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Diary of a Political Campaign

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Wednesday
Nov262014

The Independent Reviewer of ASA Adjudications is sorry but ...

I'm loathe to return to the subject because it bores me as much as it must bore you.

Nevertheless I thought you should know the final outcome of the complaint we took to the Advertising Standards Authority concerning a Department of Health advertisement first broadcast on television in December 2012.

The matter has been dragging on for almost two years but here's a brief resume:

Smokers will be told that just 15 cigarettes cause a mutation that can lead to cancerous tumours in a return to hard-hitting health campaigns, the Department of Health announced today.

Government launches £2.7m campaign on "hidden dangers" of smoking (Taking Liberties, December 28, 2012)

Our complaint was based on two counts: misleading information and lack of substantiation.

The ASA executive conducted a frustratingly long but ultimately thorough investigation during which no fewer than three recommendations were drafted upholding our complaint.

The DH challenged the first two but having given government officials every opportunity to defend the ad the executive drafted a third and final recommendation that still upheld our complaint. This was then forwarded to the ASA Council for ratification.

What happened next was extraordinary but hardly unexpected. Ignoring the recommendation of its own staff, the Council sided with the DH and rejected our complaint!

Our only option was to ask Sir Hayden Phillips, the Independent Reviewer of ASA Adjudications, to look at the Council's decision.

Our request was hand delivered to his office on August 4. A few days later we received an acknowledgement and a fairly long-winded explanation of his role.

I didn't hold out much hope and I was right. Having reviewed the case Sir Hayden is "not persuaded on this occasion that the [ASA] Council has made substantially flawed decisions within the proper limits of its own responsibilities".

In somewhat plainer English, he wrote:

The Council is not bound to follow recommendations from the executive or, indeed, I have to say, from an expert who has been appointed. The central issue I have to consider is therefore not one of process but of whether the rationale for the Council’s ruling is reasonable and defensible.

Furthermore:

As I said in my letter to you of 7 August it is not my role to substitute my judgement for that of the Council but to understand their reasons for reaching the judgement which they have and to consider whether a complainant has presented persuasive reasons that a ruling is unreasonable or unfair.

I am not persuaded that is the case. The Council followed their expert’s advice on the science but not his view on interpretation; which they are fully entitled to do if their view is a defensible one and not perverse or irrational. It seems to me to be neither of those.

Case A13-218177 is therefore closed and there is nothing more we can do. Nor would I want to, frankly. The process was a joke from start to finish.

The ASA executive allowed the DH to challenge not one but two draft recommendations. When the executive upheld our complaint for a third time the ASA Council - chaired by former Labour minister Lord Smith - gave the DH a get-out-of-jail card by rejecting its recommendation!

The Council may be entitled to over-rule recommendations from the executive but despite Sir Hayden's best efforts to explain the process it still seems odd.

There is however some small consolation in the fact that Sir Hayden also wrote:

May I say that having examined all the papers on the ASA file I can totally understand why your review request is expressed as such a strong letter of protest at both the process and the eventual adjudication. You went through an 18 month investigation which increasingly frustrated you in its length and in which you received no less than three Draft Recommendations which all proposed to uphold your complaint.

I can therefore fully understand why you find it difficult to believe that the Council could take a different view from the Executive. But it did and I am afraid it was, in procedural terms, fully entitled to do so. There can be no flaw of process in that respect as draft recommendations are exactly what they say they are and rulings are entirely matters for the Council.

Re-reading his letter I note he also uses the word "sorry" three times:

I am sorry it has taken me so long to give you my substantive response ...

I am therefore sorry to say that I am not persuaded on this occasion …

And finally:

I realise that this decision will be a disappointment to you, especially given the length of the process and then its outcome, and for that I am sorry.

Yes, we get it – you're sorry, Sir Hayden! Fat lot of good that is.

See also these previous posts on the subject: Spot the difference: how the Advertising Standards Authority changed its tune (July 30), At last, the ASA verdict on Forest complaint about DH "mutation" ad (July 30), On the record: that Forest-ASA correspondence in full (July 31), Bad week for the Advertising Standards Authority and the Department of Health (August 3).

Next ... the ASA rules against Smoke Spots. Fancy that!

Tuesday
Nov252014

E-cig gateway claim "unfounded", first official figures reveal

BBC News is reporting that:

The concern electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking might be unfounded, the first official UK figures suggest.

Data from the Office for National Statistics indicate those who use e-cigarettes, are almost entirely current or former smokers.

Full report: E-cigarette 'lure' fears might be unfounded (BBC News)

Inevitably there's a rider:

Most of the figures from the ONS are for the year 2013, so it is possible that the picture is still changing.

Nevertheless the stats support those who say there's no evidence vaping leads to smoking.

In contrast those public health campaigners who have stoked up fears, warning of an apocalyptic future in which hundreds of thousands of non-smokers (including children) use e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking – well, they're looking pretty stupid today.

The question though is this:

How many more "unfounded" claims will do the rounds before people finally recognise the truth about the anti-smoking industry?

Nothing tobacco control campaigners say should be taken seriously until it is throughly investigated with proper research and genuine statistics (not estimates and calculations).

As one or two people commented here last week, perhaps e-cigarettes will generate the cracks that will see the edifice of public health collapse in a heap, buried beneath its own hubris.

I'm not holding my breath though.

Monday
Nov242014

What matters more: freedom of choice or harm reduction?

I had an interesting meeting last week.

It was with someone who wanted to know more about our new campaign, Action on Consumer Choice.

He was particularly interested in our plans to defend e-cigarettes and vaping.

"But what?" he asked, "is your USP?"

It was a fair question. There are numerous groups and individuals – including tobacco control campaigners – already fighting on behalf of vapers so what makes our initiative different?

The clue is in the name.

"Freedom of choice," I replied.

That, I believe, is the difference between us and everyone else bar a handful of advocates like Dick Puddlecote and Chris Snowdon.

We believe in freedom of choice for all nicotine consumers. Can that be said of the majority of e-cig users? I'm not sure it can.

It certainly can't be said of the tobacco control campaigners who have become outspoken supporters of e-cigarettes.

With few exceptions they are driven by one thing and one thing only – harm reduction.

Nothing wrong with that. Harm reduction is a laudable, even admirable, goal.

But, and here's my point: in a free society freedom of choice is no less important.

You rarely hear that argument from advocates of e-cigarettes. All I hear are the words "harm reduction" repeated ad nauseum as if nothing else matters.

Of course we support harm reduction – it would be insane not to – but we also support an adult's right to make an informed choice to smoke tobacco, which is still a legal product.

After all, if harm reduction was the only goal think what it could mean for other potentially hazardous activities.

Average speed cameras would become the norm; drinkers would be restricted to one pint of beer a day; tackling would be eliminated from every form of rugby, and so on.

Sadly, in their understandable but holier-than-thou enthusiasm for a product that may or may not prolong their lives, a great many vapers have lost sight of the bigger picture.

So the answer to the headline 'What matters more: freedom of choice or harm reduction?' is … 'neither'. They are equally important.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Forest's USP.

Sunday
Nov232014

Neil Lennon: voice of reason in a mad and chaotic world

There was an interesting interview with Neil Lennon in the Daily Mail last week.

Like many Scottish football supporters I had an image of the former Celtic manager I didn't like. You see it in a lot of vertically challenged footballers who play for Celtic and Rangers.

Arrogant, chippy, call it what you will … there's a swagger about them that is out of all proportion to their ability on the field.

Nothing however justified the bullets in the post or the on-field assault on Lennon by a Hearts supporter.

Then, when Lennon began appearing on MOTD as a pundit, my opinion of him changed. Here was an intelligent man with strong, articulate and insightful opinions on the game (unlike most of his colleagues).

Better still, he had a sense of humour.

The interview in the Mail covered a range of subjects, not least the sectarian issue that eventually persuaded Lennon he'd had enough of "the chaos and the madness".

But I was also struck by this statement:

"I would encourage the players to go out at Celtic now and again. I am not saying they should go out and get bevvied every week, far from it. There is a time and place for it. But they should be able to let their hair down.

"The problem is that we make it a big issue. Jack Wilshere has a fag. So what? It's not gonna end his career. But someone takes a photo and then he has to apologise.

"I played with players who smoked all the time, especially the French players. They loved a cigarette after the game or even before.

"I take a lot from [former Celtic manager] Martin [O'Neil]. He was a great man-manager and you would run through walls for him.

"The main aim is to get the respect of the players and for them to buy into what you are doing and then have some fun with it. Football should be about fun and that can get lost."

These are sensible words not just in relation to football but to life in general.

Unfortunately most politicians and public health campaigners are devoid of man-management skills. They hector, lecture and coerce in the hope of changing our behaviour.

In their zealous urge to reform the way we live and play they forget the fun factor. Consequently they lose our respect and we stop listening.

Perhaps this is something Arsene Wenger might chew on following his comments about the pictures of Jack Wilshire smoking whilst on holiday in Las Vegas: Arsène Wenger tells Jack Wilshere smoking is totally unacceptable.

After all, consider how well Wilshire played for England against Scotland last week and how he's been performing for Arsenal.

Perhaps one manager has been treating him like an adult whilst the other has been chewing his ear about his lifestyle until he lost respect and stopped listening.

Full interview with Neil Lennon here.

Thursday
Nov202014

The cost of obesity is more nanny state interventionism

Iain Dale never struck me as a gullible chap.

And yet, for an hour this evening, I listened as he repeatedly told his listeners on LBC that obesity is costing the UK £47 billion a year.

The figure, we were told, is almost as much as the cost of smoking (£57 billion).

This alarmist information was published today in a study that claimed "Obesity is a greater burden on the UK's economy than armed violence, war and terrorism":

The study, commissioned by consultancy firm McKinsey and Company, revealed obesity has the second-largest economic impact on the UK behind smoking, generating an annual loss equivalent to 3% of GDP.

Full story: Obesity 'costs UK £47bn a year' (Daily Mail)

To be fair to Iain, who is reasonably libertarian on lifestyle issues, he didn't hide his belief in personal responsibility, nor did he agree with callers who wanted the government to "do something" if only "for the children".

I would however like to have heard someone challenging the figures because estimates and calculations such as this have a habit of gaining currency through repetition.

A decade ago, for example, were were told that treating smoking-related diseases costs the NHS £1.5 billion a year. There was no evidence to support the claim. It was an estimate.

This guess later rose to £2.5 billion and it's been rising ever since.

In response to the hard fact (based on Treasury figures) that tobacco raises £10-12 billion for the government every year, anti-smoking campaigners had to come up with a new estimate for the cost of smoking.

According to ASH:

The total cost to society (in England) is approximately £12.9 billion a year. This includes the cost to the NHS of treating diseases caused by smoking in England which is approximately £2 billion a year. Other costs include:

loss in productivity due to premature deaths (£3bn)
cost to businesses of smoking breaks (£5bn)
smoking-related sick days (£1bn)
social care costs of older smokers (£1.1bn)
costs of fires caused by smokers' materials (£391m)

See The Economics of Tobacco (ASH, 2014)

Note how the cost of treating smoking-related diseases (most of which are multifactorial) has become the more definitive "diseases caused by smoking". When did that happen?

As for those other figures, where is the hard evidence? In most cases it doesn't exist because the figures are based on estimates and calculations – just like the number of deaths said to be caused by smoking and passive smoking.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, however, the economic cost of smoking is actually far higher – £57 billion a year in the UK alone!

What are we to make of that, and the alleged cost of obesity (£47 billion)? Do we meekly accept the figures are correct and act accordingly?

One caller to Iain Dale's LBC show complained about the number of takeaway food shops that had opened in her area.

Iain rightly pointed out that shops generally open and thrive where there's a demand but the implication of the call was clear: the government should step in and close them down, or prevent them opening in the first place.

According to the McKinsey report a series of 44 interventions could bring 20 per cent of overweight or obese people in UK back to normal weight within five to 10 years. They include:

Portion control in fast food packaged goods
Investing in parental education
Introducing healthy meals in schools and workplaces.
Changing the school curriculum to include more physical exercise
Encouraging more physical activities by introducing bicycle lanes

I'd love to see what the other 39 interventions are, not to mention the cost of all those bicycle lanes. The mind boggles.

Meanwhile, talking of bicycles, can I draw your attention to this hilarious tweet by the BBC's Jeremy Vine:

Unbelievably, Vine was stopped by a policeman with a hand held radar gun for cycling at more than six miles per hour in a cycle lane in Hyde Park.

The lesson seems to be: take up cycling to keep fit and lose weight and risk falling foul of the law for peddling too quickly.

It's similar to vaping: quit smoking for a healthier alternative and risk a fine for vaping in a public place.

Like the McKinsey report, you couldn't make it up.

Update: Thankfully not everyone is as gullible as the mainstream media: Obese people cost us £47bn? The Adam Smith Institute rips that to shreds in one comment (London Loves Business).

Chris Snowdon has also commented here.

Wednesday
Nov192014

The canonisation of Clive Bates

"Clive Bates has just published another brilliant post. It's a pity smokers have no Clive Bates!" writes Vapingpoint Liz.

The gist of her post, published yesterday, is that Clive is expertly picking apart the junk science surrounding e-cigarettes and smokers need someone like that on their side too.

Says Liz:

I wish someone would question the dodgy science about second hand smoke too - in defence of smokers and the warped fracturing of society that THAT dodgy science has caused. The anti smoking ideology, and the massive worldwide industry it has now become, needs to be unpicked piece by piece on the basis of the faulty science it has promoted.

Clive is a shrewd, sincere and intelligent campaigner. I have a lot of respect for him but I must point out – not for the first time – that the idolatry (#ImWithClive) that greets his every word is ironic because in my opinion he must take some share of the blame for the culture of intolerance that has swept the nation with regard to smoking and, by association, nicotine.

As director of ASH Clive was no stranger to fear mongering about passive smoking. Few of the allegations made much sense and during his time in charge the threat of second hand smoke was repeatedly debunked.

In April 2002, for example, following an exhaustive six-month investigation during which written and oral evidence was put forward by ASH, Cancer Research and Forest, among others, the Greater London Assembly Investigative Committee on Smoking in Public Places declined to recommend any further restrictions on smoking in public places.

According to Angie Bray, a joint author of the report:

The assembly spent six months investigating whether a smoking ban should be imposed in public places in London. After taking evidence from all sides, including health experts, it was decided that the evidence gathered did not justify a total smoking ban.

For Liz to suggest smokers need a Clive Bates ignores the fact that for several years there were people fighting the junk science on passive smoking. Sadly Clive wasn't one of them.

Those genuine freedom fighters included Ralph Harris who was chairman of Forest from 1987 until his death in 2006; Gian Turci; and Joe Jackson.

In 2005 Ralph (aka Lord Harris of High Cross) wrote a booklet published by Forest called 'Smoking Out The Truth: A Challenge to the Chief Medical Officer'. It began:

Hardly a week is allowed to pass without some new scare story about the perils of 'passive smoking'. One of the latest, based on an experiment in an Italian garage, is that tobacco smoke is more lethal than car exhaust fumes. Another was that 'passive smoking' is even more dangerous that direct smoking ...

As a lifelong pipe man I have increasingly come to mistrust the dogmatic vehemence with which the stop smoking (SS) brigade recycle their denunciations of 'passive smoking'. Certainly, smoke may be irritating or even upsetting to sensitive bystanders, as are popcorn, perfume and garlic on crowded tube trains. But lethal?

Despite a barrage of media publicity most non-smokers in my experience remained unmoved by dire warnings that tobacco smoke – massively diluted in the atmosphere – could actually kill them. It is this common sense implausibility that has goaded the tight network of anti-smoking lobbyists – ever more shrilly – to demonise ETS and brandish mounting estimates of its death toll.

I also have in front of me a report commissioned and published in 2005 by Forest. Entitled 'Prejudice and Propaganda: The Truth About Passive Smoking', it was researched and written by Gian Turci who loved nothing more than debunking junk science.

'Prejudice and Propaganda' began with some questions and answers about environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). For example:

Q: Why is the passive smoking argument so important to non-smokers?

A: Before the anti-smoking movement created what Dr Ken Denson of the Thame Thrombosis and Haemostasis Research Foundation called "the myth of passive smoking" smokers were largely tolerated by non-smokers. The general attitude was "They're only harming themselves." Anti-smokers therefore decided to argue that smokers were harming others around them which of course makes smoking "socially unacceptable".

It's a clever tactic and it's working. By constantly giving the impression (without ever proving) that ETS is a serious cause of ill health among non-smokers the anti-smoking lobby has been able to increase people's intolerance of smoking and deprive smokers of the important argument of free choice. In short: the anti-smoking movement has found passive smoking to be such an effective propaganda tool that objective science cannot be allowed to get in the way.

Clive was of course an active member of that anti-smoking movement.

Gian Turci's report featured a systematic examination of the evidence on the effects of passive smoking. In particular it listed all the studies available to 2004 that looked at the risk of lung cancer from ETS.

Having demonstrated the weakness of the antis' argument, Gian concluded:

The risk of getting lung cancer from passive smoking is minute in comparison to the risk of getting breast cancer from wearing a bra or leukaemia from eating twelve or more hot dogs each month or, more seriously, prostate cancer from drinking red wine.

He added:

Where does it all end? Should we forbid, control and regulate everything?

Sadly Gian is no longer around to answer his own question but the desire to "forbid, control and regulate" e-cigarettes was clearly inspired by the war on tobacco.

Another person fighting the good fight a decade ago was Joe Jackson. Joe may be a musician but I would argue he was as knowledgeable about the risks of smoking and second hand smoke as Clive is about the risks of vaping and e-cigarettes.

'The Smoking Issue' was published (but not commissioned) by Forest in 2004. An updated version, Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State, appeared in 2007.

Joe prefers the revised version. I like the original best. It was succinct, brilliantly written and made a powerful case. It began:

A couple of years ago I considered giving up my own moderate enjoyment of tobacco because of the constant barrage of horrific statistics. But anti-smoking propaganda in the USA (I was living mostly in New York) seemed so overblown, so hysterical, that I became sceptical.

So instead of giving up smoking, I started doing research. At first my mind was pretty open; I half expected to find that smoking was even worse than I thought and I decided that, since I wasn't a hardcore nicotine junkie, I could live without it.

Instead I've been astonished, again and again, by how flimsy much of the anti-smoking evidence really is. By now I'm absolutely convinced that the dangers of smoking (and 'secondhand smoke' in particular) are being greatly exaggerated for a number of reasons, many of which have less to do with health than with politics, money and fashion.

Copies of all three publications were delivered to MPs and the then Health Secretary John Reid. I know Reid shared our scepticism about the effects of passive smoking because Ralph Harris and I were in a private meeting with him when his chief advisor also questioned the evidence and Reid nodded his head in agreement.

Prior to writing 'The Smoking Issue' Joe had written articles for the New York Times and Daily Telegraph that attracted huge attention. He appeared on the Today programme and was invited to share a platform with John Reid at the 2004 Labour conference in Brighton, so you could say he was "a Clive Bates for smokers".

Unfortunately we were fighting opponents who were more than happy to use junk science to further their goal of a smoke free society. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter didn't exist so it was also very difficult to develop a groundswell of support among smokers or the general public who were largely apathetic.

More recently of course Chris Snowdon has done a great job highlighting the junk science that surrounds smoking and vaping. I'm thinking specifically of the smoking ban/heart attack "miracle" but I could list many more examples.

The great thing about Chris is that he exposes junk science wherever he finds it; he's not selective.

For avoidance of doubt I'm not questionng Clive's sincerity or his commitment to harm reduction, which is a perfectly honourable cause. I appreciate too that unlike many tobacco control campaigners he's not driven by a visceral hatred of the tobacco industry.

My point, quite simply, is this: Clive's canonisation by the vaping community ignores two important issues:

One, he helped create today's nicotine-intolerant society. Two, he supported questionable science when it suited him but when it doesn't he cries "foul".

Today he's doing a valuable job for vapers and it would be wrong not to acknowledge that or offer the vaping community our full support.

It's a pity though that our support for vapers isn't reciprocated by the likes of Clive Bates who rails against excessive regulation for smokeless tobacco yet supports both the smoking ban and plain packaging (for which there is still no evidence that it will reduce smoking rates).

I don't expect the level of support we happily offer vapers, merely a recognition that millions of adults choose to smoke tobacco knowing the health risks and they don't deserve to be bullied or stigmatised into quitting.

Is that too much to ask?

See also: Where is the empathy for smokers who don't want to quit?.

I also recommend this interview with Joe Jackson in the Telegraph in 2008 that refers to 'Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State' which the interviewer describes as "thoroughly researched and passionately argued".

A Clive Bates for smokers? We had one. Sadly most people weren't listening.

Tuesday
Nov182014

Star gazing

The Spectator Cigar Smoker of the Year Dinner took place at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Sunday night.

It was a pain to get to – engineering works meant part of the Jubilee line was shut – but neither that nor the rain deterred 200 people from turning up.

Founded by Boisdale it was the second such event and lessons had been learned from last year's somewhat chaotic evening that culminated in Simon Le Bon winning the trophy and making a less than audible 'speech'.

This year we were promised "a triple A-list celebrity as a guest of honour" and the organisers delivered. Not just one but two: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kelsey Grammer.

Grammer took his runners-up award with good grace. (Any other year he would have been a shoe-in for the main prize.) He genuinely seemed pleased to be there. "I'm so thrilled by the company this evening … I have met the most lovely women."

A mature lady at my table confessed she had thrown her arms around him and given him a big hug as he returned from the toilet. It's a tough life but he wears it well.

As a devoted fan of Frazier I was delighted merely to be in the same room as the great man.

Schwarzenegger also exuded star quality as he told guests, "As a body builder and as a movie star I’ve won a lot of awards, but this is the most ... recent."

He mocked the "crazy" smoking restrictions in California that prompted him to build a "smoking tent" in a courtyard outside the Governor's office.

Pity he didn't amend or reverse the legislation whilst he was in office, but that's another issue.

The presentation of the awards followed a champagne reception on the covered smoking terrace and dinner in the restaurant where we've hosted the Forest Freedom Dinner since 2012.

On arrival we were given a humidor bag containing a "New World selection" of five cigars plus lighter and cutter.

Grasping my bag in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other I went in search of a familiar face, without much success.

Truth is, the Cigar Smoker of the Year is very different to the type of event Forest puts on. Tickets cost £250 for a start but guests can well afford them. (I was on a freebie, before you ask.)

The first person I talked to was a young merchant banker. I then had a long chat with an older woman who worked in the City before 'retiring' to buy and run a London pub.

After selling it for a substantial profit she moved to the Algarve where she set up and ran a very successful fish 'n' chip shop!

Unfortunately evenings like this expose the chasm that exists between different types of smoker.

Speaking to guests several expressed a love of cigars but a disconcerting disdain for cigarettes. Even Boisdale, an oasis for all smokers, calls its smoking area the 'Cigar Terrace'.

To be fair I've never heard Ranald Macdonald, MD of Boisdale and a long-time supporter of Forest, rate cigarette smokers any less deserving of our support than cigar smokers.

The same goes for Jemma Freeman, MD of cigar importers Hunters & Frankau, but snobbery is rife in the cigar world where people are happy to suck up to ruthless dictators in countries like Cuba, for example, but are less willing to align themselves with the humble cigarette smoker.

Thankfully Sunday night's MC Tom Parker Bowles drew no such distinction when he referred to the principles of libertarianism "in an age where government is threatening to become bigger, more bossy and more interfering, where a person’s right to smoke in a car can become a crime, for God’s sake."

Finally the value of having a high profile celebrity at an event like this was never more obvious. The Independent, Mail Online, City AM and London Evening Standard all covered it, while the Mail featured extensive photos of the evening's two stars.

See also: Arnold Schwarzenegger wins Spectator Cigar Smoker of the Year Award (Spectator)

Sunday
Nov162014

Hot diggity dog: the food police are watching you

Best image of last week? No contest.

It was the Double Donut burger (above) which "consists of two beef burgers topped with cheese, four bacon rashers and BBQ sauce, sandwiched between two glazed ring-doughnuts".

It looks absolutely delicious, though I haven't tried one and it may be horrible. I do like donuts and burgers though so what could possibly go wrong?

According to the increasingly sniffy Telegraph, however:

The burger contains 1,996 calories, nearly 100 per cent of a woman's recommended daily energy intake.

Advertised with the line "So Wrong It's Right", the Double Donut burger also contains 53g of saturated fat, more than double the 20g daily allowance for women and well above the 30g allowance for men.

Needless to say the food police were quick to condemn it:

"It's shocking and unnecessary", said nutritionist Fiona Hunter. "It's pretty much a heart attack on a plate."

Birmingham Public Health childhood obesity co-ordinator Charlene Mulhern went further:

An obesity chief has called for a pub chain to scrap a 2,000-calorie double donut burger from its menu.

According to Mulhern:

“The projected financial cost of obesity to our city will amount to £2.6 billion per year by 2050 – that is the equivalent of 13.5 new libraries of Birmingham,” she said.

“If we are what we eat, what does that make the consumers of this monstrosity?

“Just for the avoidance of any doubt, this burger does not form part of a healthy balanced diet.

“And that’s not me being a public health, ‘nanny-state’ killjoy. I’m not trying to tell people what they can and cannot eat.

“I like the odd donut and I have been known to enjoy a burger from time to time.

“But together in such a gut-busting combination – it almost reads like a very late April Fool, doesn’t it?”

So let's get this right. Mulhern is "not trying to tell people what they can and cannot eat" but "It would be refreshing if they had a rethink and decided to withdraw this 2,000-calorie burger from the menu."

If this story had broken two weeks earlier I would have insisted we serve something similar at Forest's 35th birthday party at Boisdale the other week.

Ironically a popular item offered to guests (who were under no obligation to eat it) were the giant hot dogs with roasted red pepper, chilli and onion salsa.

I've no idea what the calorie content was (it never occurred to me to ask) but I'm told something very similar is selling for £18 at an upmarket London restaurant.

Sadly, by the time Forest 'celebrates' its 40th anniversary in 2019, hot dogs (let alone Double Donut burgers) may be off the menu.

Here's why:

Yesterday a friend (who was at Boisdale for our party) emailed to say:

I went to the cinema this afternoon to watch a movie. We were eating a foot long hot dog in the seating area where you wait before you enter and a man came up to me, glanced at the hot dog and said, "Well, that certainly can't be good for you!"

She added:

Welcome to the nanny state. Before too long cinemas will be banned from selling foot long hot dogs!!!

I wouldn't bet against it.

Meanwhile those of us who enjoy our food had better get used to an increasing amount of tut-tutting followed perhaps by prohibition and social exclusion if we so much as dare lick our lips at the thought of a non-PC bite to eat.

The point is (do I really have to spell this out?), no-one's suggesting that eating high calorie food on a daily basis is a sensible thing to do, but occasionally – what's the big deal?

The Double Donut burger costs £8.99. How many people will gorge themselves regularly on two beef burgers topped with cheese, four bacon rashers and BBQ sauce, sandwiched between two glazed ring-doughnuts when more modest burgers (Big Macs and Quarterpounders with cheese come to mind) are available for far less than half that price.

Ultimately, though, it's YOUR choice! How difficult is that to understand?

See: Pub chain criticised for calorific doughnut burger (BBC News)

Is this the unhealthiest burger ever? (Daily Telegraph)

Obesity chief calls for 2,000-calorie double donut burger to be withdrawn from sale (Coventry Telegraph)

The doughnut burger makes sense – apart from the doughnut bit (Zoe Williams, Guardian)

Image above courtesy Greene King via BBC News