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Time for a national debate about Scotland’s nanny state

I shall be in Edinburgh this week for the launch of a new Forest report.

'The McNanny State' by former MSP Brian Monteith features a foreword by journalist and novelist Allan Massie.

To mark the publication of the report Forest is hosting a private dinner at a celebrated Edinburgh venue. Guests include journalists and politicians.

The theme of the roundtable event is 'The nanny state we're in'. According to Monteith:

"Scotland has become a puritan's playground and it is going to get a lot worse before enough people wake up and decide to do something about it."

Special guest for the evening is journalist and novelist Allan Massie who has written the foreword to 'The McNanny State'.

According to Massie:

“Ever since the Scottish Parliament came into being in 1999, the politicians have chipped away at the liberties of the people.

"The Scottish state today treats adults as people incapable of managing their own lives and, if they are parents, as people who cannot be trusted with the unfettered care of their children."

Both the report and the dinner are perfectly timed. The Scottish Government's updated tobacco control plan, announced last week, is another blow for those who want less not more state interference in their daily lives.

Proposals to ban smoking in social housing and restrict the number of shops that can sell tobacco represent further attacks on consumers and convenience stores that are already over-regulated.

There will be a range of views and organisations around the dinner table so we don't expect our views to go unchallenged.

The aim is to launch a national debate on the role of government in people's lives and examine the way the issue is being addressed in political and media circles.

The goal is to put lifestyle choices back into the hands of consumers, not politicians and taxpayer-funded pressure groups like ASH Scotland.

Unfortunately we seem to be fighting a lone battle in Scotland. Perhaps the publication of 'The McNanny State' will mark a small but long overdue turning point.

Update: In the Sunday Times Scotland yesterday columnist Gillian Bowditch wrote:

An invitation has arrived to a dinner sponsored by the pro-smoking group Forest. It’s my own fault, I suppose. They aren’t to know that I hold a similar view of smoking to that taken by King James VI. “A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”.

From that unpromising beginning the rest of the article was a fairly thoughtful commentary on the Scottish Government’s plan to extend the smoking ban to people’s homes (social housing), restrict the sale of tobacco and ban smoking altogether in prisons and within 15 metres of hospitals.

She concluded:

Suffice it to say that like a bad horror movie the smoking ban part two is coming soon. It will undoubtedly be good for your health. What it does to your soul is a another question.

The article is behind a paywall but if you have a subscription you can read it here: Scotland's smoking ban II could be bad for your soul.

Meanwhile, in the Scotsman today, Brian Monteith wrote:

We live in a time when our politicians are disconnected from the public on many issues, and their desire to dictate our lifestyle choices, good or bad, is one of the most outrageous examples of this. The Tobacco Control Strategy proposes to take the McNanny State into your home like never before. Is there any elected politician or any party out there that will provide the opposition to it?

See Scotland has become a failing McNanny state.

I think the debate has just started, don’t you?


'Healthier, happier, freer'

The Adam Smith Institute published a paper yesterday about tobacco harm reduction.

Using World Health Organisation 'estimates' of additional life expectancy from quitting smoking at different ages and Public Health England 'estimates' of the relative risk of e-cigarettes, the 'neoliberal' think tank calculated 'an overall estimate' (that word again) for years of life saved if more smokers (young women especially) switched to vaping.

Specifically, the author concluded, 'one million years of life could be saved' and the world will be 'healthier, happier, and freer'.

Leaving aside the dubious attention-seeking title, there's much I agree with in a generally well-written report (One Million Years of Life: How harm reduction in tobacco policy can save lives), but declarations like that are disappointing and even nauseating.

Healthier? Perhaps.

Happier? Not if you prefer smoking.

Freer? Hmmm, let's see.

The ‘freedom’ argument in relation to smoking has long been challenged by tobacco control campaigners on the grounds that smokers are in the grip of a serious addiction and need help to set them 'free'.

In reality, as the CSUR’s Pleasure of Smoking report discovered, a majority of respondents (confirmed smokers) believed they were addicted to smoking but it didn't bother them because their enjoyment of smoking trumped any worries they may have had about their addiction.

My concern is not just that the ASI paper is endorsing the tobacco control view that smokers will be 'freer' if they quit, but it's counterproductive even in the context of vaping.

Think about it. Most public health campaigners believe that addiction to any substance is unhealthy, hence very few vaping advocates in the public health industry want e-cigarettes to be a long-term 'solution' to smoking.

Nicotine, they argue, is addictive so vaping should be nothing more than a short-term smoking cessation tool. The endgame is to wean smokers and vapers off the drug so they are 'free' of their addiction.

In my view the conclusion of the ASI paper plays to that narrative.

It is of course true that vaping has been a free market success story so I understand why free market think tanks are supportive of e-cigarettes. But this subservience to the tobacco control playbook is foolish and short-sighted.

Indeed, it amazes me that people who routinely mock bodies like the WHO and PHE when they pontificate on other issues (alcohol and obesity, for example) will happily cite the same organisations' apocalyptic claims about the dangers of smoking.

Since when has the World Health Organisation become the arbiter of truth and honesty in tobacco control? If you accept without question their ‘estimates’ on life expectancy and smoking, it becomes almost impossible to challenge the WHO on other issues (including vaping) because you have effectively accepted their 'expert' status.

Meanwhile a self-confessed "nanny state" senator has urged the Irish government to develop a policy on e-cigarettes to reduce the number of smokers in Ireland.

Catherine Noone, who last year accepted an award from Forest for being 'Ireland's Nanny-in-Chief', said:

"I'm known for having nanny state policies on alcohol, sugar and things like that, so I'm not in favour of e-cigarettes really.

"I think they look a bit ridiculous but they help people quit smoking and we need to develop a policy that recognises that."

As it happens I have a soft spot for Senator Noone who was a perfect if surprise guest at Forest's Golden Nanny Awards in Dublin last year.

Nevertheless I can't help noting the increasingly strange bedfellows that are effectively promoting a 'healthier', 'happier', smoke free future:

Free market think tanks, "nanny state" politicians, anti-tobacco campaigners, the World Health Organisation – and Philip Morris.

United or not, that's some coalition.


Scotland's new tobacco control plan tightens the net on smokers

I was expecting the Scottish Government to publish its updated tobacco control plan this week or next, but the timing, late yesterday afternoon, still took me by surprise.

I was on a train at the time, returning from London where I had been doing an interview for BBC Look North on an initiative by Hull City Council to ban smoking at the gates of local schools.

Suddenly I began getting requests for a response to the Scottish Government's proposals to create a 'smoke free generation' by 2034.

The plans include 44 measures some of which – banning smoking in prisons and hospital grounds, for example – are already in the process of being implemented.

As a result the papers that have run the story have focussed on a 'new' idea – that of banning people from smoking in social housing:

We will explore with local authorities and housing associations the idea of tobacco-free clauses in tenancy agreements and smoke-free housing alternatives being offered in social housing.

I say 'new'. It was first flagged in October last year following which ASH Scotland denied that they wanted to ban people smoking in their own homes.

Anyway, back to yesterday's announcement. The Times took a slightly different tack, leading its report with the headline 'Smokers face minimum price for tobacco'.

You can read Forest's response here. So far we've been quoted by The Times (Scotland), The Scotsman, Scottish Daily Mail, Scottish Daily Express, Daily Record and Edinburgh Evening News.

Indicative, perhaps, of a certain anti-smoking fatigue, the Scottish Government announcement has not been reported universally. BBC News Scotland, for example, has ignored it.

Personally I'd like as much coverage as possible so we can demonstrate how little public support there is for further anti-smoking measures.

The plan to ban smoking in social housing is particularly egregious. Last night I was trying to get my head round it because it wasn't clear whether the idea is to ban smoking in people's homes or in communal areas such as stairwells.

This morning I read that some people are already banned from smoking in their homes by their tenancy agreements. The result is they smoke in stairwells and other communal areas, hence the proposal to ban smoking outside their homes as well.

In short, it's clear that the goal is to ban smoking inside and outside social housing. That, along with the ban on smoking in hospital grounds (under threat of prosecution if you light up), is truly despicable.

Inch by inch the net is tightening on smokers despite (as our latest poll suggests) a general lack of public support for further anti-tobacco measures.

The good news? Some of the Scottish Government's plans are, for now, merely up for consideration so there's time to make as much noise as we can. And we will.


Government versus the people

The Scottish Government is expected to announce its new tobacco control strategy before the end of the month.

It will almost certainly go further than the tobacco control plan announced last year by the Conservative government in Westminster.

That stopped short of further legislation although it did include a target of reducing smoking rates from 15.5 per cent to no more than 12 per cent by 2022.

In contrast Scotland's previous tobacco control strategy, published in 2013, set 2034 as a target date for reducing smoking prevalence to just five per cent.

Earlier this year however doubts were expressed that Scotland is on course to meet this target so it doesn't take a clairvoyant to predict that Shona Robison, Scotland's under pressure health minister, is likely to respond with some headline-catching initiative.

Anyway, ahead of the forthcoming announcement, Forest commissioned a poll of 1,000+ adults in Scotland.

Conducted by Populus, the results demonstrate for the umpteenth time that the general public is not as anti-smoking as politicians and tobacco control campaigners want us to believe.

Here are the headline findings:

  • Most Scots think government policies to reduce smoking rates have gone too far or far enough.
  • A majority would allow smoking rooms in pubs and clubs and permit designated smoking areas in prisons and hospital grounds.
  • An overwhelming majority think smoking should be allowed in the home and in private vehicles.
  • The public believes the Scottish Government has more pressing concerns than tackling smoking.


  • 54 per cent think government policies to reduce smoking rates have gone too far or far enough. Only 37 per cent think they have not gone far enough with nine per cent undecided.
  • Nearly three in five adults (57 per cent) think pubs and private members’ clubs, including working men’s clubs, should be allowed to provide a well-ventilated designated smoking room, with only one in six (16 per cent) opposed to the idea and a quarter (27 per cent) undecided.

Significantly, given that banning smoking in prisons and hospital grounds are flagship policies for the Scottish Government, Populus also found that:

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

  • Over half of all respondents (56 per cent) – and 82 per cent of frequent smokers – believe that NHS hospital trusts should be allowed to provide designated smoking areas in hospital grounds for patients, visitors and staff.

Meanwhile, in response to those who want smoking prohibited in social housing and in all private vehicles in Scotland, Populus found that:

  • 86 per cent think smoking should be permitted in the home.
  • 74 per cent think smoking should be permitted when smokers are alone in their own vehicle.

You can read our news release here.

The Sunday Times Scotland has published a short report that begins:

Most Scots believe smoking should be allowed in special ventilated rooms in pubs and private clubs, it has emerged as ministers prepare to announce stronger tobacco controls.

A poll of more than 1,000 Scots, for Forest, the pro-smoking lobby group, found that 57% thought bars and clubs, including working men’s clubs, should be allowed to provide smoking rooms.

The paper includes this quote from me:

“The Scottish political establishment is clearly out of step with the general public who support fair and reasonable restrictions on where people can smoke, not prohibition.

“The fact that a majority of adults support designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs suggests that the smoking ban is not as universally popular as we are led to believe.

“Any further regulations to tackle smoking would be a distraction from other more important issues facing central and local government in Scotland.”

The headline however reads: Expert stubs out pub ‘smoking room’ idea.

And who is the 'expert'? Why, none other than taxpayer-funded lobbyists Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland. You couldn't make it up.

Truth is, the paper has missed the real significance of the poll and it's this.

Most people in Scotland do not support comprehensive smoking bans (even in prisons and hospital grounds) and the majority are in general far less anti-smoking than our so-called elected 'representatives'.

Unfortunately it's difficult to condense that into a short, snappy headline, nor does it suit the narrative the Scottish establishment, including the media, likes to promote.

Anyway, we'll do our best to get the message across although, understandably, the news in Scotland is dominated by the Glasgow School of Art fire that broke out on Friday night.


Come dine with us

Currently at Dublin airport waiting for a flight to Stansted.

Last night's 'Burning Issues' dinner, with guest speaker Ella Whelan, former assistant editor of the online magazine Spiked, was a fairly boisterous affair.

Twelve guests, including four opinionated journalists and a troop of forthright Irish libertarians, was always going to be lively.

The evening began at 6.30 with drinks on the smoking terrace. An hour later we sat down to dinner in a small private dining room.

Ella spoke for ten minutes on the subject 'Smoking is a feminist issue'. It was then thrown open for general discussion.

I'm not a great moderator at the best of times and keeping guests on topic proved an impossible task so I soon gave up.

The main aim of these events however is to build upon a small network of like-minded individuals and in that respect the evening was a success.

There were the usual familiar faces but we also attracted some new people one of whom enjoyed herself so much she invited us to host the next dinner at her house.

Perhaps we should rename the event 'Come Dine With Us'.

Anyway, I got back to my hotel shortly after midnight and, not for the first time, I wasn't the last to leave.

Ella, meanwhile, was on the radio this morning talking about feminism during which she was asked about smoking during pregnancy. That was quite lively too, apparently.

Update: Our next 'Burning Issues' is in Edinburgh on June 27. Guest speaker is former MSP Brian Monteith who now writes a weekly column for the Scotsman. Watch this space.


Beyond nicotine

To no-one's surprise:

Jennifer Motles Svigilsky detests cigarettes. A former human rights lawyer with the United Nations ... [she represents] one of the world’s largest cigarette companies, Phillip Morris International (PMI).

But wait, there's more:

"[In the short term,] we need to provide alternative choices to smokers who cannot quit [or cannot quit yet]."

In the long term, she says, "we may not even be in the nicotine business."

Let that sink in.

"In the long term, we may not even be in the nicotine business."

You couldn’t make it up.

Full article: Philip Morris Is Quitting Smoking — But Don't Take Their Word for It (Sustainable Brands).


Smoking in cars

According to today's Yorkshire Post:

Only one person in the whole of Yorkshire and the Humber was fined in the first two years after it became illegal to smoke in cars carrying a child, a new analysis has found.

An investigation by The Yorkshire Post also uncovered confusion among local authorities about just who is responsible for enforcing the legislation.

Crime reporter Georgina Morris asked Forest to comment so I said:

"The figures vindicate the argument that a ban on smoking in cars carrying children was unnecessary and would be impossible to enforce.

"The reality is that even before the ban very few adults were smoking in cars with children present. The overwhelming majority of smokers knew it was inconsiderate and had stopped doing it.

"The only impact the law has had is to stigmatise ordinary, decent people who don't need the government telling them how to behave in their own private space.

“Let this be a lesson to politicians and campaigners who want to extend the smoking ban to other areas. Allow smokers to use their common sense when lighting up and most will behave responsibly and with consideration for others.

"The last thing we need are more rules and regulations governing people's behaviour."

I was quoted in full. ASH also responded:

Chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “Compliance with the legislation on smoking in cars with children is dependent on the level of public support not enforcement action. And people are complying with this popular law which protects children from the harm caused by secondhand smoke."

She argued that there is now growing support for a ban on smoking in all cars, quoting a survey which found 62 per cent of adults in England backed the idea in 2016 compared to 45 per cent in 2009.

“Prohibiting smoking completely would make the law simpler to enforce as well as protecting all car occupants from the harmful toxins in tobacco smoke,” she added.

I'd like to see the survey she cites and the question that was asked.

In June 2016, on behalf of Forest, Populus interviewed 2,089 UK adults online and one of the questions was 'Do you think adults should or should not be allowed to smoke when alone in their own private vehicle?'

The response:

Should be allowed – 64 per cent
Should not be allowed – 30 per cent

Anyway the Yorkshire Post has posted online a fairly meaningless reader poll ('Would you support a ban on all smoking in all cars?') but I'm competitive enough that I want to win it so do pop over and cast your vote. The score, as I write, is Yes, 46 per cent; No, 54 per cent.

To vote click here and scroll down.


The waiting game

Another honours list and still no recognition for the work of two of Britain's leading anti-smoking campaigners.

I first commented on this extraordinary oversight in December 2013:

Why no gongs for the likes of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH; Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland; Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West; or Andrea Crossfield, director of Tobacco Free Futures?

After all, it's titans of Tobacco Control like Deborah and Sheila who are often credited with introducing smoking bans and other measures that have saved tens of thousands of lives. Allegedly.

Surely they should receive recognition for their services to public health? But, no. The years tick by and Deborah remains plain Ms Arnott. Ditto Ms Duffy.

The following year Fiona Andrews (Smokefree South West) and Andrea Crossfield (Tobacco Free Futures) were indeed awarded MBEs ('Was it something I wrote?') but still nothing for Sheila or Deborah.

It was a similar story in 2015, 2016 and 2017 (Sheila and Deborah snubbed again).

There was however an OBE for Ailsa Rutter, director or Fresh North East (formerly Smokefree North East).

I'm genuinely perplexed. If Deborah's mini me is given an honour, why not the lady herself? And if Sheila Duffy's predecessor Maureen Moore can get an OBE, why not the current CEO?

The good news is that while Duffy has missed out (again) on one of Britain's top honours, her organisation hasn't gone empty-handed this week.

Tobacco control looks after its own.