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Reaction to the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban

As I'm sure you know, today marked the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in England.

Media interest was relatively lukewarm throughout the week. I did a handful of local radio interviews – BBC Sussex, Suffolk, Kent, Manchester, Newcastle, Three Counties.

The Newcastle experience was amusing. I saw a tweet from Fresh (aka Smokefree North East) thanking the station for interviewing their spokesman.

Forest hadn't been asked so we tweeted something to that effect and BBC Newcastle replied, inviting us on. Twitter works, folks!

This morning I did an interview with BBC Bristol in which I was paired up with Hazel Cheeseman of ASH. A few minutes later I was on Five Live with her boss Deborah Arnott.

At lunchtime I was on the BBC News Channel (with Deborah as my adversary again) but for a so-called milestone event it's been relatively quiet, broadcast wise.

It was a similar story online and in print. The tenth anniversary has been reported by sections of the national and regional press but the coverage has been far from universal.

A reasonable number of reports featured quotes from Forest or mentioned the results of our report (Road To Ruin? The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice?) but our poll (Public split on allowing separate smoking rooms in pubs) was ignored by everyone apart from a passing reference on the BBC News website.

The Liverpool Echo reported:

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “There’s very little evidence that the health of the nation has benefited significantly from the smoking ban. Instead thousands of pubs have closed and choice has been sacrificed on the altar of tobacco control.

“Allowing separate well-ventilated smoking rooms or relaxing the unnecessarily strict regulations on outdoor smoking areas would reignite freedom of choice and give publicans greater control over their business.

“Proposals to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas including beer gardens will be fiercely resisted. Smoking is a legitimate activity and pubs must be allowed to accommodate adults who choose to smoke.”

Yesterday we got wind of an ASH report, embargoed until this morning, that celebrated the "enormous success" of the ban and called for further anti-smoking measures. Our response to that read:

"Contrary to claims by anti-smoking campaigners, polls suggest there is little appetite among the general public for further anti-smoking measures.

"The smoking ban decimated pubs in England with little evidence that it had a significant impact on public health.

"Instead of punishing smokers for their habit the government should embrace and promote harm reduction products like e-cigarettes.

"The key to smoking cessation is choice and education not prohibition and other repressive measures that hurt legitimate consumers."

Today, ITV News quoted our reaction to the specific claim that the smoking ban has resulted in two million fewer smokers since 2007.

"It's disingenuous to suggest the smoking ban has been a significant factor in reducing smoking rates.

"For five years after 2007 smoking rates fell in line with the pre-ban trend. The most substantial fall in smoking rates happened after 2012, a period that coincided with the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

"Attempts to force people to quit are invariably counter-productive. Education and support for less harmful products is the way to go, not prohibition and other restrictive practices.

The blogging community has chipped in with several bloggers commenting adversely on the ban.

But a special H/T to Chris Snowdon. Apart from Forest Chris has probably been the most vocal critic of the smoking ban this week.

See: The smoking ban turns ten. What did it really achieve? (The Spectator) and Myths and realities of the smoking ban (Velvet Glove Iron Fist).

Ella Whelan, winner of a Voices of Freedom award at our Freedom Dinner this week, was another critic on Sky News.

Tom Welsh, former features editor at City AM and now assistant comment editor at the Telegraph, wrote a well-intentioned column entitled 'The smoking ban marked the end of Britain as a libertarian nation'.

Aside from the fact that Britain has never been a libertarian nation, Tom (a smoker) began by declaring, 'There is virtually zero support for reversing Labour’s ban on smoking in pubs, clubs and bars.'

I'm sorry, this is nonsense. Even ASH doesn't claim there is no support for the ban to be repealed but it's symptomatic of the negative mindset many smokers now adopt when discussing the issue.

Poll after poll conducted by Populus for Forest in recent years has found a small majority in favour of separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

The latest poll, conducted two weeks ago, found that 48 per cent of adults in Britain would allow smoking rooms in pubs, while 42 per cent were opposed to the idea.

Elsewhere I was interested to read an interview with Nick Hogan, the Bolton landlord who became the first and only publican to be jailed for allowing customers to smoke on his premises.

The Manchester Evening News has the interview here and you can read about the small part I played in getting him out of jail here and here. It was without doubt one of the most surreal things I have ever been involved with.

Last but not least, Rob Lyons, author of our Road To Ruin? report, is getting a bit of a hammering on ConservativeHome where he has written an article, 'Ten years on from the smoking ban, the Tories could gain by rolling it back'.

You might like to pop over there and comment.

If the reaction of ConHome readers is a bit depressing, the good news is that, on the evidence of the past week, opposition to the smoking ban and other anti-smoking measures remains alive and well.

ASH, Cancer Research and Public Health England might have expected a free run this week. That's not been the case.

So to everyone who spoke out, wrote an article (or blog post) or posted a comment online, grateful thanks.

Here's a sample of reports that included comments from Forest:

Pro-smoking group calls for review 10 years after ban (Morning Advertiser), Smoking ban saw a huge shift in pub culture (Lancashire Evening Telegraph), Cigarette ban killing off British pubs: 11,000 lost in 10 years (Daily Star), 'Sledgehammer' smoking ban ruling played part in pub and club decline in Bolton (Bolton News), A decade after UK smoking ban introduced, how has the law affected Bristol? (Bristol Post), How the smoking ban killed off the local boozer (Spiked) and Pub smoking ban: 10 charts that show the impact (BBC News).

Update: Despite our best efforts, including a phone call to the news desk on Friday morning, the Press Association failed to use a single comment from anyone opposed to the smoking ban.

Instead they squeezed into their report a Cancer Research press release celebrating the "enormous success" of the ban and an ASH press release that claimed there is "increasing public support for further measures such as a licensing scheme for tobacco retailers and a levy on the tobacco industry to pay for measures to reduce smoking".

Needless to say the PA copy has been published online by dozens of local newspapers and several national titles.

I shouldn't allow myself to get so annoyed but the level of bias involved is quite shocking for a national news agency. I may write a separate post on this once I've simmered down.

Update: The PA has assured me they did include a comment from Forest in the copy they filed and sent to all media.

They even sent me the evidence so I have to believe them, although I'm still annoyed they ignored our data on pub closures.

Curiously, however, and with the exception of ITV News, almost every title (national and local) that used the PA's copy chose to omit our quote. 

Fancy that!

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Reader Comments (1)

The attack on the oped by Rob Lyons bears all the characteristics of an orchestrated campaign wage by tobacco control. The reliance on well-known tobacco control memes is evident. I'm surprised no one seems to notice--especially since tobacco control playbook explicitly recommend this type of astroturf propaganda to shout down opposition.

Saturday, July 1, 2017 at 22:27 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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