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Groundhog day 

Groundhog day: a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way.

There has been conjecture that the Government's new Tobacco Control Plan has been delayed because it's not a priority.

I'm sure that's true. I can think of lots of things – not just Brexit – that are far more important (don't we have enough tobacco control measures already?), and the public seems to agree.

Over the last two years polls conducted by Populus for Forest have consistently shown that tackling smoking is usually the lowest in a list of priorities for national and local government, below even obesity and alcohol issues.

The public isn't stupid. They know that smoking rates in Britain are the lowest they've ever been since the introduction of mass-produced cigarettes.

They know too that in the last decade successive governments have passed a series of laws from the smoking ban to plain packaging via the ban on the display of tobacco in shops and the general feeling, I believe, is "Enough's enough."

See Enough Is Enough: Attitudes to UK Smoking Policies (Forest).

Unfortunately when it comes to tobacco control the Department of Health tends to be a law unto itself – unelected mandarins calling the shots, working hand in hand with the likes of ASH, 'advising' (ie lobbying) health ministers on the 'next logical steps'.

So it's good to see the Government taking its time (although sod's law dictates that as soon as I've published this I'll get a call saying there will be an announcement early next week!).

It was encouraging too to read yesterday a comment from the minister for local government in response to the 'revelation' that some Labour councils have a "secret plan" to ban smoking in "alfresco dining areas" including beer gardens.

According to the Telegraph:

The proposals to extend the ban to outdoor areas have been included in a list of demands by councils and health authorities in London which has been supported by Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London.

However the Government has rejected the plans and condemned "labour's municipal killjoys" for making the proposal.

Marcus Jones, a minister for local government, said: “We already knew that Labour councils charge higher council taxes and levy more red tape.

"Now Labour’s municipal killjoys have been caught with a smoking gun, trying to ban adults enjoying their local pub garden. If implemented, these ill-founded proposals would lead to massive pub closures.

"Conservatives in Government will be vetoing these Labour Party plans. Ahead of May’s local elections, local voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Labour councillors."

While this is good news let's not get carried away. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing to stop any local council introducing a by-law that would ban smoking in outdoor areas.

In other words, we have to remain extremely vigilant. We're still in the early phase of what promises to be a long war on smoking in outdoor areas, public and private.

In fact the whole situation feels extremely familiar, a note for note re-run of the long-running 'debate' about smoking in indoor public places, and these are the initial skirmishes.

Yesterday, for example, I did a couple of interviews for BBC Radio London and Five Live. In the course of those interviews it was suggested a good compromise would be smoking and non-smoking areas in beer gardens and 'alfresco dining areas'.

Years before the smoking ban was introduced pubs and particularly restaurants introduced smoking and non-smoking areas.

If I remember this was supported by ASH who insisted their only goal was more choice (ie 'smoke free' zones) for non-smokers.

No-one could really object to this (compromise is good, right?) but of course there were complaints from anti-smokers (who are never satisfied) that smoke drifted from the smoking to the non-smoking area.

Hence the proposal for separate smoking rooms but even that wasn't good enough because there were complaints that whenever the door to the smoking room was opened smoke – or the smell of smoke – would drift out into the non-smoking area.

The 'killer' argument was of course "passive smoking kills". Despite extremely dubious evidence we lost that battle because "passive smoking kills" was a slogan that was almost impossible to respond to in an equally succinct manner.

Have you tried explaining epidemiology and the risk ratios concerning passive smoking in a soundbite? It can't be done.

Well, I got an enormous sense of deja vu last night because I found myself going head-to-head with arguably the world's leading anti-smoking campaigner, Dr Stanton Glantz, who insisted, on Five Live, that smoking outside presented a serious threat to the health of non-smokers.

Presenter Stephen Nolan sounded sceptical and I declared the claim to be "nonsense" but Glantz was his usual bolshie self and became quite aggressive when I had the temerity to interrupt.

It was a slightly uncomfortable interview because I was standing, shivering, in the dark outside the Milton Keynes Theatre where I had gone to see Danny Baker's one man show, From Cradle to Stage.

The show began at 7.30 and finished – almost four hours later – at 11.10. I was booked to appear on Five Live at 10.45 so I had to slip out early.

Truth is, it wasn't my finest interview (if there is such a thing) because I do find Glantz a little intimidating and the argument became quite heated (or "passionate", as Nolan put it).

Anyway, despite the positive noises emanating from government, it all feels strangely familiar.

Update: During the Five Live 'debate' with Glantz I insisted repeatedly that it was "nonsense" to suggest smoking outside is a threat to non-smokers.

This morning I read this by Dr Max Pemberton in the Daily Mail:

As a doctor, you might expect me to support the call to extend the smoking ban to outside spaces. Actually, I think the Government was right to reject the plans as they did this week.

As a former smoker, I know that the more you’re told not to do it, the more there’s a tendency to dig your heels in. Brow-beating people into quitting rarely works.

There’s no doubt the smoking ban has brought about great benefits and, along with e-cigarettes, has gently nudged lots of people to quit.

But as a libertarian, I think there has to be compelling evidence before we ban things. It might not be pleasant to get a whiff of smoke as you walk past someone in the street, but it’s not going to kill you.

Time and again, public health officials, often in cahoots with busy-body councils, try to impose their will on people when there is flimsy evidence of any real benefit, riding roughshod over people’s basic right to choose how to live their lives.

Just because people make choices the experts don’t agree with doesn’t mean they should have those choices taken away.

To me, the attitude of public health officials embodies everything I dislike about doctors — the patronising, ‘we know best’ attitude of yesteryear that the medical profession has tried so hard to shake off.

Let people smoke outside if they want to. It’s their life and the Government has no place telling someone what to do if it doesn’t affect anyone else.

It’s just the nanny state interfering — which I like even less than smoking.

Glantz or Pemberton? I know who I believe. Click here.

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Reader Comments (6)

because I do find Glantz a little intimidating

He's up to his old tricks with sugar now, after all you can only flog the same horse for so long.

November 2016
Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research
A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents

Cristin E. Kearns, Laura A. Schmidt, Stanton A. Glantz

"Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD."

Sugar review: Rewriting history to expose a non-existent conspiracy

If you haven't seen it already, here he is making mincemeat of Michael Siegel over e-cigarettes.

Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 12:29 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

"To the best of my knowledge there is nothing to stop any local council introducing a by-law that would ban smoking in outdoor areas."

Legally that is true. In practice, however, the mass closure of pubs in a council ward resulting from people flocking to neighbouring areas for a drink is a deterrent.

Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 12:51 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Snowdon

When dealing with Glantz you need to highlight that he is a rabid prohibitionist. He has been with the current antismoking crusade from its beginning in the late-1960s. In the early-1970s he created the antismoking organization "Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights", an organization he headed until only recently. Anyone reading the ANR website over the last few decades couldn't help but get the erroneous impression that whiffs of tobacco smoke are on a par with a bio-weapon like, say, sarin gas.

Mention - on air - that Glantz was the long-time head of the antismoking organization, ANR. Glantz needs to be asked on air how it's possible that his prohibitionism does not cloud his "research" and claims concerning tobacco smoke? He has a strong vested ideological interest. He'll respond with, "I don't want to prohibit tobacco smoking". You can then mention the "slippery slope". No-one was talking about outdoor smoking bans when indoor bans were introduced. Rather, the antismoking talk was, "what's the problem? All you have to do is step outside if you want to smoke." Yet now we're at the stage of smoking bans in outdoor dining areas. Outdoor smoking bans for entire university campuses. Outdoor smoking bans for entire parks. Outdoor smoking bans for large tracts of beach. With prohibitionists it's a constant creep. Mention Glantz's own University of California (San Francisco) campus where the use of ALL tobacco products is banned, indoors and outdoors, which he agitated for. This includes snus and chewing tobacco which don't even involve smoke.

Out these vile plonkers. Mention on air that this is the latest demand by prohibitionists. They're chasing the "next step" in the crusade. If there's no genuine evidence for a "next step", prohibitionists are notorious for simply making it up as they go along. It's never enough for prohibitionists short of a smoking ban for all indoors and outdoors. Case in point - the prohibitionists' wet dream - the Godber Blueprint in sight. Let me introduce you to Laguna Beach, Orange County, California (where else?), playground of the affluent. , Laguna Beach is contemplating going "all the way". It already has a smoking ban for parks and beaches and even that's not enough. It's proposing a complete ban on smoking - even in alleys (dumpsters might get sick from wisps of smoke). The only places where smoking will be permitted is in one's vehicle and one's home:

Laguna Beach looks at banning smoking in all public places
The list of places where Laguna Beach bans smoking is apparently getting longer.
The city currently bans smoking at public parks and beaches and in restaurants, the Act V lot, elevators, public transportation vehicles, hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
On Tuesday, the City Council supported extending the list to all public places — including alleys, bike paths, sidewalks, parking lots and plazas — as well as common areas of multi-unit residences.
In a unanimous vote, the council directed staff to return with a draft ordinance. Electronic cigarettes and vaporizers would be treated as tobacco products under the new rules and be similarly banned in those areas..

Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 13:46 | Unregistered CommenterWyatt

Here's Glantz softening up the Brits to an indoor smoking ban way back in 2001:

Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 13:47 | Unregistered CommenterWyatt

Here's Glantz (UCSF) receiving a $20million grant.

“Our results will not just provide information that the FDA can use to improve its regulatory decision making,” Glantz said. “They will also help the public and public health authorities around the country and to world to develop better policies to curb the global tobacco epidemic.”

Glantz is a professional prohibitionist. He wants to see smoking, if not all tobacco use, eradicated. All of these baseless creeping smoking bans from indoors to outdoors and extortionate taxes are some of the vile means towards the prohibition end. They put more and more pressure on smokers to do as they're told and quit.

Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 14:14 | Unregistered CommenterWyatt

I would like to take issue with these two of your statements:

"Despite extremely dubious evidence we lost that battle because 'passive smoking kills' was a slogan that was almost impossible to respond to in an equally succinct manner."

"Have you tried explaining epidemiology and the risk ratios concerning passive smoking in a soundbite? It can't be done."

NO, you don't need to explain epidemiology in a single soundbite: common sense is enough. Countering the ETS fraud need not be a lost battle, there are quite succinct ways to do it:

(a) demand proof of it, like "name a single dead person whose death certificate states a cause of death "passive smoking". Insist you want a name, not a statistic. FULL STOP. If they can't name a live example, they are lying or propagating lies and you should say this to them. Now, for those patient enough to listen the explanation is that no such death certificate exists because in the extremely infrequent worse case scenario passive smoking *could* have contributed (together with many other confounders) to an earlier death. But it is not an actually stated death cause in death certificates.

(b) Say, how come a 5 minutes whiff of smoke will kill you if it takes 40 years for 3 packs a day to kill you? Press them to reply in a yes/no manner without "ifs" and "buts". Be firm and don't let the babble. Reject a rely such as “medical research proved it” by saying that medical research is often mistaken. Demand the person to provide his/her assessment without invoking authority. At least you provoke doubts. For those patient enough to listen you can explain the main reason why saying “passive kills” is a fraud: ETS is, besides chemically different from inhaled smoke, which in outdoor conditions is diluted by a factor of (at least) 1 in 100 000 times at 1 meter distance and 1 in 1 000 000 000 (one thousand million) at 2 meters. I can happily provide the science sources for these figures, but probably you already have them.

The key point is to reply firmly (though with civility) without mincing words and without surrendering any concession. If you are too polite and accommodating you loose. It is better to create a bit of a scandal than to be seen as an appeaser of liars, and please bear in mind that those saying that "passive smoke kills" are either liars or are (willingly or unwillingly) parroting lies.

On Glantz, people should not allow being intimidated by him. If given a chance to share a media appearance with him I would tell him his research on ETS is flawed and fraudulent, mentioning the debunking by Ho et al of his "Helena miracle" study. He would probably not expect this and make a tantrum, which may show him in a bad light. Your experience with Glantz perhaps took place 10 years ago when he and his minions were at the the top of their power. Today things have changed, they have to contend with e-cigs and public health is shifting attention and funds towards obesity and sugar, the public is becoming less and less concerned with tobacco (practically all public spaces are smoke-free in the USA). So, now is the best time to deliver an intellectual punch to this clown.

Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 22:43 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

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