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Saturday
Jul082017

Final, final thoughts on the smoking ban anniversary

Earlier in the week Chris Snowdon posted his final thoughts on the smoking ban. These are my final, final thoughts on the smoking ban anniversary.

It may be small consolation but the best articles by far were scathing about the ban and its consequences.

Pride of place goes to Brendan O'Neil, editor of Spiked, who wrote a coruscating piece for The Spectator online. It's hard to pick out a favourite passage (I urge you to read the whole thing) but here's one:

I hate the smoking ban. I hate what it has done to this nation. It has ripped out its soul. It has sterilised it, sanitised it, turned this country of the raucous public house and yellowed fingers wrapped lovingly around glistening, gold pints into one massive gastro hangout in which everything is clean and child-friendly and boring.

It has made us cruel. I’ve seen incredibly ill people, twisted into wheelchairs, smoking in the cold, purple air of a winter’s night outside King’s College Hospital in London. And now Public Health England wants to ban smoking outside hospitals as well as in them, presumably meaning the sick will have to traipse or crawl across deadly roads for their two minutes of tiny pleasure. What has become of us?

See The smoking ban ripped the soul out of this country (Spectator).

I'm proud to say that Brendan was a speaker at the Forest Freedom Dinner in 2014. This year's speaker, Rod Liddle, also wrote a strongly worded diatribe about the ban that appears in the print edition of the same magazine:

The neurotic and fascistic anti-smokers of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said at the time what they always say: this is as far as we want to go. And, as ever, they were lying. They are now supporting bans on smoking in beer gardens and the outside seating areas of restaurants. They were in favour of banning smoking in cars and ‘public places’. I give it a maximum of ten years before smoking is banned in the home at this organisation’s behest. ‘We do not attack smokers or condemn smoking,’ ASH says on its website — one of the finest pieces of doublethink imaginable.

ASH was also behind the idiotic plain packaging of cigarettes and the even more ludicrous decision to force shops to conceal their tobacco displays so that the poor shop assistant has no idea where a particular brand might be. There is not the slightest proof that either the plain packaging or the concealed displays have reduced smoking in this country, still less the hilarious photographs of very ill and unhappy people which now, by law, must adorn every packet. The man who can’t get it up has replaced the coughing woman as my favourite. He looks cowed and forlorn. I assume he’d been trying to schtup one of the harridans who work at ASH and that was the reason for his erectile dysfunction, nothing to do with smoking.

See Being anti-smoking damages your mental health (Spectator).

In contrast to these titans of journalism, who was beating the drum for tobacco control? Step forward Blaise Tapp (?) whose contribution to the debate was a syndicated column that appeared in both The News (Portsmouth) and the Yorkshire Evening Post.

After initially dismissing [the ban] as a step too far, I have now come to the opinion that people should no longer be allowed to light up in public parks and open spaces such as squares ...

I am a staunch believer in freedom of choice but when those choices impact on others – such as what it costs to treat smoking-related illness – then we need to think of other ways to stub out fags altogether.

'A staunch believer in freedom of choice'? Of course you are, Blaise. Now, where's your medication? (The smoking ban was a great idea – can we take it further?)

That apart, media coverage of the anniversary was inevitably driven by the narrative, promoted by ASH, Cancer Research and Public Health England, that the ban has been an "enormous success", has improved public health and driven down smoking rates (1.9 million fewer smokers since the ban was introduced in 2007).

Forest attempted to disrupt this tendentious argument (or confidence trick) with the publication of 'Road To Ruin? The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice' and the latest Forest/Populus poll that showed that, a decade after the ban, the public is still split on the issue of allowing separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

We issued three press releases:

Report: Decade of the smoking ban has decimated England's pubs (26/6)
Public split on allowing separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs (29/6)
Key to smoking cessation is choice and education, say campaigners (30/6)

The latter was issued in response to an ASH press release that was embargoed until the following day (July 1). Our response read:

"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 report on pub closures generated some coverage. However the poll was largely ignored with the exception of a report in the Morning Advertiser (the pub trade title) and a passing mention in the BBC News report that appeared online on July 1.

The comment above was quoted by a handful of media online but not as many as we'd have liked (see my comments about the Press Association below).

Here's a selection of reports we generated or were quoted in:

Pro-smoking group calls for review 10 years after ban (Morning Advertiser)
Public split over smoking rooms in pubs (Morning Advertiser)
‘We don't need to go back to the days of stinking like a rancid ashtray’: Your reactions to pro-smoking group’s call to review smoking ban (Morning Advertiser)
Cigarette ban killing off British pubs: 11,000 lost in 10 years (Daily Star)
End of the smoking ban? Urgent calls for major law change 10 years on (Daily Star)
10 years on, health campaigners celebrate 'enormous success' of the smoking ban (ITV News)
Anniversary of UK smoking ban 'marks a decade of success' (Sky News)
Smoking ban: Number of UK smokers falls by nearly two million in 10 years (Independent)
A decade after UK smoking ban introduced, how has the law affected Bristol? (Bristol Post)
The smoking ban came in TEN years ago - so has it worked? (Liverpool Echo)
The smoking ban came into effect 10 years ago, but has it worked? (Cornwall Live)
Smoking ban saw a huge shift in our pub culture (Lancashire Evening Post)
'Sledgehammer' smoking ban ruling played part in pub and club decline in Bolton (Bolton News)
Decade of smoke-free laws celebrated with smoking rates at lowest level ever (News & Star)
Smoking rebel says ban has ‘destroyed our pubs’ (Blackpool Gazette)
The smoking ban ten years on: Do you agree with the law? (Daily Echo)

Our poll/pub closures report also got passing mentions here:

Pub smoking ban: 10 charts that show the impact (BBC News)
The smoking ban turns ten. What did it really achieve? (Spectator)

One or two local newspaper columnists mentioned Forest. Two examples: Jayne Dowle: Clearing the air a decade on from the smoking ban (Yorkshire Post) and the aforementioned Blaise Tapp: The smoking ban was a great idea – can we take it further? (The News and Yorkshire Post).

Rob Lyons, author of our 'Road To Ruin?' report, wrote articles for Spiked online and Conservative Home (where he took a bit of a kicking for suggesting the Conservatives might readdress the issue of smoking in pubs):

How the smoking ban killed off the local boozer (Spiked)
Ten years on from the smoking ban, the Tories could gain by rolling it back (ConHome)

Forest was also quoted in reports that followed an interview with Nick Hogan in the Manchester Evening News. Nick was the publican jailed for failing to pay fines after he allowed customers to smoke on his premises on 1st July 2007. (For those who don't know, I was at Salford Jail on the day he was released. It was one of the more surreal days I've had in this job – see Nick Hogan: behind the scenes.)

The only man ever jailed over the smoking ban has given up cigarettes... but he's not given up speaking his mind (Manchester Evening News)
Only person to ever be jailed over smoking ban doesn't regret a thing - but he has quit cigarettes (Daily Mirror)

It's worth noting that dozens of reports appeared online last weekend credited to the Press Association. The report the PA filed and sent to all media focussed on reports/polls published by Cancer Research UK and ASH and featured quotes from CRUK, ASH and Public Health England without, it seemed, a single opposing comment.

I complained in the strongest possible terms. In response they said they did include a quote from Forest (but only, it seems, after I had rung the news desk). At no stage did the PA contact Forest (or anyone else with an opposing view) for a comment, which speaks volumes.

In the event our quote was omitted from all but a handful of the many reports published online by dozens of local titles and a handful of national publications. Go figure.

As for broadcast interviews, a pre-arranged interview for Channel 5 News was cancelled as I was in sight of the studio having got up at 4.00am to drive 90 miles to London. C'est la vie.

I did however do interviews for Five Live, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Sussex, Bristol, Kent, Manchester, Newcastle, Three Counties and LBC.

Final, final thought: if I hear one more person applaud the smoking ban on the grounds that they no longer have to endure a smoky pub or wash their clothes to remove the "stench of tobacco" I may not be responsible for my actions.

I don't doubt that back in the day (the Fifties and Sixties) pubs were indeed very smoky environments. Having said that I wasn't there so don't take my word for it. Come the late Seventies and Eighties, when I spent a lot of time in pubs, I genuinely don't remember it being a problem.

Indeed, as a non-smoker and a regular pub goer from my late teens to my mid thirties I can honestly remember only one occasion when I entered a pub and it was so smoky that my eyes watered. (It was also heaving with people and unbearably hot which was not the fault of the smokers.)

Many pubs, in England especially, introduced air filtration systems so smoky environments, in my experience at least, were increasingly rare. At the very least people had a choice, with some pubs being better than others, and they voted with their feet.

To suggest, as many people have, that before the ban pubs and bars were invariably smoke-filled is a myth that has been allowed to develop almost without challenge.

It may be true of the traditional back street boozer but it certainly wasn't true of the many new bars that opened up in the Eighties and Nineties, like the Pitcher & Piano chain that had a bar very close to the office where I worked in south Clapham.

The point is, people were able to choose the environment in which they ate and drank, and the market changed in accordance with public demand.

As for having to wash your clothes after returning from the pub, did no-one wash their clothes before the smoking ban? Did no-one ever sweat or get their clothes dirty in other ways? Was it the norm, before the smoking ban, to wear the same shirt several days' running?

I never, ever recall this being a problem until a handful of anti-smokers began to make an issue of "having to wash our clothes after visiting the pub".

If it was that bad the public would surely have supported, by an overwhelming majority, a ban on smoking in pubs and bars.

Instead, according to the Office for National Statistics, in 2005 - the year before MPs voted for the ban - only 30 per cent wanted a comprehensive ban, and you can be sure that figure includes many who were not regular pub goers and were never going to become regular pub goers.

Anyway we are where we are and if the past fortnight has taught me anything it's this.

You can argue all you like about the pros and cons of the smoking ban, but one thing is clear. The ban gave the green light to a level of intolerance that has been shocking to behold.

Note too how easily people have been persuaded that even the briefest exposure to 'secondhand' smoke is a serious health risk.

This has been achieved by a combination of zealots and fanatics working hand-in-hand with a well-funded public health industry that believes the end (a smoke and nicotine-free world) justifies the means.

The smoking ban was the moment propaganda became more important than truth and education, and choice and personal responsibility were replaced by bigotry and discrimination.

In the words of Brendan O'Neil:

It speaks to a dramatic backward shift in politics. A shift from a politics concerned with improving people’s living conditions to a politics obsessed with policing people’s behaviour. ‘The politics of behaviour’, as New Labour scarily but aptly called it. It speaks most strikingly to a redefinition of what it means to be left or progressive.

Once, that meant ensuring the less well-off had more opportunities, more comfort, more pleasure. Now, as made clear by the mad leftist cheering of the ban and other nanny-state initiatives, it means saving people from themselves. It means depriving people of pleasure for their own good. It means using the law to socially re-engineer the masses so that they’re more like ‘us’: fitter, slimmer, smokefree.

Sadly, as the response to Rob Lyons' article for ConservativeHome shows, this attack on pleasure can be found right across the political spectrum.

Health fascists are no longer limited to a tiny minority. They're all around us and unless we fight back things will only get worse.

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Reader Comments (9)

Excellent post - thank you!

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 14:23 | Unregistered Commentervapingpoint

Did no-one ever sweat or get their clothes dirty? Was it the norm, before the ban, to wear the same shirt several days' running?

Do you ever wonder if at least some of that might be astroturfing, Simon?

I noticed on newspaper threads in the weeks after the ban, that they all changed slogans at the same time and became suspicious.

They weren't trying to explain their point of view, they were trying to shock people who spoke up against the ban into silence.

It's good to see that we still haven't been silenced after putting up with ten years of this stuff.
But they are a lot worse on the Daily Mail than they were on Conservative Home.

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 14:53 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

We are now a proud resistance to ASH / PHE, their doctor chums
and all the other nutters trying to do down smokers. Like I've often said, such persecution of a minority wouldn't be tolerated if we were, for example Muslims. We must fight these people, ignore their stupid bans, even if it puts us outside the law. Enough now really is enough !!!

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 16:02 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

"I'm a staunch believer in personal freedom, but...." gives me the same sense of foreboding as when someone says "I'm not a racist, but...."

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 17:15 | Unregistered CommenterNate

Thank you for all that you do Simon!

@Rose2

"Do you ever wonder if at least some of that might be astroturfing, Simon?"

I for one, have wondered, and on more than one occasion.

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 17:51 | Unregistered Commenterjredheadgirl

Thank you for this important reference. The smoking ban is an example of totalitarian lifestyle control imposed through propaganda and coercion. It leverages hysteria and nurtures hate and intolerance to yield unrelenting control.

The racketeers benefiting from the ban must be afraid that their 'confidence trick' will be exposed since they actively work to censor all dissent.

The smoking ban needs to be repealed or amended and freedom restored. That will require speaking out against the ban and its excesses. This platform is a good start!

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 23:24 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

It is astroturfers. The more persuasive and reasonable articles promoting choice, fairness, and equality for smokers are the ones that get infected by the bile of an orchestrated attack by professional anti smokers and their stooges.

A brilliant post Simon. We've known for 10 years that unless we fight back things will get more oppressive. The question is how? So far our efforts have proved largely futile given the stranglehold the antismoker lobbyists have in forcing discriminatory legislation through without scrutiny via a biased media that generally has no intention of looking at this issue from the consumer's point of view, and politicians content to allow professional anti smokers to do their thinking for them.

Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 23:51 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

“The ban gave the green light to a level of intolerance that has been shocking to behold”

Ne’er a truer word spoken, Simon. Am I the only one who feel that levels of intolerance for pretty much anything someone doesn’t like or feels offended by have skyrocketed since the smoking ban came in? Of course, there have always been intolerant people around, but by and large they were regarded by most people as “fuddy-duddies” or “fusspots” or “puritans” – relics of a bygone time with much more rigorous social strictures which, it seemed, most of society was busy trying to leave behind and move on to something fairer and more inclusive and more accepting of all comers. And we were getting there. For sure, there were still pockets of prejudice, as I guess there always will be in any society, but by and large we were gradually moving in the right direction. Until now.

Maybe I’ve just become more aware of it since the ban (after all, there’s nothing like being on the personal receiving end of prejudice to make one aware of its real nature), but there certainly seem to be fewer people around who are prepared to accept others when they don’t conform exactly to their own personal views, behaviours or values and the once-derided fuddy-duddy or fusspot attitude seems to be one that everyone is now eager to adopt. Nice though it would be to blame this shift entirely on the smoking ban, I’m sure that there are other factors which have turned our once easy-going society into such a self-important bunch of disapproval-merchants, but I can’t help but think that by legitimising intolerance of smoking the Government were in effect subtly legitimising intolerance itself, and this certainly hasn’t helped.

I’m certainly not aware of any other time at least in the last century where the law has specifically been used, not to try and ensure some attempt at fairness (which, in my understanding has historically been the main purpose of the law), but instead to actively favour one group of people over and above another group. By legitimising intolerance towards smokers, politicians in effect legitimised intolerance itself. That may or may not have been their intention – I’m sure there were some who genuinely thought this would only apply to smoking, and others who knew perfectly well that it wouldn’t, but didn’t much care - but regardless, it’s certainly been the result, as it seems that virtually every week now we hear cries from some new protest group or another that the law should be used to ensure their preferences are served whenever those clash with the preferences of another group. “It should be banned!” has become people’s first port of call, rather than, as would have happened in more tolerant times, their last.

And, of all the hurtful, harmful, damaging effects which the imposition of the smoking ban has had in so many areas, I think that this is probably the worst of all, because it’s the most insidious and the least obvious, and also because it strikes deep into the psyche of what has traditionally been a proudly tolerant society and makes attitudes which were fast becoming unacceptable once again acceptable – indeed desirable. Politicians would do well to ponder on the fact that all the while the law supports intolerance in any form – even against a group whom they personally happen to disapprove of – then their efforts to enforce greater tolerance in other areas, i.e. towards groups of whom they do happen to approve, are doomed to failure. They can’t, in other words, have their cake and eat it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017 at 2:11 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

My thoughts, exactly, as our country has just implemented a nationwide smoking ban last month. Never had I felt more deprived and lowly as we desperately find a place where we can relieve stress while at work, as no alternative smoking area has been assigned for us. I can't help but feel like a criminal in hiding and it is indeed ironic that I am now more stressed just looking for a place where I can relieve stress. I just feel so violated and discriminated upon.

Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 6:57 | Unregistered Commenterbree

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