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Monday
Nov052018

Council smoking ban still making the news

The first report about Dundee City Council banning smoking and vaping at work was published by the local evening paper on Thursday.

The story was then picked up - online and in print - by media outlets in England as well as Scotland on Friday and Saturday.

I won’t list them all but these are the ones that included a quote from Forest:

Dundee Evening Telegraph
Scottish Daily Mail
Scotsman
Courier
The Sun
Daily Record
STV News
London Evening Standard

The story continues to run even today.

This morning I’m on the BBC Radio Scotland phone-in and later I’m due to speak to former Scotland rugby player John Beattie - a former smoker - who is now the lunchtime presenter on the same station.

Update: There were some good callers on the phone-in including Morag the former council social worker who was scathing about the council’s new policy.

There was also a lot of focus on the role model aspect of the policy. (Dundee City Council wants employees to be role models for children.)

I didn’t get a chance to say it but it does strike me that if we’re moving in that direction any council worker who is overweight or obese needs to start losing a few pounds before the health police come for them too.

PS. On a different issue, I was on BBC Radio Northamptonshire shortly after eight this morning talking about local council funding of stop smoking services.

Forest is against, but I’ll return to that later.

Saturday
Nov032018

Word to the not so wise - be careful what you wish for

They never give up, do they?

Earlier this week Sir Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley, vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health and a member of the APPG on E-Cigarettes, introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill.

It’s competing for parliamentary time with 149 other Private Members’ Bills so the chances of it being adopted are very small. It’s instructive nevertheless of the direction tobacco control and their supporters in parliament want to go so it’s worth monitoring, if nothing else.

The first reading of the Tobacco Bill 2017-19 took place on Tuesday and parts of it could have been, and possibly were, drafted by ASH.

Then again other bits could have been suggested by Philip Morris and the Foundation for a Smoke Free World so make of that what you will.

If adopted the Bill would ‘require the Secretary of State to report on means of requiring tobacco companies to meet the costs of smoking cessation services; to make provision about the advertising and marketing of products that are alternatives to tobacco; to require tobacco companies to publish information about their activities in relation to such products; to create an offence of selling tobacco without a licence; and for connected purposes.’

Speaking in support of the Bill, Barron declared:

We must recognise that the tobacco companies have been extremely dishonest in the past about the harm caused by smoking. Tobacco companies have made a fortune selling cigarettes and they have got the country into this mess. I believe it is only right that they get us out of it. We should and must follow the simple principle of the polluter pays. They have the resources and the customer base to help smoking cessation tools get straight to the people who need them most.

The proposed tobacco transition fund would work in a similar way to the carbonated drinks industry fund, providing incentives for both individual consumers and the tobacco industry to change their behaviour. Over the next decade or so, such a fund could raise up to £1 billion, which would be spent primarily on cessation services in the areas with the highest smoking prevalence. The fund would be paid for by the major tobacco companies according to their market share. The fund would remain at the same level, regardless of the number of smokers in the UK, thereby making it increasingly costly for any company that wished to continue selling cigarettes as the number of smokers declined. The vast majority of the fund would be passed directly to local authorities to fund cessation services, with a particular focus on those with the highest rates of prevalence.

The fund could also provide extra ring-fenced money to Public Health England to promote switching by funding independent research, with the aim of promoting popular understanding and awareness of non-combustible products. The final element of the fund would be to support trading standards in its ongoing efforts to combat illicit trade in combustible tobacco, with the investment based on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ assessment of local need and impact. The fund would need a robust and independent governance structure to oversee spending by the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and local authorities. It would also require accurate reporting by the manufacturers of their efforts to switch consumers. This could include publication of sales data, and research and development spend ...

We must also look at reducing access to harmful tobacco products that are still being sold. At the moment, there is no requirement in England to have a licence or to register with a local authority to sell tobacco. Scotland has a model that requires registration, which is relatively simple to complete and free for retailers so that it does not hit small businesses. Introducing a register in England would strengthen tobacco control, making it a criminal offence to sell tobacco without being registered. If retailers sell illicit tobacco or sell to minors, they could then be struck off the register altogether.

You can read the full statement here but it's worth highlighting two of the main points.

One, Barron wants a tobacco levy. This of course will be passed on to the consumer who already pays an astronomical level of tax on tobacco. The fund will pay for smoking cessation services and effectively underwrite the tobacco control industry for decades to come.

Two, he wants restrictions on the number of retailers that are allowed to sell tobacco and a limit on the number of tobacconists in certain locations including, I imagine, residential areas. Again, the impact on smokers – not to mention convenience stores – could be substantial.

Thankfully Conservative MP Philip Davies, an old friend of Forest and someone who brings a sceptical eye to such initiatives, was present to point out a few home truths:

The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the House should require the Secretary of State to report on how he is making the tobacco industry pay for smoking cessation services. One is tempted to ask how much more than £12 billion the Rt Hon Gentleman wants or expects, but of course what he is calling for is some kind of levy on tobacco, which he and a few others have repeatedly asked this and previous Governments about in the House. Indeed, such a question was asked only last month by Rachael Maskell, so clearly Members are having no difficulty in holding the Government to account on this issue, and I certainly do not think that we need a new Bill to help us ...

On the advertising and promotion of alternatives to smoking, such as e-cigarettes, the Rt Hon Gentleman will be aware that the Government has already committed to examining how they can better support smokers with clear information after we leave the EU and once we are no longer held back by the outdated thinking of the EU’s tobacco products directive - yet another benefit of leaving. The best thing that a smoker can do, of course, is to quit smoking altogether, but it is obvious that those who cannot, or do not want to, deserve to be told the truth about e-cigarettes and other products that could offer them a less harmful alternative. At present, the law prevents manufacturers from giving them that information, but I hope that once we leave the EU, we will be able to change that.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asks for the introduction of a tobacco licensing scheme, with tough penalties, but again that simply is not needed. The Government are already at work on implementing a Europe-wide system to track and trace tobacco products. That system will require that manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers are all registered on a public database as “economic operators” in order to handle tobacco. That is a de facto licensing scheme anyway, and it does everything that is needed to support trading standards enforcement against unscrupulous criminals who sell smuggled tobacco or sell tobacco to children—with a bit of luck, we will see a few more of them behind bars as a result. I certainly hope that anyone who is caught committing such crimes would be automatically struck off the list and rendered unable to legally handle tobacco.

Despite Davies’ well-judged comments the Bill received an enthusiastic welcome from one body that ought to know better but has not, it seems, considered the long-term consequences.

The expression 'be careful what you wish for' is over-used but in this case it’s entirely appropriate.

The second reading of the Bill is scheduled to take place on Friday November 23. I’ll keep you posted.

PS. You can watch the introduction of Sir Kevin Barron’s Ten Minute Rule Bill by clicking on this BBC iPlayer link.

Friday
Nov022018

Stoptober 2018 - Jeremy Kyle paid £20,000 for his ‘time and creative input’

On the eve of Stoptober 2018 I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Public Health England which runs the annual stop smoking campaign.

I have now received a response and it reads:

Thank you for your request dated 28 September 2018 addressed to Public Health England (PHE). In accordance with Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) I can confirm that PHE holds the information you have specified.

I have addressed your questions in the order you raised them:

1) A full evaluation of the outcome of Stoptober 2017.

A full evaluation of the outcome of Stoptober 2017 has been published and is available [here].

2) The full and final costs (including media costs) for Stoptober 2017.

The total campaign budget for the 2017 Stoptober campaign was £2.1 million, with £1.2 million allocated to buying media.

Following the success of the 2017 campaign the strategy did not change dramatically for Stoptober 2018. We continue to use a similar combination of media as this proved effective in 2017.The projected total media spend for 2018 is £1.1m and the overall campaign spend projected to be £1.8m.

3) The total sum, including expenses, that was paid to ‘celebrity quitters’ including actress Laila Morse and Coronation Street star Kym Marsh for their work promoting Stoptober 2017. (Please specify the names of any other ‘celebrity quitters’ used in the 2017 campaign.)

PHE does not pay celebrities to support a campaign. We only pay for their time and creative input in developing content that will feature throughout the campaign in PR, social media or advertising, as well as for any expenses incurred for travel, filming and interview time.

Kym Marsh, Leila Morse and Graeme Souness were paid a total of £30,000 for their work on the 2017 Stoptober campaign. As with 2018 and previous years, this represented payment for their time and input in creating content that featured across campaign channels, as well as for any expenses incurred during filming and recording time.

4) The projected costs for Stoptober 2018 including the projected media spend.

The total campaign budget for the 2017 Stoptober campaign was £2.1 million, with £1.2 million allocated to buying media.

5) The cost of employing TV presenter Jeremy Kyle to promote Stoptober 2018.

In 2018, Jeremy Kyle received £20,000 to cover writing, developing and filming the campaign content. This also covered his expenses for travel to media interviews and included full usage of the content across the campaign in PR, social, digital and distribution to all partners and local authorities. The content generated widespread coverage and engagement reaching millions of people in England.

6) The projected date for the publication of a full evaluation of Stoptober 2018.

This report includes full and final costs (including media costs) for Stoptober 2017. A full evaluation of Stoptober 2018 will be published in advance of the 2019 campaign i.e. before 1 October 2019.

The Stoptober 2017 evaluation was published on September 28, two days before the start of Stoptober 2018.

I'm not sure why it takes PHE so long to publish an evaluation report. After all, how can you plan for the next campaign without an in depth assessment of the previous campaign?

My guess is that an evaluation is available internally within months of the campaign finishing but PHE chooses not to publish anything until the eve of the subsequent campaign, effectively burying it.

As for the money paid to Jeremy Kyle and other 'celebrities', it does seem a bit disingenuous to say ‘PHE does not pay celebrities to support a campaign. We only pay for their time and creative input ...’

Why then are they front and centre of every Stoptober campaign, actively promoting it?

At least the £20k received by Jeremy Kyle (pocket money for him) is a far cry from the £195,000 PHE collectively paid comedians Al Murray, Rhod Gilbert, Bill Bailey and Shappi Khorsandi in 2015.

Whatever the sum it’s still taxpayers’ money and as taxpayers we deserve better than a long-delayed report that adds little to our knowledge of the ‘success’ of this increasingly tired campaign.

Thursday
Nov012018

Council bans smoking AND vaping during working hours 

I promised you news of a council’s revised smoking policy and here it is.

As of today Dundee City Council has banned employees from smoking and vaping during working hours. According to a note I received yesterday:

The policy has been created in response to the Scottish Government report ‘Creating a tobacco-free generation: A Tobacco Control Strategy for Scotland’, with guidance from COSLA, and explicitly bans council workers from smoking whilst outdoors, even while walking from one premises to another or during tea breaks. The ban also includes e-cigarettes, which the council does not consider different from cigarettes.
 
Excerpts from the council’s new smoking policy include:

In this policy, the term ‘smoking’ means smoking tobacco in any form and by any means, the use of e-cigarettes and using any other form of substitute smoking device.

The council makes no distinction between ‘conventional’ smoking and the use of e-cigarettes. Any prohibitions described cover all these activities.

Ultimately, an employee, who does not comply with (the policy) will be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

Q: Does this policy mean that I cannot smoke at all while I am at work?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I smoke when I am working out of doors and not affecting anyone else with my smoke?
A: No.

Q: If my duties require me to go from one office or location to another, can I smoke on the way, i.e. in the open air in the street?
A: No.

Q: Can I leave the workplace during a tea-break to have a smoke?
A: No.

Q: I travel from location to location and don’t wear anything to identify me as a council employee, am I allowed to smoke when I am outside?
A: No.

The story will appear later today in the Dundee Evening Telegraph which invited Forest to comment. Here’s our full response:

“Threatening employees with disciplinary action if they smoke during work breaks or while they're working out of doors, out of uniform and between locations, is tantamount to bullying.

"A ban on vaping is even worse. There is a clear distinction between 'conventional' smoking and the use of e-cigarettes and council policy should reflect that.

"Switching to e-cigarettes has helped a large number of smokers who are trying to quit. 

"If there is a genuine desire to help employees stop smoking, smokers should be encouraged to vape, not threatened with the same penalties they face if caught smoking.

"Smoking or vaping, the council is over-reaching its powers. Policing our lifestyle, as long as it doesn't have a direct impact on our work or colleagues, is not the business of local government."

I’ll link to the report when it’s online.

My message to vaping advocates is this: be careful what you wish for. When you remain silent (as most of you invariably do) and do nothing to oppose the extension of anti-smoking policies, you actively invite similar policies on vaping.

Anti-smoking campaigners - whether they be politicians or public health workers - will never be your long-term friends and allies. If you don’t understand that you are either naive, stupid or lying to yourself.

Forest will continue to speak out against vaping bans because it’s the right thing to do.

Sadly self interest is what defines most ex-smoking vapers today and I have long since given up expecting their support when smokers are attacked and vilified and smoking bans are extended to all working hours (and even non-working hours if you're in uniform) and outdoor public places.

There are exceptions but they are very, very few.

As for non-smoking vaping advocates within the public health community, they positively welcome anti-smoking policies and see campaigns like Stoptober and No Smoking Day as an opportunity to promote their anti-smoking agenda.

They may talk about the rights of smokers but only in relation to their 'right' to consume less harmful products.

When it comes to the 'right' to smoke without being harassed and denormalised they are strangely mute.

Oh well, let's see who else, apart from Forest, condemns Dundee City Council's new policy. I suspect it will be a very short list but I'm happy to name them here.

Update: As I suspected, the silence on this story from vaping advocacy groups has been deafening. To the best of my knowledge the only bodies, other than Forest, that have commented on Dundee City Council’s new policy are the trade union Unison and ASH Scotland.

Unison complained that they had not been “fully consulted” and had not agreed to the policy. A spokesman also told the Sun, “It is an attack on people who smoke”.

In the Scotsman however the spokesman added, “We are usually very supportive of anti-smoking policies. However, people who do smoke need to be able to take breaks and get support from their employer to help them give up.”

Supporting the initiative, ASH Scotland CEO Sheila Duffy said: “Policies like this aim to care for employees and the communities they serve.“ Yeah, right. The sense of compassion is overwhelming.

See Workers face cigarette break ban under anti-smoking plan (Scotsman).

The story also appeared, with quotes from Forest, in the Scottish Daily Mail (report not online) and the Courier (Tough new Dundee City Council smoking policy ‘tantamount to bullying’).

Curiously, although it was the lead story in yesterday’s paper ('Workers fume as council bans fag breaks'), it is not (yet) on the Dundee Evening Telegraph website.

Thursday
Nov012018

Council planning

As I’ve already mentioned, despite being over 2,000 miles away, it wasn’t possible to escape work completely last week.

The Pinderfields hospital story rumbled on from the previous week and I had to do a number of BBC radio interviews from my hotel in Turkey.

I was also invited to go on Good Morning Britain (ITV) but couldn’t do it, obviously. Actually, I think I dodged a bullet because the response on Twitter to Dave Atherton, who took my place, was unremittingly hostile.

Another story I was asked to comment on concerned proposals to ban smoking in al fresco dining areas in Jersey. According to the Jersey Evening Post:

Smokers could be banned from lighting up in outdoor-seating areas at pubs, restaurants and cafés in St Helier from next year, if businesses and residents agree ...

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: ‘We would be strongly against this on the grounds that we already have a smoking ban that prohibits people from smoking indoors. Smokers have already been kicked out of pubs, bars and restaurants, the only other place they have to go these days is to smoke outside. There is no risk from people smoking in the open air.’

He added that following the introduction of the smoking ban in the UK, 11,000 pubs closed.

‘No-one is saying that is exclusively due to the smoking ban but it did have an affect on stopping people going to pubs and bars,’ he said. ‘If you now say you can’t smoke al fresco the risk is that even more people will be driven away. I think there is a big risk to the hospitality industry and the hospitality industry has to have a big say in this.’

Expect to see similar proposals put forward in the UK. Smoking in social housing is also under threat, in Scotland at least.

Some people however are remarkably complacent. The attitude appears to be: the government has no plans for further anti-smoking legislation in this parliament and is reasonably positive on vaping, so what’s the problem?

The reality is that the net is tightening on smokers all the time and the issue is not central government but local authorities - Sheffield, Manchester, Barnsley to name a few.

Later today I’ll have news of one council’s revised smoking policy that should concern not just smokers but vapers as well. Watch this space.

Wednesday
Oct312018

Some thoughts on smoking, vaping and individual freedom

As I mentioned last week I was on Your Call (Five Live) with Nicky Campbell, speaking to the nation from a hotel in Turkey!

The discussion followed an interview on Five Live Breakfast with Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK, concerning the launch of the company's Hold My Light quit smoking campaign.

The transcript is now in and here are a few extracts.

On vaping and the tobacco companies

Nicky Campbell: Just on the vaping topic, Simon Clark, this is a real growth area for the tobacco companies, the vaping business, right? 

Simon Clark: Indeed, and I think people should welcome the fact that the tobacco companies are getting involved because they have the money to put in to research and development, they have the distribution networks. I mean, it’s very clear from the evidence that’s currently available, and Public Health England would back this up, that there is virtually no evidence that vaping is harmful. Therefore, if you want to get people to move to risk reduction products to get people off smoking, vaping seems to be the best way to do it.

I know a lot of people who have switched from smoking to vaping. They do it because vaping is more like the act of smoking. That’s why these new heat-not-burn products are coming on the market as well because smokers, generally speaking, are not interested in things like nicotine patches and gum, they want something that replicates the act of smoking. That’s why they’ve been quite successful. So I would say, if you’re interested in harm reduction or public health, you should actually be welcoming the tobacco companies getting involved in this area.

On pleasure

SC: Look, what we have to accept is that, in life, people want to get pleasure from doing things. There's a reason why there are still over seven million smokers in this country and that's because many of them enjoy smoking, they get pleasure from smoking. Now the same thing is true of vaping. A great number of people get pleasure from it and all these attacks on smoking, these attacks on vaping, are actually an attack on pleasure. We all get through life in different ways. Some people get pleasure or comfort from smoking, the same is true of vaping. A lot of people want to switch to vaping because whatever you say ...

NC: It's a gateway drug to smoking.

SC: Oh nonsense.

NC: There's more and more evidence of that. A 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine ...

SC: There have been thousands of studies into vaping. There's very, very little [evidence] that it's a gateway to tobacco so I think we can basically write that off. But the point is, if people choose to vape for pleasure they should be allowed to do so as long as they don't inconvenience other people.

On mental health issues and the 'benefits' of smoking

Caller: When people come off tobacco there are mental health issues ...

NC: That’s an interesting point, Simon. 

SC: It is, absolutely. There’s a lot of talk about banning smoking in mental health units and again I think that would be completely wrong for a number of reasons, partly because smoking does give some people a sense of autonomy and if you’re put into a mental health unit you feel a loss of autonomy and smoking is one of the few ways you retain your independence, so simply to ban it completely can actually have a far worse adverse affect, so we’ve got to be very careful about going down these routes.

I mean, there’s talk about what more can we do to drive smoking rates down. Well I would say we certainly don’t need any more regulations and no more legislation. We’d had enough of that over the last ten or 15 years. The reality is that over the last four or five years smoking rates have actually dropped quite substantially in the UK and that’s largely because people have voluntarily gone across to vaping.

Obviously the price has had some impact but I think that has driven a lot of people to the black market and people often buy their cigarettes abroad, but people have voluntarily gone to vaping and that is an approach that we have to encourage because we can’t force people to give up a legal product. It makes me laugh when last week, for example, there was all this talk of legalising cannabis in Canada, and so we’re talking about legalising cannabis but at the same time cracking down on smoking and trying to eradicate smoking from society, so there's no consistency there ...

NC: But you can smoke cannabis without mixing it with tobacco ...

SC: That’s true but the basic point I’m making is that this shouldn’t be something where the government tries to force people ...

NC: But cannabis has health benefits. There are none with cigarettes ..

SC: But Nicky, for some people smoking does have health benefits. Listen to David Hockney, for example, who’s now in his eighties. He’s often said that smoking is good for his mental health. He says that in America a lot of his friends are on Prozac and all the rest of it. He’s not saying it’s good for his physical health, he’s saying it’s good for his mental health. Now if he thinks that’s the best way for him to get through life then that’s up to him. It’s not up to government or anti-smoking campaigners to wag their fingers at him and say ‘No, that’s the wrong thing to do.’ 

On individual freedom

NC: Simon Clark, last word to you in this particular section of the programme. Forest voice, friend of the smoker. Pro choice, as you say. Do you think things are still steamrollering in the wrong direction as far as you’re concerned, and crushing freedom in its path?

SC: Well, I think support for smokers is important. People often say to me, ‘Why on earth do you do this job of defending smoking and I say, ‘Well ...’

NC: You have a mortgage to pay ...

SC: [Laughs] How cynical of you, Nicky.

NC: [Laughs] 

SC: Look, the reality is, if you genuinely believe in individual freedom and you believe in personal responsibility and choice, then smoking is actually a very important issue to fight on because most people don’t smoke these days, a lot people dislike smoking which is even more reason to support it because if you don’t support smokers but you enjoy drinking alcohol, you enjoy fizzy drinks, you enjoy fatty food, you enjoy eating meat ...

NC: 'First they came for the smokers'. One of those, is it?

SC: Indeed, and going back to your previous caller, I do accept that smoking is an addiction, but it’s not an addiction that’s impossible to break, millions of people have given up smoking. But it is also a choice and it’s a lifestyle choice for a great many people and if people choose to smoke, if adults choose to smoke, that choice must be respected. 

You can listen to the full conservation here, including callers. My contribution starts at 10:40 and finishes at 35:55.

Wednesday
Oct312018

Brief respite from the tobacco taliban

I was on holiday last week.

We went to southern Turkey, a country I had never previously visited. I won't bore you with the details (the hotel was nice, the weather better than forecast) but a couple of things may interest you.

One, ashtrays. Despite the fact that very few guests appeared to be smoking, within the hotel grounds an ashtray could be found on almost every outdoor table including al fresco dining areas. There was even an unsolicited ashtray on our balcony overlooking the swimming pool (above).

Two, although smoking is officially banned in indoor public places, I saw very few 'no smoking' signs. One was in a restaurant overlooking a bay to the south of where we were staying. It hung from the ceiling and was so large I took a picture.

What you couldn't see, because they were just out of shot, were the owner and his wife who were sitting at an adjacent table puffing away in clear defiance of national policy!

It struck me that the ashtrays were provided not to encourage people to smoke but as a simple act of courtesy to those that do.

They also define, very clearly, where you can and can't smoke without the need for unnecessary and intrusive signage that is designed not to inform but to denormalise both smoking and, by association, smokers.

Turkey is governed by a notoriously repressive political regime so let's not pretend the country is a beacon of liberalism.

Nevertheless my brief experience suggests that if you want to enjoy a short respite from the tobacco taliban you could do worse than add it to your list of holiday destinations.

PS. In the four weeks before going on holiday I lost eight pounds. In the seven days I was away I gained six. At least I'm still in credit!

Monday
Oct222018

Your Call on smoking

Further to my previous post, I was on Your Call, the Five Live phone-in, this morning, talking to Nicky Campbell about smoking.

Click here to listen. I was on from 10:40 minutes in to 35:55.