Tuesday
Feb092016

Vive la difference!

Dick Puddlecote spoke for many of us when he wrote 'Why it's right to rejoice at Smokefree South West's demise'.

What makes me laugh is the way tobacco control campaigners are such sensitive souls, happy to dish it out but not so happy when it's their turn to take a bit of stick.

As Dick pointed out, several anti-smoking campaigners took to Twitter to complain about "unkind", "unnecessary" or "unpleasant" remarks.

The latter comment - directed at Forest by Stirling University's Linda Bauld - was unjustified, I think. Interviewed by the BBC I just stated the facts as I saw them.

Smokefree South West, I said, had shot themselves in foot when they used public money to campaign in favour of plain packaging.

I listed other anti-tobacco groups and asked, not unreasonably, why local taxpayers' should have to pay for a regional anti-smoking group when they were already paying for local NHS smoking cessation services and national anti-smoking campaigns.

We then repeated those points in a series of tweets. Linda wasn't happy.

But can you imagine the reaction from anti-smoking campaigners if Forest had hit the buffers, funding wise?

Actually I do have some idea how they would respond because in 2001 we lost a third of our funding when one tobacco company withdrew financial support.

The Guardian, naturally, was only too happy to publish the details:

Britain's biggest tobacco manufacturer, Gallaher, has withdrawn its financial support for the pro-smoking lobby group Forest, robbing the organisation of up to a third of its funds.

The company, which is behind brands such as Benson and Hedges, Silk Cut and Hamlet, wants to concentrate on promoting its products but the decision is a body blow to Forest, which receives 96% of its £300,000 a year budget from the cigarette industry.

Anti-smoking campaigners welcomed the news … Action on Smoking and Health, said: "If even the tobacco industry doesn't want to support Forest, what are they there for?"

Had social media existed back then the response would have been many times worse. And that's fine. It goes with the territory. If you don't like it, look away.

Unlike Smokefree South West we lost only a third of our funding but it was still a significant blow. As we struggled with our reduced situation two long-serving members of staff were made redundant, another had to go part-time, and we were forced to give up our central London office.

But we didn't whinge about it. This was our response:

Simon Clark, Forest's director, said the loss of funds was "a bit of a blow", which might mean some more "belt tightening" at the organisation which had to cut its full-time staff from six to four when the US company, Philip Morris, withdrew funds a few years ago.

He said: "The show goes on. We are looking to branch out and run other campaigns, not under the heading of Forest, on issues such as fatty foods and dairy products. Some doctors are promoting the idea that such foods should be taxed more to raise money for health services, as they had argued with cigarettes."

See Cigarette firm stops cash for pro-smoking group (Guardian).

As it happens Gallaher renewed their support (but not at the same level) in 2005 but it was a difficult time.

The big difference between Forest, which operates in the private sector, and groups like Smokefree South West which operate in the public sector and are dependent on public money, is this.

If every last penny of tobacco industry funding was withdrawn I am reasonably confident Forest would continue in some shape or form. We certainly wouldn't pack up and take our ball home without a fight.

We'd seek funding elsewhere and if that failed volunteers would, I'm sure, keep the candle burning.

Our ability to campaign and provide a 24/7 media operation would be severely compromised but - like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail - we'd battle on.

Why? Well, it's a running joke that few anti-smoking groups tweet in the evening or at weekends. There's a reason for that. (Do I have to spell it out?)

In contrast, if you follow the likes of Chris Snowdon, Dick Puddlecote and me (in the UK) and Carl Phillips (in the US) you'll know we're on social media morning, noon and night, seven days a week.

We don't switch on and off according to 'normal' working hours. This is more than a nine-to-five job or interest to us.

Public health campaigners don't understand that. They dismiss us as stooges of Big Tobacco, conveniently ignoring the fact that we genuinely believe what we say and we'd say it irrespective of any relationship some of us might have with the tobacco industry.

For a more in-depth analysis of the mindset of public health activists (including the so-called 'moderate' ones) and their tenuous grasp on reality, I recommend the latest post by Carl Phillips: Dear "public health": you seriously cannot figure out why people hate you?

Needless to say, I agree with almost every word.

Monday
Feb082016

More on that Smokefree South West story

Above: Friday's report on BBC Points West included a short clip of me head-to-head with Kate Knight of Smokefree South West in February 2015 but ignored Forest's response to the questionable claim that "thousands will die" if the taxpayer-funded anti-smoking group is allowed to close.

Update on the Smokefree South West story that broke on Friday.

As the BBC reported the anti-smoking group (renamed Public Health Action in November) is to close in June following the withdrawal of funding by eleven local councils.

Although I was interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Radio Cornwall, I was anxious to be quoted by BBC News online because that's what people will be directed to when they search 'Smokefree South West' in the days, months and years to come.

I was supremely cheesed off therefore when BBC Bristol published a report online and there wasn't a squeak from me or anyone else in favour of the councils' sane and sensible decision. Instead the report read:

A public health group which aims to reduce harm caused by tobacco and alcohol says it has been told its work can no longer be funded.

Public Health Action is contracted to 11 councils across the South West but has been told this will end in June due to "severe public health cuts".

The group said it was very disappointed to receive the termination notice.

The Bristol-based group, formerly known as Smokefree South West, says it has helped thousands of people to give up smoking.

A spokesperson said they were proud of their contribution to reducing smoking in the region "to under 17%, the lowest ever".

This was followed by a quote from Cancer Research that had earlier claimed the decision could cost "thousands of lives":

George Butterworth, from Cancer Research UK, said: "The NHS and other local services are already struggling to cope with rising demand caused by unhealthy behaviours like smoking and drinking alcohol.

"Local authorities have been repeatedly hit by national government cuts to the public health grant and they're being forced into making unpalatable decisions."

The BBC report finished by citing further opposition to the decision:

The parliamentary group on smoking and health has also written to the 11 authorities asking them to meet urgently to discuss how funding might be secured in the future.

What it failed to mention was that the APPG on Smoking and Health is run by another taxpayer-funded group, Action on Smoking and Health!!

And that was it.

If I was a councillor or an uninformed member of the public reading that I might have questioned the decision to withdraw financial support because there was no-one supporting it.

The reason I was particularly cross was because two days earlier the BBC's regional health correspondent had invited me to send him a comment that would be forwarded, he said, to the online newsdesk.

Twenty-four hours later I had the same conversation with a BBC radio producer who assured me she too would pass on Forest's response to the appropriate newsdesk.

To cap it all I even sent a copy direct to BBC Bristol's online newsdesk myself. And they still didn't use it!

Significantly however they did include – as the caption to the main photograph – the tendentious claim that 'The group, formerly known as Smokefree South West, has helped thousands of people to give up smoking.'

To cut a long story short, I spent the best part of an hour emailing, phoning and texting my various BBC Bristol contacts and eventually – some two hours later – the report was amended.

To be fair, the BBC wasn't alone. The ITV News website reported the story in much the same way until I had a word with the West Country newsdesk and they agreed to update their report as well.

(Visit the itv.com report, Smokefree South West to close this summer after cuts to funding. Read it without Forest's contribution – which was added several hours later – and tell me it isn't one-sided. They even included a Smokefree South West campaign video!)

So we got there in the end but it was harder work than it should have been. Impartiality comes at a price - my health!

Monday
Feb082016

Is this an end to government lobbying government?

I'm late to this because I only got back from Ireland over the weekend.

After the excitement about Smokefree South West on Friday there was more good news on Saturday when it was revealed that charities are to be banned from using public funds to lobby ministers.

According to the Telegraph:

Charities in receipt of Government grants will be banned from using these taxpayer funds to engage in political lobbying.

A new clause to be inserted into all new and renewed grant agreements will make sure that taxpayer funds are spent on improving people's lives and good causes, rather than covering lobbying for new regulation or using taxpayers’ money to lobby for more government funding.

Such a clause is long overdue. Crucially however:

It will not prevent organisations from using their own privately-raised funds to campaign as they see fit.

I don't think that could be any clearer (or fairer) but the third sector has spent the last 48 hours complaining bitterly about how unfair, or worse, this is.

According to one BBC report, charities 'will be silenced' by new grant rules. Er, no they won't. They just won't be allowed to use public money to lobby government.

Others described it as a 'draconian' crackdown. Draconian? If you say so.

As for those taxpayer-funded 'researchers' at the University of Bath, they tweeted:

So how will this affect anti-smoking groups that receive public money from government?

Well, had this clause existed in 2012 it may have prevented Smokefree South West spending £500,000 on lobbying government to introduce plain packaging. (If I remember, that money came from local NHS trusts but it was still taxpayers' money.)

With regard to ASH, it's more complicated. ASH currently receives £150,000 a year from the public purse (down from £200k last year), but they claim they don't use it for lobbying, it's for an agreed 'project'.

ASH does however run the APPG on Smoking and Health – whose primary purpose is to lobby government and MPs – and to the best of my knowledge the cost of running APPGs are funded by taxpayers' money.

So will APPGs be exempt from the new clause? I assume they will because APPGs aren't charities. However the APPG on Smoking and Health is run by ASH (which is a charity, albeit a fake one) so we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.

Nevertheless it's good to know that lobby groups that masquerade as charities will be forced to think far more carefully about the work they do, and how it's funded.

Kudos to Chris Snowdon and the IEA who have pressed hard on this issue with a number of initiatives including two reports in 2012 and 2014.

Credit too to blogger Devil's Kitchen who first addressed the issue of 'fake charities' (and built a website, fakecharities.org) in January 2009. (See also Return of Fake Charities website, 2011.)

Government lobbying government is an issue that has also concerned Forest. In October 2010, for example, PR Week reported, Smokers' group Forest urges Government to cut tobacco control quangos.

This was prompted by a report we published that was entitled 'Government lobbying government: the case of the UK tobacco control industry'.

'Government lobbying government' was read by many people including Rod Liddle:

Writing in the Sunday Times yesterday columnist (and smoker) Rod Liddle joined the growing chorus of disapproval for the millions of pounds of public money that is given annually to pressure groups including "those grey-faced, shrieking maniacs at ASH".

Commenting after the publication of the Forest report that highlighted the level of public funding given to the UK tobacco control lobby, Rod wrote:

'As the government is busy hacking its way through the, uh, dense undergrowth of unnecessary expenditure, like Tarzan on steroids, might it reconsider the amount of taxpayers’ money given to single-issue campaigning pressure groups? How about, in future, giving none at all?

'Those grey-faced, shrieking maniacs at ASH, the anti-smoking group, for example, received almost £200,000 from the public purse in England alone last year for opinion polls and tendentious reports all of which (hard to believe, isn’t it?) supported their cause.'

See Liddle lashes "those grey-faced, shrieking maniacs at ASH".

Brian Monteith (formally of this parish) also chipped in:

Writing in the Scotsman today, former MSP Brian Monteith has launched a fierce attack on ASH Scotland, accusing the "taxpayer-funded pressure group" of issuing a "highly tendentious report claiming that Scottish smokers cost the nation a horrific £129 million more than they paid in taxes".

Echoing Forest, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and the TaxPayers' Alliance, Monteith goes on to argue that government should stop giving public money to campaigning bodies such as ASH, especially when the money could be better spent on teachers, police officers and care workers.

Why ASH should be at the fag end of government grants (Taking Liberties, November 2010).

So as you can see the issue of government lobbying government has been rumbling on for years.

There's still a lot to play for though because I don't believe for one second the third sector will accept this policy without a fight.

'Charities', fake or otherwise, will try to find a way around it and the interpretation of lobbying will be stretched to breaking point and beyond.

Friday
Feb052016

Smokefree South West to close in June

This shouldn't come as a complete surprise but I was still a bit startled when I was told the news (in confidence) on Wednesday.

The BBC has this morning revealed that eleven councils in the south west are to stop funding the anti-smoking campaign group Smokefree South West which will close in June.

The story was reported on BBC Radio Bristol as their lead story and I 'discussed' it at 7.05 with a spokesman for Cancer Research UK who claimed it was a "disaster" for the region and predicted dire consequences.

Smokefree South West "declined to appear" which is ironic because one of the reasons I welcome their demise is because there are far too many tobacco control groups all sending out pretty much the same message.

The fact that Cancer Research could put up a spokesman rather proved my point. (ASH has also been commenting.)

CRUK is one of many anti-smoking organisations but at least they're not funded by the taxpayer. As long as we have organisations like CRUK, the British Heart Foundation and the British Lung Foundation, why on earth do we need publicly funded groups like Smokefree South West, Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West) and FRESH (formally Smokefree North East)? Or ASH for that matter?

More recently Smokefree South West has been sharing an office with the regional branch of Public Health England, another taxpayer-funded body.

If I'm surprised it's because I can't believe it took these councils so long to draw the obvious conclusion. Do we really need another publicly-funded quit smoking organisation in our region?

Smokefree South West must have known something was afoot because – in a sure sign of desperation – they re-named themselves Public Health Action and started campaigning on drinking as well as smoking.

Talk about loss of focus!

Truth is, the alarm bells began ringing long before that. On February 8, 2014, for example, I wrote a post entitled 'Smokefree South West battles to retain local authority funding'.

It began:

Yesterday I travelled to Bristol to record an interview for BBC1's Sunday Politics West, to be broadcast tomorrow.

On Wednesday a producer rang to tell me that councils in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset have been reviewing the financial support they give Smokefree South West.

One council has decided to stop funding the group, another has cut its funding, and a third is considering its position.

I described the recording of the programme and my subsequent comments now seem unusually prescient:

Fiona [Andrews, director of Smokefree South West] talked about the work Smokefree South West does while I tried to question why we need a regional anti-smoking group when central government spends millions of pounds on anti-smoking campaigns and we also have ASH and other tobacco control groups doing the same work.

I could, I suppose, have listed some of them – Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, British Lung Foundation, British Medical Association ... the list is endless.

I could also have mentioned GASP, a Bristol-based smoking cessation company that began life as a pressure group but is now a successful commercial operation that doesn't need public money (as far as I know).

But time was limited. Instead I found myself saying, in a raised voice, "You're just duplicating their work!"

I finished that particular post by asking a series of questions:

What is the point of Smokefree South West? Or Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West)? Or Fresh (formerly Smokefree North East)?

What additional value do any of these groups offer that is not already covered by ASH, Cancer Research, the British Medical Association etc and central government which pumps millions of pounds of taxpayers' money into a variety of tobacco control campaigns?

Why should people have to pay for anti-smoking campaigns twice – once through income tax, and again through their council tax?

Worse, a lot of this money is being spent on campaigns that effectively lobby the Department of Health to introduce policies that it already supports or is considering.

The good news is that some councils are finally getting wise to the problem and are questioning this waste (or abuse) of public funds.

Hats off to the local councillors who have seen through the propaganda. Hopefully, more local authorities follow suit.

As I say, that was two years ago and it appears that the local authorities have finally done the right thing and pulled the plug.

I'm sorry for the people who work for Smokefree South West (Fiona Andrews and her deputy Kate Knight always struck me as decent people) but I can't bemoan the loss of a group whose entire raison d'être was designed to denormalise smoking and, in turn, smokers.

Lest we forget it was Smokefree South West who persuaded the owners of two privately-run squares in Bristol to ban smoking on their property. OK, it was a "voluntary" ban but that term is meaningless. It also gave rise to suggestions of similar bans in other cities.

It was also Smokefree South West that helped set up Plain Packs Protect, the pro plain packaging campaign. Half a million pounds of public money went into that – and it took an FOI for the truth to come out.

So let's not be squeamish. This is a very good day. Let's hope several more tobacco control campaigners are sitting rather less comfortably.

Instead of relying on the taxpayer to keep them afloat they might heed what I wrote two years ago:

If Smokefree South West is running short of money I suggest they approach the pharmaceutical industry for support.

If they offer any value to the tobacco control industry I'm sure Big Pharma will be happy to plug the funding gap.

Anyway, as well as BBC Bristol I'm also on BBC Cornwall and BBC Somerset.

As you can see, this is a big story in the South West.

PS. Big H/T to Chris Snowdon and Dick Puddlecote who have also been on Smokefree South West's case for several years. Chris is now synonymous with the term sock puppet – having virtually invented it – and Smokefree South West is a classic example.

Update: We're expecting a report on the BBC News website. I'll add a link when it appears. In the meantime here's the quote I gave the BBC:

"Taxpayers already pay for NHS smoking cessation services and national anti-smoking campaigns.

"When budgets are so tight, and other services are being cut, it's difficult to justify the use of public money to support yet another tobacco control group.

"The health risks of smoking are very well known and widely publicised by other bodies including Public Health England which has a regional office in Bristol.

"In terms of public health, the impact of Smokefree South West closing will be negligible, I'm sure."

Update: Click here to listen to the interview on BBC Radio Bristol this morning.

Thursday
Feb042016

Seek and you will find

One of the reasons I'm in Dublin is to find potential venues for smoker-friendly events.

This afternoon we're checking out a barge for an outdoor 'Smoke On The Water' style event. Unfortunately the deck that allows smoking is uncovered which is a hostage to fortune given the weather here.

This morning however we visited a couple of restaurants, each with a superb covered smoking area.

One looked as if it was largely enclosed but the devil was in the detail. You could see how it met the regulations and the result was perfect – it was like a large conservatory with comfortable chairs, tables, plants and heaters.

Smokers can be accommodated in comfort if the will – and the space – is there. All it takes is an imaginative proprietor and a local licensing authority that is prepared to be flexible.

Meanwhile I'm aware of a report that appeared in several newspapers today concerning the "positive" impact of smoking bans on public health:

Smoking bans cut damage such as heart disease to passive smokers, says research (Press Association).

I'll post about this later but I mention it now because 'research' such as this – and the headlines it generates – underlines the very difficult if not impossible task we face to amend public smoking bans.

After all, if the health benefits are so real and obvious, why would anyone want to change a policy that allegedly reduces the harm caused by cigarette smoke?

If you want to read my immediate reaction, based on a press release not the full research (which I haven't read yet), click on the link above and scroll down.

I've also been quoted by the Mail and, I think, the Sun but my response was edited so heavily it's almost meaningless.

Wednesday
Feb032016

"Imagine if Mr Clark was Secretary of State for Health"

Oops. I didn't know I had published this.

I was in Starbucks at Stansted waiting for a flight to Dublin and to pass the time I uploaded (in what I thought was draft form) a comment that had been posted on another thread.

I was going to tidy it up before publication but I must have pressed the wrong button before I rushed to Gate 40.

I am now in Dublin and only I realised I had published it in its, er, loose form when I saw people had started commenting. Oh, well.

Anyway, to recap, what follows was posted by someone called Trevor. I've tidied it up as best I can - it was a bit of a mess, frankly. (Long-winded comments like this are one of the reasons I use comment moderation.)

Here goes:

I just feel sad that grown men will have a conversation on national radio and TV defending the right to continue paying to ruin their health as well as the health of non smokers.

I mean these are men who will avoid a pothole in the road in order to avoid unnecessary damage to their cars but they will walk with their eyes wide open into the habit of smoking with no concern whatsoever about the harm which is done to their health.

I thought Britain is meant to be a civilized society? I'm clearly wrong, right? If I decided to steal the contents of my neighbors flat I'm liable to be punished by the law, but the same law will allow me to indirectly slaughter countless people by means of cigarettes and rake in countless billions part of which taken by the exchequer in tax revenue.

The same law condemns drug dealing (and rightly so) but if the condemnation is on the basis of threat to health. How can cigarette dealing be justified? All of that is the norm under the rule of Law and yet look at the harm it has caused and yet Simon Clark stands up and defends it?

Consider too the impact smoking has upon the NHS. Imagine if Mr Clark was Secretary of State for Health. Is it unreasonable to predict that the cost of running the NHS would increase simply cause he refuses to see smoking for what it represents?

The idea of people having the right to smoke is utter nonsense. That law was created to serve the interests of the Exchequer so that it would gain what would otherwise go into the coffers of criminals and rather than rejecting smoking and seeing it as a bad idea the government embraced it because they saw it as a dependable source of revenue and were therefore willing to allow it to be advertised in order to get as many people interested in it as possible and once they achieved their objective they cut back on advertising because they were clever enough to know that nicotine is powerful enough to keep the smokers going back for more cigarettes.

The apparent change of heart on the part of the government is nothing but window dressing because now it is fashionable to persecute smokers and so the people who initially betrayed the public who are now either dead from smoking related diseases or waiting to die from COPD, are now attempting to mislead the public into believing they have suddenly become responsible...hence the ban on smoking in public enclosed places and the laughable ban on smoking in cars with children etc etc. while at the same time 18 year old's are allowed by law to start smoking.

I'll be very surprised if this post is permitted to go live cause I'm being too bold in speaking out against a great wrong in British society but at the end of the day if you chose to be a fool to yourself, Simon.

Go ahead, but remember that your choice affects the lives and health of other people. You are in a position of influence, Simon. Why use that influence in a selfish and irresponsible way?

Without question selfishness greed and irresponsibility was at the heart of government when it legalized smoking. They were focused solely on what was beneficial to the economy rather than what is beneficial to public health.

Selfish and irresponsible people in positions of authority and influence does much harm to a society, Simon. It's as if you are closing your eyes to a stark reality, viewing smoking as a pleasure rather than a threat to health and life?

Evrry time I hear you on the radio defenfing the right to smoke I sigh deeply and shake my head in sadness that a grown man is willing to be a fool to himself and encourage others to imitate him.

I decided to be blunt with you cause you are blunt in defending what is clearly wrong so why should I sugarcoat my thoughts on the habit of smoking and those who support it?

My intention is not to offend but to give you much needed food for thought. After all, a society which has people defending something which has needlessly claimed the lives of millions is in desperate need of the voice of reason.

After reading that I need a drink and thankfully there's a pub - The Ginger Man - directly across the road from my hotel in Fenian Street.

If anyone else is in Dublin tonight come and have a pint.

Tuesday
Feb022016

Pig-headed and reactionary – Forest, not Piers Morgan

One of my guilty pleasures is Piers Morgan.

There, I've said it.

I read his gossip-fuelled column in the Mail on Sunday, and I enjoyed Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade.

I like people who give the appearance of enjoying life to the full. I'm not sure I could cope with it all the time but they make the world a better place.

I particularly admire people who come back from adversity and in career terms that's what Morgan did after he was sacked as editor of the Mirror.

He reinvented himself, first on British television, then on CNN in America.

Critics sneer and say he got sacked by CNN too but American TV is a cutthroat business. He did well getting the job in the first place and survived for three years, no mean feat.

Anyway, I met him this morning on the set of ITV's Good Morning Britain and contrary to his gobby reputation he didn't say much, leaving a lot of the talking to his co-presenter Susanna Reid.

The subject of our on air discussion was smoking in films and whether movies that feature the use of tobacco should have an 'adult' rating.

The Guardian ran the story yesterday (Films portraying smoking should get adult rating, says WHO) but it was only today that the broadcast media took a serious interest.

After GMB I was asked to do eight BBC radio interviews back-to-back, some live, some recorded.

This afternoon I did four more, finishing a few moments ago with BBC Hereford & Worcester.

The Guardian meanwhile ran a follow-up to yesterday's report. Headlined, 'Yes, being lectured to about smoking is boring. So is being addicted to it', it was written by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, an ex-smoker:

After years of feeling “got at” by anti-smoking lobbyists, I now find myself supporting any initiative that might reduce the number of smokers, this latest measure included. Nannyish and overbearing though it might seem, if giving a film an adult certificate because it normalises smoking – or even goes as far as making it look cool – works, then it should be supported. It’s not as though it constitutes full censorship.

Art, some will argue, must reflect reality, but now, even outdoors where it is permitted, smoking is becoming an increasingly rare sight. And if realism is all that matters then where is the gangster with the hacking cough? The femme fatale gazing in horror at the blood in the sink? The sexy, left-bank dwelling intellectual paralysed with fear as his chest is X-rayed by a business-like radiologist and his mother cries in the waiting room?

Not much to laugh at there but I did smile when she mentioned Forest, "a smokers' rights group", adding, "Can you imagine such a pigheaded, reactionary thing and not cringe?"

Charming.

If you've got a spare moment you can read it here.

PS. I'll post a clip of this morning's interview on Good Morning Britain when we've uploaded it to YouTube.

Monday
Feb012016

The last frontier?

The World Heath Organisation has renewed its call for films that portray smoking to be given an 'adult' rating.

According to today's Guardian:

Films showing smoking should be given an adult rating to protect children from exposure to the “last frontier” in tobacco promotion, the World Health Organisation has said.

In its report, Smoke-free Movies, published on Monday, WHO cites statistics claiming that 44% of all Hollywood films, and 36% of films rated for young people in 2014 contained smoking.

WHO has been banging on about this for years so I suppose there's some comfort in the fact that no government has implemented the recommendation.

The British Board of Film Classification has also resisted the idea but I don't sense any strong ideological opposition. Instead they cite existing law and public opinion.

As we know laws can be introduced or extended quite easily and public opinion means nothing once politicians get an idea in their heads so it would be nice to hear a rather more robust defence of artistic freedom and expression.

Anyway the Guardian concluded its report with a short quote from me:

"Disney has a no smoking policy for its PG 13-rated films, and that’s fine, but films aimed at older audiences must be allowed to reflect real life, not some sanitised smoke-free world.

“Penalising films that portray smoking by giving them a rating equivalent to an 18 certificate is a clumsy and unnecessary attempt at censorship."

My full response included these additional comments:

"Smoking rates are falling throughout the Western world, especially among children, so there's scant evidence that films are encouraging young people to smoke.

"The portrayal of smoking in films should be a matter for the film industry and individual directors and producers, not the World Health Organisation.

"What next? Will films that portray drinking, violence and casual sex be given a similar rating in case they're a bad influence too?"

Have you noticed, by the way, how the "last frontier" in tobacco promotion keeps changing?

Fifteen years ago it was advertising and sponsorship. Then it was the display of tobacco in shops.

More recently it was packaging. Now it's smoking in films.

Eventually the mere act of lighting up will be the "last frontier" in tobacco promotion. Cue calls for the total prohibition of smoking.

Update: I'll be discussing smoking in films on BBC Radio Kent shortly after 9.00 and BBC World Service a little later.

Update: I'm also on LBC this evening after 7.00.