Tuesday
Feb072017

Shameless BBC bias (update)

Older readers will know that I've been battling BBC bias for more than 30 years.

In the Eighties I was director of the Media Monitoring Unit (1985-1990) and one of my 'achievements' was to inspire a front page headline in the London Evening Standard that screamed, in bold letters, 'YES, THE BBC IS BIASED!'.

That evening every vendor's stand in London bore the same headline. That was quite a thrill, I can tell you.

As director of Forest I've fought a regular battle with the BBC, frequently requesting that anti-smoking reports include – where appropriate – an opposing view. I don't always succeed but it's not for want of trying.

Anyway, BBC News Wales outdid itself last week. To be honest I was unaware of the report (Calls for tougher smoking and junk food rules in hospitals) until I read this blog post by Chris Snowdon, Shameless BBC bias.

I suggest you read it yourself (then pop back here) but having read and watched the reports, tweets and video it refers to I couldn't have put it better myself.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that Chris had uncovered a two-year-old tweet from the journalist responsible for the BBC Wales report. Posted in February 2015 it read:

Chris's post was actually an extended version of a complaint he posted via the BBC website. Interestingly it appears to have been acted upon because on Friday I received an email from ... Rachel Flint.

It read:

Hello Simon,

I’m a reporter with BBC Wales News Online looking into the issue of smoking outside hospitals.

A potential new law in Wales will ban smoking on hospital grounds – including car parks – giving health board legal backing for voluntary bans already in place.

A clause in the Public Health Wales Bill would give hospital managers discretionary powers to introduce designated smoking areas.

But the chair of BMA Cymru says smoking should be banned in all parts of hospital grounds and there should be no reason for anyone to smoke on hospital grounds.

Considering people are in a high emotional state and may have had bad news, what are your views on this? Should people be able to smoke?

I received Rachel's email at 14.05. I was about to travel across London on the Underground but as soon as I arrived at my destination (at 14.56) I sent the following comment:

"It's not just petty, it's inhumane to ban smoking everywhere on hospital grounds.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a patient, a visitor or even a member of staff. Hospitals can be stressful places.

"Smoking is a comfort to many people. To tell anyone, especially elderly, infirm or long-term patients, that they can't smoke anywhere on the grounds is an abuse of power.

"Smoking outside isn't a health risk to anyone other than the smoker.

"The cost of treating smoking-related illnesses is a fraction of the revenue smokers contribute in tobacco taxation so smokers have no reason to feel guilty about their habit.

"Designated smoking shelters are the very least smokers deserve, but what's more important is that politicians and hospital administrators demonstrate some common sense and compassion."

Yesterday there was still no sign of my comment on the BBC News website so I emailed Rachel and asked if she had received it. She thanked me, explained she had just got into work, but would "look over it".

Six hours later I'd heard nothing more so I emailed her again:

Is anything happening on this? Bit confused that you asked us to comment but haven't used the quote. We were v concerned at the one-sided nature of last week's report/s re smoking in hospital grounds on BBC Wales so I was hoping you were going to redress the balance and publish an opposing view.

No reply.

So this morning I rang the BBC Wales newsdesk and asked to speak to her but she wasn't there. Instead I spoke to one of her colleagues and sent the following email:

Hi X,

See email correspondence below, including our views on hospital smoking bans that Rachel had (belatedly) requested.

We are extremely concerned about the one-sided nature of the coverage of this story by BBC Wales last week and we are not alone - see this blog post by Chris Snowdon, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs (Shameless BBC bias).

I had drafted our own letter of complaint when Rachel emailed me at 14.05 on Friday, requesting our views. My response was sent at 14.56. I then sent a further email suggesting that my comments could be prefaced by the information that Forest intends to fight any further extensions to the current smoking ban in Wales.

I now understand that Rachel left work at 3.00 on Friday but I wasn't aware of this at the time. In response to an email sent by me yesterday morning she said she would look at my comments. I have heard nothing since.

Apart from our concern at the one-sided nature of your report/s last Wednesday, I am confused why Rachel would invite us to comment and not use or even acknowledge our views.

I would be grateful if you could acknowledge and respond to this email as a matter of urgency. Thanks.

An hour later I received this response:

The comments you sent to Rachel have now been added in the article – the reason for the delay is because we are also editing the accompanying video to reflect your views.

My final email, sent a few minutes ago, read:

Thanks. I appreciate that, although updating an article six days after it was published seems rather futile to me, especially as there is no longer a link on the BBC News (Wales) home page. To say the horse has long since bolted is an understatement.

Unless someone specifically searches for articles about smoking on hospital grounds the chances of anyone reading it will be very small so I'm disappointed that our response has been marginalised like this.

We're always happy to comment on smoking-related issues so please bear us in mind in future.

So there we have it. BBC Wales News Online has amended both its report and video to include an opposing view but it took them six days to do it!

The chances of more than a handful of people reading the updated report must be very small indeed, but there you go. It's better than nothing.

The lesson here is that wherever we encounter biased, one-sided reporting it must be challenged.

In my experience there are plenty of BBC journalists who understand the need for balance and impartiality. They can be reasoned with as long as you don't over-react and become abusive.

I'm not a fan of naming and shaming either and I hate the mob bullying of journalists that sometimes happens on Twitter.

Sometimes however a report is so biased that a line has been crossed. This was one of those occasions.

Sunday
Feb052017

Gary Lineker, political protester – what would Des Lynam think?

I was driving home from Derbyshire last week and listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra.

The first programme that came on was Touchline Tales featuring two old friends – broadcaster Des Lynam and writer Christopher Matthew.

Nothing much happened. They pottered around sharing anecdotes and stories about sport. Lynam, one of Britain's finest broadcasters, was typically humorous and laconic.

It's a huge shame that his mainstream career effectively ended a decade too soon after he took the disastrous decision to leave the BBC and join ITV to present live Champions League football.

As many people observed at the time, ITV didn't suit Lynam's relaxed style because as soon as he opened his mouth he was forced to go to yet another ad break.

The person who stepped into his shoes at the BBC was Gary Lineker. For an ex-footballer with no experience of journalism and very little experience of broadcasting, Lineker has made a pretty good job of it.

He's clearly worked very hard to get where he is but that's part of the problem. With Lynam almost every link or joke was seamless. Can you say that of Lineker, many of whose jokes feel a bit forced?

Even his body language – leaning forward, as if a little anxious – feels more urgent and therefore less comfortable than Lynam's more relaxed posture although, to be fair, the latter was usually sitting behind a desk.

But that's not why Lineker is stretching my patience. The truth is I can no longer watch Match of the Day without being reminded of his political views.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but by choosing to work for the BBC Lineker is in a privileged position. Most BBC presenters understand this (even those that work on Newsnight!).

Unlike Piers Morgan, who was almost certainly hired by ITV precisely because of his polarising views and large Twitter following, Lineker's foghorn opposition to Brexit and Trump are in my view a serious distraction.

I don't want to know what the presenter of Match of the Day thinks about the leading political issues of the day. When I think of all the presenters of the past I have no idea who David Coleman or Jimmy Hill voted for or what their position was on the miners' strike, Nixon or the EEC.

Likewise, throughout his long and successful broadcasting career, I had no idea what Des Lynam's political views were. Only in semi-retirement (2013), long after he was a national figure hosting a much loved TV institution, did he come out and endorse Ukip.

Lynam and David Coleman, to name two, will be remembered as broadcasting legends. Lineker will never be in their league but someone should point out that joining political marches (including last week's protest against Donald Trump's state visit) is not merely self-indulgent, it doesn't reflect well on the publicly-funded broadcaster that employs him.

Readers may recall that Rod Liddle was sacked as editor of the Today programme for writing an article in the Guardian attacking the Countryside Alliance and people who hunt. Clearly there was one rule for Liddle (in 2002) and another for Lineker in 2017.

The Match of the Day presenter has of course argued that he's not a member of staff, he's freelance. That however is unlikely to be the perception most people have, even the very small number who see him presenting Champions League football on BT Sport.

Consequently he has a responsibility, like all BBC employees (especially those in the public eye), not to draw attention to his political beliefs.

Former Blue Peter presenter and Five Live broadcaster Richard Bacon seems to share Lineker's views on Trump and Brexit. He too is freelance but unlike Lineker his BBC work is far more sporadic these days. He's not on national television every week. It's an important difference.

The fact is, as long as Lineker enjoys a big fat income for presenting a long-running, high profile television programme for a publicly-funded broadcaster, he should abide by the same guidelines as editors, producers and journalists.

Technically it might not be in his contract but Lineker's reinvention as a political protester suggests a poor understanding of the need for impartiality at all levels of the BBC.

Whether it's driven by naivety or arrogance I can't say. Whatever the answer, someone at the BBC should have a little word in those jug-like ears.

PS. I think I've discovered the person responsible for Lineker's opinionated persona – it's Des Lynam!

Lynam is a fan of Lineker's broadcasting abilities. He's said and written as much many times. In May 2010 however he had some advice for his MOTD successor that may have been misinterpreted.

Writing in the Telegraph, Lynam urged:

Go on, Gary, let’s hear more of your views. It will make the next 10 years more interesting not only for the fans but for you as well.

Lineker has clearly taken that suggestion to heart – but not in a good way. To paraphrase Michael Caine in The Italian Job:

"You were only supposed to talk about the bloody football!"

Sunday
Feb052017

David Hockney: "Why shouldn’t I smoke?"

With delicious timing (see previous post) David Hockney has been talking about pleasure ... and smoking.

Interviewed by Geordie Greig, editor of the Mail on Sunday, and featured – smoking – on the cover of the paper's Event supplement ahead of the opening of a new retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain on Thursday, Hockney is as gently subversive as ever:

In his early years Hockney was a vegetarian, like his mother, while his father was a fanatical campaigner for nuclear disarmament and an anti-smoking fanatic. His Methodist mother loved her Bible and her strong faith.

David instead turned to meat, smoking and atheism, always going against the tide. Sitting back, Hockney holds close to his chest his lime-green cigarette lighter as he blows out smoke, and pours scorn on anyone who would wish him to desist to save his life.

‘I can’t stop smoking now. It would give my body a shock, wouldn’t it? All the young think they’re immortal; that’s why they’ll smoke. Of course, I now know I’m not and that I’m going to die.’

At this point he searches for a packet of cigarettes with a diseased lung shown on the packet to deter smokers. He again laughs. ‘They have one photograph of a lung to put you off, but it looks to me more like a roast chicken with carrots. It really does! I’ll show you,’ he says.

More chuckles as he fuses his agitprop argument into art criticism. ‘It’s not so easy to make a horrific image on a small thing like a cigarette packet because every image has to be attractive for you to look at it.

They don’t get that. I suppose the decline of religion might be bringing all this agitation, because I did point out, when they started their Smoking Kills message, Italians had these buildings that always reminded them of death – they were called churches! Death comes to us all.’ More laughter.

So has old age tempered him? ‘In a way I’ve probably got gentler.’ But then he is off again, beating against the anti-bohemianism of the 21st century. His libertarian streak as strong as his father’s intolerance, always the pro-smoking zealot, half cross, half wry.

‘My father would always be worried about smokers, and then go and eat chocolate biscuits in the park, which killed him. He went into a coma because he was diabetic. Every time he went into a coma. He’d already had three, and then had a fourth and went into hospital and died.

'So, chocolate biscuits killed him. Not cigarettes, chocolate biscuits! Not that I would suggest you put on the chocolate biscuit wrappers These Might Kill, because they won’t, just as cigarettes won’t. My father had thought he was going to live to be 100.’

Later:

He dismisses those who want to curtail individual pleasure. He once made and wore badges saying End Bossiness Soon. He added the soon in case he sounded too bossy. ‘They just seem to me mean, all these people wanting to destroy some little pleasure for somebody else – why shouldn’t I smoke? I see lots of things like that: destroying pleasure.’

Full interview: Art icon David Hockney on why he’s still laughing and grafting (and smoking) as he approaches 80 (Mail on Sunday).

The Guardian reports that the Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain is the fastest-selling exhibition in Tate's history.

Friday
Feb032017

Welcome to The Pleasure Zone

Delighted to announce the first Forest event of the year.

The Pleasure Zone on Wednesday February 22 will feature a short presentation by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research and lead author of the recent report, The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.

Following Neil's presentation there will be Q&As and a balloon debate on the subject 'The most pleasurable nicotine delivery device in the world'.

Contestants are:

Judy Gibson, International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations
Angela Harbutt, founder, Liberal Vision
Mark Littlewood, director-general, Institute of Economic Affairs
Ranald MacDonald, managing director, Boisdale Restaurants
Andrew Stewart, Pipe Club of London

Format is as follows. Each contestant will have three minutes to make a case for one of these products:

Cigarette, cigar, pipe, e-cigarette and heated tobacco.

We were hoping to get someone to advocate snus but that would have involved flying someone in from Sweden!

The audience will then vote and the 2-3 contestants with the lowest number of votes will be thrown overboard (metaphorically speaking).

The remaining contestants will be given a further minute to persuade the audience that they should win and the result will be determined by one final vote.

Venue is the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. The main event starts at 7.00pm but you are invited to join us for drinks (courtesy of Boisdale) from 6.15.

To register email events@forestonline.org.

Update: Pleased to confirm that Chris Snowdon, head of the IEA's Lifestyle Economics Unit, will advocate for snus. Should be fun so register now!

Wednesday
Feb012017

Boisdale Life Libertarian of the Year

Boisdale Life magazine will today host the first Boisdale Editor's Lunch.

Founded in 2014 and available online, on subscription or free at Boisdale's four London restaurants, the magazine is said to have a readership of "400,000 free thinking individuals".

According to Harry Owen, managing director of Boisdale Media, Boisdale Life was founded two years ago "partly to promote the ideals of libertarianism and and address real or perceived infringements by government on individual liberties".

Today's event at Boisdale of Belgravia will feature the presentation of the first ‘Forest Boisdale Life Libertarian of the Year’ award.

The private lunch will be hosted by Boisdale MD Ranald MacDonald and the guest list includes many of those who have contributed to the magazine, among them Christian May (City AM), Nick Ferrari (LBC), Bruce Anderson (The Spectator), Con Coughlin (Daily Telegraph), Peter McKay (Daily Mail), Dominic Midgley (Daily Express), Matthew Bell (Tatler), Jonathan Young (The Field), Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas), Jonathan Isaby (Brexit Central), Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes), Baroness Trumpington, Stanley Johnson (father of Boris), Nikolai Tolstoy, Tom Parker Bowles and many more.

I shall be presenting the 'Libertarian of the Year' award so check back here later to see who won it.

Update: I was supposed to present the award to Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institutevof Economic Affairs.

Inevitably, perhaps, he couldn't make it and an IEA colleague received the award on his behalf.

Apart from that, it was a pretty good event ...

Tuesday
Jan312017

ASH lobbies government to fund stop smoking services and implement new tobacco control plan

The alleged cost of smoking was in the news yesterday and again today.

According to ASH "local authorities in England face a bill of £760m a year, up from £600m in 2012, to help people with smoking-related illness stay in their own homes (domiciliary care). Individuals also face a bill of about £630 million to cover the cost of their own care."

The report, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health (run by ASH), has inevitably sparked yet another demand for the government to publish its new tobacco control plan "without further delay".

It also provoked another pitiful plea for taxpayers' money to prop up England's stop smoking services despite the fact that the number of smokers using them has fallen dramatically in recent years.

And all this from a publicly-funded lobby group aided and abetted by a Conservative MP!

Bob Blackman MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health said:

“Evidence presented to the APPG on Smoking and Health shows that smoking is contributing to the current social care crisis. The situation will worsen if funding to local stop smoking services continues to be cut. Smoking is the leading cause of health inequalities in the UK so this puts at serious risk progress towards the Prime Minister’s ambition to reduce the burning injustice caused by inequality.

The new Tobacco Control Plan for England, published without further delay, will be crucial to ensuring that Government, the NHS and local Councils work together effectively to continue to tackle the harm caused by smoking.”

Meanwhile another study (reported today in the Sun and Star) claims that "treating smokers costs up to 2% of the world's annual wealth production, £1.14 trillion" worldwide.

Goodness knows how they came up with these figures but it's amazing what you can do with a creative imagination and a calculator.

The ASH research was largely ignored by the national media but thanks to a Press Association report (that included a quote from me) it featured widely in the regional press.

Anyway, this was Forest's full response to ASH and Bob Blackman:

Campaigners have rejected claims that smoking is adding to the "social care crisis".

Responding to research published today [Monday 30 January] by the taxpayer-funded lobby group ASH, Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said:

“To suggest that smoking is contributing to the social care crisis is nonsense.

“Smoking rates are at their lowest ever level yet smokers still contribute £12 billion a year in tobacco taxation, a sum that far exceeds the alleged cost of treating smoking-related diseases or providing social care to those suffering from a smoking-related illness.

“Councils are right to question or cut funding for stop smoking services. Since 2010 the number of people using stop smoking services in England has fallen by 51 per cent.

“Most smokers don’t need the state to help them quit. It's madness to spend taxpayers’ money on a resource that is no longer in demand when free market options like e-cigarettes are widely available and many smokers quit using willpower alone.

“The government should resist demands to publish a new tobacco control plan without further delay.

“It makes no sense to introduce a new tobacco control plan before the impact of interventions such as plain packaging, larger health warnings and the display ban has been independently reviewed.

“If the prime minister really wants a fairer Britain, as she claims, she should reject calls to continue this relentless war on eight million smokers.

“Millions of adults smoke and enjoy smoking. Further measures designed to denormalise smokers and their habit would be the clearest sign that Theresa May’s government is not as inclusive as it purports to be.”

I should also draw attention to Deborah Arnott's comment. The chief executive of ASH said:

“Smoking places an enormous pressure on our over stretched health and social care system, not to mention the many thousands of carers who spend their lives looking after loved ones.

We know that most local authorities remain committed to reducing smoking but key services are under threat from public health funding cuts. In some areas this is being made worse by a lack of engagement from NHS partners. Local and national action is urgently needed to ensure the continuity of support to help smokers quit.”

ASH will this this year receive £160,000 of public money from the Department of Health so if that's not an example of government lobbying government I don't know what is.

It's no surprise of course. Older readers may remember this – The state should stop giving anti-smoking groups public money to lobby the Government.

That was in October 2010. You read it here first.

Thursday
Jan262017

RIP Olde Gruff Pete

Another rock god has kicked the bucket.

Well, not quite, but I was sorry nonetheless to hear that Pete Overend Watts, bass player with Mott the Hoople, died of throat cancer earlier this week. He was 69.

Few people will know his name but his long silvery hair and thigh high platform boots were an iconic sight on Top of the Pops during the mercifully brief period that Mott embraced glam rock.

Mott split in 1974 and when the original band - which was founded in 1969 - reconvened in 2009 for five nights at Hammersmith Apollo it was said that Watts hadn't played a note for 30 years.

Unlike his fellow band member Ian Hunter, whose solo career has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in his sixties and seventies, Watts took a very different path.

He became an antique dealer and later opened a large retro store in Hereford "selling specialist clothing, unusual antiquities, instruments and rare music".

More recently he wrote a book, The Man Who Hated Walking, published in 2013, that described "the greatest challenge of his life", walking the South West Coast National Trail, "all 650 miles of it".

What spurred me to mention his death however was a rather charming message that was posted on Facebook by Morgan Fisher.

Fisher wasn't an original member of Mott the Hoople. He joined the band shortly after their breakthrough hit 'All The Young Dudes' and played on all the subsequent hit singles.

When the band got back together in 2009 and 2013 however Fisher was overlooked. There was a logic to this (the reunion was instigated by the original keyboard player and Mott's core fan base has always been ambiguous about the more successful 'pop' period) but it makes the following all the more touching.

Fisher wrote:

My dear, darling, crazy friend Peter Overend Watts passed on today. I can't speak, am numb. All I can do is share one of the last emails he sent me, on December 6th 2016. Unedited, unexplained. His bravery, honesty, generosity, open heart and still-devastatingly witty humour during his last days utterly blow me away. He left this world as a total hero, a samurai. Love you, Pete <3.

Watts' email to Fisher, sent six weeks before he died, revealed that he had kept his illness secret for six years. It read:

Oh Yay Clifford T. Whoard!

Thanks fur your lovely message me old son. Looks like the news is finally out. But PLEASE KEEP IT UNDER YER HAT. IF POSS.

Managed to keep it quiet for more than 6 years though - so that was pretty good.If you remember I wasn't great at Hammo in 2009 - felt very grimeworthy then!

I just dread being besieged by Mott fans - all PRAYING for me, sending cards or gifts - or worse still, trying to visit me! God forbid - even tho I don't believe in him - even NOW.

Can't deal with all that crap - even tho I know they mean well. My sis got a message from Joe Elliot [Def Leppard] yesterday which made me think the game might be up. I know Jean and Buff [Mott drummer who died last year after developing Alzheimer's] were overwhelmed and were upset by it all after going public.

I think it's about 5 years too late for 2nd opinions now son. I've had every type of treatment, surgery etc - it was far worse than the illness itself! I've had enough now and am fine about going - it might be plezz up there (or down there) - an adventure, whichever way yer look at it.

I'm not in any great pain, just giddy tired and weak. To be honest I'm more worried about Ralphur [Mick Ralphs, Mott/Bad Company guitarist who had a minor stroke recently] than myself right now. I really hope he recovers so he can play again. I love the guy so much - just as I love you son.

I hated having to tell you that only the original band were doing the reunions - I know it must have hurt you a lot. One of me worst jobs ever. I wish we could've done it but it wasn't financially possble + too difficult to co-ordinate with everyone concerned.

The Hospice is great - very much like Carry On Nurse - so I 'aint complainin'! Another 3 decent years of travel would've been good but it's not to be after all - but I did a hell of a lot anyway.

Glad you shifted the skin cancer - and I hope you have a long, healthy and happy life.

I can hardly type so I may not be able to keep in touch, but i just wanted you to know that you are still the best musician I ever had the privilege to work with and a brill bloke to boot ..... but David Reid - guitarist from The Contrast 'int far behind you!!! I was gonna bloody join them on electric 6 & 12 string till this bloody disease returnrd. What a bummer that was.

Anyway, must sleep now. I refuse to say "Goodbye" (so I'll just say ........ Take care Morgo - Love you son - Olde Gruff Pete xxx

PS OH - PIES OF GRATE MEAT!! We had some great times didn't we!

How wonderful is that?

As a teenager Mott the Hoople were my favourite band. I bought all their albums but never saw them live.

Pete Watts was part of my childhood and it was a thrill in 2009 to finally see him, and the rest of the band, on stage. In the words of one reviewer:

And the rockin’ went on, unrestrainable, deafening, totally life-affirming.

Source: Mott the Hoople storm back to London for a dazzling night at the Hammersmith Apollo (Daily Telegraph).

Wednesday
Jan252017

Supermarket sweep: MP wants ban on sale of tobacco in major chains

I'm currently in Brussels for reasons that will become clear in six weeks or so.

On Monday, before I caught the train to Belgium, I was booked in to a small studio at BBC Cambridgeshire to take part in a discussion on BBC Wiltshire.

Local MP Dr Andrew Murrison (Conservative) wants the government to ban the sale of tobacco in supermarkets.

Dr Murrison is a medical doctor. Prior to becoming an MP he was a surgeon commander in the Royal Navy.

But that's no excuse. Like many politicians Murrison seeks to impose his own agenda on ordinary people in the name of 'health'.

When I was invited to do the interview I was told there was almost no support for his proposal. According to the researcher I spoke to they had struggled to find anyone who agreed with it.

Come the broadcast the BBC had not only managed to find some opposing voices, they were the first soundbites from local residents:

Male: I think it’s a very good idea.

Male: Yes, I think where there is proof of concern and when people are walking about, yes, definitely. We have to change, don’t we?

Female: Why is he taking away something from somebody just because it's bad for them? I will just go somewhere else to buy them. It won’t put me off.

Male: There are a lot worst things in supermarkets than cigarettes. If it's going to be a ban on cigarettes why isn’t there a ban on alcohol?

Female: Well, you wouldn’t get so many children. You know they get people to get it for them, don’t they? Things like that.

Male: If supermarkets stop selling cakes then lot of people won’t be so fat.

Female: Guess it will push the price up if they have got to go to the little corner shop or whatever.

Female: I think it’s a step too far. I think people need to make your own mind up.

Male: I don’t think it encourages people to smoke in the supermarkets. It just makes it inconvenient. I will just say let them carry on.

Male: To roll it out across the country will be a huge cost. Where would the cost come from? Would it come out of the taxpayers yet again? I will still buy it from my local corner shop.

Here's the rest of the item:

Ben Prater, presenter: Dr Andrew Murrison joins us on BBC Radio Wiltshire, good morning.

Dr Andrew Morrison MP: Good morning.

Prater: And Simon Clark from the pro-choice group Forest. Simon Clark, good morning.

Simon Clark: Good morning.

Prater: Dr Murrison, why bring this suggestion to play now?

Murrison: Well the important thing to understand is that people who are poor will die nine years earlier than people who are relatively well off and half of that is due to differences in smoking. That is an extraordinary statistic and if we're going to get real about health inequalities we really do have to start there.

Prater: And it's not good enough to try to educate people? You actually want to deny people the opportunity?

Murrison: No, I don’t want to deny them but we do need a tobacco strategy which is something the government has been promising since the summer of last year and we are yet to see it. So we need this thing urgently and within that I want to see a number of things. I certainly want to see a commitment to an increase in price of tobacco because that certainly does alter people's behaviour in relation to consumption and I think it's appropriate to look at where tobacco is sold and frankly I don't think its acceptable for tobacco to be sold alongside foodstuffs. I just don't think that's right.

Prater: Simon Clark from Forest, your reaction to all that?

Clark: Well, what Dr Murrison is basically advocating is creeping prohibition and I am sure that’s his long-term goal. We saw with prohibition of alcohol in the United States it simply doesn't work because you drive a habit underground and this would not stop people buying tobacco. They will find it somewhere else and it will probably drive a lot of people into the hands of the black marketeers, the gangs who sell illicit tobacco on the black market. It's also designed to make it difficult for people to smoke. Now tobacco is a perfectly legal product. Smokers already pay a huge sum of money, £12bn pounds a year in tobacco taxation, and when Dr Murrison talks about increasing taxation what he actually wants to do is make poor people even poorer by forcing them to pay even more for something they enjoy consuming.

Prater: Dr Murrison, what about that black market, and we have got a few texts actually this morning from people saying that they're appalled at the number of sort of duty free fag outs on places like Facebook these days. That will only increase, won’t it?

Murrison: Well, I think it certainly needs to be hand in hand with any even greater attempt to reduce tobacco on the black market, that’s for sure. But Forest uses the standard excuse. Really and truly the two are the same. We need to make sure the black marketeers are dealt with but we also need to reduce the amount of tobacco consumption. If we're serious about public health, and the government says it is, it really has to start here because the cigarettes are way above any other thing that we consume in our lives poses a direct threat to health. It causes a huge amount of premature death through cancer, of course you know that famously, but also heart attacks to rouge all of the captains of the men of death are promoted by smoking and we either get to grips with it now or we simply throw up our hands and say nothing could be done.

Prater: I am sorry, Simon Clark, let me just ask you, is it striking to hear a Conservative MP sort of, you know, question whether the government is serious about public health?

Clark: No, not at all. I don’t think it makes any difference whether you are Labour or Conservative [but] I find it strange to hear a Conservative MP trying to dictate to a business like a supermarket what they're allowed to sell. Dr Murrison talked about urging the government to introduce a new tobacco strategy. For heaven's sake, over the last ten years we've had a raft of legislation and anti-tobacco measures starting with the smoking ban, then we had the display ban, and we've currently got plain packaging being introduced. I mean, a whole range of things. Now we've already got a display ban in supermarkets so cigarettes are not in sight of customers. They certainly don't encourage people to take up smoking, but let's have a review of existing policies before we charge ahead and introduce new policies. This just sounds like another MP on a bit of a personal crusade. He's got no public mandate for this sort of policy and politicians really have to start representing their constituents, not going on these sort of personal crusades. He is so patronising about ordinary consumers. People are well aware of the health risks of smoking. They have been aware for absolute decades. We see health warnings all over the place. People have to be allowed to make their own choices and that’s what disappoints me.

Prater: Let me just step in there Simon Clark. I mean, has he got a point there, Dr Murrison? Janette on our Facebook thread this morning says what's the difference between supermarkets selling and the corner shop is a half and half idea. Why doesn’t the MP expend his energy into better mental health funding, at turning more social housing, something that really is needed by lots of people?

Murrison: Well, this of course costs the country money because it costs the NHS dearly because it picks up the tab ultimately. It's not being patronising to try to improve public health. That is what government has a mandate to do, that is what government is in part there to do, and I'm afraid we have to accept that of all the lifestyle things that we have at the moment smoking is one of the most pernicious and were there a substance to be introduced today most certainly would not get any sort of statutory approval. It would be banned outright and I think now we need to get to grips with this otherwise there's no point in pouring huge sums of money, which I certainly support, into the National Health Service if we're not dealing with the problem at source.

Prater: Do you, Simon Clark, think there's any kind of hypocrisy when it comes right to choose towards smoking and alcohol?

Clark: Oh, undoubtedly. I mean we've heard about the so-called cost to the NHS. Yes, I'm sure there are some costs to the NHS in terms of dealing with smoking-related diseases, but let's be clear. Smokers more than pay their way in society. They contribute over £12bn pounds a year in tobacco taxation compared to the alleged cost of the treatment of smoking-related diseases which is said to be to be £2.75bn. So that's a massive net contribution that smokers make to society. There are lots of things in life that are potentially risky to our health. Now clearly the health risks of smoking are higher than many other things but what we've seen all the time is a slippery slope where politicians interfere and try to dictate to ordinary people how they live their lives and surely, if we have learnt something from the last 12 months in politics, it's that many ordinary people are fed up of the establishment and MPs telling them how to live their lives. This is just another example of it.

Prater: What about that kind of perception of double standards, Dr Murrison? You want us to be healthy but you quite like the £12bn pounds of duty that it brings in?

Murrison: First thing to say is there are plenty of things which government has seen fit to ban. I am thinking of various forms of drugs and I'm thinking of seat belts, for example. So it's not the case that there is no precedent for making it more difficult to indulge in a behaviour which is frankly harmful. Look, I've seen people with lung cancer, it isn’t very nice, it's a pretty unpleasant way to go and I'll do everything I possibly can to reduce the toll this pernicious material takes on people. I didn’t go into medicine or indeed in the politics simply to allow this sort of thing to continue ad infinite. Yes, I will do what I can to reduce people's smoking consumption and I'm really pleased that the figures, particular in Wiltshire, have come down recently. So there is evidence of some sort of impact but if we are really going to deal with this then we need to, I'm afraid, ramp up our efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, particularly among the most disadvantaged, because the figures that worry me most are the people who are having years and years and years knocked off their lives and it's particularly the poor that are affected by that.

Prater: Dr Andrew Morrison, thank you. Simon Clark from Forest as well, thank you for coming on.

Before Christmas Murrison admitted having a meeting with the taxpayer-funded lobby group ASH. Now he is urging the government to publish its new tobacco control plan, just like them.

Peronally I can't understand why the government needs another tobacco control plan. Standardised won't packaging won't be fully introduced until May 2017; ditto the ban on ten-packs and larger health warnings.

Surely it would be prudent to wait and see what impact those and other policies have before embarking on another spree?

Does anyone really know what impact (if any) the display ban has had? Or the ban on cigarette vending machines? Or the ban on smoking in cars with children? I've not seen any evidence.

Instead the likes of ASH, Public Health England, Cancer Research and Dr Andrew Murrison want the government to plough on regardless.

If Britain's armed forces adopted a similar policy (marching on without reviewing previous battles) it would provoke outrage. And yet that is exactly the strategy a former surgeon commander in the Royal Navy wants the government to follow.

As things stand public health minister Nicola Blackwood says an announcement is due shortly, although it's not clear what "shortly" means.

My message to Blackwood is, take all the time in the world. The public has had their say and it couldn't be clearer (Enough Is Enough: Attitudes to UK Smoking Pollcies).

Last but not least, if anyone genuinely thinks a new tobacco control plan is a priority they clearly haven't been reading the news.

I rest my case.