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The year ahead

Tobacco control campaigners never rest. Or so it seems.

In the past decade a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship was followed by a ban on smoking in all enclosed 'public' places including licensed premises.

After that activists moved quickly to ban cigarette vending machines and the display of tobacco in shops. (The latter, opposed by the Conservatives and Lib Dems in opposition, will be enforced in large stores later this year and in small shops from 2015.)

Meanwhile, and with little or no public debate, the 'denormalisation' of smoking (and therefore smokers) became official government policy with a series of publicly funded campaigns that included slogans such as 'If you smoke, you stink'.

The principal battlegrounds in 2012 are very clear:

1. Smoking in cars: following the largely negative response to the BMA's call for a ban on smoking in all private vehicles, and the almost certain failure of a Labour MP's bill on the subject, it would be easy to be complacent.

That would be a mistake. Tobacco control doesn't take 'no' for an answer. Like those non-elected mandarins in Brussels, they keep pushing until they get what they want.

Not for the first time devolution poses a serious threat to personal liberties. In Northern Ireland all political parties support a ban on smoking in cars and, as we saw with the smoking ban, as soon as one part of the United Kingdom introduces legislation the others fall quickly into line.

2. Smoking outside: in 2009-10 most of the interviews conducted by Forest on the subject concerned hospital grounds. In the past twelve months the debate has moved on. Now we are more often than not invited to defend smoking in or around play areas and public parks. Invariably the debate is less about health and more about adults acting as role models for impressionable children. Taken to its logical conclusion this would seem to support a ban on parents smoking in (or around) the home as well.

Meanwhile, consider these comments that were prompted by a recent report in the Western Mail about smoking in cars:

They should also ban smoking in city centres. Try having a sit down on a bench and you soon have smoke wafting your way. Why don't they just ban smoking in public?

I would also like to see smoking banned in public. Smokers fill the outside seating at bars and restaurants in the summer, preventing non-smokers enjoying the sunshine, even if they manage to grab a table, it won't be long before they get a lung full of someone elses smoke and that is pretty disgusting.

3. Plain packaging: aside from prohibition, this is the Holy Grail for tobacco control. The danger is, many consumers (smokers and non-smokers) may be lulled into taking a more relaxed view of plain packaging. Those that are may seriously under-estimate the long-term impact. Today tobacco, tomorrow alcohol, fatty foods and dairy products. The implications for all consumers are far-reaching because a ban on product branding and the enforced use of 'disgusting' colours and grotesque images is a real challenge to a free society.

I won't list them all now but the arguments for plain packaging are built on a number of fallacies. One is that packaging equals advertising. If this was true 'coloured' packs would have been outlawed at the same time as tobacco advertising but no-one, not even tobacco control, thought to argue that branded packs represent anything other than a means to distinguish between different brands (a minimum requirement in a free market).

Another fallacy is that cigarettes are sold in 'glitzy' packaging designed to entice young people to start smoking. Where is the evidence for this, apart from a half-baked 'report' by the British Heart Foundation (supported by ASH)?

Tens of millions of people have chosen not to smoke despite being exposed regularly to the sight of branded cigarette packs in shops and superstores. Should we deny consumers the sight of any branded product that might conceivably carry a health risk?

Furthermore the expression 'plain packs' is highly misleading. There is nothing plain about plain packaging. The Australian government has decided that the colour of all packs should be a deliberately unattractive olive green (or drab green as it became known when olive growers complained!).

In addition, two-thirds of the pack will feature grotesque images such as rotting teeth and hideous tumours. Is this an extension of the "uglification of England" that David Hockney once spoke of in relation to the escalation of'No Smoking' signs?

There is of course another battleground - the ban on smoking in pubs and clubs.

Faced with all the other challenges it would be easy to accept the existing legislation and move on. That is something Forest will never do. I won't lie. An amendment is going to be very difficult to achieve but 2012 marks the fifth anniversary of the ban in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and we will do everything we can to highlight the impact of the ban on pubs, clubs and consumers. In short, as long as there is support for change, we will continue to lobby politicians and government.

Given our limited resources it will be difficult to fight on all these fronts but with your backing we will do everything we can.

The good news is that we are in far better shape than we were prior to the smoking ban when, as I have often said, Forest ploughed a rather lonely furrow. We have plenty of friends out there, including readers of this and many other blogs.

The dramatic events in Stony Stratford in July showed what can be done when libertarians work together (an achievement in itself). It helped however that our principal opponent was a certified fruit loop and we had only one target to aim at. Tobacco control won't make the same mistakes again.

Over the coming weeks we will announce a number of initiatives including a new campaign that is currently in development. Details will be announced here and on the Forest website.

Happy New Year!

PS. I don't expect smoking in the home to be a major battleground in 2012 but we are not complacent – far from it. As I wrote in December, ASH is on the case and recently published a briefing paper on the subject.

Meanwhile Chris Snowdon has been highlighting the "bizarre case of Peter Lavac who blames two people who lived in a flat below him for 18 months for giving him lung cancer and now plans to sue". Full story here. Definitely one to watch.

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Reader Comments (9)

One is reminded of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem set at the Battle of Balaclava:

"Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred."

As Chris Snowdon once remarked "we are only one ban away from nirvana".

If you guys are interested I am in the process of collating the empirical evidence on plain packaging and I have 2 articles already posted. The link below is how tobacco companies can invoke World Trade Organization (WTO) legislation on intellectual property rights and the other is on "Terror Management" theory that graphic warnings make people want to smoke rather than stop.

Happy New Year!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 17:46 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Happy New Year Simon. Let's hope 2012 is the year when we become more pro-active and the year that Smokerphobia becomes recognised as a major public health concern that harms innocent people who just want to be left alone to live their lives in peace.

Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 17:58 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Happy New Year to FOREST (and all Friends of Liberty) !

And many thanks for continuing what seems at present to be a fruitless struggle against the combined forces of vested interest,
bureaucratic self-indulgence, medical dictatorialism, and (above all) spiteful infantilism on the part of the small-minded, the mean-spirited, the ill-informed, and those 'addicted' to the role of self-pitying martyr to others' 'selfishness'.

Freedom's death by a thousand chicken-pecks ?

Or darkness before the dawn ?

Monday, January 2, 2012 at 6:30 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

'Hockney is not worthy of the Order because he's a smoker' has been removed from the BBC website.

Hmm...are the BBC beginning to mellow on this issue?

Happy New Year Simon.

Monday, January 2, 2012 at 6:41 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Henson

Happy New Year, Simon.

"...and the other is on "Terror Management" theory that graphic warnings make people want to smoke rather than stop." (Dave)

Many years ago students of marketing were told about a major study which concluded that frightening people didn't result in the desired behaviour. I believe that the study had been commissioned by toothpaste manufacturers eager to increase sales. The study found that, when confronted by dire warnings about poor dental hygiene, the respondents' reaction was that it wouldn't happen to them.

(Someone came up with the alternative idea of just making the toothpaste tube hole bigger!)

Monday, January 2, 2012 at 12:03 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Happy New Year Simon!

Proposals to ban smoking in cars, extend outdoor smoking bans and prohibit the use of tobacco trademarks are clearly ludicrous. They are though battlegrounds the tobacco control lobby will be confident of winning – I’m struggling to think of any battles they’ve lost in recent years.

There are only two absolute certainties regarding cigarettes
So how about some action to raise awareness of tobacco harm reduction measures (eg the legalisation of snus and other smokeless/nicotine delivery products) and to change smokers’ littering behaviour. Both would provide opportunities for massive positive social change (improving public health & local environmental quality and saving public money). They would also enhance the PR and CSR (corporate social responsibility) credentials of tobacco manufacturers’ and all those with an interest in safeguarding the rights of those who choose to use tobacco products.

Furthermore, it would pose a serious question of the tobacco control campaigners and their raison d’etre – are they genuinely interested in reducing the harm caused by tobacco?
Charles Hamshaw-Thomas, CSR Solutions

Monday, January 2, 2012 at 19:18 | Unregistered CommenterCharles Hamshaw-Thomas

@ CHT.

You may be right on both counts - or you may not.
Yes, it may be true that 'smoking is not good for your health', but neither is playing football or going into hospital. As for 'the mess' - what mess? The reality is that you will only see 'a mess', as a result of tobacco ash and discarded filter tips, if you are looking for it. When you observe fallen leaves in the Autumn, do you therefore declare that trees cause ' a mess', and should therefore be cut down?
Further, your comment presupposes that there is such a thing as a generic 'harm from tobacco'. I suppose that there is, but only in a statistical sense. This statistical calculation in no way justifies the actual banishing of people who enjoy tobacco from indoor places - note that I did not say 'indoor public places'. Harm to children from SHS is presupposed to be true, and yet I have seen nothing of substance which supports that idea. That idea is emotional blackmail.
There is no actual harm from SHS, either to adults or children. Adults who enjoy tobacco do so because the wish to. It is wrong to consider their decisions as a matter of 'public health'. That phrase is being misused.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 2:16 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

I recall reading that tobacco companies asked Govt to run a litter campaign to educate smokers about litter but this was refused because promoting good behaviour from smokers does not fit the aim of eventual criminalisation and further marginalsation. By encouraging smokers to drop cig ends, the antis know it is a sure fire way of turning public opinion against them. We must educate by word of mouth as we always do on this issue.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 13:05 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

I have an aquaintance who since the Smoking ban began, deliberately drops cig ends in the street and especially cig boxes with graphic images on them which he says are offensive and are his way of getting his own back on not being allowed to Smoke along with his pint in Pubs which was one of his great pleasures in life,he said it was like ordering Fish and chips in a Cafe and being made to eat the chips outside !.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 22:58 | Unregistered CommenterChris W

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