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Wednesday
Aug152018

Listen as ASH advocates NRT but not vaping (which will be banned)

Further to my previous post, here is ASH's response to the news that the NHS trust that runs Bristol Royal Infirmary is to ban smoking – and vaping – on all its sites.

BBC Radio Bristol presenter: Now we’re talking smoking on the show this morning. The NHS trust that runs the Bristol Royal Infirmary is getting tough on smokers. From the first of January 2019 smoking a cigarette or e-cigarette on any of its sites, including the grounds, will be completely banned. That means, if you do need to light up, you’ll have to make sure you’re beyond the painted white line on the ground outside the hospital, rather than hanging around the entrance, which is what happens at the moment. Vicky Salt is from the anti-smoking charity ASH. She’s pleased with the decision.

Vicky Salt, ASH: “[It's] part of the Government’s new strategy and it’s also something that [NHS] trusts have been moving towards themselves. The Royal College of Physicians published a report in June recommending that hospital sites go smoke free with smokers being supported to quit, so it’s less about the actual white line where you can smoke on one side and not the other and it’s really about making, as I say, the hospital site smoke free so when someone is admitted to hospital their doctor will say ‘You’re not able to smoke whilst you’re on site, whilst you’re receiving treatment, but we have other options and those other options are nicotine replacement therapies and doctors will be advising smokers of the support they can offer to help them quit or abstain whilst in hospital.”

How bizarre that a spokesman for ASH, which has reinvented itself as an advocacy for e-cigarettes to help smokers quit, should (a) support a policy that includes a ban on vaping, and (b) recommend “options" to smoking such as "nicotine replacement therapies" without mentioning e-cigarettes.

You can hear the full item – including an interview with me – here.

A very similar report – also featuring Vicky Salt and me – was broadcast on BBC Radio Wiltshire this evening. Click here.

Wednesday
Aug152018

Vaping and the several faces of ASH

'Vaping is less harmful than smoking but we shouldn't assume it is safe, study warns'.

That was the headline on a report in the Huffington Post yesterday and as statements go I don't think it's particularly controversial.

After all, e-cigarettes are still in their infancy and it's far too soon to leap to any definitive conclusions. That said, based on current evidence, the risks of vaping, such as they are, do seem very small compared to smoking.

Nevertheless headlines speak a thousand words and the coverage of a 'small experimental study' published online in the journal Thorax this week hasn't done e-cigarettes any favours.

Vaping 'can damage vital immune system cells', reported the BBC.

Other headlines included 'Vaping may damage immune system and lead to lung disease, study suggests' (Telegraph), and 'Vaping can cause SERIOUS lung damage and should be treated with caution, scientists warn' (Mirror).

The study was covered in much the same way overseas. 'Vaping study shows e-cigarettes more harmful than thought' declared ABC in Australia, while the Irish Times reported, 'Vaping may not be as safe as previously thought, study finds'.

Crucially, what most if not all these reports failed to mention was the sample size. Indeed, from what I've read, only a follow-up piece in the Irish Times (Study linking e-cigarettes to lung function adds to concerns over vaping) admitted that:

With just eight human subjects, the research cannot be considered definitive. For e-cigarettes to be classified as producing the same effects as long-term smoking would require longer and bigger clinical trials.

That's right. These and many more headlines around the world were based on a study of just eight people. I'm not saying that makes the research null and void but until more studies are conducted we should probably treat it with a great deal more caution than we're being advised to treat e-cigarettes.

My colleague John Mallon has been on the radio in Ireland this morning making exactly that point. He was also invited to take part in a discussion on Cork's 96FM with two other guests but, having agreed, he was dropped without anyone telling him.

John describes the broadcast 'debate' as follows:

John Sodeau [Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at University College Cork] said smoking was like putting coal in your mouth and setting it alight, whereas vaping was like sneezing toxic droplets at other people. He spoke about third hand smoke and then compared smoking to vaping as a choice between losing an arm versus only losing a hand.

I was itching to get on and tackle him. Instead they brought on Jonathan Keane from Cork who called the whole thing scaremongering. He said he vaped because smoking left him with long term injuries. He added that everyone knew vaping was bad and nobody should try it. He then wanted to talk about tattoos. As he did so time ran out and I never got the call.

While we're on the subject of vaping it's worth noting a comment by the chairman of ASH Ireland, Dr Patrick Doorley, in the Irish edition of the Sun today. Urging smokers hoping to quit "not to use e-cigarettes", Doorley said:

“There are options that are safer and have a good long-term track record, like the drug varenicline, along with nicotine replacement therapy.”

To be fair, ASH Ireland has never hidden its lukewarm attitude to vaping. In September 2016 Doorley said:

"We acknowledge that many people are now turning to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking. It is important that these smokers are aware that even those authorities who recommend e-cigarettes acknowledge that they may cause harm and that nicotine replacement products available in pharmacies have been shown to be effective and safe."

A few months later he went further and specifically advised that smokers wanting to quit "should not vape":

"Nicotine replacements will not give you the same hit but they can get you through cravings, especially for people who are highly addicted, for example those people who need a cigarette first thing in the morning.

"We would recommend those rather than e-cigarettes because they are proven to be effective and have proven to be safe. There is no such thing as a medicine or a pill with zero risk but they're very safe."

So, full marks for consistency.

Anyway, I was on the radio myself this morning. BBC Radio Bristol asked me to discuss a report that all NHS hospital sites in the city will be 'smoke-free' from January 1, 2019.

The policy goes further than that however because it includes a similar ban on vaping, which I also criticised.

In contrast Vicky Salt, senior policy and campaigns officer at ASH (London), welcomed the ban and said nothing at all about vaping.

To be fair her response was included only as an edited soundbite but it would be entirely consistent with ASH's general acquiescence on the subject of vaping bans.

The reality, as I've said many times, is that most advocates of e-cigarettes within the tobacco control industry are and will always be fairweather friends of vapers.

Their goal is not to accommodate vaping long-term but to use e-cigarettes as a tool to wean smokers off combustible cigarettes before tackling any use of nicotine as a recreational drug.

If others can't see this they're being wilfully blind for short-term gain.

Update: Following a gently worded email to the producer, John tells me he will now be on 96FM tomorrow. You can listen online.

Wednesday
Aug082018

Too silly even for the silly season

I took a call from a local radio station yesterday.

"Hi Simon, hope you have ten minutes in the morning for a radio interview.

"We've been contacted by a listener who's upset about someone smoking outside a shop."

It was a toy shop, apparently, and the smoker was a member of staff.

Oh, and he/she was smoking not in the doorway but “seven yards” from the entrance.

The producer wanted me and someone from ASH to “discuss” this for ten minutes.

A few hours later they called back. The item was being dropped in favour of some “breaking news”.

Goodness, what could beat the story of a someone smoking outside a shop?

Nurse!

Tuesday
Aug072018

Sign language

I stumbled across this via Twitter yesterday.

'Smoke' is (or was) a "nomadic and unfinished exhibition" by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hornback.

"I do not smoke, but a cigarette in someone's mouth is a sign of pleasure and it is always nice to capture that moment," he said.

I find that sentiment rather refreshing.

Hornback's work - exhibited in Bilbao in 2017 – reminded me of a similar collection by our own Dan Donovan.

Shortly before the introduction of the smoking ban in England in 2007 Dan created a gallery of photographs he called '90 Smokers'.

Like Hornback's collection it featured people – like the lady below – who enjoyed smoking and weren't afraid to show it.

Discussing, or depicting, the pleasure of smoking is increasingly taboo these days so anything that challenges the modern orthodoxy is very welcome.

Perhaps we should consider a similar exhibition in the UK.

Sunday
Aug052018

Ocean view

This time last year I was travelling to New York aboard Queen Mary 2.

No such luck this year (sob).

Saturday
Aug042018

Dan's big jump

Some of you will know Dan Donovan.

For the past eleven years he's designed most of Forest's campaign tools.

He's also a musician and professional photographer.

Eight days ago, 17 years after his only other skydive, Dan jumped from a plane at 13,000 feet.

The occasion was caught on video (above) and Dan even supplied the soundtrack.

Thursday
Aug022018

Divorced from reality

Apologies for the lack of posts in recent weeks.

I blamed the heat. Then, when the temperature dropped and the rain arrived at the weekend, I found I still had writer's block.

So forgive me if I ease myself back with this little piece of trivia.

Love Island – which I have never watched in its current format – drew to a close this week. I won't go into details (the BBC website has published the highlights here so I don't have to) but I would like to add one little thing.

Last year the series got into hot water with a handful of viewers (and ASH) for broadcasting numerous scenes in which contestants were seen smoking.

Sensing an opportunity, the e-cigarette store Totally Wicked even shipped boxes of e-cigarettes to the set to encourage the cast to switch.

This year, to avoid a similar 'controversy', the producers decided to ban smoking anywhere it might be seen by impressionable viewers.

Instead there was a designated smoking area off camera and early reports said contestants had to get permission to use it.

The result was that most viewers were blissfully unaware that a number of the 'clean-living' cast were, in reality, smokers. (Oh, the irony.)

This inconvenient truth was revealed yesterday following their return home when several contestants were spotted having a cigarette, 'something that was never shown during this year's series'.

According to Metro:

[Laura Armstrong] admitted during a post-Love Island interview that she had walked out of the villa three times when things got stressful and headed to the beach for a smoke.

Megan [Barton Hanson] is also a smoker, spotted on Wednesday puffing on a cigarette as she carried out work duties with boyfriend Wes.

As for Adam Collard:

He might be a personal trainer but Adam doesn’t let that stop him from enjoying his vice.

And then there's Jack and Dani, the loved-up winners who have already announced their intention to marry:

Some fans might be surprised to see that Danny Dyer’s daughter and the winner of Love Island 2018 is also a cigarette-fiend. Dani was snapped enjoying a crafty cigarette outside her London hotel on Wednesday before she and Jack headed off to visit his work, DMG Supplies ...

Just like Dani, Jack is a smoker. The other half of Jani was also snapped smoking outside their hotel on Wednesday, although he seemed to keep his cigarette a little better hidden than Dani did.

Full story: Who smokes from Love Island 2018?.

Oh, and we mercifully didn't hear a peep from Totally Wicked this year.

Sunday
Jul222018

Farewell, Sunday Politics

Today saw the final UK-wide edition of the Sunday Politics on BBC One.

To mark the occasion, here's an interview I did with Andrew Neil alongside the BMA's Vivienne Nathanson in 2014. Click here to view.

According to the Telegraph the programme has been axed in a bid to attract 'younger and more diverse viewers'.

Where that leaves guests like me who knows, but let’s hope I won’t be history too!

PS. The Daily Politics has also been dropped but the same team will return with a rebranded programme - Politics Live - in the autumn.

Here I am discussing plain packaging with that great Labour sage Diane Abbott.