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Thursday
Apr262018

“I don't like the world I am living in and shall have few regrets when I leave it.”

"I am glad that I'm an old person. I don't like the world I am living in and shall have few regrets when I leave it.”

Jenty Burrill, a long-standing supporter of Forest, on Facebook today.

Jenty’s comment was posted on the Friends of Forest page in response to the letter (Smoking in outdoor areas) I mentioned in my previous post.

What a terrible indictment of the tobacco control industry, their acolytes in parliament, and the relentless war on tobacco.

I am struggling to find words that truly describe their shameful crusade to denormalise millions of ordinary people in the name of ‘public health’.

Suggestions welcome.

Thursday
Apr262018

A pensioner writes

Excellent letter by Richard O'Connor in the Irish Times today:

Sir, – I am a pensioner who likes to sit outside my local coffee shop with my coffee, my dog and a puff of the pipe, where I can socialise with friends, neighbours and strangers.

Now the former minister for health James Reilly continues his vendetta against the smoker in the Seanad and wants me to forgo that little pleasure in order that people don’t have to “suffer” the occasional whiff of my pipe smoke. He talks about the “unintended consequences” of the indoor ban while completely ignoring the consequence of further isolating people from their community (“Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served”, News, April 24th).

I might add that I enjoy my pipe as I find it relaxing, have never suffered any “smoking-related diseases” over the last 50 or so years of smoking and pay exorbitant taxes on my little pleasure.
So much for a tolerant society? – Yours, etc,

Richard (and I hope he won't mind me mentioning this because I think it's fairly well known) is also known as Grandad, under which alias he writes a blog, Head Rambles.

Two days ago Richard/Grandad addressed this same issue is rather more colourful language. I suggest you read and enjoy it yourself. See Yet another twist of the screw on smokers.

Former health minister James Reilly isn't spared – nor should he be. The man is on a personal crusade to harass and persecute smokers until they quit.

He was at it again yesterday. Not content with calling for an extension to the smoking ban, he also wants supermarkets to stop selling cigarettes.

Good news, perhaps, for corner shops and village shops, but why would Reilly stop there? He won't, of course.

This is prohibition (creeping prohibition) in all but name.

Anyway, thanks to Richard for taking the time and trouble to write to a national newspaper. People have a habit of whinging and moaning (or writing blog posts!) without ever engaging directly with politicians or the mainstream media.

You can be passionate and knowledgeable about a subject but few people beyond your immediate circle will hear you.

A letter to a national newspaper, especially The Times, Telegraph or Guardian (UK) or Irish Times (Ireland) will be read by a lot of influential people including decision-makers.

Choose your publication wisely because a concise, well-written 'letter to the editor' can still pack a punch.

Update: Reilly's proposal for the minister for health to amend legislation by extending the ban on smoking to places where food is served outdoors was accepted unanimously 'without a vote' by the Seanad yesterday.

Wednesday
Apr252018

Fake news or confidence trick?

The news seemed pretty conclusive.

'Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served' declared the Irish Times.

Online, similar headlines confirmed the worst:

'Smoking ban to be extended in Ireland' (Irish Post)
'The smoking ban to be extended in Ireland' (TV3)
'The smoking ban is to be extended in Ireland' (Joe.ie)
'Ireland's smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food is served' (Buzz.ie)

Some, to be fair, were a little more circumspect:

'Smoking ban may be extended to outdoor areas' (RTE)
'Smoking ban could be extended to outdoor dining areas' (Today FM)
'Plans could see smoking ban extended to outdoor food areas' (Newstalk)

Overall however it felt like a fait accompli so I was pleasantly surprised when RTE reported last night:

The Cabinet has agreed to look at extending the smoking ban to cover outdoor areas where food is being served.

However, no time scale has been set for when any changes might be introduced.

No time scale? In view of those earlier, more assertive, headlines, that felt like a result.

I don't know whether Forest's response and John Mallon's numerous interviews were noted by government, but we certainly made our voice heard online, in print, on radio and on TV.

The issue will run and run of course because the anti-smoking industry never rests until it gets what it wants.

Today, for example, I believe the private members' motion to extend the ban was being discussed in the Irish Parliament.

Fingers crossed the government won't rubber stamp anything without discussing it with consumers, restaurateurs and publicans.

The Vintners Federation of Ireland, which represents publicans, is said to be against the proposal but the Restaurants Association is in favour.

If and when that debate happens we'll no doubt here a lot about the impact of passive smoking on non-smoking customers.

According to RTE News last night the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland claims that “robust research demonstrates a significant risk from secondhand smoke outside”.

This is nonsense of course and we'll do our very best to challenge it. (I won't go into detail now but it can be debunked quite easily. Whether government will listen is a different matter.)

Our view is that bars, restaurants and cafes should be allowed to choose whether they want their outdoor eating areas to be smoking or non-smoking.

What I don't understand is why restaurateurs (and even publicans) who dislike people smoking on their premises, even outside, don't go ahead and ban it. They're perfectly entitled to, and some do.

Others however whinge and moan and wait for government to make the decision for them.

My guess is that they're worried by the potential loss of business and they're waiting for the law to be changed so there's a 'level playing field' and they won't have to compete with a 'smoker-friendly' establishment nearby.

(This also explains why very few publicans, even the anti-smoking ones, banned smoking indoors before legislation was introduced.)

Meanwhile, back to that unambiguous headline in the Irish Times: 'Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served'.

Does it remind you of anything?

It is essential that campaigners create the impression of inevitable success. Campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick: the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition.

That's right, they’re the oft-repeated words of Deborah Arnott and her ASH sidekick Ian Wilmore writing in the Guardian in July 2007 ('Smoke and mirrors').

The 'confidence trick' (or fake news) is now standard practice for tobacco control so forgive me if I see conspiracies where none exist.

Either way, if there is a stay of execution we need to make the most of it.

Poll: Should smoking be banned in outdoors eating areas? Click to vote.

Update: The Irish Independent has more information.

Smoking is set to be banned in dining areas outside bars and restaurants with a four-metre buffer zone imposed.

New exclusion zones are to be created to stop customers lighting up near diners.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed to support “in principle” the proposal from Fine Gael senators led by former health minister Dr James Reilly.

The paper adds:

The proposals will still allow smoking in beer gardens or outdoor areas where only drink is served.

That all sounds credible enough yet there’s no statement from the current minister for health Simon Harris, and the only people quoted in the report are James Reilly (who is driving the initiative) and Dr Des Cox, a consultant in paediatric medicine who also supports the proposal.

Perhaps I’m grasping at straws, but it still feels like a confidence trick to me.

Tuesday
Apr242018

Ireland targets al fresco smoking areas

I was going to write about the UK Vaping Industry Association Forum that I attended yesterday.

At seven o'clock this morning, however, I read a comment on this blog.

It was posted by Vinny Gracchus and included a link to a report in the Irish Times (Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served) that I hadn't yet seen.

Vinny's link set in motion a series of actions including a hastily written press release: Forest Ireland condemns motion to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas.

Within an hour our response had been reported online by several media outlets including the Irish Examiner, Irish Daily Mirror, Today FM, Cork Evening Echo and Wicklow News.

At the same time our spokesman in Ireland, John Mallon, was booked to appear on RTE Radio One, Newstalk and LMFM Radio. Since then he's been invited to be on Ocean FM (this afternoon) and Highland Radio (tomorrow).

RTE Radio One and Newstalk put John head-to-head with Senator James Reilly, the former minister for health who campaigned religiously for plain packaging and is also driving this latest initiative.

According to the Irish Times:

An unintended consequence of the smoking ban has been the prevalence of smokers in the outdoor areas of bars, cafés and restaurants, Mr Reilly said.

“This means that nobody can enjoy a meal outdoors on a sunny day in this country, without having to inhale other people’s smoke.

“Anyone spending their hard-earned money in a restaurant or café should be entitled to enjoy their meal in a smoke-free environment.”

I'm sure I don't need to highlight the irony of the so-called "unintended consequence" but this was Forest's full response:

"The war on smoking has gone far enough. There is no justification for banning smoking outside, even where food is served.

"Smoking in the open air poses no risk to third parties and although it may occasionally be annoying for non-smokers this is a matter for the individual establishment not the government.

"If this proposal is in response to an unintended consequence of the smoking ban, which forced smokers outside, the obvious solution is to allow comfortable, well-ventilated smoking rooms indoors.

"There has been no public debate about this issue and to the best of our knowledge no consultation with the hospitality industry.

"A large number of pubs closed following the smoking ban in 2004. This proposal could have a similar impact on cafes and restaurants because many more smokers could decide to stay at home."

According to the Irish Times the current minister for health Simon Harris will today ask for Cabinet approval to extend the smoking ban to outdoor dining areas.

I'll keep you posted.

Update #1: The Irish Times has published a second report on the subject. This time the headline reads, Smokers group opposes restaurant proposals and it begins:

Restaurant proprietors should be given the option to have smoking and non-smoking outdoor eating areas, according to a smokers advocacy group.

Forest’s John Mallon told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that the market should decide if restaurant owners are willing to make this decision.

However, former Minister for Health James Reilly, who is calling on the Government to extend the ban on smoking where food is served to include outdoor areas, said he was horrified at the suggestion that the market decide health policy.

Horrified? There isn't a shred of reputable evidence to suggest that smoking in the open air endangers anyone nearby – not even a small child.

I can understand that it may be mildly unpleasant for those of a ridiculously sensitive or anti-smoking disposition, but there is no risk at all to their physical health!!

Far more horrifying is this extraordinary thought – Senator Reilly is a qualified GP.

Update #2: I hear the Restaurants Association will support the proposal while the Vintners (VFI) will oppose a ban.

The question is, will there be a public debate (or consultation) or will the Government merely rubber stamp the proposal?

Finally, if you live in the UK and are wondering if this has any relevance to you, cast your mind back to 2004 and the introduction of a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places in Ireland.

Remember what happened after that? Here's a clue:

Scotland – March 2006
Wales – April 2007
Northern Ireland – April 2007
England – July 2007

Sunday
Apr222018

Hubris before a fall

Philip Morris has been in the news again.

A Daily Telegraph investigation found Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is supplying newsagents across Britain with window posters promoting new iQOS tobacco heaters ...

The iQOS posters are in breach of a strict long-standing ban on advertising tobacco and tobacco-related products, the Department for Health and the National Trading Standards Institute have confirmed.

Leaving aside the legality or otherwise of the posters (which make no health claims and are as plain as plain could be), what's interesting is the reaction of public health minister Steve Brine and Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH.

Brine told the paper:

“It’s completely unacceptable for organisations to be promoting tobacco products – smoking kills, and that’s why we have clear, strict rules in place protecting people from its harmful effects."

Arnott said:

"The legislation is very clear that advertising which has the effect of promoting tobacco products is illegal. That includes iQOS, just as it includes pipes used for smoking tobacco. It’s a barefaced cheek for Philip Morris to argue otherwise.”

Their response was predictable and rather pathetic. For example, although the Committee on Toxicity said in December that heat-not-burn tobacco products were not risk free, it was also reported that:

The advisory panel to the government found that people using heat-not-burn products are exposed to between 50% to 90% fewer "harmful and potentially harmful" compounds compared with conventional cigarettes.

On a scale of risk, heated tobacco clearly lies somewhere between combustible tobacco (high risk) and e-cigarettes (low risk) which makes it, by definition, a reduced risk product.

But Brine and Arnott have no time for nuance. As far as they’re concerned all tobacco products should be treated the same.

A second and far more interesting PMI-related story concerned the company’s latest sales figures. According to Bloomberg:

Shares in the cigarette giant plunged as much as 18 percent after its latest earnings report showed that $4.5 billion spent on four new products are failing to win over new customers. Sales growth of the iQos, a device that heats a tobacco plug without setting it on fire, has been slowing after initial success in Japan.

In a follow-up report published on Friday, Bloomberg added:

The tobacco giant spent $4.5 billion developing devices it says deliver fewer chemicals and potentially more profits. One of them, called the iQos, is big in Japan, with a 16 percent share of the country’s tobacco market. But 40 percent of Japanese adult smokers are age 50 and older, and they’ve been more leisurely about changing habits. Sales growth slowed in the first quarter and company revenue fell shy of estimates. Shares tumbled 15.6 percent.

“Now we’re obviously going to adjust our plans,” Chief Financial Officer Martin King said on a Wednesday call with analysts. “We’re now reaching different socioeconomic strata with more conservative adult smokers who may have slightly slower patterns of adoption.”

Translation: It won’t be easy to wean Grandpa and Grandma from a habit they’ve had for decades in favor of a device that heats a tobacco plug without setting it on fire.

In truth it's not just Grandpa and Grandma who are digging their heels in.

While the concept of heated tobacco is undoubtedly appealing (more so, I think, than e-cigarettes for many smokers), the reality – which I can’t repeat often enough – is that millions of people enjoy smoking and don't want to quit, nor do they want to switch to alternative nicotine products.

How hard is that to understand? Sadly it's a truth many people, and PMI, seem reluctant to acknowledge. Indicative of a rather hubristic corporate culture, the CFO also declared:

“We don't buy the idea that somehow there's a big chunk of consumers that want to continue using combustible cigarettes when offered extremely high-quality, satisfying reduced-risk products. It just doesn't make sense.”

Goodness. In the words of one analyst who emailed me privately, “No arrogance towards the customers there then!”

PMI’s attitude is nothing new. This after all is a company that hopes to stop selling cigarettes in the UK by 2030 following which the goal is a 'smoke free' world.

It’s unlikely but you do wonder whether there may be a tiny connection with the sales figures published last week and PMI consistently belittling its core product and, by association, its customers.

After all, if you declare the future to be ‘smoke-free’ don’t be surprised if many smokers take umbrage and take their business elsewhere. And that includes alternative products. (Other devices are available.)

In recent months we’ve witnessed a very vocal backlash from consumers against drinks’ manufacturers that have slashed sugar content and abandoned popular recipes in favour of 'healthier' alternatives.

It’s too soon to know whether that will be reflected by a decline in sales, but why antagonise your most loyal customers unnecessarily?

In comparison Coca-Cola has played an absolute blinder. The company introduced a range of sugar free products over many years without ever threatening to take the original recipe off the shelves.

Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the company declared its support for a 'sugar free' world or pledged a billion dollars to a foundation of the same name.

Far from it. Here’s a tweet Coca-Cola posted last week:

Tobacco and carbinated drinks are two very different products with different risks and some might say it’s unfair to bracket them together.

The point is, Coca-Cola is treating its customers like adults, defending their right to choose what they buy and consume.

The same cannot be said of some of Coca-Cola's competitors nor indeed PMI whose high-handed attitude is, at best, patronising to those who enjoy smoking. At worst it's downright offensive.

That said, I don’t think PMI’s sales figures are as bad as last week’s headlines suggest. Allowing for the fact that it was always going to be difficult to maintain the early success of iQOS in Japan (where e-cigarettes are banned) sales are actually holding up reasonably well.

As Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, commented at a recent PMI-supported event, the initial popularity of vaping was based on attracting "low-hanging fruit" - smokers who, generally speaking, wanted to cut down or quit and were therefore open to alternative products that gave them as much pleasure as smoking.

That probably explains why 2.9 million smokers in the UK switched fairly quickly to e-cigarettes, 1.6 million of them permanently, and why the rate of growth in Britain appears to have stalled. (Not declined, note, just stalled.)

Rapid growth followed by a levelling off is far from unusual following the launch of an innovative new product so it's far too early to write off products like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco that are still in their infancy and are developing all the time.

I do however think it's a mistake to blithely assume that most smokers, given the option, will switch to a safer non-combustible product.

As readers know, there is clear evidence that a large number of people smoke because they enjoy it. They know the risks but unless they experience a serious health scare (which isn't as common as many would suggest) the pleasure of smoking outweighs the potential harm.

We know too that a significant number of confirmed smokers have tried e-cigarettes but for various reasons vaping doesn't appeal to them. Not yet anyway, and possibly never.

PMI is also taking a risk if it thinks that lobbying for a ‘smoke-free’ world will have no consequences commercially. Did they even consider the reaction of consumers?

In the last few weeks a major retailer of e-liquids in the UK has posted a number of tweets using the hashtag ‘WarOnCigarettes’. One read:

The response included these replies:

“No I won't be joining you, because you've just declared war on me and the tobacco I enjoy. Bring it on.”

“Are you now? Well I won't ever be buying anything off you then. I still enjoy the occasional cigarette and I'm still furious about the smoking ban. The Anti tobacco Industry wants rid of you, too, so don't bother getting pally with it.”

“There’s already more than enough arseholes bashing smokers on a daily basis without this kind of nonsense. Let people decide what they want, it’s all about choice.”

Personally I see very little difference between Vaporized’s ‘war on cigarettes’ (which you can also read as a ‘war on smokers’) and PMI targeting a ‘smoke-free world’.

Compare it with the far less strident approach adopted by other tobacco companies.

British American Tobacco for example talks not of ending the production of cigarettes but of "extending choice" in the form on e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and other devices.

That, it seems to me, is a far better strategy because choice is the key to consumer freedom and there is far less risk of alienating your core customers.

PMI’s anti-smoking grandstanding may have generated headlines throughout the world but I do wonder what impact it will have on the company’s long-term relationship with its customers.

By remaining loyal to those who prefer the company’s ‘classic’ recipe, Coca-Cola sent out a powerful message to its customers. PMI, in contrast, has demonstrated no such commitment.

I am reminded of Gerald Ratner who famously undermined his jewellery chain by joking that one of its products was “total crap” and another “probably wouldn’t last as long” as an M&S prawn sandwich.

After his speech customers rebelled and the value of the Ratner group fell by around £500 million.

Again, two very different products and situations, but the lesson is this. No good can come of undermining your core product because, in the process, you are also passing judgement on the very consumers you hope will keep you in business in the years to come.

To be clear (and I've written about this numerous times), I'm a keen advocate of heat-not-burn products because they contain an important ingredient that e-cigarettes lack - tobacco.

HnB devices therefore strike me as a far more natural alternative to cigarettes. I’m convinced though that even heated tobacco will meet resistance if smokers feel pressured to switch.

Individual choice, as Coca-Cola understands, is paramount. Other companies take note.

Sunday
Apr152018

ASH targets smoking on TV and in films

Love Island 'seduces teenagers into smoking' screamed a headline in today's Sunday Times.

Teenagers are being encouraged to smoke by Love Island, the hugely popular ITV reality show, a public health charity has warned.

The series ... was described as "harmful" by Action on Smoking and Health. The charity fears the cult show ... is heavily influencing young people's decision to start smoking.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: "The amount of smoking in films and programmes watched by children, like Love Island, is completely unacceptable.

It's no surprise that our surveys shows children reporting high awareness of smoking in screen and ... the more smoking they see, the more likely they are to start smoking themselves.

If all this sounds familiar it's because it is.

Complaints about the number of Love Island contestants who were seen smoking first appeared during the last series which was broadcast in June 2017:

Nearly every single contestant was seen puffing away on a cigarette at one point during the airing on ITV2 ...

At one point, viewers claimed to spot eight cigarette packets on the table as contestants chatted away.

The fuss – which according to the Sun attracted TWO complaints to Ofcom – was soon forgotten.

Two months ago however research revealed that:

Love Island viewers would have been exposed to millions of images of contestants smoking and of tobacco-related images during the run of the reality show, new research has warned.

The report quantified the amount of tobacco content on the show and found that in 21 episodes, comprising 1,001 minutes of content, tobacco imagery occurred in 204, totalling 20 per cent of the time ...

They measured audiovisual tobacco content, categorised as actual use, implied use including verbal references and the on-screen presence of cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia and clear branding ...

The data was combined with audience viewing figures – the final episode was watched by around 2.6 million people – and population estimates.

The researchers calculated that the 21 episodes delivered 559 million overall tobacco "impressions" to the UK population ...

The episodes delivered 44 million impressions of branded tobacco products, including four million to children, the research found.

These calculations are likely to be an underestimate, as they do not take account of online viewing or the accompanying weekly review of the series, Love Island: Aftersun, the researchers added.

There is a clear link between young people's exposure to on-screen tobacco imagery and starting to smoke, it was emphasised.

Actually, I would dispute that. The research published by the online journal Tobacco Control calculated a number of smoking-related images or 'impressions'. It didn't demonstrate a causal link with children starting to smoke, a claim that is contentious at best.

Sensing an opportunity however ASH has been lobbying the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In a follow-up to the Sunday Times report, ASH today issued a press release that began:

In a strongly worded submission to the Select Committee on Science and Technology ASH and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol studies warn that smoking on TV and in films encourages children to take up smoking. They point out that children in the UK are still exposed to significant amounts of smoking on screen and that it is the amount of smoking that is important, not whether it is glamourised or not.

Recommendations include:

Ofcom and the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) should monitor youth exposure to depictions of tobacco use on screen in the channels they regulate and publish these data in their annual reviews;

Ofcom and the BBFC should revise their guidelines with respect to smoking on screen in entertainment media viewed by under-18s to discourage any depictions of tobacco use [my emphasis]; and require action to mitigate any remaining exposure [my emphasis].

Interestingly there is no reference to Love Island anywhere in the press release. Instead the focus is on 'smoking on TV and in films' in general. It concludes:

ASH and UKCTAS have already shared the evidence with Ofcom and are having very constructive discussions with Ofcom. Ofcom has agreed to review the evidence we have provided it with and undertake its own analysis of the impact of smoking depictions on young people, preparatory to making any decisions about how to proceed. ASH and UKCTAS have written to the BBFC this week with a copy of our submission asking to meet to discuss our recommendations with them.

Truth is, Love Island is just a convenient stalking horse. What ASH and UKCTAS are really trying to do is persuade Ofcom to prohibit any depiction of tobacco use that might be viewed by under-18s, a definition that is pretty far reaching.

It's like saying smoking should be banned anywhere children might be present for fear they will see someone smoking. (That of course is another of their aims.)

Anyway, the Guardian was quick to follow up the Sunday Times article, reporting: Love Island and other shows 'encourage teenagers to smoke'.

Unlike the ST, the Guardian gave Forest the chance to comment, even if our response was bookended in typical Guardian style:

Contestants’ cigarette habits in the reality TV show Love Island and Winston Churchill’s cigars in the Oscar-winning film Darkest Hour inspire children to take up smoking, anti-tobacco campaigners have warned MPs.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies said children in the UK are still exposed to significant amounts of on-screen smoking. They cited a rise in smoking in Oscar-nominated films and research that showed cigarettes appeared in Love Island every five minutes on average, with the Lucky Strike brand appearing 16 times ...

The pro-smokers’ group Forest said ASH was mounting “an attack on artistic freedom”, adding that there is “no significant evidence that smoking on TV or film encourages teenagers to smoke”.

ASH responded that multiple academic studies had proved causality and said Forest was funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association.

Forest is supported by companies including British American Tobacco, which makes Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes.

See what they did there? Clever.

I also like the fact that having invited our response to ASH's press release (a copy of which was emailed to me), the reporter obviously spoke to ASH again so they could debunk our reply!

Anyway, here's the full response that we subsequently issued to our other media contacts:

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “Films and television should reflect the world as it was and is, not as prohibitionists would like it to be.

“Directors must be allowed to portray characters as they see fit, not according to regulations imposed on them by government and unelected NGOs.

“Many Oscar-listed films that contain smoking, like ‘Darkest Hour’, are set in a period of history when a large majority of adults smoked. Even today one in six adults smoke.

“Prohibiting or excessively restricting the depiction of smoking would be a gross attack on artistic freedom and a worrying attempt to rewrite history.”

He added: “It’s ludicrous to suggest there is a causal link between smoking on screen and children taking up smoking.

“To put this in perspective, smoking rates among young people in the UK are at their lowest ever level.

“The anti-smoking industry is manufacturing a sense of alarm that is out of all proportion to reality.”

See Smoking on screen: Forest condemns "attack on artistic freedom".

The Mail, using Press Association copy, has quoted Forest here, 'Love Island and other shows encourage young people to smoke, say campaigners'.

PS. For the record, and contrary to what ASH told the Guardian, Forest is not funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.

Forest receives donations from BAT, JTI and Imperial Brands but not the TMA. A small distinction but an important one.

Thursday
Apr122018

Bad day for advocates of choice

Well, that was sadly predictable.

Following a challenge by Swedish Match, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice today announced that, in his opinion, the EU-wide ban on snus is ‘valid’.

Can't say I was surprised.

The ECJ has yet to make a final decision on the matter but it’s rare, apparently, that advice from the Advocate General is ignored so don't expect any change to the status quo.

Truth is, we’re living in a risk averse age and on issues like this judges and politicians rarely stray from an anti-tobacco consensus.

Prohibition (especially when the product is banned already) is much easier to support than a more radical (and liberal) approach to consumer choice.

The Swedish Match challenge reminds me of an earlier case concerning tobacco vending machines. This 2011 Forest press release sums it up:

The UK Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal over legislation to ban sales of tobacco from vending machines in the UK.

The ruling upholds a decision by the High Court in December 2010 to reject a legal challenge by Imperial Tobacco's cigarette vending machine subsidiary Sinclair Collis.

Two of the three Court of Appeal judges agreed that the High Court's decision should be upheld. The view of the third judge was that a ban on tobacco vending sales was disproportionate.

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, admitted the DoH's arguments were "not very convincing" [my emphasis] but said tobacco's health risks meant courts should not interfere with Government restrictions.

He added that given the health risks posed by tobacco, "virtually any measure [my emphasis] which a government takes to restrict the availability of tobacco products, especially to young people, is almost self-evidently one with which no court should interfere".

Although statistics used by the DoH to justify the ban were "little more than guesses" [my emphasis], Lord Neuberger said they did "not appear fanciful" and the ban was "lawful" and "proportionate".

Imperial won the original challenge but the Labour government appealed and the Appeal Court judges voted 2:1 in favour of upholding the ban.

According to the presiding judge, if the ban saved a single life [my emphasis] he had to support it.

For me that comment is as ridiculous today as it was then but the thinking behind it is instructive because it explains many of the paternalistic laws that have been passed since the introduction of the seat belt law in (I think) 1982.

The ban on snus makes even less sense when the product is evidently 'safer' than other products that are already on the market, but when did common sense dictate legislation?

Of course I applaud Swedish Match for challenging the ban but I would like to have seen the court case accompanied by a high profile, consumer-driven PR campaign to raise awareness of the product and the issues.

As I suggested a couple of weeks ago, it's important to win over public opinion and to win that battle you have to engage with more than a handful of like-minded people. You've also got to have a loud voice in the media and if you can't get it through editorial you buy it through advertising and advertorial.

Yes, it costs money – a lot of money – but legal challenges don't come cheap either. It's not one or the other, the battle has to be fought on both fronts.

Apart from a handful of articles by Chris Snowdon and Clive Bates, however, consumers and advocates of snus have been largely invisible in the UK.

I'm not having a go at anyone, by the way. I know how hard it is to organise any sort of campaign, let alone motivate people to support a niche product like snus.

Nevertheless the PR battle was there to be fought and I don't understand why so little effort has been made to challenge the ban in the court of public opinion.

I don't underestimate the difficulties. Snus may be a genuine harm reduction product but it's not part of British culture in the way it is in Sweden or Norway.

In fact, I'd wager that most people in the UK have never heard of snus and the majority of those that have (including smokers) are dubious about its appeal.

Anecdotally, in my experience, most people find the idea of a moist tobacco pouch in the mouth quite unpleasant. I don't know why, given the popularity of chewing gum (for example), but there it is.

Meanwhile opponents of snus are quick to raise the grim spectre of oral cancer. The risk may be small, as advocates claim and evidence seems to suggest, but images of that horrible disease are pretty gruesome and, once you've seen them, hard to forget.

What I'm saying is, if the advocates and manufacturers of snus want the ban to be lifted it will take more than a legal challenge.

Without an educational, well-funded, consumer-driven PR campaign that gives equal weight to choice and pleasure, harm reduction and risk, the sale (if not the consumption) of snus will almost certainly remain illegal in Britain.

Even then the odds on legalisation are small but, post Brexit, why not give it a go?

Wednesday
Apr112018

Stubborn bastards

I attended a private event in London last night called 'How long until smoking is history?'

I say 'private' because I don't think it was widely publicised. Nevertheless there were a lot of familiar faces present, many of whom (I'm guessing) had received a personal invitation.

Organised by the New Statesman 'in association with Philip Morris International', it was described thus:

Last year, the Government published its new Tobacco Control Plan for England that outlines a range of proposals to achieve a ‘smoke-free generation’.

More recently, Public Health England outlined a series of ambitious ideas to encourage smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives including encouraging hospitals to sell e-cigarettes and converting smoking shelters to vaping shelters.

Philip Morris International has committed itself to a smoke-free future and commissioned a report from Frontier Economics, ‘Towards a Smoke-free England’, to help understand the potential timescales for England to become smoke-free.

This event will discuss when, based on current trends, England may become smoke-free, and how this might be achieved sooner.

When I read that my heart did sink a little and I vowed to go if only to invoke the elephant in the room – the fact that many people enjoy smoking and don't want to quit or switch to vaping.

As it happens I didn't need to say anything because two of the three panellists covered that ground, to a greater or lesser extent, and I didn't feel there was much more to add.

Chaired by health journalist Anna Hodgekiss, the speakers were 'GP and smoking cessation expert' Dr Roger Henderson; Sarah Jakes, chairman of the New Nicotine Alliance; and Mark Littlewood, director general, Institute of Economic Affairs.

Dr Henderson was bullishly anti-smoking and quite full of himself. He was overly dramatic about the health risks of smoking, making frequent references to smokers having to choose between smoking or losing their legs. If I was a smoker I'd dread having someone like him as my GP.

I don't always see eye to eye with Sarah Jakes (or the New Nicotine Alliance which she chairs) but credit where credit's due. A former smoker, she's not anti-smoking and she does stand up for choice. She grasps why many smokers are not yet prepared to switch to vaping. And she understands that punishing smokers in order to force them to switch or quit is not the answer.

Mark Littlewood made some telling points in his usual entertaining way. Describing himself as a "stubborn bastard" who enjoys smoking and is too lazy to quit completely, he began by mocking the definition of a 'smoke-free' country.

"If five percent prevalence is the measure of smoke-free," he declared, "I am pleased to announce that Britain is heroin-free."

Dismissing the idea that smoking rates will fall to zero or even one percent in the foreseeable future, he warned against setting targets.

To sum up, it was a well-organised, well-attended event with three good speakers, four if you include Nick Fitzpatrick of Frontiers Economics who kicked things off with a short presentation that highlighted estimated smoking rates between now and 2050 when some people predict it will be zero.

Henderson's anti-smoking rhetoric wasn't to my taste but he was forthright and never boring. His views were also balanced by his fellow panellists, neither of whom was anti-smoking and both offered some welcome nuance.

So credit (on this occasion) to PMI. Credit too to the New Statesman for putting aside a long-held distaste of tobacco companies to organise the event. (I can't imagine what persuaded them!)

If I took one thing from the evening it's this. Forget forecasts and targets. The answer to the question 'How long until smoking is history?' is simple: no-one knows.

Everything we hear and read is speculation based on trends that, as Mark Littlewood noted, will be hard if not impossible to maintain as the smoking rate edges towards single figures and confirmed smokers (aka Mark's "stubborn bastards") dig their heels in and continue to smoke.

One thing's for sure. Even if the smoking rate does fall to five per cent of the adult population, that still represents two million smokers in the UK alone.

Smoke-free Britain? You're 'aving a laugh.

Postscript: I couldn't help notice that every time the dangers of smoking were emphasised by Roger Henderson a young guy in front of me would nod his head several times in agreement.

Later, during the Q&As, his mate – who was sitting next to him – asked how many young people smoke in comparison to the elderly.

When informed (incorrectly as it happens) that the highest percentage of smokers is in the 18-24 age group (it's actually more common among those aged 25-34, according to the latest ONS figures), he muttered, "Shocking."

What a prig, I thought.

Imagine my surprise then when, as I was leaving, I saw the pair of them outside, in the street ... smoking.

Update: I've told this story before but, many years ago, I took part in a debate about smoking bans hosted by the English-Speaking Union.

I was partnered by the late Lord Harris, chairman of Forest and a distinguished speaker in the House of Lords and elsewhere.

Our opponents – who were speaking in favour of smoking bans – were two young world championship winning debaters. They were brilliant and won the debate hands down.

Afterwards, to add insult to injury, they told us they were both smokers.