Picture this

Digging through some old files at the weekend I found a bunch of Forest-related photographs circa 1999-2002.

This is my favourite. It was taken on board a Eurostar train heading for Paris on No Smoking Day 1999. We were escaping the UK for what was then the unofficial European capital of smoking.

I wasn't on the train because I stayed in London to handle media calls but the photo features two former colleagues – Juliette Torres (standing/smoking) and, seated on the left of the picture, Jenny Starkey, who left Forest the following year to work for Theresa May (and still does!).

Juliette appears in several photos, including the one below that was taken at our old office in Palace Street, Victoria, where smoking was not just allowed, it was almost compulsory.

Other pictures in the collection were taken at Forest events at the Groucho Club in Soho, Little Havana (a nightclub off Leicester Square), Simpson’s-in-the-Strand and Antony Worrall Thompson's restaurant in Notting Hill.

Another supporter, the late great Auberon Waugh also features. He's pictured below at a Forest-sponsored soiree at the Academy Club (which he founded) in Soho.

It sounds posh but the Academy Club was actually a small, dingy room (with a tiny bar) at the top of a rickety flight of stairs in a Dickensian building in Lexington Street, next door to the Literary Review, which Waugh edited.

We had some grand nights that sadly came to an end when Waugh died.

Funnily enough, one of the people I met at the Academy Club was Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas (no relation). Claire went on to become an enormous friend of Forest and can seen (in the red jumper) in the group photo we took following a 'smoker-friendly fry-up' at Simpson's-in-the-Strand on No Smoking Day 2000.

Anyway, there are many more photographs than the ones published here. I'm tempted to do something with them, if only to mark Forest's 40th anniversary in 2019.


Welcome news from Europe!

Some interesting developments this week.

While Manchester (or, as I shall now call it, Banchester) is pledging "to go further than anywhere in Europe in a bid to cut smoking rates", some European countries are having second thoughts about their smoking bans.

In Austria, as I reported in December, the new coalition government has decided not to implement a comprehensive ban from May this year.

BBC News today confirmed that the 'new government of the conservatives and the far-right Freedom Party have scrapped the plans'.

Headlined ‘Austria's plan to stub out smoking ban prompts health plea‘, the report inevitably focussed on opposition to the change ('The move has horrified Austria's medical establishment') but there were several comments from those who favour a less dictatorial policy:

At the Kleines Café, each marble-topped table has an ashtray and the air is blue with tobacco smoke.

Peter Noever, one of the guests there, says Vienna has a habit of turning back the clock.

"The Viennese believe that they are something super-special and smoking is a very strong part of culture.

"I was a heavy smoker, but I haven't smoked for 15 years or more. I smoked so much, I can't smoke any more. But I like smokers - they are more human."

Peter Dobcak from the Vienna Chamber of Commerce says he is in favour of overturning the ban, although he admits there are splits among restaurant owners.

"We have a lot of restaurants who prefer to let the guests smoke.

"The higher level restaurant business is in favour of the ban. And the bars, the discos and the clubs are mostly in favour of smoking because the law forces people to smoke outside and then there is noise ... late in the night ..."

Non-smoker Gerhard Lammerer said:

"People will always smoke. Why don't we leave things the way they are? Why should we make things stricter and forbid it? In the past people smoked the strongest cigarettes until they were 90."

According to the BBC:

Many of the famous cafes in the centre of Vienna have already gone smoke-free, partly in anticipation of the plans for a ban, and partly because of tourism.

But others remain smoky.

Large restaurants have to provide separate smoking and non-smoking areas - but the rules on keeping doors closed between the two spaces are widely ignored. Small establishments can choose to be smoking or smoke-free.

Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, it's been reported that:

Eighty-six deputies from eight parties in the lower house have put their signatures to a proposal to loosen a ban on smoking at Czech pubs, restaurants and other facilities introduced last year.

The amendment has been written by Marek Benda of the Civic Democrats and envisages the creation of separate smoking areas with their own ventilation systems in hostelries and other spots.

Mr Benda’s proposal would also allow bars of 80 square metres or less to decide themselves whether to allow smoking or not.

See also 'Smoking may return to pubs' (Prague TV).

I've no idea what the outcome will be but let's hope both countries set an example to the likes of Britain and Ireland and put tolerance and moderation ahead of puritanism and dogma.

I've never been to the Czech Republic but I have visited Austria (briefly) and I liked it enormously – see From Austria with love.

Fingers crossed the government can keep the tobacco taliban at bay, at least until my next visit.

If the smoking ban really was introduced in part to placate anti-smoking tourists then it's important that we visit Austria in the near future to make the point that being allowed to smoke in cafes and bars is part of the attraction.


Make intolerance of smoking history

Further to yesterday's post, I urge every reader to complete the survey that seeks to 'make smoking history' in Manchester.

Granted, it's targeted at local residents ('Greater Manchester. It’s our home, our history and our future. So we’ve all got a stake in making things right. Right?') but that shouldn't deter others from submitting their views too.

After all, those behind the campaign make no bones about the fact that 'Greater Manchester is leading the way by involving all of its people in a massive conversation to make smoking history for our next generation of children.'

In other words, if this campaign results in more smoke free areas in Manchester, expect more cities and conurbations to follow suit.

Moreover, I don't see why visitors shouldn't express an opinion too.

I completed the survey this morning and the first thing to note is that entering a postcode outside Greater Manchester does not block submissions, although non-resident submissions will no doubt be singled out for comment in the final analysis.

It doesn't take long so please take a couple of minutes to respond. Respondents are asked to agree/disagree etc with a handful of questions including the following:

I want smoking to be made history in Greater Manchester

Extending smoke-free public places is a good idea

Films, television programmes, computer games, music videos and other media without 18 age rating or pre-watershed, should not show people smoking on screen

Businesses in Manchester should have a valid licence to sell tobacco

These questions raise so many issues I don't know where to start so I'll limit myself to one.

Inviting response to 'smoking on screen' raises the interesting prospect of the council imposing a unilateral ban on smoking on film or TV sets in Manchester, adopting similar regulations to those in Scotland and Wales where the practise is prohibited.

Whether that's possible I don't know but I sense the hand of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, behind this and the licensing question. It may not be feasible for Manchester to go it alone but by putting these issues up for debate it helps set the national agenda.

Respondents to the survey are also invited to submit 'additional feedback'. I wrote:

I strongly oppose this campaign which is designed to reduce the number of smokers by further denormalising a legal product enjoyed by millions or ordinary people who pay a huge sum in tax (tobacco duty & VAT) that far outweighs the cost of treating smoking-related diseases on the NHS.

It is no business of local authorities (or the Mayor of Greater Manchester) if adults choose to smoke. Stop wasting public money that could be better sent tackling crime, housing and transport (to name a few).

Interestingly there seems to be an assumption that most respondents will support the campaign because the survey concludes by saying:

If you would like to take a bigger role in this initiative and stand up and be counted as someone who genuinely wants to help create a positive change, then we’d invite you to become an advocate.

Sign up below and we can begin to make a lasting impact on the future of Greater Manchester and the health of 2.8 million people who live here.

I'm not sure when the closing date is so please submit your response now. Click here.

And if you live in Greater Manchester do please get in touch.

WATCH: Andy Burnham wants smoke-free Manchester in TEN years (Granada Reports).

Update: I shall be discussing this on BBC Radio Manchester in the morning.


Butt out, Burnham!

I was interviewed by Granada Reports (ITV) yesterday.

It was in response to the launch of a new campaign to 'Make Smoking History in Greater Manchester'. According to

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, is setting out plans to cut smoking rates across the region by a third. Mr Burnham is launching a public consultation with NHS leaders which he hopes will be the largest ever public engagement about tobacco harm.

People are being asked for their views about plans to cut the number of smokers in Greater Manchester by 115,000 over the next three years. Proposals will include extending smoke-free areas and licensing of tobacco retailers.

According to another report:

People from across Greater Manchester are being asked to become a part of history in a bid to end smoking in the region within a decade ...

Greater Manchester plans to go further than anywhere in Europe and cut smoking rates by a third. That would mean 115,000 fewer smokers across the region in only three years.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, along with health and care leaders, wants to encourage the biggest ever response to a campaign about tobacco harm.

“There will come a time when people look back and say: why did smoking ever happen?” said Mr Burnham. “I want to bring that date forward and have Greater Manchester at the forefront of the charge."

The new campaign was launched at a conference that proclaimed grandly:

The Greater Manchester tobacco control strategy sets out a vision to reduce smoking prevalence at a pace and scale greater than in any other global conurbation.

Speakers included Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, Pauline Dekker, 'pioneer of the Dutch criminal case against the tobacco industry', and Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, but it was Burnham who stole the headlines, just as he did last year with a very similar declaration (Mayor backs radical smokefree plan to save Greater Manchester lives and NHS millions):

Plans by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership to drastically cut smoking rates in Greater Manchester ‘faster and further than achieved anywhere else in the world have been endorsed by Mayor Andy Burnham on the eve of the 10th anniversary of groundbreaking smokefree laws.

Truth is, Burnham has been waiting years for the opportunity to condemn smokers to further purgatory. In February 2010, with Labour still in government, it was reported that:

Smokers could be forced to light up away from the entrances to public buildings under government moves aimed at ensuring that no more than one in 10 Britons smoke cigarettes.

The health secretary, Andy Burnham, now favours extending the 2007 landmark law which banned smoking in pubs, workplaces and other enclosed places, to prevent non-smokers having to walk through clouds of secondhand smoke.

The move comes as part of a wider attempt by Burnham to set out the case for state intervention to improve public health, insisting it does not amount to a nanny state.

Burnham will also "carefully consider" the case for forcing all cigarettes to be stripped of their distinctive wrapping and sold instead in plain brown packets, in order to reduce their appeal. There will also be renewed action against black market tobacco, a ban on tobacco vending machines and extra NHS support for those who want to quit.

According to ASH, "This new strategy is a solid foundation for the future." Not everyone was so enamoured though. Writing for the Guardian, Sholto Byrnes, assistant editor of the New Statesman and formerly a journalist with the Telegraph, commented:

Under new government plans, those of us who have already been banished to office doorways could find ourselves searching even further for a place in which to light up. But that is not the limit to Burnham's ambitions. "One day," he said, "we'll look back and find it hard to remember why anyone ever smoked in the first place."

I have no desire to impose my habit on others; but that is not enough for those of Burnham's ilk. They wish to force me to "improve" myself. And how swiftly this new puritanism has carried all before it ...

Now, even images of Isambard Kingdom Brunel are required to appear minus his trademark cigar, and if Burnham gets his way future generations will need to consult the reference books to understand the term "the cigarette afterwards", while the double entendre in another Stuyvesant ad line – "for after-action satisfaction" – will pass them by entirely.

I'm guessing the studio-based interview with me (which was recorded in the afternoon) was broadcast following this report on the local evening news.

Neither the interview nor Forest's response is online but this is the statement we issued:

"The war on smoking has gone far enough. Adults know the health risks and if they choose to smoke that decision must be respected.

"Tobacco is a legal product and adults have every right to smoke without being vilified, treated like children or targeted with unfair regulations.

"There's no evidence that smoking outside is a threat to other people's health and introducing a licensing system will make tobacco even more expensive because the cost will be passed on to the consumer.

"This creeping prohibition has to stop. Instead of coercing smokers to quit, local government should promote harm reduction products like e-cigarettes.

"The key to smoking cessation is choice and education, not measures designed to hurt or humiliate ordinary, decent people."

My next post will take a closer look at the History Makers (sic) Survey, which I hope you will complete.

In the meantime here's another, very similar, initiative – Campaign for a Smokefree Sheffield launched.

Do you see a pattern emerging?

Update: In 2010 it was reported that while the Labour government would encourage cars and homes to remain smoke-free, 'Burnham will stress that the state does not have a right to intervene in a private space, even to protect children.'

Odd then that he should endorse the new Greater Manchester Tobacco Plan whose ideas include 'Working with social housing providers to explore smokefree tenancies and homes.'

Has he changed his mind about private spaces?

Update: My interview has now been added to the ITV report here.


Notes from the smoking lounge 

That was a rare treat.

Last night - following in the footsteps of Jacob Rees Mogg who spoke to members of the Cambridge University Conservative Association on Thursday night - I addressed a rather more intimate gathering of CUCA members.

It was billed as ‘Cigars and Whisky with Forest’ and I’d been asked to give a short informal talk about our work.

The invitation wasn’t universally welcomed and two weeks ago the Student Union’s Ethical Affairs Officer issued a statement denouncing “this association between CUCA and Forest”.

“While there is nothing we can do to prevent this association between CUCA and Forest,” he sniffed, “we are surprised to hear of its existence.

“The arguments for tobacco control are coherent, powerful and backed up intensely by research, encouraging CUSU to be in support of it.

“For the environmental, social and moral good of the society our students live in, we condemn Forest’s work, making us thoroughly disappointed by this event.”

One reason they couldn’t do anything about it was the inspired choice of venue - Robert Graham Whisky and Cigar Emporium.

Outside it was a wet and miserable night but in the comforting embrace of Robert Graham’s smoking lounge it was warm and extremely snug.

Cigar shops, I need hardly remind you, were given an exemption from the smoking ban as long as consumption is for sampling purposes only.

Last night guests were each given a complimentary cigar together with a selection of whiskies.

I spoke for 15 minutes, then answered a few questions. Afterwards we continued chatting for the best part of an hour before the manager closed the shop’s doors and we were ushered out into the cold, dark street.

All in all, a very enjoyable evening. (My only disappointment was the lack of protestors.)

Thanks to CUCA for inviting me.

PS. Another guest last night was my old friend Madsen Pirie, president and co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute, who lives in Cambridge.

Well, it turns out Madsen has a cigar named after him - the Regius Lord Madsen.

He’s also the first person I know who owns a Tesla electric car. I only found out because we were talking about the launch of Tesla founder Elon Musk’s space rocket. (Space travel is another of Madsen’s interests.)

I think Madsen has the Model S but I’ll find out soon enough because he suggested we go for a spin sometime so I can experience what has been described as its “sport’s car performance”.

Not sure I want to die in an electric car, Madsen, but offer accepted.


Dear, oh dear, Cecilia, what have you done?

It's not just smokers who have reason to be aggrieved with 'public health campaigner' Cecilia Farren.

Following my previous post a reader has brought to my attention a story that appeared recently in The Times, Daily Mail and Bristol Post, which broke the story.

According to the Post:

Residents of a street in Bristol are being investigated after they hired a tree surgeon and chopped down dozens of trees along a railway line to improve the view from the backs of their house.

Network Rail said the residents of Cromwell Road did not have permission to send the tree surgeon company onto the embankment next to Montpelier station, and said the incident was serious enough for a full-blown investigation to be launched.

Furious residents living nearby have been left shocked after discovering their neighbours had clubbed together to hire a tree surgeon company, and sent them onto Network Rail land on Wednesday and Thursday last week to start cutting down a large swathe of woodland.

The work was done, neighbours claim, to improve the views from the backs of the homes on Cromwell Road, and to allow more light into their rear gardens.

The work was organised by local resident Jonty Cutting. And who helped with the tree felling? Step forward Cecilia Farren who told the Post:

"I've been trying to grow vegetables here for 20 years but the trees block the lighting coming through so nothing can thrive.

"I've been on to Network Rail for 20 years about it. When I moved here there was not a single sycamore tree and we could grow vegetables. Nothing has ever grown properly and we are sick of it.

"The felling was a joint effort by neighbours and six households were involved.

"We paid for four trees to be cut down and other neighbours paid to have trees chopped which were blocking their garden.

"We paid for four trees to be cut down and received authorisation to do this in a letter from Network Rail.

"The only thing is that Network Rail didn't send us a list of approved tree surgeons as they said they would so we arranged our own.

"I know it looks a mess now but the area will grow into a massive green in two months and look great."

So that's all right then. Except it's not because other residents are furious. And whatever Farren might say about the work being authorised, Network Rail isn't happy either. According to The Times:

Network Rail claims that the work along the Severn Beach line between Montpelier and Stapleton Road stations was carried out without permission and that removing the trees could result in landslips and the loss of habitat for bats and badgers.

One resident (a former councillor) told the Post he had been in contact with Network Rail.

“They said they are going to have to send a work team out to clear up, as there are logs threatening to roll onto the track,” he said.

“They will have to remove stumps that won’t grow back and they said they would be seeking to recover the costs from the Cromwell Road residents – which are estimated to be between £25,000 and £30,000.

“The sound cushion the trees provided is now gone, and the integrity of the slope is compromised. Wildlife is displaced, not to mention the exposure to the houses opposite on St Andrew’s Road from Cromwell Road,” he added.

Dear, oh dear, Cecilia. What have you done?

Update: Farren’s reaction when asked about the tree felling is quite interesting.

The action, she said, was justified because "they were only sycamore trees".

“Who loves sycamore trees? They are a weed, a pest,” she said.

As a self-confessed “anti-smoker” she probably has a similar view of smokers.


The ugly face of tobacco control

According to ASH:

Tobacco companies are notorious for the damage they cause to the environment through deforestation, pollution, and littering. Wood fires are needed for the process of drying tobacco leaves, leading to the loss of one tree for every 300 cigarettes. Greenhouse gases are released into the air when cigarettes are smoked, and heavy metals and toxic chemicals end up in the water supply from littered cigarette butts.

To highlight these claims the taxpayer-funded lobby group has launched what it calls its 'Polluter Pays Spring Campaign':

This spring ASH is running a campaign to coincide with the annual shareholders meetings of three of the largest tobacco companies in the world: Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, and Philip Morris International. In line with the 'Polluter Pays Principle' we’re calling on governments to make Big Tobacco pay for the damage it does. Help us share this message over the next few months. We must #MakeThemPay.

Truth it, it won't be Big Tobacco that pays for any additional levies that are imposed on tobacco companies. As ASH knows full well, the stakeholder that will ultimately pay is the consumer. (Cue crocodile tears from tobacco control campaigners bemoaning the fact that more smokers are being pushed into poverty.)

Anyway, the first of the three shareholders' meetings ASH is targeting took place yesterday in Bristol, home of Imperial Brands. The trade press and business media have had plenty to say on the subject, mostly along the lines of 'Imperial Brands says on track to meet forecasts' (Reuters), but I've seen no mention of ASH's 'Polluter Pays' campaign.

What I did spot, late last night, was a series of tweets from anti-smoking campaigner Cecilia Farren who attended the meeting. Two in particular stood out.

The first read:

Attended Imperial Brands AGM. Imps staff + board outnumbered the 27 shareholders inc 2 anti-smokers!

Now, how many times have we been told that tobacco control activists are anti-smoking not anti-smoker? (They're on your side, remember, helping you quit the evil, addictive weed.)

Well, in what I can only describe as a Freudian slip, Warren has openly admitted that she is "anti-smoker".

But the comment that really demonstrated the ugly face of tobacco control was the catty tweet about the CEO of Imperial Brands:

I was shocked by how much older and more stressed Imperial Brands CEO, Alison Cooper, looked today at the Imps AGM. Must be the guilt wearing her down.


I can't say I'm surprised though. In December 2010 Farren appeared on the Today programme and accused the tobacco industry of conducting a "terror campaign".

In September 2007 she attempted to 'name and shame' me at a tobacco control conference in Edinburgh:

During the Q&A session in the main auditorium, Cecilia Farren, founder of GASP, a self-styled "smoke-free action website", got hold of the roving mike and asked that anyone associated with Big Tobacco should be invited to stand up for all to see. For some reason, she felt the need to name me personally, implying that I had somehow sneaked in to the conference and was lying low. In her words, "I have never known Simon Clark to be so quiet."

The paranoia of some anti-smoking campaigners never ceases to amaze. Needless to say I was more than happy to jump up and introduce myself to the 400 delegates (who were looking a bit bemused). I just wish they had asked me to address the conference from the stage!

I bumped into Cecilia later and thanked her for the "free publicity". She wasn't happy.

Three years later, after hearing her performance on the Today programme, I wrote:

She embarrassed fellow tobacco control campaigners that day and listening to her now I'm sure she's embarrassed a few more.

Leopards don't change their spots. Nor, it seems, does Cecilia Farren.


Outdoor smoking bans: Tories in turmoil over creeping prohibition

This is interesting.

According to a report published yesterday:

Bexley could become the first London Borough to have a smokefree pedestrian zone if the council carries out its proposals.

The council say the proposal is to "protect young people from the influence of visible smoking and second-hand smoke".

A Bexley Council statement read: "The proposed voluntary zone would initially run as a pilot for six months and cover the main pedestrianised areas in the town centre, including around Bexleyheath Clock Tower."

If plans are acted upon - Bexleyheath Town Centre would be a smokefree zone and electronic cigarette devices would also be banned.

Before I comment on that, let's rewind the clock.

In April 2017 it was reported that smoking could be banned in pub beer gardens and al-fresco dining areas if proposals by Labour-run Haringey Council were implemented.

However it was also reported that the idea had been blocked by the Government 'after ministers warned they would infringe on people's freedom and lead to pub closures'.

According to the Telegraph:

The proposals to extend the ban to outdoor areas were have been included in a list of demands by councils and health authorities in London which has been supported by Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London.

However the Government has rejected the plans and condemned "labour's municipal killjoys" for making the proposal.

Marcus Jones, a minister for local government, said: “We already knew that Labour councils charge higher council taxes and levy more red tape.

"Now Labour’s municipal killjoys have been caught with a smoking gun, trying to ban adults enjoying their local pub garden. If implemented, these ill-founded proposals would lead to massive pub closures.

"Conservatives in Government will be vetoing these Labour Party plans. Ahead of May’s local elections, local voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Labour councillors."

What's interesting is that the council that is now proposing to introduce a 'smoke free' zone in the London Borough of Bexley is – wait for it – Conservative-controlled, and the man responsible for the six-week consultation that began yesterday is a Conservative councillor, Peter Craske.

Now some may argue that introducing a 'smoke free' pedestrian zone in Bexleyheath town centre is not the same as banning smoking in beer gardens and al fresco dining areas.

But what about town centre cafes with outdoor seating areas out front? Ditto pubs and restaurants. What Bexley Council is proposing will surely affect them just as much.

But regardless of that, why should anyone be barred from lighting up in any outdoor area when the harm it causes other people is not just negligible, it's zero?

Truth is, when it comes to nanny state policies and unwarranted interventions in other people's lives, there's little to choose between any of the main political parties at local or national level.

The Conservatives may not have the control-freak mentality of some Labour politicians but there's a long history of paternalism in the Tory party and it's a long time since I looked to a Conservative government for a sympathetic ear on this and other lifestyle issues.

All we can do is make our voices heard as loudly as possible. To paraphrase a (former) minister for local government, ahead of May's local elections voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Conservative councillors.

There may be restrictions on who can contribute to the consultation but if you want to have your say on whether Bexleyheath town centre should become a smoke-free zone, click here.

PS. It's worth noting that the proposals for Bexleyheath town centre include a ban on "electronic cigarette devices". I wonder what ASH and Public Health England will have to say about that?

See also: The perils of devolution in public health (Taking Liberties).

Update: Dundee City Council has announced proposals to ban smoking in parks and playgrounds. The Courier and Herald have the story here and here.

Both reports include these comments by me:

"Smoking in the open air poses no risk to anyone else's health, including children, so there is no reason to ban it in playgrounds or any other outdoor space.

"We would urge smokers to be considerate to those in their immediate vicinity but the overwhelming majority don't need to be told how to behave around children. Like most people they use their common sense.

"The last thing we need are yet more regulations designed to tell ordinary people how to behave in public."

I'm also being interviewed by STV News.