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Only one word to describe Stephen Williams MP – pathetic

You've got to laugh.

When Stephen Williams, Lib Dem MP and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, sat down to write about the new Plain Packs Protect campaign on Monday, he must have thought he was on pretty safe ground.

After all, he had just come from a tobacco control conference on his home patch (Bristol) where he would have been surrounded by anti-smoking campaigners. Voices querying their grand plan to rid the world of smokers would have been non-existent.

You see, tobacco control activists live in a bubble. They don't invite opponents to their shindigs, they refuse to share a platform with "pro-smokers", and contrary views are actively discouraged.

So what happened next may have surprised the MP for Bristol West. He provoked a response, most of it hostile. In fact, as I write there are 148 comments on this particular thread. (Previous posts in January attracted 2, 9 and 15 comments. In December the most comments he got was 31.)

I estimate that 99 per cent of the comments are opposed to his vision of a smokefree world. So what does he do? He falls backs on the age-old fallacy that anyone who disagrees with the anti-smoking industry must be in the pay (or a stooge) of Big Tobacco.


PS. The reaction to Williams' post reminds me of the response to a piece by another Bristol MP, Labour's Kerry McCarthy, in 2008. See Kerry McCarthy replies.

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Reader Comments (26)

Oh Simon, I'm disappointed. Pathetic is such a mild insult. Your mates have gone rather further on my blog. It's been at least a few hours since someone alluded to my neo-Nazi cum fascist opinions.

Anyway, on a serious note, whether you like it or not the Coalition Government is about to launch a consultation on plain packs. I hope you and your friends will be able to rise to the debate. We all know that people who resort to deploying the Nazis have already conceded in their own minds that they can not win the debate by rational argument...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 11:36 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Williams

Maybe not everyone. But you are.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:00 | Unregistered CommenterSimon (nsc)

I don't think anyone even used the word Nazi until after 10 pm and then it wasn't applied to Stephen. People were questioning the grounds of the policy, and seemed pretty well rooted in the present day. Of course they also questioned whether this policy could be called 'liberal'. My distinct impression was that the first person calling names and making insinuations about links was Stephen himself, by referring to people as 'usual suspects and front groups for the tobacco lobby', indicating right from the beginning that he wasn't prepared to take their arguments seriously. He then aggravated this name-calling by denying that he meant Dave Atherton but didn't say whom he did mean.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:20 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

Simon (nsc) – I don't accept the implication that Forest is a "front group" for the tobacco industry but, that aside, neither I nor any of my colleagues commented on Stephen's blog.

I may have encouraged people to do so (see previous post) but I didn't twist anyone's arm. Everyone who posted a comment did so of their own free will (a concept you have trouble coming to grips with) because they feel very strongly about this issue.

To suggest otherwise is offensive and incredibly patronising.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:29 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Do let me help, Stephen.

Article 13

12. Retail sale and display.

Display of tobacco products at point of sale in itself constitutes advertising and promotion.

13.To ensure that points of sale of tobacco products do not have any promotional elements. Parties should introduce a total ban on any display and on the visibility of tobacco products at points of sale, including fixed retail outlets and street vendors.
Only textual listing of products and their prices, without any promotional elements, would be allowed.
As for all aspects of Article 13 of the convention, the ban should apply in ferries, airplanes,ports and airports.

Plain packaging

16. The effect of advertising or promotion on packaging can be eliminated by requiring plain packaging: black and white or two other contrasting colours, as prescribed by national authorities: nothing other than a brand name, a product name and/or manufacturer's name, contact details and the quantity of product in the packaging, without any logos or other features apart from health warnings, tax stamps and other government mandated information or markings: prescribed font style and size: and standardized shape, size and materials."

Might I suggest a dull shade of cardboard brown, like the bags dirty magazines are alleged to be sold in?

I'm sure that will help to further depress and humiliate respectable, law abiding citizens. Especially old ladies.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:52 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

Well Stephen I am so glad we are going to have a debate, because if Anne Milton has her way there will not be one.

Hansard 22nd November 2011

"Grahame Morris (Easington, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Health

(1) what assessment he has made of the potential contribution of (a) voluntary partnerships with industry and (b) regulation in reducing the incidence of (i) obesity, (ii) alcohol abuse and (iii) tobacco smoking;

Anne Milton's reply:

"Government engagement with the tobacco industry on public health matters is governed by Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its supporting guidelines. The guidelines specifically state that meetings with the industry or its proxies should be take place only when strictly necessary."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 13:01 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Stephen, I certainly don't condone personal abuse or loose jibes about Nazis in relation to tobacco control (as I have made clear several times on this blog). However, a lot of people feel very strongly about this issue, as you are discovering, and it would seem that the APPG on Smoking and Health, of which you are chairman, has no interest in listening to anyone other than a small clique of tobacco control lobbyists, many of them funded by public money. In a so-called liberal democracy that stinks.

Re the consultation on plain packaging, Forest is happy to accept your challenge to "rise to the debate". I would therefore like to invite you to join us for a public debate on the issue of plain packaging. You would be one of several speakers representing all sides of this important issue. One of my colleagues will be in touch with you shortly to arrange a suitable date and other details. We very much look forward to your participation.

Kind regards.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 13:03 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

On the 9th November at 14.31 I wrote to Mr. Williams requesting that I can give evidence to his APPG on Smoking and Health. I received this reply.

"Dear David,

I have spoken to Stephen and shown him your email and he has said he is unfortunately unable to meet with you because of other pressing Parliamentary duties.

Best wishes,

B**** ***
Assistant Researcher to Stephen Williams MP | Member of Parliament for Bristol West
Room 369 Portcullis House
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 0207 219 1XXX 9XXXX for answerphone)|

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 13:13 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

l'm at a loss as to why Stephen Williams posts here but not on his own blog and answering the comments there. As far as l can see many of the commentators have their own blogs and are independent of any links to Big Tobacco. One must understand why so many are there on his blog ... it is a rare opportunity for those who have opposing views to Stephen (ASH etc) to be allowed to comment!

Well done Simon for inviting Stephen to an actual debate. How could a true Liberal not accept such an invitation?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 13:19 | Unregistered CommenterSmoking Hot

Consultation on plain packs, Stephen? What a scream! No doubt like the 'consultation' on the public ban. People against it only consulted when absolutely 'necessary' justified by article 5.3 FCTC, written submissions and evidence sifted by your Secretariat from ASH and anyone too loudly proclaiming foul dismissed as a Tobacco Industry stooge.

Oh, yes, this'll be an object lesson in Democracy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 13:23 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Invite Stephen Williams to a debate...his answer lies in his reply to Dave Atherton.

It's a non starter. Why would you debate with someone when you don't have to - when your mind is already made up anyway.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 14:03 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Henson

Simon, Excuse me, but where do you get the idea (insulting and offensive, you call it) that I have trouble coming to grips with the idea that people are posting of their own free will? I'm sure they are - how could it possibly be otherwise?

But you have to be pulled up on your comment that it is a "fallacy that anyone who disagrees with the anti-smoking industry must be in the pay (or a stooge) of Big Tobacco." As I said, by no means is it true everyone who so disagrees is in that category - but you are. Let's face it: you don't smoke, you have no personal experience of the alienation that smokers are feeling. Your interest in this subject comes partly from your political views about 'freedom', but in the main from the simple fact that it is your job and you are paid to do this. Others commenting here and on Stephen's blog , as they have striven to say, do so without financial motivation, but that isn't true of you.

And as for holding your hands up and claiming not to condone the Nazi comments - I have asked you here several times to rein in the deeply offensive terminology of these people. I even pointed out that if you don't condemn their language then you will be seen to condone it. You ignored my request; I drew my own conclusions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 14:59 | Unregistered CommenterSimon (nsc)

I don't much like the Nazi analogy but I can see why it is made. Stephen may or may not know it is because Tobacco Control dug out he Nazi policy on smoking back in the 1990s to see how they could use it to force people to quit.

It's where they got the "Denormalisation" idea from so when people reference "Nazi" I guess that is what they are alluding to.

Perhaps I could remind Stephen of exactly what that promotes about hard working people who do not want his choice not to smoke to be forced upon them and before 2007 it didn't have to be.

Denormalisation :
Smokers as malodourous
Smokers as litterers
Smokers as unattractive and undesirable housemates
Smokers as undereducated and a social underclass
Smokers as excessive users of public health services
Smokers as employer liabilities

This was a purposeful character assassination straight from the Nazis and you wonder why a significant minority of people are very angry and indeed in despair that our ordinary, non-funded, consumer voice is always dismissed.

The truth is, this is not about health but hate, and as one of Stephen's commentors pointed out, revenge on an industry that lied back in the 60s.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 15:04 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

"I have asked you here several times to rein in the deeply offensive terminology of these people. "

Simon (nsc) - how about also asking Tobacco Control to also rein in its deeply offensive terminology of people who enjoy smoking.

We give as good as we get. We didn't start the war of insults. We just responded to it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 15:07 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

simon(nsc) - y'know even if Simon Clark hadn't blogged about Stephen Williams' post, commenters would have found their way there. Forest makes no secret of its interest; there are a lot of angry smokers. Do get over it.

And although 'Nazi' references might be provocative, they are entirely pertinent to the activities of tobacco control which is cynically setting out to encourage contempt for and marginalisation of smokers. Hitler's action towards smokers was similar.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 15:38 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Your comments about Simon and his roll (as you see it) could equally be made of all our even more highly paid experts in tobacco control!
Let's face it: they don't smoke, they have no personal experience of the alienation that smokers are feeling. Their interest in this subject comes partly from their personal hatred of a legal activity, but in the main from the simple fact that it is their job and they are paid to do this.
How many £billions each year to support 'Tobacco Control Research departments' and the Smoking Cessation Empire.
No offence Simon Clark but you are a minnow whilst Government inflates whales all around.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 15:47 | Unregistered Commenterchrisb

Simon (nsc), you do like ordering people about, don't you? A few hours ago I commented: "I certainly don't condone personal abuse or loose jibes about Nazis in relation to tobacco control".

If that's not good enough for you, let me draw your attention to a previous exchange on this issue which you seem to have forgotten. On May 11, 2011, you wrote:

"I've moaned about it before, but please Simon can you not put out something condemning the repeated references to Nazi Germany? Ethnic cleansing is simply not to be trivialised."

To which I replied:

"Simon (nsc), I refer you to this blog post: A friend in need. My views are well known but others are entitled to their opinion. It's a free country."

Did you bother reading the relevant post? It was written on November 11, 2008, and related to the decision by TalkSport Radio to suspend presenter Jon Gaunt for using the word 'Nazis' in relation to council officials refusing to allow smokers to foster children.

Forest supported Jon in his battle against TalkSport because his suspension and subsequent dismissal were grossly disproportionate to the 'crime', but I did say this:

"I would draw a line, however, at describing them as 'Nazis'. Indeed, the decision to suspend Jon Gaunt demonstrates why Forest treads very carefully when it comes to this sort of emotive language. Even the words "health fascist" should be used sparingly, and I despair when I see - on YouTube and elsewhere - pro-choice activists dressed in Nazi-style uniforms.

"Put it this way: the Nazis killed six million Jews. Whatever we think of smoking bans and other policies designed to stigmatise and discriminate against those who smoke, there is no comparison. (I don't care if Hitler was anti-smoking. Given his far more serious crimes against humanity, it barely merits a mention and in my view we don't help ourselves by making an issue of it.)"

Tell me, Simon (nsc), what part of that don't you understand or are you just trying to cause mischief?

Grow up – and use your real name for a change. I would have a lot more respect for you if you did.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 16:05 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

get a grip, Simon (nsc), there were only three instances of the Nazi terminology that referred to nazi ideas and policies out of over 160 comments and Simon can only make his views clear on nazi terminology, which he has done. On the other hand you get off with calling people right-wing libertarians and Stephen calls them tobacco industry front groups. Maybe there should be a second Godwin's law, that calling people a 'tobacco industry front group' is an admission that you don't have an argument.

To extend your argument re Simon Clark (Your interest in this subject comes partly from your political views about 'freedom', but in the main from the simple fact that it is your job and you are paid to do this), we can now discount the views of every paid tobacco control advocate in the land, because they are simply doing what they are paid to do. This is quite unlike most of the opponents of tobacco control who post on these boards.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 16:05 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

Of course I read it Simon, did you bother to read the response I made to that? The one that ends:

"Genocide is absolutely nothing like being asked to refrain from lighting a cigarette. If you don't condemn such ignorant comment, then you condone it. It isn't a subject you can sit on the fence about."

And - my name is Simon. What makes you think it isn't?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 16:17 | Unregistered Commentersimon (nsc)


It seems you're in a defensive fantasy world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 16:51 | Unregistered CommenterMag


If we're on the subject of offensive comments, I would suggest you take a peek at Dick Puddlecote's blog and see what really offensive comments are like. What you see on these sites bears no comparison the the vitriol and hate of many anti-smoker commenters. DP has been collecting some of the more choice ones.

Then tell me that the (factual) comparisons sometimes made in these blogs between the current and the Nazi anti-smoking templates is offensive, and that smokers' comments to that effect should be condemned..

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 17:26 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

But smokers, smoke and denying people an indoor space in any public building anywhere where they may smoke,drink and relax is ruining thousands of peoples lives.

Any areas that can be publicly accessed and are more than fifty percent enclosed must be by law, smoke free.
Pig pens must be eighty percent enclosed to protect the pigs within. This is what Stephen Williams and Ash are responsible for, it is the blatant persecution of a minority group if not an officially recognised one. Those referring to the smoking ban for example as nazi, however offensive this may be (are not referring to genocide) but to the way in which smokers feel totally persecuted in this country and the strength of this feeling having had their social lives ruined by tobacco control. A very terrible word to use even in context, but perhaps one of the only words to truly sum up how very upset and angry people feel about the smoking ban, its complete unfairness and those that instigated it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 2:44 | Unregistered Commentermark

I don't see the need to have to explain, and certainly not apologise for, the Nazi comparison. In relating to smoking, it's factual. After all, they imposed a public smoking ban when nobody else did.

The likes of Williams are well aware of it and, simply, don't like it. Tough. It stands in fact.

Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 8:13 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

I agree Frank, although I don't like to use the Nazi comparison, it does stand in fact.

Before the atrocities of the nazis there was denormalisation, propaganda, bans, use of the children, etc. TC is walking the same exact journey.

Perhaps TC's hidden atrocities will lie in the untested, unsuitable for use, RIP cigarette papers that they now advocate.

Time will tell.

The large fact that TC pushes governments to treat human beings worse than animals (just like the Nazis did) is enough for most to be persuaded with the Nazi comparison. Let's face it, there's certainly room enough to cater for all our legal citizens.

Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 23:46 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

279 comments and counting.

Stephen Williams must wonder what's hit him! I note, however, that he has not even attempted to address any of the arguments posited. Perhaps because, when put on the spot, he has no answers.

It's easy to appear knowledgeable and decisive when you are basking in the approving glow of the lobby groups who put you up to this, Stephen. Not so easy when you have to justify your actions to those who actually have factual knowledge at their fingertips, and who are not drones who believe everything they read in the MSM.

Friday, January 20, 2012 at 9:12 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

I see that Simon Chapman has now posted on Stephen Williams' blog.

magnetico1 has mentioned the Chapman Trick

"Citations are included from patent office registrations of new chemical applications to tobacco processing and from the specialist chemical literature.
Both these sources are virtually unintelligible, let alone normally accessible to the average person but are rich in potential for anyone willing to translate them into news items with popular interest ."

"Polysyllabic chemical names should be checked through a reference book that lists common usages and toxicological data for chemicals .
Look for usages that will connote revulsion or concern .
For example, well known chemicals found in tobacco include cadmium (as in car batteries), ammonia (as in toilet cleaners), cyanides, formaldehyde and so on "

"Look for usages that will connote revulsion or concern." .

Something I'd been entertaining the family with for years.

It's amuses me to mention quite truthfully that raspberry pips contain cyanide when serving them up for sunday lunch, or that there's formaldehyde in the apple pie.

Here's a good one for rhubarb crumble or serving up chocolate mousse.

"Oxalic acid and oxalates are useful as reducing agents for photography, bleaching, and rust removal. They are widely used as an purifying agent in pharmaceutical industry, precipitating agent in rare-earth metal processing, bleaching agent in textile and wood industry, rust-remover for metal treatment, grinding agent, waste water treatment. acid rinse in laundries and removing scale from automobile radiators."

"Oxalic acid occurs in lots of foods in small amounts, and a few foods in large amounts. Swiss chard has most (700mg per 100g), but spinach (600mg), rhubarb (500mg), cocoa (500mg), beetroot (300mg) and peanuts (150mg) also have a lot. A cup of tea provides 50mg and this source accounts for most of the 150mg of oxalic acid the average person consumes each day. This amount is about a hundredth of a fatal dose."

Harmless and truthful fun when presented in context, very different when used to mislead.

Now we can all play.

Friday, January 20, 2012 at 12:11 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

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