He added he would welcome an educational programme to discourage young people from taking up the habit. “I think it would be no harm if we had a national debate on this," he said.

Mr McGrath said he was concerned about the illegal trade in cigarettes by criminal gangs. “Increasing the price of cigarettes too much assists these gangs and I think this should be taken into account when the next budget is framed," he added.

See Finian McGrath asks for more public sympathy for smokers (Irish Times).

Inevitably these comments created a media storm with every Tom, Dick and Ruairidh keen to give McGrath a good kicking. According to the Irish Examiner

Patrick Doorley, chairman of ASH Ireland, said the organisation was “deeply concerned” any consideration would be given to changing smoking in the workplace.

“This is one of the most progressive and successful pieces of health legislation introduced in recent years."

Describing the comments as “unhelpful and irresponsible at a time when we are striving to make Ireland tobacco free by 2025”, the Irish Cancer Society said any roll back of the smoking ban would be a retrograde step.

Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin said Mr McGrath now needs to “get with it” when it comes to creating a smoke free society.

“Given the fact that he is in cabinet, he needs to get with it and he needs to get with the view that this is not just about Finian McGrath, it’s about future generations.

“It’s about the young people of this country, it’s about creating a smoke-free society because addiction to nicotine kills.”

More pompous than that was an article in the Irish Times written by Paul Cullen:

McGrath is fully entitled to smoke and to have his own views on smoking. What he is not entitled to do – particularly as a Minister of State in the Department of Health – is to ignore evidence and rely on skewed statistics in making his argument.

He has done this consistently over the years. He has claimed, without evidence, that “most” smokers would not light up in cars when children are present.

Without evidence? Er, what about this study conducted by University College Dublin in 2013:

Plans to ban smoking in cars carrying children would be "labour intensive" and have little effect, according to a new study.

The study, which involved observing 2,230 drivers, found they were more likely to be using their mobile phones than smoking.

Eight adult passengers and just one child were observed as being exposed to a smoking adult driver.

Cullen added:

In 2013, [McGrath] told TDs: “We all accept that smoking damages health, but so do excessive eating, drinking and lots of other things.” The difference, of course, is that all smoking is bad, not just excessive consumption.

"All smoking is bad?" Try telling that to the millions of smokers who live long and healthy lives. Smokers may be playing Russian roulette with their health but it's a ridiculous generalisation to say "all smoking is bad".

Ireland’s current policy on tobacco control aims to “denormalise” smoking but McGrath favours the strategy of health education, which has had limited success.

"Limited success"? I can only speak for Britain but the huge fall in smoking rates from the mid Seventies to the mid Nineties happened largely because of health education.

It's illiberal measures such as the smoking ban, graphic warnings and the display ban that have had limited success, not health education.

Meanwhile McGrath was forced to not only defend his belief there should be more smoking facilities in bars and restaurants (Finian McGrath defends "personal" views on smoking in pubs) but also the fact that he smokes at all (Finian McGrath will not give up smoking).

Thankfully, after several days of this illiberal nonsense, one or two commentators have come to his defence, and they're worth reading.

According to Diarmaid Ferrier in the Irish Times, the minister "was perfectly entitled to articulate the plight of Irish smokers":

Most annoying was the po-faced moralising that went on after McGrath’s comments in relation to his own smoking, summed up in the arrogant opening line of an article in the Irish Independent: “The new Super Junior Health Minister Finian McGrath has refused to confirm he will give up smoking cigarettes.”

Is McGrath under some kind of obligation to prostrate himself at the feet of the righteous who imply there is an onus on him to give up smoking?

Such intolerance brought to mind the late cardiac surgeon Maurice Neligan, who, after one of his health columns for this newspaper in 2005, was shouted down by many for daring to suggest that “smoke police, drink police and fat police” were intent on “possessing the asylum”.

Writing in the Irish Independent David Quinn noted:

Finian seems like a decent egg, and for the most part he holds very safe, politically correct views. But Finian is a smoker and as such he has a bit of human sympathy for other smokers. He wondered out loud, therefore, whether we should cut the poor, beleaguered smoking community of Ireland - an oppressed and persecuted minority if ever there was one - a bit of slack.

Everything he had to say was immediately dismissed out of hand by the great and the good of the land. This is the way we do things here. His idea was not worthy of discussion. We have developed an iron consensus around the issue (because that is what we do on issue after issue), and dissent is not to be tolerated. As usual.

That gives you a flavour of the piece but read it in full. It's unusual to read anything like this these days so enjoy it – McGrath is right, it's time we gave our beleaguered smokers a break (Irish Independent).

One further point I would make is this. This is not the first time McGrath has spoken out about giving smokers a break.

In February 2015, for example, he told The Journal that "he and his fellow smokers are soft targets and that it’s time for the government to lay off them" (Why we should ‘relax the smoking ban in bars and give smokers a break’).

You can watch the interview below.

The shock therefore is not that he holds such views but that he was prepared to repeat them days after being invited to join the government.

Brave or foolhardy, I'll leave you to decide, but I think we should celebrate the fact that here is a politician who even after his appointment as a minister at the Department of Health had the courage to repeat publicly what he believed about smokers before he entered government.

How many other politicians can you say that about? I've lost count of the number of politicians in Britain who say one thing in opposition then change their position as soon as they're as in government.

We've seen it repeatedly with tobacco-related policies. More recently avowed eurosceptics have suddenly announced they intend to vote for Britain to 'Remain' in the EU. Only they know the reason. The rest of us are left to speculate.

I'm disappointed of course that McGrath supports the Irish government's programme to make Ireland 'smoke-free' (sic) by 2025 but what else can he say?

Personally I don't believe it's a viable ambition unless government introduces even more draconian policies designed to coerce and even humiliate the consumer to give up.

I do however believe Finian's heart is in the right place and we should be grateful for that.

Update: The brilliant Ian O'Doherty, Ireland's only libertarian columnist (to the best of my knowledge) has added his tuppence halfpenny and it's up to his usual standard:

Every now and then in the course of a columnist's career, they may find themselves writing or uttering something which would normally be completely anathema to them.

Here's mine - I think Finian McGrath is right.

That was probably harder for me to write than it was for you to read. After all, McGrath is one of those old Lefties who still adores Cuba. In fact, even when confronted with the catalogue of human rights abuses of the Castro regime, McGrath could only mumble that: Cuba has a "different kind of democracy to Ireland".

But credit where it is due, McGrath did smokers - and anyone who values personal freedom - a favour when he raised the long dormant issue of smoking in pubs and restaurants.

I urge you to read the rest of it here: Finian's rainbow goes up in smoke (Sunday Independent).

Friday
May202016

That TalkRadio interview in full

Earlier today I spoke to Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkRadio.

The station has now posted our ten-minute discussion online together with a brief report:

Government legislation forcing cigaratte manufacturers to sell their products in non-branded packaging infantilises adults and is doomed to failure, according to Simon Clark, director of the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest).

From today (Friday), all cigarette packets are required by law to be the same size, shape and colour. More than 60 per cent of the surface must be covered with health warnings, and brand names must be written in a standard font rather use easily identifiabe logos.

Legislators believe these steps will help to reduce the number of smokers in the UK, but Clark disagrees.

"We're saying to adults 'we're going to treat you like children'," he told Julia Hartley-Brewer. "We're going to take away all these fancy colours, and produce these cigarettes in plain packaging because we think you're too stupid."

Strict packaging guidelines have already been introduced in Australia, but Clark, who has led FOREST's 'hands off our packs' campaign against the new legislation, believes the change does not have sufficient evidence to support claims of success.

"Smoking rates have continued to fall in Australia, but only in line with historical trends," he said. "There's no evidence [the new packaging] actually works.

"We're going to have less choice, because companies are not going to spend time researching and developing new brands if they can't distinguish them."

Clark also disagrees with claims that children are influenced into smoking by cleverly branded packaging.

"I don't think children do start smoking because of packaging, it's because of peer pressure," he said. "Yes, you want to look cool - but that's the cigarette between the lips, not brandishing a packet of cigarettes."

To listen to the full interview click on the image above or click here.

Friday
May202016

Muted media response to introduction of plain packaging law

Quick round-up of media coverage.

In terms of broadcast media there has been far less interest in the introduction of plain packaging than might have been expected. 

As I mentioned in my previous post I was booked to appear on Good Morning Britain (ITV) with Deborah Arnott, and BBC Five Live this morning but both interviews were cancelled, the latter at 30 minutes' notice, because of "other news".

We've done interviews for LBC, Talk Radio, Global Radio and a couple of local radio stations (including an interview with former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik on BBC Radio Kent) but I anticipated far more.

Print coverage has also been relatively muted too.

In contrast there has been a huge number of online reports and Forest's response to the introduction of plain packaging has been reported far and wide, at home and abroad.

Our monitoring agency has picked up well over 200 clips. Examples include:

Press Association
Guardian
BBC News
BBC Newsbeat
ITV News
Sky News
Daily Mirror
Independent
Metro
Scotsman
Western Daily Press
Sky News Australia

and many many more.

I'm guessing that the restrained print and broadcast coverage is because it will be several months before plain packaged products start appearing on shelves and the best part of a year before we see them ranged alongside one another, so the story lacks a strong visual message.

Compare that to the introduction of the smoking ban (a huge cultural change for many people) and even the display ban when it was first introduced in supermarkets.

The difference is that those bans had an immediate visual effect. Smokers were forced outside and the shutters came down on tobacco. The introduction of plain packaged products will be very gradual.

Another difference is that consumers don't feel that strongly about plain packaging. ASH may be hugging themselves with glee but I can't imagine any smokers are losing sleep over it.

Speaking to journalists I also found a general lack of interest in the issue. They didn't want to repeat the arguments, for and against, all over again with the result that one or two focussed on some of the TPD measures – the ban on 10-packs, for example, or menthol cigarettes.

Again, these measures will take a while to be noticed and the ban on menthol cigarettes won't be enforced until 2020.

So not quite the media frenzy some people anticipated but nothing surprise me anymore. I'm just glad I didn't have to get up at 4.00am to drive to London for GMB at 6.40!

Update: I'll be on BBC Radio Scotland at 5.50 or thereabouts.