Sunday
Jan222017

Forest's spiritual home

Some of you may have read the interview with Ranald Macdonald, managing director of Boisdale Restaurants, that appeared in The Times on January 12.

The article (Meet Britain's 'most politically incorrect restaurant owner') is behind a paywall but it reappeared in the Scottish Daily Mail yesterday, complete with this indisputable fact:

As the smoking ban loomed Boisdale became the de facto headquarters of the libertarian campaign group Forest.

The question is, how did it happen?

Boisdale of Belgravia was a ten-minute walk from our old office near Victoria Station in London so it was on our radar even before I wrote to Ranald, in 2004 or thereabouts, inviting him to support Forest's campaign against the proposed smoking ban.

He agreed without hesitation and Boisdale quickly became our preferred location for meetings, lunches and events.

But Ranald was always more than a generous host. In February 2006, a week before MPs voted for the smoking ban smoking, he was one of several restaurateurs who joined us at the House of Commons to speak out against the legislation. The Caterer has the story here:

Opponents of a smoking ban in enclosed public places held a news conference at the House of Commons this morning to voice their anger ahead of MP's final vote on the subject next week.

A group of artists, MPs, hospitality representatives and pro-smoking lobby group Forest, queried the science underlying the ban, and argued for a technological solution to the problem of passive smoking instead.

Richard Shepherd, owner of Langans brasserie and Shepherds restaurant in London, was one of four hospitality and catering operators that spoke at the event.

Shepherd said: "Whatever happened to freedom of choice? If smoking is legal, licensees should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to allow smoking on their premises."

TV chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson also weighed in. "Smoking in public places that are properly ventilated seems better to me than people smoking in their homes with inadequate ventilation,"he said.

Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale Restaurants and Bars feared the ban would disadvantage smaller operators. "As someone running a small business, I believe a total ban will damage it and can only benefit the larger hospitality groups who are clamouring for a so-called level playing field."

In March 2007, a year after the introduction of the ban in Scotland, he was quoted again, this time by the BBC:

Ranald Macdonald, the Scottish businessmen who set up the London restaurant Boisdale, also described the ban as "unnecessarily severe".

He said he would like to open "an establishment run by smokers for smokers".

"As a smoker myself I believe we should be able to smoke in privately-run clubs if the owner or members agree to it," he said.

"Allowing designated smoking rooms in private clubs is something few people could object to."

Our closest collaborations however have involved a series of smoker-friendly events.

In October 2006 Ranald played a pivotal role at Forest's reception at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth.

'Politics and Prohibition' at the Royal Bath Hotel, attracted 400 guests and featured a mock police raid. The person they 'arrested' was Ranald who was charged with "inciting people to enjoy themselves".

The following year Boisdale and Forest joined forces again when we co-hosted a dinner for 400 people at the Savoy Hotel in London.

Dubbed 'Revolt In Style: A Freedom Dinner' the event took place just six days before the introduction of the smoking ban in England. Guests included Andrew Neil, Rod Liddell, Antony Worrall Thompson and many more.

As in Bournemouth the event featured the Boisdale Blue Rhythm Band with whom we collaborated on a CD.

You Can't Do That! Songs For Swinging Smokers featured 19 classic songs including 'Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette', 'Giving Up Giving Up', and 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'.

To mark the smoking ban it also featured 'I'm Going Outside', a new song with lyrics by Alan Plater:

One of our most successful film and TV screenwriters, Plater describes the government’s anti-smoking crusade as "hypocritical", "puritannical" and "sanctimonious".

He wrote the lyrics after he and his wife Shirley Rubinstein - both enthusiastic smokers - found themselves out in the cold every time they wanted to light up on a recent trip to Orkney. "I’m 71, it’s minus four degrees, and I’m going outside!"

Since then Boisdale of Belgravia has hosted a number of Forest events including Smoke-free England? (2008) which marked the first anniversary of the smoking ban and attracted the likes of David Hockney and Nigel Farage.

Other events included parties to celebrate our 30th and 35th anniversaries in 2009 and 2014 respectively.

City AM described the latter thus:

Forest, the pro-smoking lobby group, celebrated its 35th anniversary at one of finance's favourite watering holes last night. Boisdale Belgravia happily provided an ample heated smoking area along with Cuban cocktails and Latin canapes.

"The world is obsessed with people's rights, but one sizeable group with no rights are smokers," Boisdale owner Ranald Macdonald told us. "There's one organisation which defends their rights and that's Forest."

Eighties pop icon Joe Jackson flew in from Berlin and several MPs popped along to get some fresh air, including Nigel Evans and David Nuttall who were played to by Macdonald's son's band Hidden Charms.

In 2011 a new restaurant, Boisdale of Canary Wharf, was opened. Within a year it was the venue for another event, the annual Freedom Dinner.

Forest and Boisdale have now co-hosted five Freedom Dinners with a sixth scheduled for later this year.

Prior to that Boisdale will support another event, this one marking the publication of the recent report The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.

If I tell you that Ranald himself will be speaking you might like to make a note of the date (Wednesday February 22) and the venue (Institute of Economic Affairs).

Full details next week.

Below: Forest's 30th anniversary party at Boisdale in 2009.

Tuesday
Jan172017

Brought to book

Apologies, I've been in Ireland, hence the lack of posts over the past week.

In the little spare time I had I became hooked on Tim Shipman's hugely enjoyable All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class.

I know (not very well) several of the leading protagonists, which made it all the more interesting and enjoyable.

I don't think the book changed my opinion about anything or anyone. It did however confirm my thoughts about politicians and their enormous, often counter-productive egos.

More important, I picked up a lot about political campaigning which might strike some people as odd considering I've been a campaigner myself for the best part of 20 years but you never stop learning.

I won't say what those lessons were (no point alerting the enemy!) but there's no secret about the following:

"You win campaigns like this through message discipline and consistency."

Political campaigns are not democracies ... Campaigns are best operated as dictatorships.

Ultimately what I took from the book was this, and it's not rocket science.

You can be the greatest strategist or tactician in the world but the magic ingredients for a successful political campaign are hard work, conviction and a generous helping of luck.

The Leave campaigns (because there were more than one) had all three.

Thankfully it all worked out but it was a very close call.

PS. I couldn't help noting the following passages. The first won't surprise anyone, the references to David and Samantha Cameron might:

Before he went on stage [before the ITV debate] Farage slipped out for a cigarette ...

An hour later [after the ITV debate] he [Cameron] was on the terrace of the House of Commons having a pint and drawing reflectively on a cigarette ...

The tension had been so great during the campaign that, one friend said, 'the stress drove her [Samantha] to cigarettes'.

Fancy that!

Monday
Jan092017

The ugly face of science and health

H/T Dick Puddlecote for drawing this to my attention on Twitter.

It concerns esteemed musician Joe Jackson, friend of Forest, opponent of comprehensive smoking bans, author of the essay Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State (2007), and occasional commenter on this blog.

Unknown to me (before last night) one of Joe's songs (Steppin' Out) is currently being used on a TV ad which is described thus:

P&O Ferries new ad for 2017 sees an animated couple's plain and dull world filled with colour when they head off on a trip abroad.

After travelling across the water with P&O the pair enjoy some sightseeing and shopping for hats at a local market store.

Featuring such appropriate lyrics as ‘So tired of all the darkness in our lives’ and ‘Get into a car and drive. To the other side’, the understandable song choice for this advert is ‘Steppin’ Out’ by Joe Jackson.

Bizarrely someone called Carl Greatrex decided to make an issue of this and directed the following tweets to P&O:

"Extreme views"? Joe's comments about smoking (based on a lot of research) have always been rational, reasonable and well articulated. Judge for yourself – New York Times, Guardian, Spiked.

To suggest his music should be vetoed by an advertiser because of his views on smoking is extraordinary. What next? Should Radio 2 and other broadcasters refuse to play his music as well? (Oops, I'd better not give them ideas.)

Needless to say, within minutes of responding to his tweets Greatrex blocked me so I thought I'd check him out, beginning with his Twitter profile which reads:

Head of Innovation Adoption Yorkshire & Humber AHSN. Supporting the 5YFV & principles of the Accelerated Access Review.

AHSN stands for Academic Health and Science Network. The '5YFV' is NHS England's Five Year Forward View, and the Accelerated Access Review is a government project that "aims to speed up access to innovative drugs, devices and diagnostics for NHS patients".

Beyond that I discovered the following:

Carl first joined the [Yorkshire and Humber] AHSN in November 2015 as a Programme Manager supporting the Clinical Lead Medicine Optimisation on projects across the country with a focus on Yorkshire and Humber linking with the AHSN Network, Strategic Clinical Networks, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Acute Trusts and patients’ groups.

His new role will involve leading a number of projects promoting innovation as well as working across the organisation supporting other programmes focussed on safety and quality, strategic system support and delivering sustainability.

Carl has a wealth of experience both in the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS [my emphasis] including marketing, account management, project management and NHS strategy and policy across a number of disease areas including HIV, cardiovascular, respiratory and diabetes.

His project management roles have included a global project developing pricing and access strategies for emerging health economies and the use of new technologies to support customer engagement within the pharmaceutical industry.

I've posted the advertisement Greatrex objected to below. If he's genuinely suggesting Joe's music should be blacklisted by P&O because of his views on smoking (and smoking bans) that's a new one even to me.

Still, it's a valuable insight into the type of person currently employed by "health and science", someone (note) with a "wealth of experience both in the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS".

I note too that there's nothing on Greatrex's Twitter profile to suggest he is tweeting in a purely personal capacity. Far from it.

His profile states quite clearly who he works for and what his job title is. There's also a link to his employer's website and most of his tweets appear to be work-related.

The question therefore is this. Was Greatrex tweeting P&O in a personal capacity or was he representing Yorkshire & Humber AHSN? I think we should be told.

Update: He has now blocked me, Forest and (I believe) one or two others from reading his tweets. What a plonker.

Friday
Jan062017

Whatever happened to the Smoke Free Arts campaign?

Nick Hopkinson's latest signature gathering exercise (see previous post) caught the attention of the Guardian, if no-one else.

Will it prompt the PM to urge the Secretary of State for Health to publish the Government's new Tobacco Control Plan "without further delay"?

Governments have their own timetable and unless this becomes a hot political potato in the near future (unlikely given the current Brexit-focussed climate) I can't see a letter in the BMJ having much impact.

But who knows? We remain on amber if not red alert. What I do know is that another Hopkinson campaign has disappeared leaving little or no trace of its existence.

Last year the Observer reported:

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco.

The British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, the South Bank Centre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, have long-standing lucrative corporate membership and sponsorship deals with two leading cigarette manufacturers, which are banned from advertising in the UK.

The links have dismayed many in the medical community. “As a doctor specialising in the care of people with emphysema, I see the harm smoking causes every day,” said Dr Nick Hopkinson, reader in respiratory medicine and honorary consultant physician at the National Heart and Lung Institute, who is leading a campaign against the tie-ups.

“Tobacco companies, which rely on getting people addicted to products, which maim and kill, must not be allowed to use arts sponsorship as a way to present [themselves] as respectable.”

See Ditch tobacco sponsors, health experts warn cultural institutions (Observer).

Nine months later, using the Just Giving platform, a total of nine 'supporters' have donated just £730 to the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity in support of the campaign.

Worse, the Smoke Free Arts website has had some sort of meltdown and is currently inactive.

Oh dear.

If however you want to see an example of the type of "sponsorship" Hopkinson objects to, I recommend you click here.

It's a video highlighting "a collaboration between Leonard Cheshire Disability, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Academy of Arts and Crisis, supported by JTI."

Judge for yourself whether initiatives like this should be put at risk through lack of funding because anti-smoking campaigners like Nick Hopkinson want cultural institutions (including the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Academy of Arts) to refuse "morally unacceptable" sponsorship from Big Tobacco.

That Smoke Free Arts campaign doesn't seem so virtuous or clever now, does it?

Thankfully, to quote Monty Python, it appears to be resting, expired or shagged out following a prolonged squawk.

Thursday
Jan052017

Nick Hopkinson, Louise Ross, Linda Bauld, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

Today's Guardian reports:

More than 1,000 doctors, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions, are calling on the prime minister to publish the latest tobacco control plan without delay.

In a letter to Theresa May, the senior doctors say the plan is essential to drive down smoking rates, which are highest and most damaging to health among the least well-off. The plan was due to be published last summer.

See Doctors urge Theresa May to publish anti-smoking strategy (Guardian).

The letter was coordinated by Dr Nicholas Hopkinson. “What we want is a smoke-free future,” he told the paper.

Support for mass media campaigns is needed, he says, as well as the continuation of policies on the cigarette pricing and tobacco smuggling. Spending on media campaigns in England has dropped in the past five years from just under £25m in 2009-10 to £5.3m in 2015, although evidence shows they help people quit.

“It is absolutely clear these interventions work. It is just keeping up the momentum and making sure there is a high priority to this,” he said. “There are 9 million smokers in the UK, and smoking is increasingly associated with inequality – it is quite a bit higher in the poorer parts of society.”

It didn't surprise me at all that Hopkinson was behind the letter. It's his modus operandi.

In February 2013 he was chief signatory to a letter in The Lancet that called on healthcare organisations to sever all links with PR companies lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry.

A few months later he got 150 "health professionals" to sign a letter to the Telegraph demanding the introduction of plain packaging.

In May 2016 he wrote a letter that was reported as follows by the Observer:

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco.

For some reason the Guardian didn't include a link to Hopkinson's latest letter but you can read it in full here (The need for a new Tobacco Control Plan: an issue of justice).

You can also read the full list of signatories. The Guardian, naturally, focussed on the fact that the letter had been signed by "more than 1,000 doctors, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions".

In fact, a number of signatories are not doctors at all but long-term anti-smoking activists or researchers. Notably they include Deborah Arnott (ASH), Andrea Crossfield (Healthier Futures, formerly Smokefree North West) and Ailsa Rutter (Fresh, formerly Smokefree North East).

Other familiar names include Professors Anna Gilmore (University of Bath), Simon Capewell (Faculty of Public Health) and Anne McNeil and John Britton (both UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies).

Oh, and let's not forget those darlings of the vaping community, Linda Bauld (CRUK) and stop smoking service manager Louise Ross.

Frankly, the only person who's missing is Old Uncle Tom Cobley.

It's worth pointing out too that most if not all of the 1,000+ signatories are beneficiaries, in some way or another, of taxpayers' money so a more obvious example of government lobbying government is hard to find.

The question is, how does Nick Hopkinson do it? How does he get "more than 1,000 healthcare experts" to sign such letters?

Last year he ignored our polite request for information about his signature gathering methodology and today he responded to a similar query with the following tweet.

Naturally we responded with one or two of our own:

Tuesday
Jan032017

It's a mystery

Happy New Year!

There was an important omission in my previous post. Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh (formerly Smoke Free North East), was awarded an OBE "for services to Tobacco Control".

So this is where we are.

The most recent directors of Smoke Free South West, Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smoke Free North West) and Smoke Free North East have all been awarded an OBE or MBE yet the chief executive of ASH (appointed in 2003) and the CEO of ASH Scotland (appointed in 2008) continue to be overlooked.

Why? It's a mystery.

Saturday
Dec312016

No comment

On December 31, 2013, I wrote:

Something has always puzzled me about the honours list and it's this. Why no gongs for the likes of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH; Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland; Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West; or Andrea Crossfield, director of Tobacco Free Futures?

After all, it's titans of Tobacco Control like Deborah and Sheila who are often credited with introducing smoking bans and other measures that have saved tens of thousands of lives. Allegedly.

Surely they should receive recognition for their services to public health? But, no. The years tick by and Deborah remains plain Ms Arnott. Ditto Ms Duffy.

See New Year Honours: Arnott and Duffy overlooked again.

A year later that oversight was partially put right when Andrews and Crossfield were each awarded an MBE, as I reported here (Was it something I wrote?). But still no recognition for Arnott or Duffy.

This morning I scoured the 2016 New Year's Honours list and I have to report that the CEOs of ASH and ASH Scotland have yet again been overlooked.

Smoking may now be banned at all royal residences but Arnott and Duffy won't be able to enjoy the smokefree (sic) environment at Buckingham Palace any time soon.

Nevertheless, perhaps they'll put their disappointment aside and join me in a toast to Sir Cyril Chantler, appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE), and Professor Jill Pell.

Sir Cyril (whose controversial report on plain packaging gave the green light to the measure) has been rewarded for "services to leadership in healthcare".

Pell has been less visible in recent years but older readers will recall that she was responsible for the "heart attack miracle" report that followed the smoking ban in Scotland. Chris Snowdon wrote about it here: Health fears go up in smoke (Spiked).

Two years later Chris took another shot at Pell's work, querying her claim that the rate of hospitalisations for children with asthma in Scotland had dropped by more than 18 per cent year-on-year since the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places in 2006 (Jill Pell does it again).

See also Professor Jill Pell, doctor of spin (Taking Liberties).

Pell has now been awarded a CBE for "public health research".

I couldn't possibly comment.

Update:
Friday
Dec302016

Another day another public health campaign (and more BBC bias)

Yesterday Public Health England launched a campaign aimed at 40 to 60-year-olds, "83% of whom weigh too much or drink above guidelines".

Today they've launched another quit smoking campaign, this time using children to highlight the risks. The BBC reports:

Primary school children in Coventry are at the centre of a nationwide anti-smoking campaign.

Pupils from Earlsdon Primary School have drawn their own anti-smoking packaging ahead of the country's plain packaging rollout in May 2017.

Public Health England (PHE) said it hopes the message "resonates" with the UK's 7m smokers.

The children drew their own front-of-pack messages, with sentiments like, "don't be the smoker, be the stopper".

The drawings also feature illustrations of diseases that can be caused by smoking, like heart attacks and strokes.

See Primary school children make anti-smoking packaging (BBC News).

When I read the report at seven o'clock this morning I immediately clocked there was no opposing comment, despite the fact that Forest had sent BBC News online our reaction at least 19 hours previously.

Not for the first time I rang the online news desk and complained. The report has now been updated:

Campaign group Forest, which supports those who choose to smoke, said the use of children for an anti-smoking message was "emotional blackmail" and should not be "financed with taxpayers' money".

Director Simon Clark said: "Using children to make adults feel guilty about smoking is a new low for the public health industry."

But why should we have to chase them to provide some tiny element of balance? What is wrong with the BBC (and, to be fair, other news organisations)?

I've lost count of the number of times I've had to point out that what they are presenting as "news" is little more than state-sponsored propaganda.

Is this what they advocate at the BBC's famed journalism trainee scheme?

The Press Association also ran the story (Children create anti-smoking artwork for new-look cigarette packets) with a slightly longer quote from Forest:

Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, said using children was "emotional blackmail".

He said: "Using children to make adults feel guilty about smoking is a new low for the public health industry. It's emotional blackmail and should be condemned by all decent people, not financed with taxpayers' money.

"Adults know the health risks of smoking. Most smoke because they enjoy it. Public health campaigners should respect that choice and stop bullying smokers to quit."

However even that required some cajoling (three phone calls to the news desk).

I don't know whether it's laziness or incompetence but journalists seem happy to file copy straight from a press release rather than picking up the phone to get an alternative opinion.

As it happens PHE's new quit smoking campaign has had very little press coverage but it has been reported by the BBC, ITV and the Press Association, three of Britain's major news outlets, none of whom made the effort to contact Forest direct but were happy to promote the PHE campaign without challenge.

The only news media that did contact us for a response was Sky News for whom I did a short interview via Skype last night.

Credit where credit's due but in general Sky is no better than its rivals. The truth is, to get our message across requires constant vigilance across all media platforms.

On a lighter note, I'm off to Cambridge to meet Dan Donovan. Always a pleasure ...

PS. Fancy that, Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies used her privileged position as guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme today to promote PHE's new anti-smoking campaign – without challenge, naturally.