« Is it time for the CEO of ASH to get on her bike? | Main | Think of the children, say tobacco control campaigners. Stop exploiting them, then! »
Sunday
Feb162014

Telling tales: Deborah Arnott, Nick Triggle and me

OK, this is what happened on Monday night shortly after MPs voted to ban smoking in cars with children.

I arrived at Millbank studios in London, a few yards from the Houses of Parliament, at 8.20pm.

I'd been booked to do three interviews - a live head-to-head with Deborah Arnott of ASH on the BBC News Channel, a recorded interview for Five Live's Morning Reports, and a late night discussion, also on Five Live, with tobacco control 'expert' Professor Robert West.

I sat in the small reception area on the first floor and chatted to the BBC's friendly meet and greet person.

Then Deborah arrived.

I opened the door for her and she swept in clutching a cycle helmet and a large bundle of what looked like wet weather gear.

I guessed she had come straight from the House of Commons and was on her way home.

Now, to misquote P G Wodehouse, "It has never been hard to tell the difference between Deborah Arnott and a ray of sunshine."

Like her counterpart in Scotland, her default expression is what anthropologists call "chewing on a wasp".

Nevertheless I expected a half smile - a satisfied smirk, perhaps - to mark what must have been a happy moment in Deborah's life. Labour shadow health ministers were said to be giving each other high fives. Surely Deborah could join in the fun?

Instead my presence in that small vestibule seemed to provoke some inner torment. I paraphrase but the gist of her sudden and unexpected outburst was:

"The people have spoken ... MPs have voted ... It's a victory for democracy ... You've lost ... Forest should shut up shop."

The latter was spat out with real venom, like a royal command.

We may not be best buddies but we've always been civil to one another. What was going on?

The BBC's meet and greet person, who heard it all, was as bemused and unimpressed as me.

"Deborah," I said quietly, "this is unprofessional."

Moments later, live on air, Ms Crosspatch continued to denounce Forest and our links with tobacco companies, which she is perfectly entitled to do, of course.

It did however eat into the short time we had to discuss smoking in cars and I wondered whether it was a planned strategy or something she decided to do there and then.

Her bitterness towards Forest seemed to cloud any personal or professional satisfaction she must have felt about the vote and when the interview finished she marched off without another word to me.

Now, I would normally keep such incidents to myself but Deborah's behaviour crossed a line and it's not the first time she's acted like this off air.

I've heard similar stories from others who have experienced her unbridled wrath.

Does she think she's morally superior? That's how she behaves.

Is she unhappy that Forest attracts so much media coverage, even when we're swimming against the tide of political opinion?

Is she still smarting that the Hands Off Our Packs campaign gave Tobacco Control such a good run for their money? (And we're not finished yet!)

Winning battles is no longer enough for Deborah and her ilk. They want the entire battlefield to themselves.

Like the global warming lobby who want climate change sceptics banished into outer darkness, Deborah won't be happy until Forest is similarly silenced.

Later, on Five Live, Robert West also had a pop at Forest and our tobacco company connections (which couldn't be more transparent or legitimate).

In the context of the discussion it made little sense to bring it up but he seemed programmed to say it.

Which brings me to the next day (Tuesday) when something rather odd happened.

In an article headlined 'Is a complete ban on smoking next?', BBC health correspondent Nick Triggle described Forest as the "industry lobby group".

Now, you might think that happens all the time but you'd be mistaken. 'Smokers' lobby group', 'pro-smoking group' ... we get called various things but this was the first time I can remember Forest being called an "industry lobby group".

Given that it's not true - we represent the consumer not the companies - I was determined to get it changed. So I emailed Triggle and copied my email to one of his colleagues who I know as fair and reasonable.

Forest, I told him, is not an "industry lobby group". We receive donations from tobacco companies but we do NOT represent the industry or the tobacco companies.

I waited 15 minutes then called this same person on the news desk. He told me the matter had gone to his editor but added, "Nick feels strongly about this."

So I sent another email:

The Tobacco Manufacturers Asociation represents the industry. Forest does not.

I find it extraordinary that just because Nick Triggle feels strongly about this he is allowed to peddle his own line regarding the nature of Forest.

Oddly enough the line is very similar to that used by our direct opponents on the BBC last night.

I am certainly not aware of BBC News previously describing us as an "industry lobby group". Why now?

Result? 'Industry lobby group' was changed to 'tobacco lobby group' which I can live with although it's not strictly accurate.

But it's better than 'industry lobby group' which is wrong, regardless of what Nick Triggle "feels"!!

It's probably coincidence, but isn't it odd that the day after Deborah Arnott and Robert West made a point of highlighting Forest's links with Big Tobacco, the BBC's online health correspondent should refer to Forest as the "industry lobby group".

A more cynical observer might conclude the two things are related.

Me? I couldn't possibly comment.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (8)

My gut instinct, if I can paraphrase MEP Dan Hannan is that we have won the argument intellectually, but not when it comes to legislators.

Whether they go native the minute they are elected or attract a certain type is a matter of debate.

The smoking ban unleashed scores of fresh writers, libertarian thinkers and activists. I can only conclude that Ms. Arnott is increasingly outside her tobacco control comfort zone and dissent free discourse, increasingly feeling the heat.

She must realise her days and influence are numbered.

Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 13:01 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Forest is a consumer organisation. To treat our representative with such contempt shows they actually feel the same about the little, unfunded and ordinary consumer too.

They are on the side of Big Lobby Groups and Big Industry and they are happy to use the power of the state and state media to beat up ordinary people while pretending to be sticking up for them.

The hypocrisy of the smokerphobics know no bounds. Smokerphobia has no place in a decent society and those who think hate is acceptable against any group should be exposed in the same way racists and homophobics are.

As for Debs -The people have spoken and they want her to fuck off and stop stealing the money we want putting into direct patient care rather that hate mongering propaganda.

Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 13:06 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Nick Triggle is an example of why we should not be forced to pay the license fee. His personal bias which is healthist in the extreme is hugely apparent in much of what he produces. He appears to be a public health groupie and together with Michelle Roberts he partly explains the BBC's hopeless bias in favour of people like Arnott. The BBC's coverage of public health issues is demonstrably partisan to the point at which it can seriously be considered to be propaganda. There is no excuse for Nick Triggle as a health correspondent. He has no idea what science is so goes along with whatever his mates at CRUK,BHF etc tell him and his own political instincts.

Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 15:12 | Unregistered CommenterIvan D

What exactly has Debs Arnott and our less than intelligent Lords (& eventually MPs) achieved by banning smoking in private cars with children present? Just converted our police force into a health watchdog and given away another piece of freedom. A law that was not necessary, based on junk science and one that the police have no serious time to enforce. Cameron, what happened to all your promises of rolling back the state? An forlorn hope.

Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 19:22 | Unregistered CommenterBill C

Of course the two are related, these zealots constantly put their heads together to come up with standard lines of attack, so that they’re all singing from the same songsheet and they don’t get caught out contradicting each other. It’s one of the ways that they’ve been so media-savvy and it’s one of the most cunning ways that they’ve managed to give the impression of a “united front.” It was so important to them that they even had to oust their former chairman (whose name I now can’t remember), in favour of the more draconian Arnott, because his focus was on searching for safer cigarettes rather than bans, bans, bans.

But, as Dave A points out, the smoking ban was something of a turning point for them, just not necessarily in the way they anticipated. Just when they thought that they could rest on their laurels and that it was “all downhill” now towards total tobacco prohibition (because everyone would “just get used to” the ban and give up smoking), what actually happened was that smokers (and many non-smokers, too), failed to “get used to” the ban at all, and instead got interested. The result – as you know Simon, from the amount of rushing about from interview to interview that you now do – is that pro-choice groups such as Forest (in fact, particularly Forest) have become much better known and the fact that there is – shock, horror – another side to the argument has finally dawned on some members of the mainstream media.

The anti-smoking industry weren’t expecting that. That’s clear from their reactions to the fact that, these days, someone from one of the pro-choice fraternity is inevitably invited along to comment on the latest anti-smoking proposals. And, true to form, the only defence that they have is the only one they’ve ever had – ad hom attacks, accusations of being a “tobacco industry stooge,” straightforward insults (“people who smoke are stupid/selfish/stinky”) and, if all else fails, sheer unadulterated aggression – temper-tantrum style, a la your recent encounter with Her Ladyship. It really is the only argument that any of them have, right from top-of-the-tree Debs to the most lowly anti-smoking footsoldier plaguing the comments sections of the Internet. I’ve yet to hear, see or read a single well-thought-out, rational, reasoned argument from any one of them. Even those who start out sounding like someone who’s seriously considered all the issues and just happens to have come out on the anti side, reverts to emotionally-loaded hatred the moment someone questions their judgement in even the most neutral of ways.

But in a way, it’s a good sign that they’re getting nastier and they’re concentrating so hard on the “tobacco industry” side of things. It shows that they’re rattled; it shows that they haven’t got much ammunition beyond finger-pointing insinuations; and to my mind it’s a very strong sign that despite all their brave-sounding words, they know that their whole movement is built on very shaky ground, and they are extremely worried that having people like you, Simon, popping up everywhere make it worryingly likely that the public whom they so easily duped into believing that there was only one side to the story when they had the field to themselves might just now start to see that there is, after all, another side to consider.

As an aside, doesn’t Arnott’s demand that Forest just “shuts up shop now!” sound suspiciously like the Green Party’s recent demands that no-one who disagrees with them should be allowed to hold senior public office? Birds of a feather, perhaps? Or maybe the Greens are merely mimicking what I suspect ASH and their ilk did (unnoticed, back in those pre-Internet days), a few short decades ago? Just a thought …

Monday, February 17, 2014 at 2:35 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

I fear, given Millibland's posturing on climate change while standing knee deep in the flooded south, that if Labour wins the election in 2015 it will be a criminal offence to not believe in man made climate change and Forest will probably be forced to shut up shop too. Free thinkers and those who support the opposite view of Labourites will be criminalised.

Monday, February 17, 2014 at 7:45 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Nick Triggle is an interesting case. A few years ago he would occasionally contact us for a quote or a comment and we would do our best to help him. Then he stopped calling us and his reports became increasingly one-sided. We wrote to the BBC about him but little happened.

I know Michelle Roberts has been criticised by some people. I can only go by my own experience and she is one of the better health correspondents in terms of seeking a balancing comment.

Monday, February 17, 2014 at 8:50 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Why is that any organisation who defends smokers rights is automacilly linked to tobacco companies yet none of the media ever link any anti smoking groups to pharmaceutical companies.eighty members of the House of Lords have connections to medical companies.

Monday, February 17, 2014 at 17:46 | Unregistered CommenterSteven simon

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>