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The importance of a dissenting voice

As of today smoking is banned in all Scottish prisons.

The policy is controversial because reports - as I explained here and in the Scottish Sun on Wednesday - suggest that an identical ban in prisons in England and Wales has helped fuel violence and the use of illegal drugs among inmates.

With the notable exception of the Sun, however, communicating that message has proved difficult.

Forest’s response to the ban was sent to the Scottish media on Wednesday morning.

Yesterday, at around 5.30pm, we started getting notifications of media reports, none of which included a single comment from Forest or any other critic of the ban.

Instead each report was identical and read like a government press release.

The source was the Press Association (which was the first recipient of our own press release) so I rang the PA to complain.

To be fair, they immediately updated their report - which is how I’m quoted in the Mail Online (Smoking ban to be introduced in Scotland's prisons), the Glasgow Evening Times, the Aberdeen Evening Express and elsewhere - but it was disappointing that I had to chase them.

That wasn’t the end of my work however because at 1.00am this morning BBC News online posted their own story about the ban.

Like the initial PA report it merely regurgitated whatever the government (or Scottish Prison Service) had fed it.

Older readers will know what happened next because I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to do something similar.

I rang the BBC Scotland newsdesk. In Glasgow. At 2.30am.

A reporter from Radio Scotland answered. BBC News online? I’d have to wait to speak to someone because no-one would be there until five or six o’clock.

I went back to bed and fell asleep. When I woke up it was almost eight so I rang again.

This time I got someone on the online newsdesk who wasn’t best pleased with my complaint but agreed (reluctantly) to consider our response if I sent it again.

That was at 07:51.

I also sent a link to the PA report that had appeared on Mail Online with my quote.

Zero response. The report on the BBC website remained unchanged.

At 09.01 I rang again and was told the person I had spoken to an hour or so earlier was in a meeting. So I left a message.

Forty minutes later, almost nine hours after the report was published on the BBC News website, I got this response, via email:

Mr Clark, I have added a quote at the end of the article.

It’s a token quote (see our full response here) but it’s better than nothing and the reason we chase these things is simple.

Failure to do so would allow these influential reports to appear without a single dissenting voice and with no hint of opposition governments in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff will be emboldened to introduce more and more regulations.

To be honest, I’ve never thought that prisoners should have a right to smoke in jail, but there is an argument to be had about the wisdom of banning smoking in prison, especially when reports suggest there are serious unintended consequences.

What really makes me cross though is the increasing tendency of journalists to publish stories that could have been cut and pasted straight from a government or ‘public health’ press release.

I’ve written about this several times because it’s an ongoing issue, but it seems to me that many journalists are little more than copy takers because relatively few can be bothered to make the story their own.

Anyway, this is how BBC's report now reads - Smoking banned in Scottish prisons, with a short comment from me at the end.

Update: Forest is not alone because the comments below the BBC report are largely critical of the ban.

I'm not surprised. Earlier this year Populus conducted a poll for Forest in Scotland and one of the questions concerned the prison smoking ban:

There was support for inmates in Scottish prisons being permitted to smoke, with two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents agreeing that prisoners should be allowed to smoke in designated smoking areas.

On this issue, like many others, public opinion is on our side. It's just not represented in parliament.

See Forest criticises Scottish Government's "constant war on smokers"

Update: I also discussed the Scottish prison smoking ban with Mike Graham on on TalkRADIO at 12.35.

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Reader Comments (6)

Send ASH staff into Barlinnie when the riots and violence starts. If they had to police the result of their hate campaigning, they would stop. Do they care about some murdered, rapist, violent smoker inside or their health? Do they hell. It is about time govt stopped pandering to the dangerous fanatics at ASH before they demand all smokers are imprisoned for the crime of being a smoker. That, I am sure, is next after home bans.

Friday, November 30, 2018 at 12:48 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

It appears that the legislative bodies systematically ignore public opinion and facts when they conflict with the desires of the so-called 'public health' machine. Tobacco control as the foundation of 'public health' tyranny routinely surpasses dissent. This attitude has permeated the Fourth Estate.

There is ample evidence that smoking bans fuel violence in prisons. Indeed there is evidence that increased taxes and plain packages fuel organized crime. Yet, the tobacco control dominated media ignores these facts just as they ignore the studies disputing the risks of second hand smoke and popular desire for designated smoking areas in pubs and prisons.

Friday, November 30, 2018 at 18:05 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Another draconian punitive example of relentless state sanctioned persecution of smokers. Public health is a euphemism for temperance and prohibition. The po faced sanctimonious policies have proven totally counterproductive in Australia, with 1 (one only) packet of debased government approved propaganda pack cigarettes costing over $300. Tobacco has always been used as currency in gaols. The prohibitionist bullies confirm they are not exponents of reality and are cruel paternalistic dictators by advocating such policies. The continuing outlandish claims about the toxicity of 2nd hand smoke even in the open air is more evidence the rent seeking tobacco prohibitionist wowsers are waging a moral crusade to inflict their subjective lifestyle preferences on others. Not good enough. Where is it documented (e.g. in Cabinet minutes) that hard coercive paternalism, infringing free choice while creating deadweight regulatory costs, is suitable for modern democracies, or constitutional monarchies... leave smokers be. 🚬

Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 3:09 | Unregistered CommenterMark Jarratt

It really is counterintuitive (or, more likely, wilfully blind) for smoking to be banned in prisons. As many non-criminal smokers will testify, going too long without a cigarette for a regular smoker very, very often results in grumpiness and tetchiness in the best of us. Most of us of a non-violent disposition simply put up with it until we can escape and have a break, but if you take someone who is already predisposed to be angry and/or violent, then forcing them to go “cold turkey” (bearing in mind that NRT and vaping simply doesn't work for a lot of people) is pretty much guaranteed to spark unpleasant incidences – as it has in many, many prisons where these bans have been imposed. It’s very likely that the rise in “air rage” incidents has a similar root cause – I certainly don’t remember “air rage” existing at all before all the airlines started banning smoking.

It’s also missing a golden opportunity to use smoking itself as a “privilege” awarded for good behaviour. I can’t imagine a better incentive for a smoker prisoner who might be predisposed to be troublesome than to promise him the opportunity of a regular smoke break if he keeps his nose clean!

Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 3:20 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Reported in it's own inimitable way.

FCTC/COP/5/9 Annex 3 page 12

“Researchers have found a marked decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase (MAO) in the brains and peripheral organs of smokers . MAO is an important enzyme responsible for breaking down dopamine.

The decrease in MAO results in higher dopamine levels and may be another reason that smokers continue to smoke, i.e. to sustain the high dopamine levels that lead to the desire for repeated drug use.

It has been suggested that this change is likely to be caused by a substance in tobacco smoke other than nicotine.

Certain tobacco constituents are reported to be MAO inhibitors, such as 2,3,6-trimethyl-1-4-naphthoquinone …”

MAOIs are antidepressants.

Take those antidepressants away without proper substitutes and you get the results we see in smoke banned prisons.

Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 10:11 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

Misty, when I choose not to smoke I am fine - but if the choice not to smoke is forced upon me then I am as grumpy as hell. I cannot abide some sanctimonious snob laying claim to my body or my life - and that is what pisses me off and not just not being able to smoke.

I think in prison when so much of your life is controlled, you can feel owned by the state so demonstrating some small autonomy over your life, such as the choice to smoke and when you smoke, must be empowering. Take that away and they take everything from a smoker prisoner and not just the cigarette.

As usual with this issue, it is about so much more than smoking but few get that or even understand it.

Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 14:39 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

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