Saturday
Aug202016

The war on smoking is a war on individual freedom

From last Saturday's Telegraph:

Manjib, Syria, the men are cutting their beards. The women are smoking cigarettes and uncovering their faces. Newly liberated from the rule of Isil, they’re expressing the most basic freedom a human can possess: control over their own bodies. These are the freedoms the West holds dear. This is what we stand for: the freedom of each person to make decisions for themselves ...

The article, by Juliet Samuel, went on to address the decision to ban the use of the burkini - a head to foot swimming costume worn mostly by Muslim women - on the beaches of Cannes and another resort in France, Villeneuve-Loubet.

According to Samuel (and I couldn't agree more), "The real enemies of freedom are not the burkini-wearers but the politicians who want to ban them."

But let's address her initial point:

The women are smoking cigarettes ... Newly liberated from the rule of Isil, they’re expressing the most basic freedom a human can possess: control over their own bodies. These are the freedoms the West holds dear.

If only that were true. The West may not kill or torture people for smoking (not yet, anyway!) but the suggestion it's a freedom "the West holds dear" is no longer true, sadly.

I'm not suggesting governments should actively encourage habits that are potentially harmful but if it's legal the state's role in a free society is to educate then allow people to make our own informed choices without being punished for making choices the state doesn't approve of.

Instead, led by America, Australia, Canada, the UK and Ireland (spot the connection?), governments and local authorities in the West have spent the past two decades banning or severely restricting smoking in a variety of public places.

Smoking in enclosed public places is now prohibited in several Western countries and there is a growing move towards outdoor smoking bans.

Smokers have been taxed to the hilt, far in excess of what it allegedly costs the state to treat smoking-related diseases.

In some countries the product has been hidden behind shutters and sliding doors while packs and pouches are emblazoned with gory health warnings designed to shock and repulse.

Simultaneously the public has been encouraged to regard smoking as a dirty or disgusting habit ("If you smoke, you stink" according to one publicly-funded campaign).

Does that sound like a freedom "the West holds dear"?

At the heart of these initiatives is a fundamental desire to denormalise a legal product and stigmatise the consumer. Worse, anti-smoking campaigns are often driven by a deliberate policy of hate and fear.

How has the public responded? Well, although relatively few people are actively anti-smoking (and most of them are employed by the state or third sector 'charities'), it's also true that the number of people and organisations committed to defending smokers is painfully small.

Long ago I wrote to Liberty, on behalf of Forest, inviting them to condemn discrimination against smokers. I received a polite brush-off, the gist of which was "in the overall scheme of things smokers' rights are simply not that important".

I wasn't surprised. Many people profess to be civil libertarians or socially liberal but only a handful speak up for smokers. Ditto economic liberals despite strong arguments for letting the market decide

I know this because Forest monitors all these groups across a range of platforms (including social media) and the number of self-proclaimed liberals who defend smoking and oppose anti-smoking legislation is depressingly small, believe me.

Likewise I've lost count of the number of ex-smoking vapers who protest they're not anti-smoking yet remain mute when smoking is under the cosh. When challenged they respond, "It's not our battle." Alternatively they recycle any anti-smoking nonsense that furthers their own cause.

Of course the careers of many pro-vaping advocates were built on the war on tobacco so their refusal to stand up for smokers is no surprise. As far as they're concerned smokers are collateral damage in the unrelenting march towards a brave new smoke free world.

(It makes me laugh when I see some of them lauded as heroes of the vaping movement. Every smoking ban that includes the use of e-cigarettes is directly attributable to the anti-smoking policies those very same people actively campaigned for and still endorse.)

For me defending smoking (and smokers) is the litmus test of a genuinely liberal mind. It scores points on so many levels I hardly know where to start.

The most important perhaps is that genuine liberals are prepared to defend activities they themselves don't engage in and may even disapprove of.

Defending smoking means challenging the current orthodoxy that the world would be a better place without it.

If you're a smoker it also means accepting personal responsibility for your decision to smoke and not using the 'victim' or addiction card.

For example, one of the things that annoys me most about some ex-smoking vapers is the claim, repeated ad nauseum, that restrictions on vaping or vaping products will "force" them back to smoking.

I heard it again this week in Australia where vapers were protesting against regulations banning the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine. It's an absurd policy but, for heaven's sake, if you don't want to smoke, don't smoke. No-one's forcing you light up. Get a grip.

Bleating that restrictions on e-cigarettes will "force" you back to smoking plays into the hands of those who want to portray smokers (and vapers) as pathetic, weak-willed addicts desperate for their next fix - unless government steps in to 'save' them.

A few years ago I was interviewed for a feature in the Independent, Is smoking still defensible?. Nick Duerden, a freelance journalist, gave us a decent hearing, I thought.

As well as Forest Nick wanted to speak to some of our supporters so I put him in touch with David Hockney, Joe Jackson and Ronald (now Sir Ronald) Harwood.

All three were quoted but I would have struggled to name many more with a similar public profile because when it comes to defending smoking most people don't want to know. Even smokers have been cowed into submission.

So I'll ask this. Who do you identify with - the women in Manjib, Syria, celebrating the freedom to smoke, or public health campaigners who want to deny you that freedom in the name of ... what, exactly?

I don't doubt that some people are addicted to smoking and want to quit. I'm equally convinced however that as an expression of individual freedom smoking is hard to beat.

I also think the world would be a poorer, less diverse place without smoking but, hey, I'm just a tobacco industry stooge with no mind of my own.

And on that bombshell I will leave you for a week or so.

Tonight I'm having dinner aboard the Queen Victoria in the port of Venice. At ten o'clock local time we'll set sail for Croatia with subsequent stops including Crete, Albania (a late replacement for Turkey!) and Greece.

Do post a comment or two while I'm away. Oh, and feel free to go off topic. The good news is, I won't be here to stop you!

Monday
Aug152016

Old kids on the block unite for one performance only

This looks fun.

Next month, for one performance only, ageing off-their-rockers Simon Chapman, Deborah Arnott, Martin McKee, Anna Gilmore and Gabriel Scally will perform their long-awaited concept album, 'Winning the end-game against tobacco'.

Hosted by the Royal College of Medicine, this special event takes place on Friday 16 September.

Early booking advised. Full details here.

Saturday
Aug132016

Smoking out 'bad' habits in sport

Nice quote from the new Watford manager on the eve of the Premier League season.

Invited to comment on allegations he had smoked in the club's dressing room at half-time during a friendly against Queens Park Rangers, former Italian international Walter Mazzarri said:

"First of all, I want to say it’s not true that I was smoking inside the dressing room.

"This was pure invention. Yes, nobody is perfect and I do smoke but I want to say that I always have respect for the person that is next to me and if they tells me not to then I won’t.

"But because of the job I do and I think in life sometimes there are moments where small things make you feel better and one of them for me is smoking."

Naturally, having dismissed Watford as near certainties for relegation this season, I now want them to stay up if only because Mazzarri sounds like a decent, well-balanced chap.

I'm no fan of Liverpool but I shall secretly cheer on Jurgen Klopp as well.

Klopp had barely arrived on Merseyside last year when he was photographed having a beer and a cigarette on a night out with his family.

More recently he was pictured smoking at the club's training ground and it has also been reported that he and his assistant Peter Krawietz must be allocated smoking rooms when the team stays overnight in a hotel.

The pressure on managers and coaches to conform to the current no smoking orthodoxy must be enormous. Credit to Klopp and Mazzarri for staying unapologetically true to themselves.

Elsewhere it's time for Arsenal's Jack Wilshere to demonstrate that being an occasional social smoker is no hindrance to having a successful football career (or recovering from an endless series of non-smoking related injuries).

Thankfully he's not our only standard bearer. According to this February 2015 report - Footballers (and their managers) who smoke - Carlo Ancelotti and Gianluca Vialli both smoke while Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney are also known to "like the odd cigarette".

In a cut-throat business Ancelotti and Vialli ooze charm and bonhomie. By all accounts they are among the most likeable people in professional sport.

As player and manager Ancelotti is also one of the most successful. Whether he smokes is irrelevant. It doesn't define him, Mazzarri, Vialli or Klopp. It's the work that matters, and whether they are nice people.

The same should be true for anyone who smokes yet increasingly people are being judged not on normal criteria but on choices and habits that have nothing to do with anyone apart, perhaps, from a person's immediate family.

Vapers meanwhile have their own role model. Paul Pogba, now with Manchester United, was recently spotted using an e-cigarette while on holiday in Miami.

I've no idea if Pogba was a smoker but if it's true that, by and large, only smokers and ex-smokers vape, it's not done the world's most expensive footballer too much harm, football-wise.

Finally the Guardian this week highlighted the handful of football clubs that have had cigarette brands as their shirt sponsor.

None of them were British so what I found more interesting was a passing reference to the fact that in the 1985/86 season West Bromwich Albion wore a 'No Smoking' symbol on their shirts.

I checked what happened to West Brom that season and my suspicion was confirmed.

They got relegated.

Sunday
Aug072016

Memories of Fleet Street

I was sorry to read that "the last two journalists working in Fleet Street" are leaving.

According to the BBC:

Reporters Gavin Sherriff and Darryl Smith worked for the Dundee-based Sunday Post, which closes its London office on Friday.

Mr Smith, 43, worked as a feature writer for the Sunday Post and was based in the street for 25 years.

Mr Sherriff, 54, has worked on Fleet Street for 32 years, and rose to become the Post's London chief reporter. He says on his first ever day he walked into a smoke-filled newsroom to the sound of typewriters being bashed about.

His memories of the street in its heyday are of "watching lorries with large rolls of paper struggling to get down side-streets to printing presses and lots of pubs, filled with journalists and printers".

"Now it's an endless number of sandwich bars out there. Unthinkable 30 years ago."

As I mentioned last week, it had been my ambition since the age of nine or ten to be a journalist.

Gavin Sherriff is only three years younger than me and as I grew up near Dundee the Sunday Post is a paper I could – perhaps should – have applied to join instead of going to university.

The Holy Grail was of course Fleet Street but after leaving Aberdeen in 1980 I impetuously accepted a job in public relations.

I did it partly because I was offered the instant gratification of working in an office in Fleet Lane which, as the name suggests, was just around the corner from Fleet Street.

The temptation of working within walking distance of some of my heroes was impossible to resist. I might even meet them.

And so it was that on my first day in my new job I chose to have lunch in a busy Fleet Street pub awash with subs and reporters, many of whom worked at the iconic Daily Express Building a few doors up.

The next day I went to another pub. This time most of the journalists seemed to work for the Telegraph.

And so it went on. It was exciting (at the start) but I didn't know anyone and I felt a bit out of place.

In fact I quickly realised that while journalists had no time for PR execs (especially junior ones), my new colleagues were equally indifferent to smoke-filled Fleet Street boozers and had no intention of joining me.

Lunch for them was a wine bar on Ludgate Hill or a restaurant in Covent Garden.

What journalists and PR types did share was a fondness for long liquid lunches. The work still got done, though. We just stayed later, leaving the office at seven or eight o'clock.

What I didn't know was that everything was about to change. Although Fleet Street was still the centre of the national newspaper industry its days were numbered.

The print unions were rightly coming under pressure to abandon the outrageous working practices that had become the norm.

Hot metal was being replaced by new computer-driven technology but it was more than that – the whole culture of Fleet Street was changing.

El Vino, the establishment that wouldn't allow women to stand or be served at the bar, was one of the first to feel the wind of change.

As it happens I wasn't a fan of the place but not because of that. The reason I didn't enjoy going there was because of another rule that decreed men should keep their jackets on at all times.

The first time I went to El Vino I was unaware of the policy. It was a hot sunny day so as soon as I sat down I took off my jacket. Within seconds I was being asked, politely, to put it back on.

I sat there sweltering but didn't object. Why would you? As a private business it was the proprietor's right to set whatever rules he liked.

There were plenty of pubs and bars that had less restrictive policies so why grumble? If you didn't like it you could go somewhere else.

But grumble people did and in 1982 El Vino was forced by a judge to abandon its most famous policy – that of refusing to allow women to stand at the bar. As the Guardian explained in 2012, 30 years later:

For years, women journalists knew their place at El Vino: banished to a back room away from the bar, where they waited patiently for table service. By way of defence, El Vino claimed that they were doing their female customers a favour by upholding "old-fashioned ideas of chivalry." Any woman who dared to question the house rules risked being bawled at by the famously fierce bar manager and even barred.

All this changed in November 1982, when solicitor Tess Gill and journalist Anna Coote struck a blow for equality by winning their case against El Vino in the Court of Appeal. One of the judges, Lord Justice Griffiths, said that El Vino's popularity amongst journalists made it one of the famous "gossip shops of Fleet Street," and confining women reporters to the tables put them at a special disadvantage in "picking up gossip of the day." Several days after the verdict, El Vino lifted the lifetime ban it had imposed on the two women.

I stopped working in EC4 in 1983 and the really big changes took place after that as, one by one, the larger newspaper groups left the area in search of modern offices and state of the art printing facilities.

Abiding memories however include the sight of all those lorries parked nose to tail waiting to collect the first editions and deliver them nationwide via road and rail.

I saw them quite a lot because I'd often walk up Fleet Street in order to catch a bus home following an after work drink in the Old King Lud.

Built in 1870 on the corner of Ludgate Circus at the bottom of Fleet Street, this elegant Victorian pub sat directly beneath Holborn Viaduct, which meant it shook slightly whenever a train rumbled overhead.

Memorable evenings in the Old King Lud included meeting a runner who took part in the very first London Marathon in 1981. It was three days after the inaugural event on March 29 and he was still holding his medal and nursing enormous blisters.

I was hugely impressed but not enough to want to do it myself.

(By way of comparison, over 20,000 people applied to run the first London Marathon in 1981 and over 6,500 took part. This year 247,069 people applied and almost 40,000 took part.)

Twelve months and one week later we were in the Old King Lud when the first ships left Portsmouth for the Falklands.

The atmosphere that night was extraordinary. Everyone, it seemed, supported the decision to send the task force. I've never experienced a more patriotic occasion.

If the excitement in the pub was intense, goodness knows what it was like in the newsrooms just up the road.

The pub closed in 2005. Today the building is part bank, part cafe. The Victorian viaduct has been demolished so there are no trains running overhead either.

Thirty-five years ago EC4 really was another world. Hats off to the Sunday Post for being the last newspaper and to Gavin Sherriff and Darryl Smith for being the very last journalists to leave.

Saturday
Aug062016

Great minds think alike

In March 2014, as part of our campaign against plain packaging, Forest commissioned a PR company to come up with some creative ideas.

The proposal I liked best was a spoof 'pop up' shop. After some fine tuning we described it as follows:

Plain packaging pop up shop
Spoof convenience store with a window directly on to a busy shopping area. Shop will stock a range of plain packaged products, not just cigarettes, with large warnings/shocking images.

Purpose
To show people what could happen if the slippery slope of plain packaging and graphic warnings were to be imposed on other consumer products. The shop will be a “window to the future”, very visual and easy way for people to get the message. The ‘shop’ would be used to drive debate; deliver a news photo story in the national press and other target media; a venue for a campaign lobbying event; a place for invited journalists to ‘pop-in’; a base to canvass for signatures from members of the public; and a ready-made film set to create a campaign video.

Where
The first pop-up shop could be set up in central London. If the idea is successful it could be copied in other cities worldwide. Props and shop fittings could be stored and transported for this purpose.

Logistics
Hire shop unit in central London, commission interior/exterior fitting, design signage and products, hire staff for media event, organise photocall etc.

Additional ideas included:

Staff the shop with VERY cheesy ‘have a nice day’ style assistants giving gruesome info about the various products. For example: “Hello! Did you know that buying sugary cereal for your children will make them obese? Ultimately obese children die younger. You’re welcome!”

Sadly, despite repeated efforts, the idea never got off the ground in the UK.

I'm delighted however that something very similar is about to be launched in Canada where the government is currently holding a consultation on plain packaging.

Dubbed the 'Nanny State Corner Shop' it will open in Toronto next week.

What a brilliant idea (if I say so myself).

Friday
Aug052016

Anger management

I was on BBC WM this morning talking about this:

You can listen to the (short) clip here.

I mentioned how angry some Forest supporters are at the proposal to ban smoking in nearby streets, pointing out there's no health risk to anyone else.

I also said it was outrageous that the hospital should be trying to dictate people's behaviour off site.

What I didn't say, because the interview was shorter than expected, is that having a child in hospital can be an extremely stressful experience for parents who often spend long periods in the ward.

Sometimes (as I did) they even have to sleep on the floor next to their child's bed.

Threatening parents who smoke with "security patrols" if they light up on nearby roads is not only unjustified, it's morally wrong because it's tantamount to bullying people when they are at their most vulnerable - shocking behaviour for a National 'Health' Service.

I will however include the comment in my response to the online consultation.

Please complete the form too. It only takes a moment.

Thursday
Aug042016

Who's laughing now?

Here's that Manifesto Club call to action I mentioned yesterday.

Campaigners are holding a weekend of protest to sound the alarm about a new wave of council bans in public spaces.

'Public Spaces Protection Orders' (PSPOs) are powers that allow councils to ban activities if they believe these to have a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life'.

Back in February, a report by the Manifesto Club found that 79 councils had passed 130 PSPOs.

A new briefing by the club highlights the 20 worst new PSPOs of the past five months, including:

Gravesham Council has banned lying down/sleeping in any public place, including in a car or caravan

Blaby Council has banned 10- to 17-year olds from standing in groups of four or more

Worthing Council has banned begging, sitting or loitering for an 'unreasonable time', and remaining overnight in any vehicle

Forest of Dean Council is planning to criminalise those who allow their sheep to enter the village of Bream in Gloucestershire. This would prohibit sheep grazing practices that have been established for centuries

Bassetlaw has brought through PSPOs in Retford and Worksop town centres banning shouting, swearing, and groups of under-16s standing in groups of three or more

Colchester Council is proposing a ban on people being in possession of roller skates, skateboards or scooters

The briefing was reported by the Telegraph, The Times (which both lead with the sheep story!) and Conservative Home.

The Manifesto Club add that they're holding a weekend of protest (this weekend) "to sound the alarm about these new waves of council bans".

Actions on August 6 and 7 include:

  • Cambridge street theatre performers performing a sketch mocking their council's ban on punt touting in the city centre
  • Members of the Forest of Dean sheep Commoners Association delivering a petition against the council's plan to ban sheep
  • People standing in pairs in Hillingdon to protest against the council's ban on "standing in groups of two or more unless waiting at a designated bus stop"
  • Students lying down in sleeping bags in Woking town centre in opposition to Woking Council's ban on begging

Last but not least there will be a protest festival in Hackney – where the council was forced to withdraw a ban on rough sleeping and loitering – including speeches, public art and music. Details here.

Btw, that list of new PSPOs (above) reminded me of the famous Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch when Constable Savage was accused of inventing a series of ridiculous charges against a coloured man.

'Offences' included:

  • "Loitering with intent to use a pedestrian crossing."
  • "Urinating in a public convenience."
  • "Coughing without due care and attention."
  • "Walking on the cracks on the pavement."
  • 'Walking in a loud shirt in a built up area."
  • "Looking at me in a funny way."

In the words of his boss (the Rowan Atkinson character), "Savage, I think you're being a little ... over-zealous."

That was in the Seventies. In a similar sketch written today Constable Savage would be a local councillor and the target could be almost anyone.

Alternatively, to narrow it down, Constable Savage would be the chief executive of the local NHS trust and the 'offender' would be a smoker.

Charges could include:

  • "Loitering with intent to light up."
  • "Smoking with intent to inhale."
  • "Rolling a cigarette in skinny jeans and a Hawiian shirt."
  • "Holding a cigarette in a way that makes smoking look cool."

Last but not least:

Who's laughing now?

Thursday
Aug042016

Action alert – hospital wants to extend smoking ban to nearby streets

Last year we successfully campaigned against proposals to extend the smoking ban to Brighton's beaches, parks and squares.

See Bid to ban smoking on beaches and parks in Brighton and Hove to be dropped and Brighton – common sense prevails.

Now we need your help to fight plans to extend a hospital smoking ban to neighbouring roads.

The BBC ran the story yesterday:

A hospital plans to make the streets around it a smoke-free zone - asking people not to light up in nearby roads.

The Birmingham Children's Hospital site has been smoke-free since 2005, but the trust now hopes to deter smoking on Steelhouse Lane and Whittle Street ...

Plans were put together by the hospital working with the city council, the trust said.

It said it was in a bid to address concerns from children and visitors that smoking in public spaces around the site, particularly close to the main entrance, was making the environment "unhealthy".

Wearing my Forest hat, here's my reaction:

"I can understand why they don't want people smoking close to the main entrance but restricting smoking in neighbouring streets is ridiculous.

"The trust is looking for a problem that doesn't exist. There's no evidence that smoking outside is harmful to anyone other than the smoker.

"When you walk past someone smoking in the street your exposure to tobacco smoke is minimal. You may not like the fleeting smell but that's no reason to ban it.

"Erecting signs and employing people to patrol the area to stop people smoking is an appalling waste of taxpayers' money.

"The NHS deserves better than to be run by faceless bureaucrats who waste their time and our money coming up with petty schemes like this."

See Hospital's 'smoke free' streets plan condemned by Forest.

The press release includes some of the comments that have been posted on our Facebook page. And this is where you come in ...

The trust's plans are subject to a six-week consultation. Submissions only take a minute or two to complete so please make your views known.

Now might also be a good moment to read (or re-read) last year's report, Smoked Out: The Hyper-Regulation of Smoking in Outdoor Public Places that we published in conjunction with the Manifesto Club.

You can download it here.

By coincidence the Manifesto Club has today announced that it is organising a "weekend of protest" (on August 6 and 7) against powers "that allow councils to ban activities if they believe these to have a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life'."

Further information to follow.

Update: Discussing the hospital story on BBC WM tomorrow (Friday).