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Michael Gove, your country needs you!

Despite everything, a lot of people are crediting Theresa May for her ‘hard work’, ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’.

Pity that hard work didn’t include making proper preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario.

That should have begun even before Article 50 was deployed. The shocking failure to do so removed one of the UK’s strongest bargaining tools and weakened our position with the outcome we see today.

If deliberately undermining the two Secretaries of State she appointed to handle Brexit is evidence of grit and determination, so be it.

As for her resilience, I saw very little on the question of the Irish border. Neither Ireland nor the UK want a hard border. If unelected EU bureaucrats want to impose such restrictions that’s up to them. We should have challenged them to do so and be responsible for the consequences.

Ploughing on when it’s clear you’re not up to the job (the General Election campaign was a clue) is not a show of ‘resilience’, it’s pig-headedness.

The election destroyed her authority and it’s been downhill ever since.

I don’t doubt Theresa May’s sincerity. I do believe she’s doing what she thinks is right. But so did Chamberlain and, like him, her strategy is to kick the problem down the road while waving a piece of paper - or, in her case, a 500-page withdrawal document.

To be fair to Chamberlain, some historians credit him with buying Britain time to prepare for war and that ultimately saved us from invasion, but you get my point.

I don’t want to overplay the Chamberlain analogy (which I appreciate may be a little crass) but if May’s strategy is to play for time so we eventually get the Brexit 17.4 million people voted I’d have a bit more sympathy. But I don’t think it is. For her, this is it, the ‘best’ we can hope for.

Take back control. A clean break with the EU. That’s what the British people voted for in the referendum. And the prime minister, a Remainer, has not delivered.

Then again the Brexiteers have been a shambles, a disunited rabble with no clear vision torn apart by raging egos (David Davis, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, even Jacob Rees Mogg, to name a few).

Today, Michael Gove must resign and coordinate the resistance to this Whitehall/Brussels stitch-up. We need a genuine Brexiteer to mastermind a new agreement (which the EU will resist) or have the courage to walk away.

But Gove can’t do it alone. He needs Boris to stop hiding behind his Telegraph column and return full-time to the political fray.

Yes, I still think Boris is the man for the hour in terms of selling this to the British public with his optimism and quirky eccentricities.

In that regard he could probably do a better job as PM while leaving Gove, his deputy, to handle the details of our withdrawal from the EU.

Gove also needs every other leading Brexiteer to put aside their differences and line up behind him. And he needs to challenge the prime minister to a leadership contest.

What we don’t need, at this juncture, are the ‘sensible’ but dull candidates, the ‘safe pair of hands’ offered by Hunt or Hammond.

Nor is it the moment for the likes of Sajid Javid or Dominic Raab who may be the future but are inexperienced and are no political heavyweights (if such a thing exists in Britain today).

After two years of muddle and misrule we need optimism, a clear vision, and negotiators who believe in Britain, in Brexit, and want to achieve more than damage limitation.

Go, Michael. Your country needs you!

Update: Ten minutes after I posted this, the BBC reported ‘Michael Gove decides not to quit cabinet‘.

Another politician with no cojones. Sad.


A tale of two countries

Last night I had a drink with Guillaume Perigois, director of Forest EU, in a bar on the Place du Luxembourg in Brussels opposite the European Parliament.

Smoking is banned in Belgium's bars and restaurants yet here we were, sitting at a table, ashtrays close to hand, with several people smoking at other tables around us.

Technically we were ‘outside’ but in Belgium there is no ludicrously petty regulation that says smoking areas have to be ‘50 per cent open to the elements’.

Consequently we were sitting in a warm and completely enclosed extension at the front of the bar, not hidden away, out of sight, at the back.

Similar facilities are common in countries such as Belgium and France, although I haven’t been to France for ten years so perhaps someone can update me.

It’s not a fixed structure but it feels as though you are inside. We were warm, under cover and comfortable. And the arrangement seemed to suit everyone, including the bar staff.

There's no reason why we shouldn't have similar smoking areas in the UK. Instead Welsh Labour leadership candidate Mark Drakeford, who will become first minister of Wales if he is elected, wants to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas of cafes and restaurants.

Given the current regulations in Wales, which are a far cry from civilised Belgium, this seems rather spiteful.

Anyway, shortly before Guillaume and I went for our drink I was invited to discuss the issue with Eddie Mair on LBC.

But first he spoke to Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales.

I lost count of the number of times Cass used the word "progressive" to describe Drakeford's proposal. She said it had "strong public support" and was "not persecuting the smoker", a claim that seemed to surprise the former Radio 4 presenter.

She admitted there is "little evidence" of harm caused by 'secondhand’ smoke in the open air but that doesn't matter to tobacco control campaigners. It's all about denormalisation, keeping smoking out of sight of children, and 'helping' smokers to quit.

Smoking, said ex-smoker Cass, is "not a habit of choice". Not for her perhaps but why should regulations be dictated by those who are weak-willed or easily influenced?

In response I reminded Mair why the workplace smoking ban was introduced. It was, or so we were told, to "protect" the health of bar workers working in enclosed spaces. I then repeated what Cass had said about secondhand smoke outside.

I queried the need for a further ban, pointing out that according to a study in Scotland exposure to secondhand smoke has dropped by 97 per cent in the past two decades. I imagine the same is true in Wales and the rest of the UK.

I also challenged the implication of her claim that since the workplace smoking ban there has been a huge drop in the number of people who smoke. The ban, I pointed out, made very little difference to smoking rates which barely changed between 2007 and 2012 when a more significant fall – the result of other factors – began to kick in.

We had a lively exchange when Mair played devil’s advocate and suggested it was unfair that non-smokers couldn’t sit outside on a sunny day without having someone blow smoke over them, or something like that.

It’s an argument, I suppose, but try telling a smoker who has sat outside in all weather, all year round, that he can’t smoke outside because the anti-smoking brigade now wants exclusive use of the outdoor area when it’s sunny and even when it’s cold and wet, although they will all be inside at that point.

Anyway we have a fight on our hands. Responses to the Welsh government consultation on The Smoke-free Premises and Vehicles (Wales) Regulations 2018 are currently being reviewed and I don't hold out much hope that the consultation report, when it's published, will do us any favours.

Tobacco control is almost a nationalised industry in Wales and the Welsh media make little or no effort to provide any sort of balance in their reports.

If you live in other parts of the UK what happens in Wales also tends to go under the radar, which in this instance would be a huge mistake.

If Wales adopts Drakeford’s proposal the policy will almost certainly be considered by the Scottish government. Even in England there will be some local authorities who want to give it a go.

It’s worth noting too that Drakeford’s plan goes beyond al fresco dining areas because it includes high streets and town centres - the very policy that was ridiculed when it was proposed by a lone and somewhat eccentric councillor in a Buckinghamshire town seven years ago.

Times change but the tobacco control industry stays the same. The prohibitionists are always looking for the next logical step.

I support Brexit but there’s a lot to be said for Brussels!


And the nominees are ....

Yesterday we announced the shortlist of nominees for the 2018 Golden Nanny Awards that take place in Dublin next week.

They are minister for health Simon Harris TD; former health minister Senator Dr James Reilly; former minister of state for health promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD; Professor Donal O'Shea, clinical lead for obesity, HSE; Dr Patrick Doorley, chairman, ASH Ireland; Dr Bobby Smyth, board member, Alcohol Action Ireland; and Eunan McKinney, head of communications and advocacy, Alcohol Action Ireland.

Following the introduction of campus smoking bans Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and the University of Limerick have also been shortlisted.

Another nominee, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, has been shortlisted after its chief executive Adrian Cummins gave a "cautious welcome" to a ban on smoking in outdoor dining areas.

Interestingly, in 2014 Cummins also called for a total ban on the use of e-cigarettes in restaurants.

The shortlist reflects two major developments in Ireland this year, the passing of the alcohol bill which aims to reduce alcohol consumption, and proposals to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas.

The alcohol bill includes ‘restrictions on advertising, separation of alcoholic products from retail areas inside shops and the introduction of cancer warning labels on containers.’.

You can read our nominations press release on the Forest website but here’s what John Mallon, spokesman for Forest Ireland, had to say:

“The Golden Nanny Awards celebrate excellence in finger-wagging and an unhealthy desire to intervene in other people's lives.

"This year's shortlist is particularly strong. Choosing the winners will be difficult because every nominee deserves a Nanny.

"The judging panel will examine the evidence very carefully before deciding who should receive one of these coveted awards."


Foundation for a Smoke Free World hosts 'stakeholder meeting' at Tobacco Dock

London is the location for no fewer than three nicotine-related events this week.

On Thursday there's the sixth E-Cigarette Summit. Leading into that (tomorrow and Wednesday) is the fifth annual Next Generation Nicotine Delivery conference, an event I spoke at two years ago.

The Next Gen event is far more industry and product focussed than the E-Cigarette Summit which is dominated by public health/tobacco control campaigners.

Another event taking place tomorrow is a 'stakeholder meeting' hosted by the Foundation for a Smoke Free World:

Please join us November 13th as we review our objectives, and hold an important discussion about our future plans to accelerate research and action to end smoking through better cessation and effective harm reduction. We invite questions and feedback.

Appropriately, or perhaps ironically, the event takes place at Tobacco Dock.

I was tempted to register but I had a prior engagement in Brussels. Tough choice!


Watt’s the story?

I won’t be going to the E-Cigarette Summit on Thursday.

There is however one speaker I shall be sorry to miss: Judith Watt.

The E-Cigarette Summit website describes her as an ‘international tobacco control consultant’:

In her three decades in tobacco control, Judith Watt has been an advocate, strategist and mentor at UK, Australian and global levels. Her career has included communications planning, policy development and advocacy, and pioneering work in supporting advocates in low- and middle-income countries.

Judith’s initial experience came in running national campaigns in the UK and Australia in the 1980s and 1990s, where she lay the groundwork for initiatives that are still widely seen as models internationally, including the “Every cigarette is doing you damage” TV campaign that has been adapted for use in over 40 countries.

I remember her as the head of a long-forgotten campaign called Smoke Free London which was described as an “an alliance of NHS health authorities and other agencies”.

Before that she was the first full-time coordinator of No Smoking Day in the UK.

For a period Judith rivalled Clive Bates (who was director of ASH from 1998-2003) as the go to spokesman for the anti-smoking brigade. Soundbites attributed to her included:

“If you smoke and you're with children, they're smoking too."

“It would be extremely good for London as a tourist destination to be a smoke free city.”

She was a tough opponent with an occasionally sharp tongue but she was never unpleasant and I rather liked her.

On one occasion we were invited to Television Centre in west London to discuss some issue live in the studio. The item got pushed back so we had time to chat while we waited.

I thought we were getting on rather well. As soon as we were on air however we had a pretty fierce argument. I can’t recall what was said, or even what we were talking about, but I do remember that I enjoyed it!

Afterwards we returned to central London together. We were still on speaking terms (neither of us took our disagreement personally) but that was the last time I saw her.

Well before the introduction of the smoking ban Judith returned to Australia with the result that her role in setting the ball rolling has been largely forgotten or ignored by those who chose to take credit for the subsequent legislation.

She’s not been idle however and for some years she’s had a senior role with the Framework Convention Alliance, a body made up of nearly 500 organisations from over 100 countries that works on the development, ratification and implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Given the WHO’s ambiguous attitude to risk reduction products I'll be interested to hear what she has to say on the subject.


Philip Morris responds to accusations of “staggering hypocrisy”

Alison Cooper, chief executive of Imperial Brands, was interviewed on the Today programme on Tuesday.

Interviewer: You talk about making something better and safer for smokers. If you were that concerned about the health of smokers wouldn’t you just stop making cigarettes altogether?

Alison Cooper: I think in terms of the current cigarette smoking population, many of them very much enjoy smoking. We know it’s a controversial product but therefore it’s even more important that responsible companies still continue to deliver that product to smokers, so I see that being a very important part, still, of Imperial’s story, but at the same time we very much want to develop the vaper business, blu and myblu in particular, and really start seeing smokers switch more into those products.

The reference to "responsible companies" was interesting. What she meant, I think, is that only an irresponsible company would abandon smokers to the counterfeiters and criminal gangs who would inevitably step in to meet demand for combustible cigarettes with unregulated products.

I was pleased too to hear a Big Tobacco CEO acknowledge two indisputable facts – one, many smokers “very much enjoy smoking” and, two, cigarettes are still a “very important part” of the business.

It was a welcome change from the tone adopted by Philip Morris whose ambition is to stop selling cigarettes “as soon as possible”.

Talking of which, I was away when Philip Morris launched a new quit smoking campaign a couple of weeks ago so I haven’t written about it until now.

Taking its cue from Stoptober, which challenges smokers to quit smoking for 28 days, the Hold My Light campaign wants smokers to ‘Go smoke-free for 30 days’. Echoing Public Health England, the tobacco company funded website declares:

If you do it for a month, you’re five times more likely to do it for good. It introduces support from the people around you, which could increase your chance of succeeding.

Participants are given four options on how to go ‘smoke free’:

  • Quit smoking cigarettes
  • Quit with cessation products
  • Switch to e-cigarettes
  • Switch to heated tobacco

But here’s the twist. The campaign suggests that smokers should invite friends and family to support their efforts to stop smoking by making ‘commitments to help you stay motivated’.

Ideas include:

  • cooking you dinner every week for a month
  • looking after your pet when you’re on holiday
  • helping to redecorate your living room
  • go speed dating with you


The Hold My Light campaign was launched with a wraparound advertising feature in the Daily Mirror urging smokers to give up cigarettes.

Here are a handful of the many headlines it generated:

  • Tobacco firm campaign up in smoke as critics hit out (Scotsman)
  • Tobacco industry's stunt is unlikely to fool anyone (Daily Express)
  • Philip Morris accused of ‘staggering hypocrisy’ over anti-smoking ad (Irish Times)
  • ‘A staggering hypocrisy’: tobacco company slammed for telling UK smokers to quit (Huffington Post)
  • Marlboro-maker Philip Morris accused of 'PR puff' amid launch of £2m anti-smoking campaign (The Drum)

And here’s how our national broadcasters covered the story:

BBC News
One of the world's biggest tobacco firms, Philip Morris, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over its new UK advert urging smokers to quit.

Sky News
Cigarette giant Philip Morris has drawn criticism after releasing a four-page anti-smoking advert.

Channel 4 News
One of the world's biggest tobacco firms, Philip Morris, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over a new advertising campaign that urges smokers to quit.

BBC Radio Five Live
The tobacco company Philip Morris is defending a new campaign that encourages smokers to give up cigarettes. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman, ASH.

Cigarette giant Philip Morris has been slammed as 'hypocritical' after releasing a four-page anti-smoking advert. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman, ASH.

LBC News
A tobacco firm is being accused of staggering hypocrisy over its campaign urging smokers to quit. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman from ASH.

As for local radio, here’s a summary of one of many reports:

Philip Morris, one of the world's biggest tobacco makers, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over its new ad campaign that urges smokers to quit. Includes interview with Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH.

This week, in what appears to be a damage limitation exercise, the company’s director of corporate affairs in the UK and Ireland has given an interview to Campaign magazine:

Mark MacGregor said he had been “surprised” by attacks from people and organisations that have said big tobacco should have no role in reducing smoking rates.

"It’s very naïve of people to think we’re just going to shut down our business," he said. "And if we’re not going to do that, it feels like the action we’ve taken is proof [of our intentions], whether people want to believe it or not.

"I take the view that large companies make commitments, and if you’ve made a huge one like this, you’ve got to start to deliver on that.

"One of the criticisms we’ve had before is that all we’ve had are words, not actions – well, running a campaign to persuade British smokers to quit feels like an action. I’d say to critics that we’re doing precisely what you’d expect a company with that ambition should do."

Regarding the pledge to stop selling cigarettes, MacGregor said he couldn't give a date when it would happen because it would depend 'not just on the proportion of its own sales that were coming from alternatives, but also the external context':

“Of course we could simply stop doing it tomorrow – but all that would happen is people would buy their cigarettes from someone else. So we’ve chosen a different path, which is in some ways more difficult."

You can read the full article here - Philip Morris exec defends quit-smoking campaign (Campaign).

To be clear, I fully support the efforts of Philip Morris and other tobacco companies to develop and promote reduced risk products.

The problem I have is that in actively pursuing an anti-smoking agenda - instead of a policy that puts choice (including the right to smoke) front and centre - Philip Morris is turning its back on millions of consumers who enjoy smoking and, even today, don’t want to quit.

As investment analyst Rae Maile put it at a fringe event organised by Forest at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last month:

“I am particularly concerned at the approach that Philip Morris has used in trying to open a debate with regulators, with the health lobby, about this desire to move rapidly to a smoke-free future because customers have been, for 40, 50 years, increasingly under the cosh of ever higher taxation, ever more vitriolic messages, from public health about how stupid they are to carry on smoking.

“They have loyally bought the products of these companies and now you've got the largest of them saying, 'Well, actually, we kind of agree and we don't think you should smoke either.' And I think that's wrong ... That disrespect shown to the customer is absolutely wrong in a fast moving consumer goods industry."

I couldn’t agree more. And that’s why we don’t hear the same accusations of hypocrisy thrown at other tobacco companies.

Likewise the industry funded VApril campaign avoided a similar backlash because it too managed to promote vaping without being overtly anti-smoking.

There was one misstep (which I highlighted here) but overall, and to its credit, the campaign seemed to put choice and education above cheap anti-smoking rhetoric.

Finally, if Mark MacGregor’s name seems familiar to you it’s because he was one of four panellists at that Forest event in Birmingham. The subject was 'Should smoking be consigned to history?' and I wrote about it here.

Click on the link and you'll also find a video of Mark's contribution.


Countdown to the Golden Nanny Awards

In a couple of weeks we'll be hosting the Golden Nanny Awards in Dublin.

The inaugural event last year was an unexpected success. This was due largely to the presence of Senator Catherine Noone who prefaced her acceptance speech with the words, "Libertarians, contrarians, barbarians, thank you."

She later tweeted, "Proud recipient of the Golden Nanny Award 2017 – proud moment."

Organised by Forest Ireland, this year’s event is supported by Students for Liberty. Last week The Times (Ireland edition) published an excellent article by Beatriz Gietner, national coordinator for SfL Ireland.

Expressing a view that is rarely heard in public in Ireland, Beatriz wrote:

Some events in Ireland this year have made me wonder what has happened to personal responsibility. The country ranked third in last year’s Nanny State Index — a league table of the EU countries with the most stringent laws on food, drink and smoking — and now restrictions on convenience goods are not only coming from the government but also from a generation that labels itself liberal.

Take the regressive measures proposed by two Dublin universities: Trinity College’s tobacco-free campus and University College’s ban on the sale of sugary drinks. The former was proposed by the students’ union and approved by roughly 8 per cent of the student body. Trinity already bans indoor smoking and has designated no-smoking areas. These areas were created when the students’ union opposed the total ban, proposed by the college four years ago, after 53 per cent of student voters rejected a tobacco-free campus. A lot can change in a short time.

She concluded:

Ireland’s killjoys seem to follow the path of their British and American counterparts: they react emotionally first, and only then stop to think about the consequences of their actions. There is no consideration of others’ desires. “My body, my choice” seems to apply only to certain things.

Universities should respect people’s choices, not special interests. The tyranny of the majority on display throughout Irish campuses should be challenged on moral grounds: it is against individualism and personal responsibility. We all know, deep down, what is best for ourselves.

See With students like this, who needs the nanny state? (The Times).

A popular guest at previous Forest events in Dublin, Beatriz will miss the Golden Nanny Awards because she's currently in her native Brazil.

We will however be joined by over 60 guests including her colleague Rob Duffy, Irish Independent columnist Ian O'Doherty, Cllr Keith Redmond, and Chris Snowdon, editor of the Nanny State Index, who is also our guest speaker.

Click here for further information. A full list of award nominees will be published later this week.

See also: Libertarians, contrarians, barbarians ... the Golden Nanny Awards 2017.


More thoughts on Dundee City Council’s new smoking policy

Dundee City Council’s new smoking policy continues to invite comment.

Yesterday I was asked to write 300 words on the subject for the Dundee Courier (a paper I applied to join as a trainee journalist in 1980).

To paraphrase Ernie Wise, here’s wot I wrote:

Is this really a priority for the council? In June a poll of 1,021 adults in Scotland found that tackling smoking was considered the least important of ten issues facing local government.

Maintenance of roads and bridges was the most important followed by refuse collection, street cleaning and other environmental issues, housing strategy (including the provision of social housing), economic regeneration, traffic management and road safety, youth services, planning and building control, and tackling alcohol misuse.

Dundee City Council says it has banned smoking on and off site during working hours because it wants employees to be role models. Why should council workers be treated any different to the general public? No wonder the unions are unhappy.

It also invites the question, are council workers who are overweight or obese bad role models too? Should the council monitor what their employees eat for lunch? Should they be ordered to take part in compulsory fitness classes?

The concurrent ban on vaping makes even less sense. If councillors genuinely want smokers to quit why would they outlaw and threaten to punish smokers and ex-smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes, a hugely successful smoking cessation tool? Instead of banning their use, the council should welcome the fact that a significant number of smokers are using e-cigarettes to help them quit, and allow them to do so.

As for enforcement, how is the council going to police the policy, especially off site? Will prying eyes and noses be expected to catch workers who smoke or vape during legitimate work breaks?

The health risks of smoking are well known but it’s not the job of government to dictate our lifestyle. People get through the working day in different ways. Some enjoy a tea break, others prefer a smoking break. That choice must be respected without discrimination or worse.

An edited version of these comments appeared in today’s paper. You can read them here:

How enforceable is Dundee City Council’s policy to ban employees from smoking during work time?