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Sunday
Aug042019

Life in the air age

On Wednesday, God (and Unite) willing, I shall be flying to Seattle from Heathrow.

I won’t bore you with my (mild) fear of flying or my thoughts on air travel in general because I’m sure they are no different to most people’s. To sum up:

The drive to the airport. Parking in the long/mid stay car park. The bus to the terminal. The queue to check-in. The queue for security checks (and the command to remove belt and shoes). The stop and search if you’ve left something in your pocket (a coin perhaps) or failed to remove a tube of toothpaste from your suitcase.

The wait in the crowded departure zone. The long walk to the departure gate and a further wait (possibly standing) in the departure lounge. The queue to board the plane. The confined and claustrophobic space otherwise known as ‘Economy’.

In the air, the queue for the toilet. Occasional (and unannounced) turbulence. For long haul flights you can add extensive periods of boredom plus ‘numb bum syndrome’ which can be excruciatingly painful (or perhaps I’m alone in this).

On arrival more queuing - for baggage (who doesn't get nervous waiting for their luggage to appear?), passport control and, finally, transport (bus, taxi, hire car) to your destination.

It’s hell yet we willingly submit to the ritual humiliation for what is sometimes no more than a few days abroad.

The strange thing is, while I am no fan of air travel and find the whole experience quite stressful, I love reading about the history of commercial flight.

What I still find staggering is the speed at which air travel took off (no pun intended), from the Wright brothers’ first powered flight in December 1903 to the first international passenger flights in 1919.

This year therefore marks ‘One hundred years of international passenger flights’. It’s a remarkable story that includes, for a short period, the airship which was far safer than the commercial planes of the pre-war era but was slower and couldn’t accommodate as many passengers.

Smoking was of course the norm in 1919 and you may be interested to note that:

In a report to the Civil Aerial Transport Committee, Brig-Gen Maitland described the facilities a future passenger airship might offer: “It will have a speed of 90 to a 100 miles per hour with ample accommodation for passengers in the shape of saloon, drawing room, smoking room and state rooms with a lift giving access to a roof garden on the top.”

Elsewhere we read:

In an interview at Rooseveldt Field in Long Island before the return of the R34, the airship’s commander Major George Herbert Scott said: “I predict that in five years we shall have ships of 10,000,000 cubic feet capacity … five times the capacity and twice the length of the R34.

The passenger accommodation would be such that the journey could be made in complete comfort. The cars would be slung under the main envelope and would include drawing-room and dining cars, besides sleeping accommodation. Each passenger could have a daily bath and, as there is no connection between the cars and the envelope, could smoke as much as he pleased. The ship would be quite quiet and there would be plenty of space to move about.”

Aeroplanes, in contrast, were noisy and, because they flew much lower than today’s commercial jets, they experienced far more turbulence.

Despite that - and a far higher number of fatal accidents - we have a rose-tinted view of commercial flying which in the Fifties and Sixties was seen as rather glamorous.

Long before I boarded my first flight (to Portugal) at the age of 12 in 1971, that’s certainly how I regarded it.

In the Sixties we lived not a million miles from Heathrow and I remember my father would drive to the perimeter and we would watch the planes take off and land.

I remember too being taken to Heathrow to see my aunt, who would have been 30, catch a flight to somewhere exotic.

There was little security in those days so anyone could walk in and watch the planes from the viewing gallery which was an open rooftop terrace.

Passengers would walk across the tarmac to the waiting aircraft and wave at friends and relatives on the terrace above. We would still be waving as the plane gathered speed on the runway and took off.

I loved all that which is why I also have a fascination with the airport terminals of the period.

Most are long gone but Dublin airport still has its original terminal building, built in the Fifties, I think.

It’s still in use - not for passengers, obviously - but what I love about it is not just the design but the scale. It’s dwarfed by today’s more modern but less characterful buildings but that itself gives you a sense of history and the relatively small number of people who used to fly.

For that reason too I am fascinated by the old Croydon airport terminal building which is still standing almost a century since it became the world’s ‘first modern, purpose-built airport’.

The grade II listed building (Airport House) now features a visitor centre that is open on the first Sunday of each month (like today, in fact).

A volunteer led ‘micro museum’, it features ‘exhibits and visual images charting the history of Croydon Airport from World War I airfield, London’s international airport, Battle of Britain airfield and closure in 1959.’

I haven’t been yet but it’s on my list of things to do this year. In the meantime I’d better start packing. Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport, awaits.

PS. Life In The Air Age’ from Live In The Air Age by Be Bop Deluxe. One of my favourite albums. Play it LOUD.

Photos courtesy Croydon Airport Visitor Centre

Sunday
Jul282019

May, Mordaunt and Mary Poppins

What a remarkable week. I refer of course to the departure of Theresa May from Number 10, the arrival of the blonde bombshell, the overdue sacking of many of the Brexit naysayers in government, and the spirit of optimism that has returned to Westminster. It may of course go badly wrong but let’s enjoy it while we can. This is what politics could and should be like (not all the time, that would be exhausting) but at moments like this it’s exhilarating. Can you imagine if Jeremy Hunt had won? A safe pair of hands, perhaps, but guaranteed to send the whole country to sleep. Boris is the man for the moment.

Talking of sackings, many people were surprised that Penny Mordaunt lost her job as defence secretary. I wasn’t. Leaving aside her support for Jeremy Hunt (which suggested an appalling lack of judgement for what the country actually needs at the present time), I unknowingly heard her on the Today programme (or was it PM?) a month or two ago. It was only at the end of the interview that I found out who it was but before that I was struck by how lame she sounded. At one point - still in the dark as to who she was - I even shouted at the radio, “Answer the question!” The idea that this was a potential PM in waiting was laughable. Which brings me to the interview with her in last week’s Sunday Times. ‘Had she run for the leadership,’ readers were told, ‘media-shy’ Mordaunt ‘could well have been our next prime minister.’ Her response to being asked why she didn’t put her name forward was to look ‘rather wistful’ while ‘leaving the door open for a future leadership bid’. Ironically, instead of building her up as intended, I suspect the article helped bring her down.

According to reports the government green paper slipped out on Monday evening was part of Theresa May’s determination to leave a ‘legacy’, in this case the eradication of smoking in England by 2030. Like Brexit on her watch, I’m confidant this is another May pledge that will never happen. It did remind me though of an article I wrote for Conservative Home shortly after her appointment as PM in 2016 - ‘If May really wants a fairer Britain, she should end the war on smokers.’ Instead she left office determined that government should renew battle until all smokers have given up. To paraphrase a song from The Mikado, ‘I've got a little list/Of society offenders/Who never would be missed.’ I am of course referring to the former PM not England’s six million smokers.

I spent three days last week helping my mother find a new home in Chester. My father died five years ago and the house they bought in the Peak District 40 years ago is now too much for my mother, the garden especially. Situated in a tiny Derbyshire hamlet without a bus service or local shop she also needs to move before she can no longer drive. My sister lives in Chester and together they had looked at a number of flats in the city without success. Last week my sister was visiting my aunt - my mother’s sister - in Zurich so I offered to join the hunt. I decided however to extend the search from two-bedroom flats for sale to two-bedroom flats/houses for sale or to rent.

The list of viewings included two small but beautiful Georgian terraced houses with pretty yards rather than gardens. They had been modernised but still had bags of character. Crucially however the staircases were so steep they were an accident waiting to happen for an 88-year-old who is not as nimble as she was. The flats we saw, whether to rent or to buy, were generally very small, very dark, or both. The exception was a furnished apartment to rent in a very modern complex overlooking Chester racecourse. The floor to ceiling windows offered an incredible view but I knew long before we walked in that it wasn’t the home my mother was looking for. The leopard print rugs and matching cushions applied the coup de grace.

Fortunately, on Wednesday morning, we found two very nice flats for sale on the other side of the racecourse, a bit further from the city centre but with balconies overlooking the river. Not the perfect location but not bad. She made an offer on one, which was accepted, and - fingers crossed - will move to Chester in the autumn. Mission accomplished.

I watched Mary Poppins Returns on DVD yesterday. I missed it on its cinema release but I really enjoyed it. I was five when Mary Poppins came out in 1964. It was the first or second film I ever saw and I don’t mind admitting that the sequel brought a little tear to my eye.

Friday
Jul262019

Pat Nurse: Why I will not quit or switch

According to the Government green paper, ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’, slipped out on Monday evening during the death throes of Theresa May’s ill-fated regime:

We are setting an ambition to go 'smoke-free' in England by 2030. This includes an ultimatum for industry to make smoked tobacco obsolete by 2030, with smokers quitting or moving to reduced risk products like e-cigarettes.‘

The sheer stupidity of this statement is staggering. Tobacco companies can offer smokers reduced risk products but they can’t force consumers to quit smoking and switch to vaping.

If they stop selling cigarettes in the UK many smokers would buy them abroad. At the same time illegal tobacco factories would churn out millions of illicit cigarettes to feed demand.

As for e-cigarettes, the more they are promoted as nothing more than a quit smoking tool the less attractive they will become for smokers like Pat Nurse (below) whose attitude to vaping is already ambivalent.

The following post was written by Pat for the New Nicotine Alliance blog but (understandably perhaps!) the NNA decided it wasn’t for them.

In the wake of the prevention green paper, however, I thought it might be a good moment to read the opinion of a committed and unapologetic smoker who doesn’t want to quit or switch.

Vaping advocates and tobacco control campaigners could learn from it. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who survived Boris’s thrilling cull of Theresa May’s abject Cabinet on Wednesday night, should read it too.

Note: This is an edited version of the article submitted to the NNA.

Guest post | Why I will not quit or switch | Pat Nurse

As a lifelong smoker from childhood to grannyhood I can say, hand on heart, that I don’t need saving and there is nothing I find more patronising than the view that, as a smoker, I need rescuing from myself.

I want a joyful life. I don’t care how long it is. My never smoking sister died recently of cancer aged 61 which only confirmed in my mind that I would not want to live a puritan life only to find that denying myself the things that give me pleasure just leads to a miserable and premature end anyway.

It’s arrogant, frankly, to promote the idea that e-cigarettes are ‘better’ for every smoker. It’s one of the most cringeworthy messages coming from the vaping fraternity who come across as evangelical in their belief that their preferred product is a lifesaver.

In truth, any mention of tobacco harm reduction gets my hackles up because it is usually a veiled shorthand for quitting or switching and I intend to do neither.

Harm reduction doesn’t have to involve stopping smoking. It can also include smoking differently (smokers don't have to inhale for the taste, for example) or smoking less (the dose makes the poison and no-one can convince me that smoking five cigarettes a day is as potentially harmful as smoking 40).

The debate should be about choice, respecting choice and fighting for everyone’s right to choose.

Vapers who are serious about defending their habit would do well to distance themselves from vaping advocates and public health campaigners for whom smoking cessation appears to be the only thing that matters.

They look and sound exactly the same as those anti-smoking activists who have waged a 12-year hate campaign against people like me for no other reason than I won’t quit, I’m not ill and I’m not dead.

While vaping remains a genuine choice - not something that is forced on smokers by removing the right to smoke and replacing tobacco with e-cigarettes - it will be an attractive option for many smokers, especially those who are priced out of smoking with punitive taxation.

Once it gets owned by public health however any appeal that e-cigarettes have for smokers like me could be lost for good. Many smokers who have yet to switch will back off because - and I can only speak for myself and friends I have spoken to - sucking on an ecig already makes me feel like a nerd.

I also feel people are looking at me as if I’m an addicted nerd sucking on a toy because I can’t have a fag. Can you imagine how we’ll feel if we’re expected to switch to vaping just because it’s advocated by public health?

While smoking remains legal smokers have a right to smoke in the same way that any consumer has the right to use a legal product, especially one on which we pay so much tax.

Vapers cannot win by claiming their product is safer - even if it is - because waiting down the line is the 'definitive study' that shows that vaping is 'far more harmful than we thought'.

Thanks to the junk studies attacking vaping, vapers already know the issue is not about health. How many Dame Sallys are there out there who think they have a right not to be 'assaulted' by vapers' 'smoke' as they walk down the street?

When I first heard about the New Nicotine Alliance I was really excited because I thought that here was a new group taking ownership of nicotine in all its forms, including smoking, and a new message about choice and responsibility would emerge.

I also thought, wrongly, that we beleaguered fighters for choice and freedom to live life as we choose would be strengthened by new friends with a common interest.

By excluding smokers like me from their nicotine club it transpired that the NNA was just another smoking cessation campaign. Far from being a friend to all consumers of nicotine, it promotes vaping at the expense of smoking.

That said, I wonder if for some of us the issue is about nicotine at all. I smoke for the smoke. If it was just about nicotine surely I would be happy vaping when it walks like a duck, acts like a duck, and sounds like a duck? And why wouldn’t patches or gum satisfy my senses like a good hand-rolled cigarette?

If it was just about nicotine why can’t I enjoy a manufactured cigarette which I quit about 30 years ago? And why, when I have no tobacco, am I happier smoking tea leaves than vaping an ecig?

If vapers want to win the war they need to distance themselves from the public health industry but it’s too late to persuade me to switch because of the way the battles have already been framed and fought.

I love smoking and I know I will never quit. In a free society where smoking is not yet illegal I have a right to exist and do as I like. Where and when I smoke in private is no one else's business.

I also know I have never harmed another living soul and I absolutely resent the junk science that claims my smoking harms others – the same junk science that says e-cigarettes give people popcorn lung and change the behaviour of young people who get 'sucked in' to vaping.

I don’t believe any of the scare stories about vaping because over 51 years I have heard them all before about smoking.

But if vaping is not to go the same way as smoking vapers have to grit their teeth and fight for the right to smoke as well as the right to vape. Only then, when we are all back inside socialising together, will I even begin listening to how wonderful vaping is.

Above: Pat Nurse photographed by Dan Donovan

Update: Interesting. Although they didn’t publish Pat’s article, her message hasn’t been lost on the NNA.

Earlier today this appeared on the group’s website:

‪‘Many smokers are suspicious of vaping because they feel it may just be a tool that government might use to coerce them into quitting.’

To read the full post click here: ‘Government’s Green Paper is the wrong approach’ (NNA).

It’s a good piece, worth reading - and overdue!

Thursday
Jul252019

$20 million for this?!

The FT today reported the launch of an online database called Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products.

Announced in Cape Town in March 2018, STOP describes itself as a 'partnership between the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union, and Vital Strategies.'

I expected something quite impressive but, unless I'm missing something, what a letdown.

Take, for example, what appears to be the principal resource. It's a list of 'more than 90 organisations in nearly 30 countries' that are allegedly 'Tobacco Industry Allies'.

It includes all the usual suspects including Forest, the IEA, ASI, TaxPayers' Alliance etc.

On first inspection, however, when you click to 'Learn More' about each organisation it merely redirects visitors to the Tobacco Tactics website operated by Bath University's Tobacco Control Research Group.

If you want to know how poor that is, read my review written in October 2012.

Aesthetically the Tobacco Tactics website always looked terrible, even at launch. How difficult would it have been to transfer the information to a shiny new database on the STOP website, giving researchers the opportunity to edit and update it at the same time?

The STOP project is being given $20 million by Bloomberg Philanthropies over three years.

$20 million to create an online database whose principal resource is an existing database? If I was Bloomberg I'd be asking questions – or demanding my money back.

See 'Tobacco campaign group looks to name and shame' (FT).

Update: I've just found another 'resource'.

Click on a link and you can download an Excel file (!) that lists all 92 organisations referred to as 'Tobacco Industry Allies'.

To save you the trouble of visiting the STOP website you can download it here, if you want to.

Thursday
Jul252019

Smokers' rights and civil liberties

The war on smoking in Australia went a step further this week when a council in Sydney banned smoking in public places throughout its business district.

In the context of smoking ‘public places’ used to be shorthand for enclosed public places which was defined as anywhere members of the public might congregate.

That allowed regulators to designate pubs and clubs as ‘public’ spaces even though they are actually private premises that people have a choice to enter - unlike, say, a bank or a post office.

Shortly after the introduction of the smoking ban even private homes were designated as ‘public’ (or work) places for the duration of a visit by a social worker or health visitor, for example.

The aim, as we know, was to ‘protect’ the health of non-smokers who might be exposed to ‘secondhand’ smoke, even though the evidence of harm was (and still is) contentious.

Despite that the definition of public places where smoking must be banned now includes the great outdoors - anywhere, in fact, where another member of the public might be present.

Two reasons are generally cited to justify this.

One, children must be ‘protected’ from the sight of people smoking in case in encourages them to take up the habit.

Two, the health risks of ‘passive’ smoking.

'The children' argument seems especially ridiculous in this instance because I can’t imagine there are many teenagers roaming the business district of North Sydney.

According to the local mayor however:

“I think limiting the exposure of young people to a smoking environment is a really positive thing to do and I think the time will come reasonably soon where smoking wont be allowed at all in public. That’s my hope.”

In other words, this is simply a stepping stone towards something even more restrictive - the eradication of smoking in all 'public' places, indoors and outside, business and residential.

With regard to smoking outside, the passive smoking argument is relatively recent, in the UK at least.

When outdoor smoking bans were first suggested few anti-smokers argued that exposure to tobacco smoke in the open air was a health risk.

Today it benefits their goal of a 'smoke free' society if people believe that smoking outside is a health risk so they generally say nothing, preferring to let the myth of passive smoking extend to outdoor areas.

Credit then to Professor Simon Chapman, one of Australia’s leading anti-smoking campaigners and a man I rarely agree with, for consistently highlighting the absence of evidence concerning the health risks of smoking outside.

Here he is, quoted by the Guardian today:

“All of the evidence about passive smoking being a health risk has been gathered from chronic, long-term exposure in domestic situations or in the workplace,” he says.

“I did a review of the research in about 2012 and there was virtually no research at all conducted about outdoor exposures. The reason for that is that you wouldn’t bother measuring it because it’s so insignificant.

“If you’re walking past someone smoking in the street or a park you’re talking about a transitory, fleeting exposure of no consequence at all.”

Chapman is in good company. Professor Sir Richard Doll, the epidemiologist who first demonstrated the link between smoking and lung cancer, was of a similar mind. According to his obituary in The Times:

When questioned recently on second-hand smoke, he exasperated the anti-smoking lobby by replying: “The effects of other people smoking in my presence is so small it doesn’t worry me.”

In contrast the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties takes a rather different view. The Guardian's Michael McGowan reports that:

Pauline Wright, the council president, told me that although she was “a little bit troubled” by the “creeping wowserism” in Australian society, the [smoking] ban is not concerning.

“It’s not an infringement of people’s rights and freedoms. It’s kind of telling people, don’t do it in a public place because science tells us it actually is a danger to people’s health. So, don’t exercise your rights in a way that harms other people.”

It was of course another great 'champion' of civil liberties, Patricia Hewitt, who forced through a comprehensive smoking ban in England after her predecessor John Reid had proposed a compromise that would have allowed smoking in private members' clubs and pubs that didn't serve food.

Prior to becoming a Labour MP and Secretary of State for Health, Hewitt was general secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties, which later rebranded as Liberty.

Curiously smokers' rights are rarely supported by human rights' campaigners. I wrote to Shami Chakrabarti, when she was director of Liberty, asking for help. If I remember (it was a long time ago) I got a noncommittal reply.

I later found myself at a dinner at which she was the guest speaker. I wrote about it here:

During Q&As, Chakrabarti was asked why Liberty didn't support Britain's beleaguered smokers. She wasn't unsympathetic but the gist of her reply was that smokers' rights are relatively trivial compared to other human rights issues and Liberty has to prioritise.

To be fair – and I had forgotten about this – she did side with radio presenter Jon Gaunt when he was sacked by TalkSport for making on-air references to the 'health Nazis' he felt responsible for banning smokers from fostering children in Redbridge.

Generally, though, very few campaigners for civil liberties support the rights of smokers. One of the few who does is Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club.

Josie has written a report for Forest that we shall be publishing very soon. Watch this space.

Tuesday
Jul232019

Government issues ultimatum to tobacco industry - make smoking history by 2030

The end of Theresa May’s premiership can’t come quickly enough.

The publication of the Government’s Green Paper on harm prevention had been expected for some time - details were leaked a couple of weeks ago - but the way it was slipped out last night took everyone by surprise.

The FT got the inside story and it appears that health secretary Matt Hancock was involved in a fierce row with the outgoing PM.

According to the FT, May wanted the proposals published as part of her ‘legacy’ (which is looking increasingly tragic).

Hancock, on the other hand, wanted to hold fire until the new PM - presumably Boris - is in office.

Commenting on the FT report, the Sun’s Shaun Wooller tweeted:

Mr Hancock was initially reluctant to have the paper published by his own Department of Health and Social Care, meaning that it was instead published by the Cabinet Office and DHSC together. The minister also argued successfully against any press notice to accompany publication.

BBC News health editor Hugh Pym tweeted:

Important Government green paper on prevention of ill-health slipped out online this evening without warning by the Cabinet Office (not DH) - quite extraordinary - @FT reporting Theresa May forced publication despite Matt Hancock’s opposition.

Apparently May wants her legacy to include a ‘ban on smoking by 2030 and a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.’

According to the BBC News report published overnight:

The government is pledging to end smoking in England by 2030 as part of a range of measures to tackle the causes of preventable ill health.

See: Pledge to end smoking in England by 2030 (BBC News).

Meanwhile, over on the government website, you’ll find this extraordinary statement:

We are setting an ambition to go 'smoke-free' in England by 2030. This includes an ultimatum [my emphasis] for industry to make smoked tobacco obsolete by 2030, with smokers quitting or moving to reduced risk products like e-cigarettes.

See: Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s

Closing date for consultation responses is October 14, 2019.

Also slipped out yesterday were details of a ‘post-implementation review looking at the tobacco legislation introduced between 2010 and 2016’.

The legislation introduced during this period includes bans on displaying tobacco products and prices in shops; selling nicotine-inhaling products, including e-cigarettes, to under 18s; buying nicotine-inhaling products on behalf of someone under 18 (proxy purchasing); and smoking in cars containing children.

The Government says it wants your ‘opinions and evidence on the legislation’:

Your views will help us to assess whether the legislation has achieved its objective and whether legislation is still the best way of achieving that objective.

See The impact of tobacco laws introduced between 2010 and 2016.

Closing date for this consultation is September 15, 2019.

The irony is that Forest spent years calling for a review of the impact of Labour’s smoking ban but the Conservative-led Coalition wasn’t interested.

Now, finally, we’re going to get a review of anti-smoking legislation introduced by successive Conservative-led governments but it will only go back to 2010, when the Tories came to power.

Conveniently that allows the consultation to ignore the loss of 11,000 pubs in the decade since the introduction of the ban and the subsequent impact on local communities.

It also means the Government can continue to turn a blind eye to all those polls (some as recent as 2017) in which a majority of adults in England, Scotland and Wales have consistently supported separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

That is not a message the Government wants to hear so the impact of the smoking ban is simply excluded from the ‘review’.

Sunday
Jul212019

MEPs enjoying a smoke in the European Parliament

Former Forest spokesman Brian Monteith who is now a Brexit party MEP sent me this photo last week.

It features Brian and his Brexit party colleague Claire Fox enjoying what Brian calls a ‘legal puff inside the Strasbourg Parliament building - in one of the many smoking booths!!!!!’

As Claire revealed when she spoke at Forest’s 40th anniversary dinner at Boisdale last month, smoking rooms are one of many benefits MEPs enjoy in Strasbourg and Brussels.

Her comments were noted by the London Evening Standard which reported:

Claire Fox, the Brexit Party MEP, was “shocked” to discover “a really startling, murky, dirty secret right in the heart of the European Parliament”.

The Moral Maze panellist told a Boisdale dinner last night that what amazed her were the “smoking rooms on every floor”. “How sensible, how civilised, how humane,” she said, before stressing: “I haven’t gone native.”

Obviously we think smoking booths, or lounges, are a great idea in buildings where smoking is otherwise banned.

Isn’t it typical, though, that MEPs and staff working in the European Parliament are allowed them while the overwhelming majority of smokers in EU member states have to light up outside, whatever the weather.

As ever it’s one law for the ruling elite, another for the rest of us.

Brian meanwhile has promised to send more photos of MEPs behaving ‘badly’. Watch this space.

Tuesday
Jul162019

Deborah Arnott rewrites history - the cheek of it!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, yesterday's interview concluded with this exchange:

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

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

Chris Mann
OK. Simon Clark, same question.

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

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

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