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« MEPs enjoying a smoke in the European Parliament | Main | Forest's 40th anniversary dinner - presentations and speeches »

Deborah Arnott rewrites history - the cheek of it!!

BBC Cambridgeshire yesterday asked, ‘Do you think the government can get everyone to quit smoking in ten years’ time?’

Presenter Chris Mann began his mid morning programme by interviewing Mark MacGregor of Philip Morris UK.

The company yesterday launched an online app that allows you to find out the prevalence of smokers in every constituency in the country. It's simple to use and quite smart, actually.

Based on Office for National Statistics’ figures it will be used, I imagine, to put lobby MPs whose constituencies have a smoking rate higher than the national average.

The Telegraph ran a report about it and gave it the absurd headline, ‘Smoking is almost entirely a northern pastime, new analysis finds’.

Clearly this isn’t true but I love the fact that in the minds of some non-smoking, middle class Southerners smoking can now be classified alongside ferrets, pigeon racing and rugby league.

I don’t know if Forest’s quizzical tweet had anything to do with it (‘Really? No-one smokes in London or the south of England?) but the headline was changed soon after to ‘Labour constituencies in the North have highest number of smokers’.

Anyway, Mann's interview with a silky smooth Mark MacGregor was followed by an interview with me and Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared airtime with Deborah. I don’t dislike her and I don’t think she dislikes me particularly, but there is an edge to her whenever we speak or meet.

Yesterday, after I spoke positively about e-cigarettes (as I have done for the best part of a decade), she accused me of being a “hypocrite”. According to Deborah:

I tried to get him, to encourage him and his organisation, if it was about the rights of smokers, to support alternative products. It was only when the companies that fund his organisation started to produce these products that he started to say anything about it. So, you know, I just think you can’t really listen to anything he has to say.

Talk about rewriting history! I almost choked on my almond croissant.

Given a right of reply by Chris Mann I said that being called a hypocrite by Deborah was a case of ‘pot, kettle, black’. I also pointed out that I have been writing about e-cigarettes since 2010.

In contrast I don’t remember Deborah taking much interest in the subject until a few years later, and even then her endorsement of e-cigarettes was lukewarm at best.

See, for example, my review of the first E-Cigarette Summit in London in November 2013. It included this passage:

If the E-Cigarette Summit was about the future someone really should have told Deborah. She and ASH are stuck in the past, fighting battles with the tobacco companies that are well past their sell-by date.

As for those pesky e-cigs, they are potentially highly addictive, she warned. Toxic too. And they could renormalise smoking.

She doesn't want to ban them but ASH want e-cigs advertised to smokers only. (How's that going to work?)

Honestly, when Deborah is in this mood I wouldn't want to be stuck in a lift with her.

As it happens I bumped into her very briefly at lunch. She expressed mock surprise that I was at a conference on "harm reduction".

I tried to explain that I was there because a lot of smokers (who don't want to quit) use e-cigs when they're not allowed to light up – in pubs and other enclosed public places – but I don't think she was listening.

In her mind, and those of many tobacco control campaigners, e-cigs have one use only – as a smoking cessation aid. The idea that someone might want to smoke and/or vape for pleasure is anathema to them.

Earlier that year, in May 2013, ASH issued a press release about e-cigarettes that had an important caveat:

"E-cigarettes should be brought under the control of medicines regulation [my emphasis] to ensure that they are safe to use and marketed appropriately.”

The following month ASH welcomed new regulations that would license e-cigarettes as a medicine in the UK from 2016 (see 'E-cigarettes face new restrictions', BBC News, June 2013).

Long before that Forest's support for e-cigarettes was unequivocal. In February 2013, for example, I wrote:

I was invited to discuss e-cigarettes on BBC Radio Jersey last week.

It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. It highlights however what I think is a serious weakness. Where are the spokesmen for e-cigarettes?

Apart from Michael Ryan, co-director of E-Lites, who appeared recently on Scottish Television, the e-cigarette industry is largely invisible in that respect.

Yes, there is a thriving vaping community online but where are they when it comes to bread and butter campaigning? Most of the time they are preaching to the converted.

As a champion of consumer choice Forest is happy to support and defend the use of e-cigarettes (and other smokeless tobacco products).

My concern is that, media wise, a vacuum is developing that may be filled by e-cigarette spokesmen who are profoundly anti-smoking and no more tolerant of tobacco than ASH or the BMA.

Now Deborah is trying to rewrite history and claim that she tried to encourage me ‘to support alternative products’. The absolute cheek of it!

The truth is, it’s Deborah who belatedly decided to reposition ASH as a vaper-friendly advocacy group. To do so she had to abandon the idea that "E-cigarettes should be brought under the control of medicines regulation", but let's not forget that's the position she previously held.

Today her support for e-cigarettes is still limited to the notion that they are nothing more than a smoking cessation tool.

Also, I am still waiting for ASH to repudiate workplace vaping bans introduced by local councils or the excessive restrictions on vaping products and marketing introduced by the EU's Tobacco Products Directive.

Two weeks ago I suggested that tobacco control campaigners like Deborah are trying to colonise the vaping ‘space’ and her latest attack on me/Forest is further proof that she wants to drive out alternative voices.

“I spend a lot of time talking to vapers,” she told BBC presenter Chris Mann yesterday. Perhaps, but she’s not alone in that.

Meanwhile, what about smokers who don’t want to quit? Does she spend a lot of time talking to them as well?

Unlike ASH, Forest has always been extremely positive about e-cigarettes and heat not burn technology because we genuinely believe in choice, not a half-arsed version of it that applies only to non-smokers and those who want to quit smoking.

Our reservations about some vaping advocates has nothing to do with the product but the people, many of whom are lifestyle control campaigners or prohibitionists like Deborah.

Anyway, yesterday's interview concluded with this exchange:

Chris Mann: presenter, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
So that question of do you think the government can get everyone to quit smoking within 10 years. Deborah, yes or no?

Deborah Arnott
 Yes, but they need to do more and they need to make the tobacco industry pay for things like public education campaigns to help encourage young people not to start and adult smokers to stop and that means switching to e-cigarettes.

Chris Mann
OK. Simon Clark, same question.

Simon Clark
No, I don't think it can be possible to stop people smoking by 2030 because a lot of people enjoy smoking, they don’t wish to quit and they certainly won't be forced to quit by people like Deborah nagging them all the time.

Chris Mann
Thank you both for being here. That’s Simon Clark from Forest and Deborah Arnott, I'm guessing not on his Christmas card list, chief executive of public health charity Action on Smoking and Health.

You can hear the full item, including the interview with Mark MacGregor of Philip Morris, here.

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Reader Comments (7)

"The idea that someone might want to smoke and/or vape for pleasure is anathema to them."

I suspect that the idea that anyone might do anything for pleasure - except trying to ban or restrict another's pleasure - is total anathema to someone like that.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 12:34 | Unregistered CommenterManx Gent

If you don't dislike her, you might be doing something wrong :-)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 13:46 | Unregistered CommenterBucko

Further evidence from 2012 here.

I was at that event (the video is sadly not online anymore), it was back in the days when not only did ASH want e-cigs to be medicalised but also the maximum strength to be 2 or 4mg/ml. Even the restrictive TPD allows 20mg!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 17:19 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Arnott is and always hss been hostile when it comes to smokers and smoking. That she now sees ecigs as a weapon to force smokers to quit is what turns many away from vaping. Without the hate campaign her organisation waged against legitimate tobacco consumers, I think vaping may have evolved naturally. If there are still people smoking in 10 years, it will be because of the bullies at ASH. No one likes to be pushed around.

As for medicalisation of ecigs, frankly, most smokers who enjoy smoking couldn't care less. Either way, vaping has been adopted by Arnott and co as a tool of oppression against smokers.

I can assure anyone who cares to know that if I am still here in 10 years, I will still be smoking and so will millions more like me. That Arnott wishes people like me would hurry up and die to make her puritan utopia a reality says far more about how her smoker hating organisation lets smokers down rather than Forest which has been our only friend.

As a lifelong smoker, I am far more qualified than an overpaid smoker-hating professional to say who has let us down and who had defended us over the last 40 years from nasty little bigots like her.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 22:29 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Smoking prevalence figures are fiction.
Norway, where I live, asserts that smoking prevalence is 12%.
My day to day experience says this is garbage.
When someone is what we call a party smoker, i.e. does not buy cigarettes only scrounges them offf someone else they are not counted as smokers for prevalence figures, but are counted as smokers in all of the "have you ever smoked" epidemiological garbage.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at 14:24 | Unregistered CommenterMariec

"Also, I am still waiting for ASH to repudiate workplace vaping bans introduced by local councils or the excessive restrictions on vaping products and marketing introduced by the EU's Tobacco Products Directive"

As ASH receives money from CRUK, which receives money from the manufacturers of inhalers, patches and gum, you'll be waiting a long time. ASH is supporting vaping while, at the same time, working to prevent it. Let's be frank - vaping is popular because it gets around the smoking ban. Even better, it helps achieve smokers' Nirvana. That is, occasionally smoke a cigarette and really enjoy it, whilst coming to negligible harm; and, in the mean time, indulge in another enjoyable nicotine habit. If someone invented nicotine gum now, I don't think it would be be thought an investment opportunity - even though they've now introduced fruit flavours. I wonder why they did that?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at 17:23 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

I am not surprised to see an ardent tobacco controller rewrite history. Tobacco control relies upon fabricated and manipulated data to fuel its propaganda and further its cause. After all, they only wanted designated smoking areas... Until they got that and then consistently moved the goal post. Tobacco controllers are consummate liars.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at 21:37 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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