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« Pass the sickbag before I throw up | Main | That plain packs "sabotage" claim »

Stephen Williams, "the forces of darkness" and Chris Snowdon's vagina

If you were unable to attend the debate on plain packaging in Bristol on Thursday you could follow much of it on Twitter:

Ahead of the debate, Stephen Williams MP tweeted:

Another speaker, Dr Gabriel Scally, retired regional director of public health for the South West, also went on Twitter to say:

Later he tweeted:

After the debate he took to Twitter again:

Needless to say it wasn't quite like that. Anti-tobacco campaigners live in a parallel universe where truth plays second fiddle to rampant egos and unrelenting propaganda. Frankly, it's a bit embarrassing.

The reality is this. The event – Plain Packaging: Sensible Health Policy or Nanny State Nonsense – began as a debate but finished as a heated exchange of views between four equally combative speakers, although Williams appeared slightly uncomfortable as fingers were pointed and accusations started to fly!

It was lively and a bit shouty with plain pack supporters very well represented in the audience. Scally will have you believe that "tobacco industry people" were "out in force" but I counted just five representatives of Imperial Tobacco and no-one else from the tobacco industry.

Imperial is based in Bristol and employs hundreds of people in the city. Five people is hardly "out in force". In contrast the tobacco control lobby had clearly rallied their own troops and there were many, many more of them in the audience, including Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West.

We could have tweeted "Tobacco control industry out in force" but that would have been petty. Accurate, but petty.

That said, I thought Scally was the best speaker during the formal part of the debate. He came across as authoritative, if a bit dour. Williams had a less fanatical gleam in his eye (which I would normally applaud) but he was surprisngly weak on plain packaging. Far from making a "powerful case", as Scally tweeted during the debate, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health seemed to offer very few arguments to support his case.

Overall I think the outcome was a draw. (No vote was taken but unlike some people I'm trying to be objective.) In my view Scally gave the most focused speech, and delivered it with passion. Chris Snowdon and I had our best moments, I thought, during the Q&A session. We had them on the back foot several times and I put this down to the fact that we were able to challenge them directly. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that they found this a bit uncomfortable.

Chris, for example, challenged the idea that he or anyone else who challenges the tobacco control industry must be an apologist for Big Tobacco. He didn't get the apology he demanded but the point was made and, in my view, he won that particular argument.

I would have responded to the "stooge" slur as well but there were other points I wanted to make in the limited time we had. Instead I challenged Scally on the report that the South West smokefree campaign is the "victim" of "sabotage" inspired by - you guessed – the tobacco industry (see previous post).

Again, this seemed to make our opponents (Scally in particular) quite defensive. Afterwards he was anxious to tell me that he had never used the word "sabotage". I accepted this (it would have been rude not to) but someone used the word. After all, it was a direct quote used by the BBC in the headline of its report (Plain cigarette packet 'sabotage' claim). Scally was featured in the report so if the word "sabotage" didn't come from him, where did it come from?

One more thing. In the course of the debate Chris and I discovered that anti-smoking activists like Gabriel Scally find it really, really irritating to be labelled the "tobacco control industry". I'll remember that in future.

More significant, perhaps, was the confession – elicited by a member of the audience – that there is no end to this nanny state nonsense. After tobacco it will be something else. Scally, in particular, didn't deny it. This 'revelation' seemed to surprise some members of the audience and it marked the moment when I felt the tide begin to turn, ever so slightly, in our favour despite the very best efforts of the tobacco control cheerleaders in the audience.

Of course, you don't expect people to change their minds at events like this. People usually leave with the same opinions that they had at the beginning. Interestingly however one member of the audience told me afterwards that before the debate he was in favour of plain packaging but he was now against it because he found our opponents (Scally in particular) too aggressive.

Scally's attitude reminds me of Professor Simon Chapman, the Australian anti-tobacco campaigner. Like Chapman, this is a man with a powerful ego who seems to live in a bubble surrounded by like-minded activists. He therefore believes that people who disagree with him must be stooges of Big Tobacco or what Williams more humorously calls the "forces of darkness".

Fair play, incidentally, to Stephen Williams. He said he would debate with Forest if we could find an independent third party to host the event. We did and he stuck to his word. I may disagree with his views on tobacco control but I give him credit for that.

Before I forget I would like to thank Helen Skinner and Jennifer Salisbury-Jones who made the event possible. Helen founded the Freedom Society at Bristol University (Jennifer will keep it going after Helen graduates in the summer) and it was following a talk I gave to a handful of members in February that they approached the Debating Union and suggested a discussion about plain packaging.

The Debating Union, led by Will Moulding, ran with the idea but it was Helen who encouraged them to invite Stephen Williams.

I am also indebted to plain pack supporter Suzi Gage for a series of live tweets on the debate. Here's a taste of what she tweeted while Scally and I were speaking:

I particularly liked her correspondence with Dick Puddlecote on the subject of Forest paying for the pre-debate drinks:

Last but not least, can someone – Chris Snowdon, perhaps – tell me what the following tweet is about? Did I miss something?

Oh, and here's something else I missed:

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Reader Comments (9)

"Anti-tobacco campaigners live in a parallel universe where truth plays second fiddle to rampant egos and unrelenting propaganda. Frankly, it's a bit embarrassing."

Smearing the Opposition - 2007

"If you take part in secondhand smoke policy training in the tobacco control movement, chances are that you will be taught that all opposition to smoking bans is orchestrated by the tobacco industry, that anyone who challenges the science connecting secondhand smoke exposure and severe health effects is a paid lackey of Big Tobacco, and that any group which disseminates information challenging these health effects is a tobacco industry front group.

Consequently, the chief strategy of tobacco control is to smear the opposition by accusing them of being tobacco industry moles. And in no situation should one say anything positive about an opponent, even if true.

How do I know this?

Because for many years, I was one of the main trainers of tobacco control advocates in the United States."

When I first read that, I didn't believe that anyone could be that gullible.
After all, if you've just made somebody's elderly mother stand outside the hospital in her nightgown, it stands to reason that any decent person will oppose you.

Perhaps calling an outraged public "Tobacco Stooges" is some kind of mental comfort blanket for people who know they've gone much too far already.

Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 17:31 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

This is about grotesque packaging and the control of pack size. I think it would be helpful to this campaign even at this stage, to refer to it as such.

Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 18:32 | Unregistered Commentermark

Thx for the write-up, sounds like it was quite a blast. :)

For clarity, this is the deleted tweet which began the above conversation.

Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 18:33 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Rose 2: Only this afternoon I saw a very old lady, possibly getting on for 90, in her dressing gown at a bus stop on the pavement outside the drive to our cottage hospital. Her relatives sat on the seat which the stop provided. The old lady was smoking a cigarette. I've seen this little family before. They always seem to find somewhere that she (and they) can smoke. That anyone should be treated like this, let alone those who have lived through the changes of the last 70 years and made many sacrifices on the way, no doubt. Sadly, many who feel the same as I do, keep silent out of maybe understandable self-interest. Probably the majority in the safe and law-abiding middle class will think, if they notice at all that, 'Well, my mother doesn't smoke. Neither do I, so that's all right.' This situation is an outrage. And where is our nation's sense of fair play and live and let live?

Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 20:15 | Unregistered CommenterNorman

Thanks on a great job well done from an unfunded tobacco consumer :)

Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 21:03 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Such a shame that there is not a transcript available. Surely, someone volunteered to take a recording of the debate?

I was really looking forward to hearing what was said. I would have loved to have attended, but I live in Lancashire and am old (but not decrepit!) and have duties.

Why on earth did no one think of recording the debate? PLEASE don't tell me that it was because Williams MP et al insisted that it should not be recorded!

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 5:01 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

The tobacco industry do not ban people from smoking in public.
Do not try to implement policies that no one really wants with lies and distortions of the truth.
Do not try to meddle in employment law to exclude smokers from the workspace.
Do not meddle in housing regulations to exclude smokers from rental properties.
These tobacco control "people" want to shake the scales from their eyes .
They are the forces of darkness ,divisional ,overbearing,bullying ,hectoring,false and corrupt.

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 9:39 | Unregistered Commenterc777

One more thing. In the course of the debate Chris and I discovered that anti-smoking activists like Gabriel Scally find it really, really irritating to be labelled the "tobacco control industry". I'll remember that in future.

So they don’t like that either. Simon, I would strongly urge you to read the Godber Blueprint (now mostly enshrined in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control). It will give you a good insight into how antismoking “thinking” has evolved – or, rather, devolved – over the last few decades –

Consider, for example, this little gem from the Working Papers in Support of the 8th World Conference on Tobacco or Health: Building a Tobacco-Free World (1992)

The coalition must establish a strong public image that portrays it as a defender of the nation's health and sovereignty . In many nations, coalitions are seen as fringe "antismoking" groups out to impose their narrow vision on a society that sees smoking as a sign of status and power . The term "antismoking," a label often applied by the tobacco industry, should be avoided and positive names such as "national health campaign" used. (p.17)

It should be noticeable from antismokers own conferences that “antismoking” was often used to describe their own position. But then, suddenly, the label “antismoking” became just another Tobacco Industry “conspiracy”. The term “Tobacco Control” was taken up by the antismokers themselves, a more “benign-sounding”, deceptive term. They even have a journal called Tobacco Control. They have many “Tobacco Control” conferences. Since there is now an infrastructure and considerable funding for Tobacco Control, it could well be described as the Tobacco Control industry. Rather, it should properly be called the Tobacco Eradication industry. “Tobacco-Free World” figures highly in the antismoking literature since the 1970s. They are not only antismoking, they are anti-tobacco. If they don’t like being referred to as tobacco (and, therefore, smoking) eradicationists/prohibitionists, then they are denying the very terminology used by their own movement, i.e., they are liars.

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 11:23 | Unregistered CommenterMag

'....Chris and I discovered that anti-smoking activists like Gabriel Scally find it really, really irritating to be labelled the "tobacco control industry"...'

Call it/them what they are 'Tobacco control industry agents' . If you sensed they didn't like it , use it again and again and at every opportunity. They are sinister. Let them sound so.

Monday, May 14, 2012 at 20:48 | Unregistered CommenterDunhillbabe

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