Velvet Glove Iron Fist - tenth anniversary
Saturday, June 22, 2019 at 8:15
Simon Clark

On Tuesday we are marking Forest’s 40th anniversary with a gala dinner in London.

I’ll write more about that over the next few days but I couldn’t let today pass without mentioning another anniversary.

Ten years ago, on June 22, 2009, Forest hosted a reception for over 200 people at Boisdale of Belgravia.

To put the event in context, in November 2007 we organised a party to mark the publication of a book, Scared To Death, by Christopher Booker and Richard North.

Sub-titled ‘From BSE to Global Warming, Why Scares Are Costing Us The Earth’, one of the chapters was about passive smoking.

According to Booker, a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and one of the founders of Private Eye:

For years, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on trying to prove that smokers not only harmed themselves but also the health of those around them, the anti-smoking campaigners found the evidence they wanted frustratingly elusive.

So when the two most comprehensive studies of passive smoking ever carried out each came up with findings that non-smokers living with smokers faced no significantly increased risk of cancer, their antismoking sponsors did all they could to get the reports suppressed.

In a pattern familiar from other scares, the researchers were subjected to a torrent of personal vilification. By the time a wave of smoking bans swept through Europe and America in the early 21st century, the official statistics used to justify them had become not just exaggerated but wholly fictitious.

Forest was keen to help promote the book so we organised a reception at Boisdale and invited the authors. The day after the event I wrote:

Over 150 guests turned up and many were still there come midnight. Wine flowed and Boisdale MD Ranald Macdonald was as generous as ever with whisky and cigars.

[Co-authors] Christopher Booker and Richard North travelled from Somerset and Yorkshire to sign copies of the book which quickly sold out.

Christopher gave a short speech - to cheers and applause - and proposed a toast, at which point everyone raised their glasses and cheered (again).

The message was clear: people are sick and tired of having their freedoms restricted by politicians and campaigners, especially when it involves scaremongering and the consistent abuse of science and statistics.

Fast forward to the spring of 2009 when I was sent a copy of another book. Unlike Scared To Death it was self published and in the absence of a mainstream publisher the author had set up a website to promote it himself.

I’m normally a bit sceptical about self-published books but as soon as I read it I wrote:

I can't speak highly enough of this extraordinary labour of love. I've read many books on smoking and this is best by far. It's a superb read. To use that old cliche, it's a page-turner, which is some achievement. It's packed with information but it's also very readable - serious yet hugely entertaining.

Better still, this is no fire-breathing polemic. The amount of research that has gone into it is staggering. And the tone is moderate throughout which is important because it will appeal to a far wider readership.

The book was Velvet Glove Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking by Chris Snowdon and on June 22, 2009, it was launched at a party that also marked Forest’s 30th anniversary.

The following week the online magazine Spiked published an interview with Chris that took place that same evening. It’s no longer online but a short passage has survived on one of my long forgotten blog posts (Chris Snowdon: online, off message).

Written by Rob Lyons, who was deputy editor of Spiked, the passage reads:

I’m sitting in the corner of a bar, talking to author Christopher Snowdon and doing something almost unheard of in Britain these days: enjoying a cigarette under cover. Admittedly, it is a pretty open-air kind of ‘under cover’ in a specially adapted part of the Boisdale restaurant and bar near London’s Victoria station; still, the novelty value is not lost on me.

We are here because Snowdon is launching his book this evening, a history of the anti-smoking movement that has been three-and-a-half years in the making. One of the main reasons he wrote it, he tells me, is because ‘I wanted to read it. I went into the library looking for a history of the anti-smoking movement, assuming there would be one, and there wasn’t.’

Instead, he had to wade through many other books on the history of tobacco, picking out snippets here and there and trying to build up a picture of the chequered history of those who want to see the evil weed confined to the ashtray of history.

By coincidence (or perhaps not!) Rob became a regular guest at Forest events and subsequently worked on our Action on Consumer Choice project. In 2017 he also wrote the Forest report 'Road To Ruin: The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice'.

Chris of course went on to work at the Institute of Economic Affairs - where he is head of their Lifestyle Economics Unit - and it’s fair to say he is now one of Britain’s leading commentators on nanny state issues, if not the leading commentator.

One of Chris's great skills is his ability to turn detailed research into something that is entertaining and accessible. It's a talent very few academics have while very few journalists can be bothered to do the research.

As for Velvet Glove Iron Fist, there is little to add to what I wrote ten years ago:

This is a superbly written, impeccably researched book that deserves the widest possible audience.

If you haven’t read it are copies are still available on Amazon. Warmly recommended.

Update: Chris has also written about the book here - Ten years of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.

PS. I had completely forgotten about this but Peter Snowdon, Chris’s father, posted a short video of that 2009 event on YouTube. He also posted a video of his son's speech. As Chris might say, do give them a watch.

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