Thursday
Apr282016

Beach smoking ban: Swansea Council ignored response to public consultation

I know the Royal College of Physicians' report on e-cigarettes is the big story today.

I'll post something on that later. But first I want to finish what I started in my previous post, published late last night.

It wasn't hard to find the evidence I was looking for. It was there all along but I didn't know where to look. It took a little digging but I quickly discovered what I had suspected to be true all along.

By imposing a 'voluntary' ban on smoking at Caswell Bay, Swansea Council has ignored the result of its own public consultation announced to great fanfare last October.

How do I know? Well, attached to the agenda and minutes of a meeting of the Cabinet Advisory Committee on December 9, 2015, is a document, Consultation on Smoke-Free Public Spaces, that has all the results.

You can read it for yourself but in the context of the Caswell Bay policy the results that particularly interest me are the following:

Asked to 'agree or disagree that all beaches in Swansea and Gower should become smoke free', the reaction from respondents was:

Strongly agree/agree - 36.8%
Strongly disagree/disagree - 61.7%
Don't know - 1.5%

Curiously (and more pertinent perhaps in view of the Caswell Bay pilot scheme), when asked to 'agree or disagree that some beaches but not all [my emphasis] should become smoke free', opposition was even more pronounced:

Strongly agree/agree - 24%
Strongly disagree/disagree - 73.1%
Don't know - 3%

Interestingly only 14.7% of respondents were current smokers (10.4% daily, 4.3% occasionally). 22.7% were ex-smokers, 22.3% said they used e-cigarettes and 40.3% had never smoked.

In other words, even though less than 15% of respondents were current smokers there was still a clear majority opposed or strongly opposed to extending smoking bans to public beaches.

Ignoring that small detail, Swansea Council has gone ahead and introduced a 'voluntary' smoking ban at Caswell Bay with the support (naturally) of ASH Wales and other interfering busybodies.

The Caswell Bay policy is described as a one-year pilot scheme. I imagine it's what they intended all along. The outcome of the consultation was a minor hiccup.

In 12 months expect a report saying how successful the ban has been - pollution slashed, a huge increase in life expectancy in Swansea, sealife restored to levels not seen for millions of years etc etc.

The council did at least listen to respondents on the subject of e-cigarettes. Asked whether vaping should be included in a voluntary ban, respondents said:

Yes - 31.7%
No - 68.3%

Result: vaping has (rightly) been excluded from the 'voluntary' ban.

The question is, why were these results not made public with the same fanfare that accompanied the announcement of the survey?

Brighton was the same. Widespread coverage of the council's plan to hold a public consultation with headlines implying a beach smoking ban was inevitable, but hardly any coverage of the fact that a significant majority of respondents were opposed to extending smoking bans to parks and beaches.

At least in Brighton the council quietly dropped any plans they may have had to ban smoking on the beach.

In contrast Swansea Council has chosen to ignore the result of its own survey and press on regardless.

Majority support doesn't make a policy right (outdoor smoking bans are wrong, period) but you can see how it might influence decision-makers.

Implementing such a measure without that support - having gone through the charade of a public consultation - makes a mockery of the process.

Oh, and here's another result:

Asked whether making beaches smoke free would encourage them to visit them more often, respondents said:

More frequently - 24.1%
Make no difference - 37.5%
Less frequently - 38.2%

Good news for beach side cafes and other local businesses - not!

For the full results of the Swansea survey go to Consultation on Smoke-Free Public Spaces.

Wednesday
Apr272016

Does the public support the Swansea beach smoking ban? Watch this space.

Earlier today we put the following question, via Twitter, to Swansea Council and, to be fair, got a very quick reply:

Emboldened by this we then asked for the results of the council's 'smoke free survey' that was designed to gauge public support for extending the smoking ban to more outdoor areas around the city, including beaches.

That request was tweeted at 13:02. Come the close of business this evening we were still waiting for a response. In view of their earlier prompt reply it seemed a bit odd. After all, if the information exists why not tweet a link straight away?

Here's how the process was supposed to work. According to a report in the Morning Advertiser a week before the consultation deadline on October 25:

The responses will be considered by a Cabinet Advisory Committee before it makes a recommendation on what steps, if any, the council could take.

Since then however the public has been kept completely in the dark. Nothing more has been heard of the survey – least of all the results – and to the best of my knowledge there has been no public announcement by either the Council or the Cabinet Advisory Committee.

My guess is that the responses didn't support any further bans on smoking in outdoor areas including beaches. I say that for two reasons.

One, if a majority of the public supported a beach smoking ban you would expect the council to use that as justification. Instead there has been no mention of the survey or the public's response.

Two, in December, following a meeting of Brighton and Hove Council's health and wellbeing board (during which it was confirmed that the board would not be recommending an extension of smoke-free areas to beaches, parks and squares), I wrote:

Some of the comments were quite interesting. One councillor seemed to suggest it would be ten years before the idea was proposed again.

Another suggested the Swansea consultation on the same issue had attracted a similar response which, if correct, is also hugely encouraging.

In other words it's my belief that the 'voluntary' ban on smoking on Caswell Bay beach doesn't have public support.

If I'm right it means Swansea Council has ignored the result of its own consultation.

Meanwhile a little digging has uncovered information that supports this view. I'll update this post in the morning.

Wednesday
Apr272016

Another beach in Wales goes 'smoke free' (sic)

A second beach in Wales has been pronounced 'smoke free'. According to the BBC:

Swansea council selected Caswell Bay for its pilot voluntary smoking ban because it is popular with families.

Councillor Mark Child, Swansea council cabinet member for wellbeing and healthy city, said: "We are trying to reduce the frequency of smoking around children.

ASH Wales chief executive Suzanne Cass said: "We know that seeing smoking highly influences young people and it is imperative we do anything we can to stop the renormalisation of smoking."

Speaking on behalf of Forest I'm quoted as follows:

"The council is treating adults like children. The overwhelming majority of smokers know to smoke with consideration for those around them. The council should allow them to use their common sense without imposing yet another petty regulation."

See Voluntary beach smoking ban at Swansea's Caswell Bay starts (BBC News).

Interestingly there's no mention of the council's policy on vaping. Nor is there any mention of the public consultation Swansea Council conducted last year.

Widely reported at the time I've read nothing about it since. (The BBC was also unaware of a consultation report.)

The only thing I have heard is a councillor in Brighton saying the result of the Swansea consultation was similar to that in Brighton - ie, a massive rejection of a beach smoking ban.

We'll be contacting the council this morning. If we get a reply I'll let you know.

Update: The story, with quotes from Forest, can also be found on the ITV News website (Voluntary smoking ban trialled at second Welsh beach).

Meanwhile the South Wales Evening Post has this report, Smoking group fumes over 'voluntary ban' on cigarettes on Caswell Bay, that includes some additional comments from Forest:

"Smoking in the open air poses no risk to anyone else's health, nor is there evidence that the sight of a stranger smoking encourages children to smoke.

"Youth smoking rates are currently at their lowest levels ever so this policy is both intrusive and unnecessary.

"If litter is an issue the council should provide cigarette bins to help smokers dispose of their butts.

Unfortunately many councils refuse to do this because they say it normalises smoking. Well, they can't have it both ways.

"This is not about health. It's about councils micro-managing our lives in a way that would have been inconceivable a generation ago."

Monday
Apr252016

Silence isn't golden

I'm not alone, it seems.

Friday
Apr222016

ASH's weasel words on vaping bans

I was interviewed by Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkRadio this morning.

I like Julia. I admire her forthright views and I agree with her on many things. On smoking however it's a matter of agreeing to disagree.

She doesn't strike me as a delicate flower yet she hates everything about smoking including the smell. She would happily ban the sale of cigarettes entirely.

She's a good presenter though because she gives people a chance to have their say without excessive interruption.

The result is, I think, fairly entertaining radio because we don't shout over each other, as sometimes happens. We simply make our very different points.

Today we were discussing the decision by Nottinghamshire County Council to ban smoking and vaping during work breaks.

Julia, naturally, was all in favour of extending the smoking ban. So too was my fellow guest, Amanda Sandford of ASH.

Given ASH's deafening silence on the council's decision to ban the use of e-cigarettes during working hours (offenders could even face disciplinary action), I thought I'd ask Amanda a simple question:

"Given that e-cigarettes are used by many smokers to help them quit, will ASH condemn the decision to ban vaping?"

Credit to Amanda, she was quick on her feet. Cleverley avoiding a 'yes' or 'no' answer, she responded by saying (I paraphrase), "If we had been asked we would have advised against a ban on vaping."

Brilliant!

Nottinghamshire County Council announced proposals to ban smoking during work hours in September 2015. At the time it was made clear that the measure would extend to e-cigarettes.

ASH advocates the use of e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking. You would think they would have lobbied the council to exempt vaping.

It seems not. Why? "We weren't asked."

Until today's interview on TalkRadio I've read and head nothing from ASH on the issue.

Why? "We weren't asked."

I think two things are going on here.

One, ASH don't want to criticise a policy that comes under the general heading of 'tobacco control'. Nothing must be allowed to derail the prohibition or denormalisation of smoking. If vaping is caught in the crossfire, so be it.

Two, ASH and their fellow 'pro-vaping' advocates in the public health industry are not really defenders of vaping.

Their current advocacy of e-cigarettes is a means to an end. That end is not a smoke-free society but a world devoid of any form of nicotine addiction.

That's the real endgame.

If anyone thinks ASH et al are anything more than fair weather friends to vapers you haven't been paying attention.

The fact is, whenever the use of e-cigarettes is banned - on a Pembrokeshire beach, on hospital or council grounds - the 'pro-vaping' public health lobby goes missing.

The sound of tumbleweed is in stark contrast to their normal blathering when it's a struggle to shut them up.

On the matter of vaping during work hours you'll struggle to find a single tweet.

Why? "We weren't asked." Doh!

With 'friends' like that who needs enemies?

Vapers, you have been warned. Again.

Friday
Apr222016

More on smoking at work

I discussed smoking at work with Peter Allen on Five Live yesterday.

Allen is one of my favourite broadcasters. He masks his own views exceedingly well and is always very fair to interviewees.

His double act with Jane Garvey (which came to an end when she moved to Woman's Hour a few years ago) was one of the best broadcasting partnerships ever.

Also on the programme was Joyce Bosnjak, chair of Nottinghamshire County Council's Public Health Committee.

You can listen to it here.

I haven't listened to it but I'm fairly sure Allen told listeners that although he and his wife don't smoke they allow guests to smoke in their conservatory.

It wouldn't surprise me because Allen always sounds a very reasonable fellow, relaxed and unperturbed by most things. He would certainly be on my guest list for dinner, if I had one.

I subsequently did interviews for BBC 3 Counties Radio and BBC Radio Merseyside. You can listen to the latter interview here.

Today's smoking-related story concerns a report that suggests that "overweight patients and smokers in England and Wales are being denied surgery to save money."

A report by the Royal College of Surgeons found a third of local NHS health bosses in England put restrictions on access to surgery …

The college says mandatory policies are "a cause for concern" and it fears patients with a high body mass index (BMI) or who smoke are becoming "soft targets" for NHS savings.

I was booked to discuss this on Sky News at 8.15 this morning but I got a text last night to say that Prince had died and the item had been dropped.

I haven't got time to write about this now (I'm in London all day) but I might come back it.

PS. I'm discussing smoking at work (again) with Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkRadio at 11.05.

Julia is no fan of smoking so tune in!

PS. On the back of the Nottingham report my colleague in Ireland, John Mallon, did an interview for Spin 103. He later told me:

Nobody from Nottingham was available to debate so I was on my own. It went fine but I sensed that the presenters trying to stir things using the term 'smoke break' so I dismissed that by saying there was no such thing as a smoke break.

By law a worker is entitled to a lunch break and a morning and afternoon break and if they choose to have a smoke at those times that's their own business.

That's a very good point which I used later in my own interviews.

Thursday
Apr212016

'Pro-vaping' advocates silent on vaping bans

I'm currently scheduled to be on Five Live between ten and eleven this morning.

It may not happen because I've been warned there could be a breaking news story that could push the item down the running order but if it goes ahead I'll be talking to Peter Allen about Nottinghamshire County Council's ban on smoking and vaping at work.

As you can see from previous posts, Forest seems to be fighting a lone battle on this issue, even on the use of e-cigarettes. Where are all the 'pro-vaping' advocates?

Oh, here's one.

The Smoke Free Policy also has the backing of the county council leader Alan Rhodes, along with health professionals across Notts.

Professor John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol related studies, based at the University of Nottingham, welcomed the plans.

"This is terrific news," he said.

OK, I've edited this for maximum effect. For the full quote click here – Smoking breaks stubbed out for Nottinghamshire County Council workers).

As you'll see Britton is talking exclusively about smoking. But why no reference to vaping? After all, the council's policy includes a ban on the use of e-cigarettes, a product Britton has previously endorsed as an important harm reduction tool.

In 2013, for example, he featured in this BBC report (Electronic cigarettes – miracle or menace?):

"Nicotine itself is not a particularly hazardous drug," says Professor John Britton, who leads the tobacco advisory group for the Royal College of Physicians.

"It's something on a par with the effects you get from caffeine.

"If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save five million deaths in people who are alive today. It's a massive potential public health prize."

My guess is that Britton – like most 'pro-vaping' public health advocates – is so delighted to see smoking prohibited that he doesn't want to stir the pot by protesting against the ban on vaping.

Or perhaps he just doesn't care.

Vapers, as I wrote yesterday, are collateral damage in the war on tobacco.

'Pro-vaping' public health advocates are not what they seem. Vaping is a means to an end. The long-term goal is not a smoke free society but a world free of nicotine 'addiction'.

Policies like the one introduced by Notts County Council brings that day closer than they could have hoped for.

The silence from 'pro-vaping' public health advocates on the prohibition of e-cigarettes is so loud it can be heard from Nottingham to Little Haven and beyond.

Bizarrely it is rarely if ever commented upon by vaping activists who cling to the hope (belief?) that their 'friends' in public health will save the day. Forget it.

Here's another example.

It's just been announced that Chesterfield Royal Hospital is to ban smoking and vaping throughout its grounds – Chesterfield Royal Hospital to become completely smoke-free site (Derbyshire Times).

The threat of a ban was first mentioned last year. A decision was expected in the autumn but has only now been made.

Forest made as much noise as we could. Here's an article I wrote for the Derbyshire Times – Why there shouldn’t be a complete smoking ban at Chesterfield Royal Hospital – as we were frequently quoted by the local press.

We were up against it however because the hospital's Twitter account made it quite clear, even while a 'consultation' was taking place, where their sympathies lay (Chesterfield Royal Hospital tweets).

I'm not sure when a ban on vaping entered the equation but I've not heard a single 'pro-vaping' advocate oppose the hospital's new policy.

Their silence speaks volumes.

Wednesday
Apr202016

Barking mad

As I mentioned in my previous post I was interviewed this morning for East Midlands Today (BBC1).

The questions were about smoking but the soundbite they used was a comment I made about vaping.

Nottingham County Council's decision to ban both smoking and vaping during working hours was, I declared, "barking mad".

To watch the report click here or on the image above. It begins at 01:20.

The official Forest response can be found in this report on the ITV Central News website (scroll down).