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MEPs enjoying a smoke in the European Parliament

Former Forest spokesman Brian Monteith who is now a Brexit party MEP sent me this photo last week.

It features Brian and his Brexit party colleague Claire Fox enjoying what Brian calls a ‘legal puff inside the Strasbourg Parliament building - in one of the many smoking booths!!!!!’

As Claire revealed when she spoke at Forest’s 40th anniversary dinner at Boisdale last month, smoking rooms are one of many benefits MEPs enjoy in Strasbourg and Brussels.

Her comments were noted by the London Evening Standard which reported:

Claire Fox, the Brexit Party MEP, was “shocked” to discover “a really startling, murky, dirty secret right in the heart of the European Parliament”.

The Moral Maze panellist told a Boisdale dinner last night that what amazed her were the “smoking rooms on every floor”. “How sensible, how civilised, how humane,” she said, before stressing: “I haven’t gone native.”

Obviously we think smoking booths, or lounges, are a great idea in buildings where smoking is otherwise banned.

Isn’t it typical, though, that MEPs and staff working in the European Parliament are allowed them while the overwhelming majority of smokers in EU member states have to light up outside, whatever the weather.

As ever it’s one law for the ruling elite, another for the rest of us.

Brian meanwhile has promised to send more photos of MEPs behaving ‘badly’. Watch this space.


Deborah Arnott rewrites history - the cheek of it!!

BBC Cambridgeshire yesterday asked, ‘Do you think the government can get everyone to quit smoking in ten years’ time?’

Presenter Chris Mann began his mid morning programme by interviewing Mark MacGregor of Philip Morris UK.

The company yesterday launched an online app that allows you to find out the prevalence of smokers in every constituency in the country. It's simple to use and quite smart, actually.

Based on Office for National Statistics’ figures it will be used, I imagine, to put lobby MPs whose constituencies have a smoking rate higher than the national average.

The Telegraph ran a report about it and gave it the absurd headline, ‘Smoking is almost entirely a northern pastime, new analysis finds’.

Clearly this isn’t true but I love the fact that in the minds of some non-smoking, middle class Southerners smoking can now be classified alongside ferrets, pigeon racing and rugby league.

I don’t know if Forest’s quizzical tweet had anything to do with it (‘Really? No-one smokes in London or the south of England?) but the headline was changed soon after to ‘Labour constituencies in the North have highest number of smokers’.

Anyway, Mann's interview with a silky smooth Mark MacGregor was followed by an interview with me and Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared airtime with Deborah. I don’t dislike her and I don’t think she dislikes me particularly, but there is an edge to her whenever we speak or meet.

Yesterday, after I spoke positively about e-cigarettes (as I have done for the best part of a decade), she accused me of being a “hypocrite”. According to Deborah:

I tried to get him, to encourage him and his organisation, if it was about the rights of smokers, to support alternative products. It was only when the companies that fund his organisation started to produce these products that he started to say anything about it. So, you know, I just think you can’t really listen to anything he has to say.

Talk about rewriting history! I almost choked on my almond croissant.

Given a right of reply by Chris Mann I said that being called a hypocrite by Deborah was a case of ‘pot, kettle, black’. I also pointed out that I have been writing about e-cigarettes since 2010.

In contrast I don’t remember Deborah taking much interest in the subject until a few years later, and even then her endorsement of e-cigarettes was lukewarm at best.

See, for example, my review of the first E-Cigarette Summit in London in November 2013. It included this passage:

If the E-Cigarette Summit was about the future someone really should have told Deborah. She and ASH are stuck in the past, fighting battles with the tobacco companies that are well past their sell-by date.

As for those pesky e-cigs, they are potentially highly addictive, she warned. Toxic too. And they could renormalise smoking.

She doesn't want to ban them but ASH want e-cigs advertised to smokers only. (How's that going to work?)

Honestly, when Deborah is in this mood I wouldn't want to be stuck in a lift with her.

As it happens I bumped into her very briefly at lunch. She expressed mock surprise that I was at a conference on "harm reduction".

I tried to explain that I was there because a lot of smokers (who don't want to quit) use e-cigs when they're not allowed to light up – in pubs and other enclosed public places – but I don't think she was listening.

In her mind, and those of many tobacco control campaigners, e-cigs have one use only – as a smoking cessation aid. The idea that someone might want to smoke and/or vape for pleasure is anathema to them.

Earlier that year, in May 2013, ASH issued a press release about e-cigarettes that had an important caveat:

"E-cigarettes should be brought under the control of medicines regulation [my emphasis] to ensure that they are safe to use and marketed appropriately.”

The following month ASH welcomed new regulations that would license e-cigarettes as a medicine in the UK from 2016 (see 'E-cigarettes face new restrictions', BBC News, June 2013).

Long before that Forest's support for e-cigarettes was unequivocal. In February 2013, for example, I wrote:

I was invited to discuss e-cigarettes on BBC Radio Jersey last week.

It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. It highlights however what I think is a serious weakness. Where are the spokesmen for e-cigarettes?

Apart from Michael Ryan, co-director of E-Lites, who appeared recently on Scottish Television, the e-cigarette industry is largely invisible in that respect.

Yes, there is a thriving vaping community online but where are they when it comes to bread and butter campaigning? Most of the time they are preaching to the converted.

As a champion of consumer choice Forest is happy to support and defend the use of e-cigarettes (and other smokeless tobacco products).

My concern is that, media wise, a vacuum is developing that may be filled by e-cigarette spokesmen who are profoundly anti-smoking and no more tolerant of tobacco than ASH or the BMA.

Now Deborah is trying to rewrite history and claim that she tried to encourage me ‘to support alternative products’. The absolute cheek of it!

The truth is, it’s Deborah who belatedly decided to reposition ASH as a vaper-friendly advocacy group. To do so she had to abandon the idea that "E-cigarettes should be brought under the control of medicines regulation", but let's not forget that's the position she previously held.

Today her support for e-cigarettes is still limited to the notion that they are nothing more than a smoking cessation tool.

Also, I am still waiting for ASH to repudiate workplace vaping bans introduced by local councils or the excessive restrictions on vaping products and marketing introduced by the EU's Tobacco Products Directive.

Two weeks ago I suggested that tobacco control campaigners like Deborah are trying to colonise the vaping ‘space’ and her latest attack on me/Forest is further proof that she wants to drive out alternative voices.

“I spend a lot of time talking to vapers,” she told BBC presenter Chris Mann yesterday. Perhaps, but she’s not alone in that.

Meanwhile, what about smokers who don’t want to quit? Does she spend a lot of time talking to them as well?

Unlike ASH, Forest has always been extremely positive about e-cigarettes and heat not burn technology because we genuinely believe in choice, not a half-arsed version of it that applies only to non-smokers and those who want to quit smoking.

Our reservations about some vaping advocates has nothing to do with the product but the people, many of whom are lifestyle control campaigners or prohibitionists like Deborah.

Anyway, yesterday's interview concluded with this exchange:

Chris Mann: presenter, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
So that question of do you think the government can get everyone to quit smoking within 10 years. Deborah, yes or no?

Deborah Arnott
 Yes, but they need to do more and they need to make the tobacco industry pay for things like public education campaigns to help encourage young people not to start and adult smokers to stop and that means switching to e-cigarettes.

Chris Mann
OK. Simon Clark, same question.

Simon Clark
No, I don't think it can be possible to stop people smoking by 2030 because a lot of people enjoy smoking, they don’t wish to quit and they certainly won't be forced to quit by people like Deborah nagging them all the time.

Chris Mann
Thank you both for being here. That’s Simon Clark from Forest and Deborah Arnott, I'm guessing not on his Christmas card list, chief executive of public health charity Action on Smoking and Health.

You can hear the full item, including the interview with Mark MacGregor of Philip Morris, here.


Forest's 40th anniversary dinner - presentations and speeches

If you have a spare moment here are the presentations and speeches from Forest’s 40th anniversary dinner last month.

The full video, which includes my opening address, can also be viewed on YouTube here.

If you don’t have the time (or the inclination!) to watch the whole thing we have edited the film into a series of short videos.

They include the toast given by Dr Madsen Pirie, president of the Adam Smith Institute, plus presentations to Brian Monteith, the former Forest spokesman and MSP who is now a member of the European parliament, and TV chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson.

You can also watch our principal speakers, Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas and MEP for the Brexit party.

To watch on YouTube click on the title of each video below.

Dr Madsen Pirie: "[George] Orwell celebrated freedom, as we do tonight. He reminds us that the quality of life is not measured in years, it's measured in achievement and enjoyment."

Brian Monteith: “Forest has been an inspiration because it has not just thought of itself, as many single issue campaigns do, it has thought of the broader picture.”

Antony Worrall Thompson: “I want you all to know that whatever our next campaign is going to be I’ll be behind it because it’s all about freedom of choice.”

Mark Littlewood: “It may feel like 40 years of hurt but that never stopped me dreaming. Freedom is coming home.”

Claire Fox: “Whether you’re a smoker or a non-smoker, whether you’re Remain or Leave, these things are about how we view a free society.”


50th anniversary of the tangerine dream

Since the war it’s been rare for professional football clubs to change their primary colours.

Leeds did it in the Sixties, changing from royal blue shirts to an all white kit inspired by Real Madrid.

There may be other examples but the one I’m most familiar with is Dundee United which changed from white to tangerine in 1969, 50 years ago.

The story behind it is quite interesting, if you like football. If you don’t, look away now.

In 1967 United were one of a number of European clubs invited to spend the summer competing in one of America’s first attempts at a professional ‘soccer’ league.

In the absence of home grown clubs and players, the Americans simply imported foreign teams and rebranded them.

United, for example, became Dallas Tornado and wore an all tangerine strip with blue and white trim.

Given the nature of American ‘soccer’ in the late Sixties the story gets a bit complicated after that but in 1969 United were again invited to represent Dallas Tornado, this time in something called the International Cup.

At the same time, allegedly at the suggestion of manager Jerry Kerr’s wife, United decided to change their own colours from white (with black trim) to tangerine (with black trim).

And here’s the irony. My family moved to Scotland in May 1969 and the reason I decided to support United rather than their rivals Dundee (who play in dark blue and white) was based on nothing more than the fact that I preferred United’s strip - the all white strip.

Unknown to me the decision to change had already been made and on August 4, 1969, United played their first match - a friendly against Everton - in their new colours.

On August 30, at the age of ten, I watched United for the first time. It was against Rangers and the score was 0-0 but what I remember most was the crowd - a roaring mass of 22,000 people, the capacity at the time.

I went to that game with my father - we stood in a small enclosure close to the pitch - but he had little interest in football. To his credit I think he took me so I knew how to get to the ground by myself in future.

Thereafter, every other Saturday, year after year, I made my own way to Tannadice, usually alone because none of my friends at school in St Andrews supported United.

The new colour grew on me although I remember my first replica kit raising a few eyebrows the first time I wore it.

To say it stood out in the sea of blue and green and white hooped replica shirts is an understatement.

The new strip also coincided with the new era of colour television. A day or two after we got our first colour TV in 1972, the highlights of United versus Aberdeen were featured on BBC Scotland.

I missed that game so I was excited at the thought of seeing United - in tangerine - on the telly.

Instead, to avoid a clash with Aberdeen’s all red strip, they played in their second kit - which was all white!

(It didn’t help that the quality of the picture was terrible. I don’t think United’s floodlights were good enough for the cameras at that time.)

However, what most supporters consider to be the ‘classic’ United strip - probably because it coincided with the club’s most successful period - is not all tangerine at all but has black shorts, an important difference.

They were introduced by Adidas in the mid Seventies to replicate the look of the great Dutch team led by Johan Cruyff. (I’m sure the company issued a statement comparing United to the double World Cup finalists.)

Every so often an all tangerine kit reappears and you can hear the collective sigh of disappointment from supporters, never more than in 2017/18 when the shoulders appeared to be a weird shade of rust brown.

I didn’t mind it, to be fair. These kits however ...

Anyway the 2019/20 strip was unveiled this week and thankfully - because it would have been easy for the new American owners to pay homage to the original Dallas Tornado kit - new kit suppliers Macron have given most supporters exactly what they want (see below).

If you think a 60-year-old man writing about football strips must have lost his mind, you’re probably right.

Nevertheless United - and that tangerine kit - have been a big part of my life.

On a Saturday afternoon, with the silvery Tay glistening in the background and the sun shining down on those brightly coloured tangerine seats, there are few other places I’d rather be.


Can NHS trusts in England fine smokers for lighting up on hospital grounds?

Leicestershire Live reports:

Outlawing smoking on hospital sites is the only way people could be stopped from lighting up outside Leicester's hospitals, according to the man who is in charge of them.

Chief Executive of Leicester's Hospitals, John Adler said that he has considered lobbying central government to add hospital campuses to list of places where it is illegal to smoke.

According to Adler

“What would have made things easier for us is that if when smoking was outlawed in other public places, that the ban included hospital sites.

“Looking back, it would have made sense for that to happen and it’s a shame that no one thought to do it then.

“We have signs placed around the campus and shelters but it is very difficult for us to enforce.

“It is something I have considered lobbying the government about, with the law as it is, it is very difficult for us to stop people smoking outside and near to our buildings and on our sites.”

The report appeared this morning and follows the announcement earlier this week that Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust is to fine smokers caught lighting up on their hospital grounds.

How is it possible for one hospital trust to fine smokers while another one can’t?

I took a closer look at the email I received yesterday from the Sandwell and West Birmingham comms team.

The last paragraph read:

The Trust employs directly smoking wardens and security staff plus an external provider, accredited by the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS).

According to the government website:

CSAS is a voluntary scheme under which chief constables can choose to accredit employed people already working in roles that contribute to maintaining and improving community safety with limited but targeted powers. These roles include neighbourhood wardens, hospital security guards, park wardens, shopping mall guards and train guards.

The scheme creates a framework for public and private bodies to work in partnership with the police, providing additional uniformed presence in communities and capitalising on the skills and information captured by those already engaged with the community.

Accredited persons may be given ‘all, some or none’ of a number of powers. The government website lists 22 including the power to issue penalty notices for disorder, truancy, dog fouling, cycling on a footpath, graffiti, fly-posting and littering.

Nowhere does it mention the power to issue penalty notices for smoking in an outdoor public place (specifically, hospital grounds).

Tobacco does get a mention but only in one, very specific, regard. The CSAS gives accredited persons the ‘power to seize tobacco from a person aged under 16’.

Other CSAS powers concern begging, traffic control, the removal of abandoned vehicles and the under age possession of alcohol.

Again, no mention of smoking.

The CSAS also gives accredited individuals the power ‘to issue fixed penalty notices in relation to offences against certain bye-laws’ but to the best of my knowledge there is no bye-law in Birmingham making it an offence to smoke on hospital grounds.

If there was surely the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust would have said so in their email to me yesterday.

There is of course the catch-all offence of ‘disorder’ but I’ve yet to hear smoking described in those terms. Indeed, the list of ‘offences for which accredited persons may issue a fixed penalty notice for disorder’ is a long one but it doesn’t include smoking on hospital grounds.

Instead it includes wasting police time, behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, throwing fireworks, selling or attempting to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk, the sale of alcohol anywhere to a person under 18, trespassing on a railway, throwing stones at a train, and using public electronic communications network to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.

Based on what I have read I am struggling to see how Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust can use the scheme to issue penalty notices and fines for smoking on hospital grounds.

The Trust also declares that:

On being seen smoking on our grounds, smoking wardens will request that the individual stops smoking and explain our smokefree policy.

Should the individual refuse and persist in smoking, the warden will take the name and address of the individual and will check their identity. The Trust will then issue then with a letter with the date, time and location of being seen smoking, an invoice, information about how to appeal ... etc.

The Community Safety Accreditation Scheme does indeed give accredited persons the ‘power to require name and address’ but only for road traffic offences, anti-social behaviour, or if there is reason to believe a person ‘has committed a relevant offence’.

Smoking on hospital grounds is not yet an offence so why should smokers be expected to give their name and address to a complete stranger, accredited or otherwise?

Finally, when I was searching for information about the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme last night I found this 2015 briefing document from the Manifesto Club - Should private security guards have police powers? Analysis of the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme.

I urge you to read the whole thing. It’s a real eye-opener. Here’s a taste:

The most widespread power is the power to request name and address. In practice, this means that the accredited person can pass on information about an individual to the police - for example, to recommend that they receive a Penalty Notice for Disorder. It also means that council officials can compel a member of the public to give their name and address (for the receipt of a litter fine, for example). Thus litter authorities gain a compulsive power previously only associated with the police.

Many accredited organisations, including councils and private security companies, also have the powers of alcohol and tobacco confiscation. Alcohol confiscation powers, provided for in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 20013, mean that an official can require an individual to stop drinking, or to hand over their alcohol. There are no specified limits on how the power may be used. A person does not have to be behaving in a disorderly manner; it is only required that the officer ‘reasonably believes that a person is, or has been, consuming...alcohol’.

Finally, and most worryingly, some accredited persons have been given power to issue Penalty Notices for Disorder (PND). These on-the-spot penalties for criminal offences can be recorded on the Police National Computer, and return on people’s enhanced CRB checks. Our survey found that 34 accredited organisations have the power to issue PNDs, including private security companies, shopping centres, and transport companies. Accredited persons can issue PNDs for offences including: causing ‘harassment, alarm and distress’ (Public Order Act); use of ‘public electronic communications to cause annoyance’; the sale of alcohol to under-18s; and for refusing a request to surrender alcohol.

This then is the scheme that Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust intends to employ to bring smokers to heel.

Can it really be used to target and fine smokers? It’s open to interpretation (anti-social behaviour?) but it’s revealing that no other NHS trust has used the CSAS to punish smokers.

Indeed, according to the chief executive of Leicester's Hospitals, the only way people can be stopped from lighting up on hospital sites is to outlaw it completely which leaves the question:

Is the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust bluffing?


Hospital declines to reveal under what law it can fine smokers for lighting up

On Wednesday I wrote to Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS trust asking under what law or by-law they could fine smokers £50 for lighting up on the grounds.

It followed this report in the Birmingham Mail (Hospital bosses: If you smoke on our site, even in your car, we will fine you £50).

My email read:

Dear Sirs,

It has been reported that Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals NHS trust is to fine people caught smoking on hospitals grounds. This will include people caught smoking in their own cars if they are parked on the relevant property.

'Patrols,' we are told, 'will be out and about dishing out penalties on two hospital sites.'

I would be grateful if you could advise me on the relevant law (or by-law) that allows Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals NHS trust to issue fines to people caught smoking on the grounds of the hospitals, or in their own cars.

I look forward to an early response.

Your faithfully,

This afternoon I got this reply:

Dear Mr. Clark,

In relation to your recent query please find the below information. This information has also been put on our website.

Kind regards,

The Communications Team
Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust

Enforcing our smokefree ban

We want and expect people to stop smoking on our sites. All of our staff are encouraged to ask smokers to stop smoking on site. Additionally we have smoking wardens and security officers on regular patrols.

We are enforcing our smokefree ban by fining people who contravene our smokefree site status. This fine is maximum of £50 and £30 if paid within 15 days of notification.

On being seen smoking on our grounds, smoking wardens will request that the individual stops smoking and explain our smokefree policy.

Should the individual refuse and persist in smoking, the warden will take the name and address of the individual and will check their identity. The Trust will then issue then with a letter with:

• The date, time and location of being seen smoking
• An invoice
• Information about how to appeal
• A discount to £30 if they pay within 15 days
• Information on how to pay
• The Trust will then continue to follow up notifications of fines to the individual’s address should they not pay within 29 days of receiving the letter.

The Trust employs directly smoking wardens and security staff plus an external provider, accredited by the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS).

I have replied to that email as follows:

Dear Comms Team,

Thank you for your response. As you are no doubt aware, it doesn't answer my question.

I asked whether you could advise me of the relevant law (or by-law) that allows Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals NHS trust to issue fines to people caught smoking on the grounds of the hospitals, or in their own cars.

In other words, under what law or by-law does Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals NHS trust have the power to enforce a smoking ban and fine those who ignore it?

I would be grateful for an answer to that simple question.

Yours faithfully,

If there was a law or by-law that allow them to fine people for smoking on hospital grounds surely they would cite it?

If not, how can they be so confident they have the legal right to do so?

It beggars belief that the trust hasn't taken legal advice. Perhaps they'd like to share it with us?

Btw, I have raised the matter with the Birmingham Post but they're not interested.

No wonder local papers are dying on their arse if they won't follow up the most basic stuff like this.


My brush with Vice and its help to quit smoking project, Change Incorporated

You may recall that back in January I was interviewed by a freelance journalist working for Vice magazine

He had been commissioned, he said, to write a feature about the ‘smoking lobby’, whatever that is.

This wasn’t a quick ten-minute interview on the phone. He came up to London from Oxford, I travelled in from Cambridgeshire, and we met, at my suggestion, at Boisdale of Belgravia.

We talked for the best part of two hours and parted on amicable terms.

I was under no illusions though. I knew enough about Vice to be wary. The tone is often pretty snarky and I didn’t expect the ‘smoking lobby’ to be painted in a positive light.

Anyway, February and March came and went and the article didn’t appear. I emailed the journalist and he said he thought it was going to be published in April.

That didn’t happen either.

Instead Vice launched an online project called Change Incorporated. Funded by Philip Morris International for a sum rumoured to be £5 million, the project is supposed to help people quit smoking but I’m not sure who would be influenced by its relentless propaganda.

Here are some headlines:

It Broke My Heart to Watch Them Die
Are Festivals Doing Enough to Phase Out Smoking?
Can You Really Cough Up Your Lungs?
How Smoking Increases Chances of Genital Warts
This Is How Smoking Makes Your Penis Shrink
How Smoking is Ruining Your Sex Life
Is Smoking a Deal-Breaker on Tinder?

Anyway, it’s now July. The Vice magazine feature for which I was interviewed in January has still not been published (I guess it never will) but last Friday I received an email from someone working for ... Change Incorporated.

It was from a ‘casting producer’ who explained that she was ‘working on a series of short films for Change Incorporated ... which follows the journey of comedians who want to quit smoking’.

I wondered whether a representative from your organisation might be interested in chatting with one of our comedians about your views around smoking? 

Once again I said yes and on Monday I got a call from a second person working on the same series of films and we had a chat.

I struggled frankly to understand what my role would be but I couldn’t fault his enthusiasm. He sounded like Jack Whitehall which made me wonder if the whole thing was a spoof.

I was told that if they used me they would pay me a fee. I thanked him but said I didn’t want payment.

I added that while I was prepared to consider taking part I had serious reservations about the Change Incorporated project and the anti-smoking stance of its sponsor PMI.

That was on Monday. I haven’t heard a peep since.


AWT – expletive not deleted

A special guest at Forest's 40th anniversary dinner last month was TV chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson.

Antony was a great help to Forest when we were fighting the smoking ban.

He did countless interviews on television and radio. He also hosted Forest events at his restaurant in Notting Hill and the media-friendly Groucho Club in Soho where he was a member.

In 2009 he helped launch the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign at a pub in Westminster and he also sponsored a petition calling on the government to amend the ban to allow separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

Anyway, we were delighted that he and his wife wife Jay were able to join us for our little celebration and we decided to present him with a gift of rum and cigars to thank him for his support.

What we didn't expect is what happened when he came on stage.

To view the video on YouTube click here. It's the only time I have ever got a proper laugh at a public event so do share it.