Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Forest's search for a "new media expert" is headline news

Forest's search for a media and public affairs manager in Ireland has made the news.

Under the headline 'Smoker lobby seeks a new media expert', the Irish Daily Mail reports:

As a legal battle rages between the state and the tobacco industry over plain packaging laws, a lobby group for smokers is taking on new staff.

Forest Eireann, the 'voice of the smoker in Ireland', is seeking a media and public affairs manager. The job entails 'positioning Forest as the point of reference for all smoker-related information and comment in Ireland, developing relationships with key national and regional media, drafting press releases, developing social media engagement and organising events'.

In response we issued this statement:

Forest: why we're advertising for a media and public affairs manager

The Irish Daily Mail today reports that Forest Eireann, the "voice and friend of the smoker in Ireland", is seeking a media and public affairs manager.

John Mallon, spokesman for the group which is supported by Forest UK which in turn receives donations from tobacco companies in the UK and Ireland, said:

"Smokers represent a significant minority of the population and yet they are increasingly marginalised and ignored by politicians of all parties.

"Consumers pay a huge amount of taxation on tobacco and they have a right to be heard by legislators. The state cannot take our money and refuse to engage with us.

"Health is important but so is freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

"Although some smokers want to quit, many people enjoy smoking. The health risks are very well known yet we rarely hear about the pleasure smoking brings to many people.

"It's time we had a balanced debate about tobacco and Forest is possibly the only group in Ireland that is prepared to stand up and defend adults who choose to smoke."

I can't imagine Forest UK's recruitment policy making the pages of the Daily Mail. The Observer, perhaps.

Update: Listen to John Masterson, stand-in presenter of KCLR FM's mid morning programme, commenting here.

Update: Click here to see the job description.


Smoking cessation: public sector must learn from the private sector

Talking of the nanny state (see previous post), the Herald reports:

Ministers are under pressure to rethink controversial plans to appoint a state-appointed guardian to look after the welfare of every child in Scotland after dozens of groups raised concerns.

The proposals, contained in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, aim to give everyone under 18 a Named Person, usually a teacher or health visitor, to oversee them from August next year. He or she would be a contact point if welfare issues needed to be raised with police or social services.

See Confusion over plans to appoint 'named person' for every child in Scotland.

Words fail me but it leads me on to another story in today's Herald:

Campaigners have called for a levy on tobacco industry profits to fund mass media advertising of official smoking services as the numbers trying to quit using NHS assistance in Scotland fell by almost a third in a year.

Although the NHS acknowledges that e-cigarettes may be responsible for the 31 per cent drop in the use of NHS smoking cessation services in Scotland, taxpayer-funded ASH Scotland was quick to suggest another reason.

CEO Sheila Duffy said:

"Some years ago the government decided there wasn't the funding to do mass media TV advertising of the kind that has driven people to use these services and take advantage of their expertise and the free support that is available," she said.

"I believe the lack of mass media advertising on smoking cessation over the last few years has left these vital services largely invisible to the people who need them most.

"We need to look at that again and I am calling for a levy on tobacco company profits to support smokers to quit smoking and to fund mass media advertising of stop smoking services in Scotland."

In other words, instead of celebrating the fact that the private sector appears to have come up with a better smoking cessation aid than the good 'ole NHS, ASH Scotland sees this as a great opportunity to extract even more money out of the tobacco industry and, in turn, the consumer.

(If anyone needs reminding, on average 86 per cent of the recommended retail price of tobacco in the UK currently goes to the government.)

Forest's response (also reported by the Herald) was as follows:

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, [said] a tobacco levy would not work as it would "almost certainly be passed on to consumers forcing some smokers further into poverty".

He also pointed out that smokers wanting to give up were increasingly using e-cigarettes "which mimic the act of smoking, unlike nicotine patches and other quit smoking aids".

He added: "You can't force people to use NHS smoking cessation services so unless the public sector learns from the private sector and embraces products that encourage more smokers to switch from traditional cigarettes, the idea is doomed to fail."

Full report Call for tobacco levy to fund non-smoking advertising as those quitting through NHS drop by a third in a year.


We can work it out

Public Health England say employers should let staff travel to work at less busy times of day during the heatwave.

Dr Angie Bone, head of extreme events at PHE, said: "Employers should ensure indoor areas are kept cool and consider allowing these individuals to travel to or from their place of work during cooler, or less busy times of the day."


Thankfully I no longer commute every day to London but when I did I learned that during hot weather it was best to travel to work early when it was still relatively cool and public transport was less crowded.

I didn't need the state to advise me and as an employer I definitely didn't need a taxpayer-funded NGO to tell me how to run my business.

I could work it out for myself.

Btw, is 'head of extreme events at PHE' a full-time job? I'd love to know what else, apart from a heatwave, qualifies as an "extreme event" at PHE.

Full story: Heatwave: stop staff travelling in rush hour, health officials urge (Daily Telegraph).

Update: Nanny state Britain turning glorious sunshine into a national crisis (Daily Mail).


Q: What should we do about our lovely neighbours who smoke? A: Get a life?

Whenever possible I try to listen to Graham Norton on Radio 2 on Saturday mornings.

More often than not I'm driving my children somewhere so I catch some but not all of it.

My favourite bit of the programme is 'Grill Graham' where he discusses "the latest dilemmas" with comedian Maria McErlane.

I missed it on Saturday but thanks to a member of the Friends of Forest Facebook group my attention has been drawn to one of this week's dilemmas.

In short, Mary wrote in to say that while she and her husband like their "lovely" neighbours of 20 years, there's a problem:

"They smoke and the smell seeps through our wall. It's beginning to really get to us. What should we do?"

You can listen to Graham and Maria's response here. And the listeners' responses here.



Smoke On The Water 2015

Thanks to everyone who joined us for Smoke On The Water last night.

Over 200 guests boarded The Elizabethan at Westminster Pier, including several MPs and representatives of half a dozen think tanks and political groups.

Parliamentary researchers were there too but most encouraging of all was the number of younger people who turned out in force.

Readers of this blog were well represented too. Sorry I wasn't able to talk at length but it was good to say hello to some of you.

Last night's event had a Cuban theme, hence the mojitos and exotic dancers.

We even had a Cuban band called The Sugar Kings which was rather apt given the fact that we were promoting our new campaign Action on Consumer Choice.

Seventy bottles of Prosecco and 150 mojitos had been consumed in less than an hour when The Elizabethan left Westminster Pier at 8.00pm sharp.

Ninety minutes earlier grey clouds had gathered over the Thames, a light wind had sprung up, and I thought we might be in for a choppy ride.

Instead the sun came out and we enjoyed a gentle cruise all the way down to Canary Wharf before returning to Festival Pier on the South Bank by 10.00pm.

On the return leg I'm told that one well known blogger pulled some remarkable shapes on the dance floor. Whether he remembers any of them is open to question because he later left both his overcoat and his tie on the boat.

As casualties go however there was no repeat of two years ago when one young reveller collapsed on the embankment shortly after leaving the boat and was taken to hospital.

Anyway, here are a few photos taken, as ever, by Dan Donovan. To view the full gallery click here.


Smoking and vaping in parks declared "anti-social"

Waterford City council has caused a stir by banning smoking and "cursing" in public parks.

The new rules are a bid to "curb anti-social behaviour" but how is smoking in the open air "anti-social" unless, of course, you're blowing smoke directly in someone's face?

The ban on smoking even extends to the use of e-cigarettes because, according to Fine Gael councillor Lola O’Sullivan, "Smoking is smoking, whatever kind of way you do it."

Earlier today my Forest colleague John Mallon responded as follows:

"There is nothing anti-social about smoking in a public park. There is no risk to anyone else, including children. Most of the time, unless you're very close, you won't even be aware they're doing it.

"It makes even less sense to ban e-cigarettes. Vaping is not smoking, however you look at it. An increasing number of smokers are using e-cigarettes as a harm reduction or smoking cessation aid. Why ban something that some people are using to quit smoking?

"Swearing can be anti-social but there are already laws to deal with loud and repeated profanities.

"These new rules are excessive and unnecessary. The overwhelming majority of people know how to behave in public spaces without being regulated to an inch of their lives."

Since then he's been on two national radio stations, Newstalk and Today FM, and has featured in news bulletins on WLR FM, the local Waterford radio station.

Head-to-head with Lola O'Sullivan, John reports that "She was giggly and light-hearted."

I'm glad someone finds it funny.

Update: Smokers’ group criticises new ban as ‘excessive’ (Irish Times)


Fact or fiction? 250,000 attend anti-austerity rally in London

According to the organisers 250,000 people attended the anti-austerity rally in London on Saturday.

In March 2011, following a TUC rally that was claimed to have attracted 250-500,000 protestors, I wrote:

As for the estimated attendance on Saturday, I would treat that with a gigantic pinch of salt.

According to the TUC, between 250,000 and 500,000 people attended the rally. Taking its cue from the organisers, the BBC reported: "It is estimated more than 250,000 people from across Britain have taken part in a demonstration in central London against government spending".

I have very good reason to be sceptical about this estimate. In October 1983 I stood on the roof of an office in Whitehall which gave me a bird's eye view of a CND march in London. According to the BBC, it was estimated that one million people took part in the march and subsequent rally in Hyde Park. Bizarrely this was far greater than even CND's estimate of 400,000.

They were both wrong. The group whose roof I was standing on belonged to an anti-CND outfit called the Coalition for Peace Through Security (CPS). Julian Lewis, who was director of CPS and is now MP for New Forest East, takes up the story:

"The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had, in its time, managed to rustle up more shouters on the streets than most: it turned out about 150,000 and 100,000 in 1981 and 1982 respectively, and characteristically claimed a quarter of a million on each occasion.

"In order to frustrate yet another such cavalier exaggeration in October 1983, the Coalition for Peace Through Security commissioned an expert photographic analysis which showed the true figure on that occasion to be approximately 98,000 for march and rally combined.

"So as to show 'progress' on their own grossly inflated estimates for the previous two years, the CND had felt obliged to claim 400,000 – a total ruled out as absolutely impossible by our aerial survey."

Without a similar survey I don't know how anyone could estimate accurately the number of people at Saturday's rally, but you can be sure that neither the TUC nor the BBC will have erred on the side of reality.

The same is true of Saturday's rally. The real figure is certain to have been far below the estimated figure banded about by organisers and for once even the BBC wasn't falling for the hype: 'Tens of thousands of people have taken part in anti-austerity demonstrations in UK cities'.

Guido has more here: No, 250,000 people did not protest on Saturday.

The reason this matters is that campaigners make all sorts of ludicrous claims and, in many cases, the media is happy to repeat them without questioning them.

The smoking ban, for example, was introduced on the back of the fictitious estimate that 11,000 non-smokers were dying every year in Britain as a result of "passive smoking".

I could list many more 'estimates' and 'guesstimates' that bear little relation to real life - public health campaigners are especially adept at this form of propaganda - but I genuinely haven't got time.

Another day, perhaps.


Smoke On The Water weather report

I rarely look at the weather forecast ahead of a Forest event.

Why bother? There's nothing you can do. Nevertheless I'm keeping my fingers crossed for our boat party on Wednesday.

The worst case scenario (not predicted) is thick cloud, persistent rain and a cool wind. Who wants to be on the river on a day like that?

Torrential rain a couple of hours before boarding sounds disastrous but it happened to us a few years ago and made very little difference to the number of guests. The sun soon came out again and the little local flooding added to the ambience.

Anyway the BBC website is currently indicating light cloud following a sunny start to the day with a temperature of 21 degrees at 7.00pm. Not bad but whether it's correct is another matter.

As for the event, it's now fully booked and we can't register any more guests. If you're coming I look forward to seeing you, wind, rain or shine.