Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Campaign against outdoor smoking bans

Delighted to report that Forest is joining forces with the Manifesto Club to campaign against outdoor smoking bans.

The joint initiative is in response to calls for smoking bans in London's parks and squares and the imposition of 'voluntary' bans in outdoor areas in towns and cities including Basingstoke, Ashford and Bristol.

According to the Manifesto Club:

There are growing moves to ban smoking in outdoor areas, including playgrounds, parks, public squares, and outside buildings such as hospitals or schools. Some of these bans are led by councils, others by health authorities or private owners.

Outdoor smoking bans are rarely justified on health grounds, since smoking outdoors presents no harm to anyone aside from the smoker themselves. Instead, restrictions generally aim to 'denormalise smoking', to reduce children's 'exposure to smoking behaviours' or to pressure smokers to give up.

See Campaign Against Outdoor Smoking Bans.

The Manifesto Club has monitored the "hyper-regulation of public spaces" for several years.

In 2008, at the inaugural Freedom Zone in Birmingham, we co-hosted a panel discussion, 'You Can’t Do That! The Anti-Social Regulation of Public Space'.

In 2010 we co-hosted another discussion, 'Hyper-Regulation and the Bully State', which was part of Forest's Voices of Freedom series of debates in London.

In March this year the Manifesto Club reported that:

Councils are using the 'public spaces protection order' power, contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, to ban activities they judge to have a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life'.

Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club and author of the briefing on PSPOs, said: "These powers are so broad they allow councils to ban pretty much anything. The result is a patchwork of criminal law where something is illegal in one town but not in the next, or in one street but not the next. This makes it hard for the public to know what is criminal and what is not.
"These orders will turn town and city centres into no-go zones for homeless people, buskers, old ladies feeding pigeons, or anyone else whom the council views as 'messy'."
Now the spotlight is on smokers lighting up in the open air, whether it be parks, squares or beaches.

For further information about the campaign click here, or watch this space.


Smoke On The Water – register now!

Add to your diary and register now!

Smoke On The Water, Forest's popular annual boat party, returns on Wednesday June 24.

Join us aboard The Elizabethan, a Mississippi-style paddle-steamer, as we cruise down the Thames past some of London's most iconic landmarks including the London Eye, St Paul's, Tower Bridge, The Shard and Canary Wharf.

As usual guests will embark at Westminster Pier next to Westminster Bridge. From 7.00-8.00pm, while the boat is static, there will be a complementary drinks reception. After that, there's a cash bar.

At 8.00pm we'll begin a two-hour cruise, returning to Festival Pier (by Festival Hall) where guests will disembark at 10.00pm.

This year we're going for a Cuban theme. On the top deck, which features a unique sliding roof, guests will be entertained by a four-piece Cuban band, The Sugar Kings, supported by three costumed dancers.

Smoking and vaping are permitted on the two covered walkways and the rear (open) deck so whatever the weather you should be able to smoke in comfort!

Smoke On The Water traditionally attracts a wide variety of people from the Westminster village and beyond including MPs, parliamentary researchers, think tank execs and many more.

Places are limited so if you want to join us you must register in advance. RSVP or call Kristina on 01223 370156.


Ligging? It's food and drink to the pros

Not sure whether to be flattered or appalled.

The Guardian has just published an article that begins:

It’s a chilly Tuesday night in central London and the pro-smoking [sic] lobby group Forest is throwing a drinks reception at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall. Moving among the sharply dressed young Conservatives and red-faced publicists is a man in a pinstripe suit and charcoal grey overcoat, quickly emptying a bottle of Beck’s.

A film crew working for Forest is gathering vox pops, and they buttonhole this man, Tom Rigby (not his real name), to ask his views on proposed cigarette-packaging regulations. With his black-rimmed glasses and spiky grey hair, Rigby might be a political flack, or a high-minded libertarian. He speaks gamely for a few moments.

What the crew doesn’t know is that Rigby isn’t here for politics or cigarettes. He’s here for more substantive fare – the drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

According to journalist Sam Bungay:

A gig like Forest’s is his bread and butter. The lobby group gets more than 90% of its funding from the tobacco industry, and the evening is additionally funded by the conservative think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs [er, not true], so Rigby knew the event would be busy and well-catered. Politically, he leans towards liberal, but a good ligger has to keep an open mind.

“Look to the sponsor,” he counsels, “free booze is ubiquitous. It’s good food that’s the challenge. The problem is that left-of-centre events rarely have free food. Say you go to an event for Palestine solidarity, you might get some dates. You won’t get anything special.”

Towards the end of the feature there's even a quote from me:

Simon Clark, director of Forest, says ligging is “clearly not uncommon” and he has no issue with the few people who seem to turn up to all Forest and IEA events, regardless of the subject. “The more the merrier,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s quantity over quality but we do want to get bums on seats. It creates a buzz. I’m not so penny-pinching that I mind someone coming along for a few beers.”

You can read the whole thing for yourself here: The secret world of liggers: ‘Free booze is everywhere’ (Guardian).

On the whole I think I'm flattered.

Below: Guests at Forest's 'Stop The Nonsense' event at the Institute of Directors in February. Spot the ligger!!


"Unappealing" cigarettes: the next logical step?

After plain packaging it's the next logical step.

Cigarettes could soon be produced in unpleasant colours, with health warnings emblazoned across the stick, under new proposals to make smoking unglamorous.

Experts believe the white papers which traditionally encase tobacco have connotations of purity and cleanliness.

They have conducted research which suggests producing cigarettes in unappealing browns and greens, to represent yellowing teeth or even phlegm, will make them look distasteful, particularly to style-conscious young women.

Government officials are understood to be looking closely at the study, which is based on the observations of 120 men and women who regularly light up.

Full story: Green or brown cigarettes could be the new weapon in bid to get smokers to quit (Sunday Post).

It's the attention to detail I like, the suggestion that cigarettes should be produced in colours that "represent yellowing teeth or even phlegm".

So let's get this straight.

If you want to smoke you'll dismiss years of anti-smoking 'education'.

The display ban won't deter you, nor will the graphic health warnings and the stark message 'Smoking Kills' on the pack.

You'll ignore the "unappealing" green or brown standardised pack.

But as soon as you've made your purchase and opened it to reveal similar coloured cigarettes with the same message on individual sticks, you'll think again?



What would Chris Snowdon say?

What would Chris Snowdon, a Middlesbrough fan, think of it?

It was reported yesterday that:

Wembley officials have apologised to Middlesbrough fans for misspelling their team's name on tickets for the Championship play-off final. Tickets for Monday's game with Norwich called the club 'Middlesborough'.

It's easily done. I've done it myself.

Years ago I edited a magazine for chartered accountants. I had no interest or expertise in accountancy so most of the articles were of a general business nature.

To lighten things up I slipped in a regular feature called 'Money Talks' which gave me the excuse to interview well-known people on the subject of, er, money.

Subjects included Gyles Brandreth, Sir Clive Sinclair, Jeffrey Bernard and (whisper it) Jimmy Savile.

Ironically the publishing company lurched from one financial crisis to another which meant advertising always took precedence over editorial.

In a desperate attempt to generate income the sales team approached local councils and chambers of commerce in the hope they would pay us to produce a 24-page supplement about their town or city.

I remember doing one on Manchester. And another on Middlesbrough.

When the Middlesbrough supplement was delivered to our office in south London it's fair to say no-one broke sweat in a rush to read it.

In fact, until a fateful phone call two days later, we were totally oblivious of the fact that the town had been spelled 'Middlesborough' on every page including, would you believe, the cover.

But here's the amazing thing. Even though it cost the company thousands of pounds in lost revenue our young MD never once shouted the odds or held anyone to account.

Even the sales team, with whom the editorial staff had a love-hate relationship, found it amusing.

What could have been the most embarrassing day of my career ended with drinks all round and the MD laughing ruefully at our costly error.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

See Wembley sorry for misspelling Middlesbrough play-off tickets (BBC News).

Update: Chris is not a "native of Middlesbrough", as I originally suggested, merely a fan of the team.

My mistake. Again.

Trust me, this is the last time I will ever write about the place.


Not NICE: call to exclude tobacco industry from smoking cessation talks

I'm in Bristol this morning.

There's a meeting of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the city that will debate a proposal that tobacco companies should no longer be stakeholders in NICE's decision-making process.

It was news to me that the tobacco companies are stakeholders but it seems perfectly reasonable that they should be included.

After all, the tobacco industry is a legitimate business and it ought to be a legitimate stakeholder in any discussion about tobacco whether it be illicit trade, litter or smoking cessation.

The industry invests billions of pounds in harm reduction products including e-cigarettes so it would be crazy not to include them in discussions about smoking cessation.

Tobacco companies know better than anyone what works for their customers and what the consumer wants. Their knowledge and expertise should be invaluable but the likes of ASH and Smokefree South West are more interested in exclusion and political idealism.

BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Points West are covering the issue and I've just done an interview for BBC Radio Bristol. I'm also doing an interview for BBC Points West.

Update: On BBC Radio Bristol Fiona Andrews, CEO of Smokefree South West, said the Department of Health don't have direct meetings with the tobacco industry so why should NICE?

She's wrong. If I remember correctly, several tobacco companies had meetings with the DH about plain packaging, including Bristol-based Imperial Tobacco.

I'm surprised she didn't know that.

PS. If I was working for NICE I would include in the decision-making process not only the tobacco industry but also consumers and retailers.

Why not? If smoking cessation is your goal it makes sense to include several elements of the tobacco chain. That way you might better understand the consumer and what makes some people smoke and others quit.

It might also help you understand why some smoking cessation products work and others don't.

Update: I can't remember who it was (the BBC Radio Bristol presenter or Fiona Andrews) but someone said there might be a commercial conflict of interest if the tobacco industry was involved in discussions.

Duh! What about the pharmaceutical industry? The same argument could be made for them but I don't see ASH or Smokefree South West lobbying to have Big Pharma removed from discussions.


Shape of things to come

We're not alone in questioning whether plain packaging will actually work.

According to Dr Nora Campbell, "advanced marketing lecturer at the Trinity College Dublin School of Business", standardised packaging "overlooks the subculture that smoking and smokers have created".

Speaking to Ireland's Sunday Business Post (May 17), she said:

"The tobacco [smoking] ban creates an exclusion that becomes exclusive. Smokers' corners act as phatic spaces that humans can escape to and experience new encounters and camaraderie.

"So banning the logo and colour of packaging will not be effective, not for the same reason, but because it is, again, a bit lazy. People don't smoke cigarette packs, they smoke cigarettes."

So if smoking bans and plain packaging won't stop people smoking, what's the solution?

Campbell's answer is to insist [my italics] that all tobacco companies change the shape of the cigarette itself to a "droop-shaped U" or a "silly-length S".

"This would be easy to do from an engineering perspective, and much more effective in creating a different culture of smoking."

You couldn't make it up.

Sadly the article is only available online behind a paywall. It does however include quotes from Forest's John Mallon and "tobacco industry expert Professor Gerard Hastings".

That man gets everywhere.

PS. I watched Alan Partridge: Piper Alpha for a second time on Saturday night.

In the film North Norfolk Digital radio is rebranded as Shape (motto: "The way you want it to be").

The idea of a cigarette shaped like a "droop-shaped U" or a "silly-length S" could have come from any surreal comedy show but Monty Python is the one that springs to mind.

After all, it's up there with the Ministry for Silly Walks and other famous sketches.

Just because it's laughable doesn't mean it won't happen, though.


Reject censorship and paternalism, vote for choice and personal responsibility

Here's my speech to the Oxford Union, in response to the proposition 'This House believes that the tobacco industry is morally reprehensible’.

A couple of sections were dropped because I was running out of time (rookie mistake) but I've included them here because they strengthen the argument:

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, this side of the House fully accepts the health risks of smoking. In fact, there can’t be a sane person above the age of 16, and possibly younger, who isn’t well aware of the health risks of smoking tobacco.

Historically, as far as health is concerned, mistakes have been made on all sides. For decades most people were ignorant of the health risks including governments and the medical profession. Let’s not forget that cigarettes were once handed out to the armed forces while doctors were more than happy to promote certain brands of cigarette.

Even if it was ever true, the description of the tobacco industry as morally reprehensible is decades out of date. The tobacco industry doesn’t hide the potential health risks of smoking. On Imperial Tobacco’s website, under ‘Smoking and Health’, you will find the following:

Smoking is a cause of serious diseases in smokers, including lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema. We agree that governments and public health authorities around the world should provide clear and consistent messages about the health risks of smoking. Adults should be guided by those messages when deciding whether or not to smoke. Children should never smoke.

Similar messages are on other tobacco companies’ websites.

When the opposition talks about the tobacco industry they are talking about thousands of people, decent, honourable men and women. In Britain alone it is estimated that 5,000 people are directly employed by the industry. A further 80,000 people have jobs that depend on tobacco retailers, packaging companies, logistics and so on.

Across Africa there are hundreds of thousands of small farmers who make a living selling this "reprehensible" crop. Then there are the hundreds of factory workers who process tobacco and turn it into tobacco products. The next step is the retailers, thousands of small retailers who sell tobacco across the UK.

If people are going to make moral judgements on the industry then you are making a judgement on everyone in the tobacco chain, including government. In the UK, on average, 86 per cent of the price of a packet of cigarettes is tax. British American Tobacco alone estimates that it contributed 30 billion in excise globally last year. This is eight times the group’s profits after tax.

So let’s be clear, the biggest benefactors from smoking are governments not Big Tobacco. Governments and industry are partners in the tobacco business and governments are the senior partners.

I’m not here to represent the tobacco industry, and I will come on to their absence later, but I do want to make the following points:

One, tobacco is a legal, highly regulated product. The idea that the tobacco industry can do whatever it likes is laughable. It is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world.

Two, regardless of the health risks, what the tobacco industry manufactures and sells is a quality product that has undergone years of research and development. Compare that with the smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes widely available on the black market in Britain today. According to reports ingredients have included human excrement, asbestos, mould and dead flies.

Three, the modern tobacco industry is spending billions on the development of smokeless tobacco and other harm reduction products like e-cigarettes. Does that sound like a “morally reprehensible” industry? What is morally reprehensible and irresponsible are the policies advocated by tobacco control campaigners: extreme taxation, for example, has resulted in a black market awash with counterfeit or unregulated tobacco.

And what about the consumer, the people Forest represents? Tobacco is consumed by approximately 25 per cent of adults worldwide. In the UK 20 per cent of the adult population smoke; that’s not a small minority – that’s a fifth of the adult population. Are we seriously supposed to think ten million adults in the UK alone are in thrall to some evil, immoral industry?

Tobacco control activists are quick to accuse the tobacco industry of profiting from and feeding people’s addiction as if consenting adults have no say in the matter. Ladies and gentlemen, smoking is a lifestyle choice. No-one is arguing it’s good for you but it’s YOUR choice. Yes, it’s potentially addictive but for most people it’s a habit and there’s a big difference between habit and addiction.

Like it or not smoking brings pleasure to a great many people. The tobacco industry doesn’t create demand, it meets demand. Smoking was around long before the tobacco industry. David Hockney, one of Britain’s greatest artists, is an ardent smoker. He smokes for pleasure and to relieve stress. Hockney has attended several Forest events and I’ve never heard him blame the tobacco industry for his nicotine dependency.

Yes, there are smokers who wish they’d never started or would like to quit. But lots of people smoke because they enjoy it. It’s not something you hear very often these days because it doesn’t suit the anti-smoking zeitgeist. Hence a lot of people are “shy smokers” in the same way a lot of voters are “shy Conservatives”.

Anti-smoking campaigners argue that the tobacco industry targets children. The truth is many children like to experiment. Many will experiment with alcohol. A small minority will experiment with tobacco. It’s called growing up. You cannot blame the tobacco industry for the fact that some children choose to experiment.

Tobacco companies have also been accused of deliberately targeting women with so-called "pretty" packaging. This is not only patronising to women it’s deeply sexist. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas and a regular panellist on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, had to say:

The World Health Organisation once accused tobacco companies of “exploiting women’s struggle for equal rights by creating the impression that tobacco makes women confident … more in control of their destiny”. What a cheek. It’s the public health brigade who deny women the right to control our lives, by campaigns aimed at limiting our free choices by regimenting us all into dull, miserablist conformity.

If the tobacco industry is morally reprehensible what about other industries – food and drink, for example? Drinking alcohol can lead to alcoholism; it can lead to binge drinking. Who’s responsible, the manufacturer or the consumer? Sugary drinks and convenience food can lead, we are told, to obesity. Again, who’s “morally” responsible, the manufacturer or the consumer?

And that’s the problem. Tobacco control is no longer about public health. It’s a moral crusade, like the old temperance movement. We’re far too quick to pass moral judgements on people and even industries we don’t agree with. Disagree by all means but what makes the tobacco control industry morally superior to those of us who believe in freedom of choice and personal responsibility?

In my experience most of the attacks on the tobacco industry have nothing to do with health. It’s politics, pure and simple. In Britain most of the campaigners who attack the tobacco industry work in the public sector, or their campaign group is funded with public money, our money. They represent a new form of socialism – lifestyle socialism – and the enemy is big business.

I mentioned the absence of the tobacco industry from tonight’s debate. I have no quarrel with the Union because I know they invited a representative of Imperial Tobacco to take part. However, as readers of Cherwell [the Oxford student newspaper] will know, the Union came under enormous pressure to withdraw that invitation.

Dr Vaughan Rees, a lecturer at Harvard University commented, “The nature of the debate itself is deeply disturbing. The tobacco industry has a history of engaging in deceptive behaviour to further their interests while improving their public image. More recently, they have attempted to adopt principles of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and I see this debate as part of that effort.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the fake charity Action on Smoking and Health, said: “The tobacco industry truly is morally reprehensible and I find it hard to believe that any students with half a brain could come to any other conclusion.”

So there you are, ladies and gentlemen, God has spoken. If you vote against this motion tonight you only have half a brain.

What is morally reprehensible is not the fact that the tobacco industry wanted to engage with young adults and have a serious debate, it’s the fact that the tobacco control industry, represented by our opponents here tonight, regularly tries to ‘no platform’ a legitimate industry from defending itself both in public and in a private.

Ladies and gentlemen, the underlying assumption of the motion is that the tobacco industry has huge power. I would suggest that after 15 years of almost constant regulation – bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, the prohibition of smoking in the workplace including every pub and private members’ club, a ban on tobacco vending machines, a ban on the display of tobacco in shops, a ban on smoking in private vehicles carrying children and, most recently, a ban on branding, all the power lies in the hands of the modern temperance movement.

I urge you to reject this motion, reject paternalism, reject censorship, and vote for freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

(See also my previous post, Warning: this post contains a gratuitous reference to Jimmy Savile.)