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Where's Kerry? The curious case of the missing MP

Red faces at the New Statesman following the non-appearance of Labour MP Kerry McCarthy at a fringe meeting organised by the left-wing magazine and the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.

The NS had invited the Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury to speak at an event entitled 'The smoking ban: success or failure?'. Other speakers were Chris Ogden, chief executive of the TMA, and a representative of the Working Men's Clubs & Institute Union.

Details of the event – giving Kerry McCarthy top billing - were published in the fringe listings of the Labour conference brochure. On Friday, however, just four days before the meeting, McCarthy pulled out, leaving the organisers without their star attraction.

Keen observers of the smoking debate are wracking their brains to work out the reason for this volte face.

Speculation is rife. It is known that a speaker at another New Statesman/TMA meeting (at the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham last week) was contacted by ASH and urged not to share a platform with the tobacco industry.

Did ASH speak to Kerry McCarthy as well? I don't know, but perhaps she would like to comment on her blog and clear up any misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, referring to the tobacco control movement at yesterday's meeting, TMA chief executive Chris Ogden declared, "They cannot tolerate debate".

How true.

See also: A Labour MP writes


Fringe benefits

Currently in Liverpool for the Labour party conference.

Looking forward to our event at the Cavern Club tomorrow night (see above). I'll have more to say about this and other fringe events in due course. There have been some interesting developments that I can't tell you about just yet, so watch this space.


The case against plain packaging

Excellent article by Rich White on the Guardian website yesterday.

Subject is plain packaging. According to the author, there is little evidence that plain packaging will deter young people from buying cigarettes. In any case:

We already have measures to stop children smoking. Cigarettes are always, without exception, kept behind the counter so neither child nor adult has any access to buying tobacco without the cashier physically handing it to them. Even if we accept the rationale that people impulsively want to smoke because the packet lures them in like fish to a worm on a hook, minors are still faced with the problem of needing to be in possession of identification proving they are over 18. Unlike alcohol, cigarettes cannot be pinched off the shelf and placed into a minor's pocket as they hurry out the door and around the back to spark up.

Rich tells me that it is currently the most read article in the Society section.

Full article: Why plain packaging will not stop youths smoking


Attention to detail

I had two meetings yesterday.

The first was with the manager of the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the second with the manager of the Comedy Store in Manchester. We are hosting events at both locations in the next two weeks.

The Liverpool event takes place during next week's Labour conference. This morning I received an email confirming the details:

The Event
Drinks Reception for the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign featuring Beatles Tribute Band 6pm - 8.30pm Tuesday 27th September.

The aim is to attract delegates from the Labour Party Conference at the Arena. This brief has been agreed with Simon Clark.

Start time: 6.00pm
Speeches: 7.00pm - 7.10pm
Tribute Band. Made in Liverpool. 7.15pm - 8.15pm
Finish: 8.30pm

Simon and his team will arrive about 5pm. Posters have been provided and a banner will be delivered on Tuesday morning for display on Tuesday night.

Band to sound check and finish before guests arrive.

Stage to be set so screens are visible for guests to watch Paul McCartney DVD. Start DVD at 5.50pm unless otherwise instructed by Simon. Low volume so people can easily talk over the sound. Run DVD on a loop. Have some ambient (Beatles) music available just in case. Simon has requested the SOPAC logo be displayed on the screens before the speeches start. Logo to be sent to Cavern Club Events Manager by email.

6.00pm - 7.00pm: Guests should have an invitation (sample provided) if not a member of Simon's team will be on the door with our door person. The invites can be used as passouts. There will be a bar tab [for complimentary drinks] on the back bar. Spirits will not be included in the tab. Once tab is finished it will revert to a pay bar. If people want drinks (draught beers) from the front they will have to pay. At least two bar staff on duty in Live Lounge.

7.00pm - 7.10pm. Speeches. Mic in the centre of the stage.

7.15pm - 8.15pm. Made in Liverpool. One hour set.

Finish 8.30pm (approximately)

Catering. Provided by Garsans. Tresle tables to be set out on the area by the juke box. Remove ALL tables and seating from that area and the upper bar area. Seating and tables only in the pit area.

Transport. If the weather is poor Simon may contact [coach operator] as late as 4.30pm to arrange a transfer for guests from Gower Street bus stop at 5.30pm and 6pm.

Ah, yes, the weather. The club is 15 minutes' walk from the conference centre. Sadly, there are some things you can't control and if it rains heavily we're buggered!!

Fingers crossed.

PS. If you live in the north west please join us. The Cavern Club is outside the secure area so you don't need a conference pass. Several Labour MPs have indicated that they will attend so this is a good opportunity to have your say.


BBC embraces reclassification research

I was in Liverpool and Manchester yesterday making final arrangements for our party conference events.

Unfortunately I was driving on the M6 and unable to take the call asking me to be a guest on the Five Live phone-in at nine o'clock. Subject: reclassifying films that feature people smoking (see previous post). I did however hear the debate on the car radio.

It was interesting to note how much of a platform the BBC gave the story. Sky News Radio ran it but apart from some interest overseas (where it was picked it from the BBC) there was little or no interest elsewhere.

The BBC featured it on the Today programme, several local radio stations, and it also popped up on the Five Live lunchtime programme with contributions from BBC health reporter Michelle Roberts (who I had spoken to the previous day), someone from, I think, Smokefree Liverpool, and Dr Hilary Jones.

Jones is no apologist for tobacco so it was interesting to hear him question the Bristol University study, pointing out that it was a survey not scientific evidence. He seemed sceptical that reclassifying films would have any impact on youth smoking.

Nevertheless, here was a discussion about tobacco control featuring three guests, not one of whom defended smoking or opposed the campaign to denormalise tobacco.

Meanwhile the BBC News report (Smoking in films 'encourages teenagers to take it up') now has 389 comments, most of them hostile to the idea of reclassification.

PS. I wonder how BBC producers and directors would react if told that they cannot feature a character smoking in any drama that may be watched by anyone under the age of 18.


Smoking in films: 'experts' call for age classification to be raised to 18

Another British university has jumped on the anti-smoking bandwagon.

Researchers at Bristol University say that teenagers who watch films showing actors smoking are more likely to take it up.

Dr Andrea Waylen, who led the research, has called for the age classificition for films that feature smoking to be raised to 18, arguing that it would lower youth smoking rates.

The BBC reports that:

The UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies has written to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) asking it to do just this to protect children from "particularly harmful imagery".

I am quoted as follows:

"The idea that films need to be reclassified in order to create a utopian, smoke-free world for older children is not only patronising, it is completely unnecessary.

"Today you would be hard-pressed to find a leading character who smokes in any top 10 box office movie.

"What next? Should government reclassify films that feature fat people as well in case they are bad role models?

"We go to the cinema to escape from the nanny state. The tobacco control industry should butt out and take its authoritarian agenda elsewhere."

Smoking in films 'encourages teenagers to take it up'


With 'friends' like these ...

Some months ago someone I barely know and have not seen for over 12 years invited me to be his 'Facebook friend'.

He lives in Manchester so when I invited selected Facebook friends to attend our forthcoming event at the Comedy Store in Manchester I included him.

He could have ignored the message. Instead he replied as follows:

'preciate [sic] it is what you get paid for ATM, but I'm afraid I cannot support any of your Forrest [sic] stuff, as I would make smoking illegal tomorrow, if I could. So I'd be grateful if you would not send em any more Forrest [sic] stuff.

I only use Facebook as a business tool so I have 'defriended' this plonker and he is now an ex-Facebook friend.

So there.


Living is an economic issue

The Independent on Sunday reports that "Fat is an economic issue".

Smoking, stress and alcohol take their toll too – now firms are adopting schemes to improve staff's health and boost productivity.

According to the paper:

Being overweight, a smoker and depressed at work should become as unacceptable as breaching safety rules or doing a shoddy job. Unhealthy workers are up to 12 per cent less productive than healthy colleagues, costing firms millions, experts will warn this week ...

As a result, as firms look to cut costs and get more out of a smaller workforce, more bosses are turning to staff "wellness" schemes. While some may resent the idea of bosses monitoring their health, the idea has the backing of the Department of Health which says companies can "more than reap a return on investment".

The IoS quotes Professor Dee Edington, from the University of Michigan, who says:

"Health is an economic issue. It is a business strategy about being able to stay healthy and pick up the pace. I bet nobody in a workplace says it's OK not to be safe or it is OK not to do quality work. What we have to get is health up to the same level, to say 'it is not OK not to be healthy around here because we need you working at 95 to 100 per cent efficiency'."

How depressing. Perhaps they should sack all the humans and employ robots instead.

Needless to say "the workplace wellness drive has the blessing of the NHS". And why not? After all, the 'facts' are pretty conclusive:

In 2010 nearly 190 million days were lost to absence, costing the economy £17bn, according to a CBI/Pfizer survey this year.

(How they achieve these estimates is anyone's guess but let's not quibble.)

Accompanying the report are the views of two people, one of whom is me. This is what I told the paper:

"I think we should be discouraging employers from taking too much interest in our personal lives, and whether we smoke or enjoy drinking alcohol. It's claimed that smokers take 'x' number of days off work, but it's very difficult to prove because most so-called smoking-related diseases are multi-factorial. I'm not denying that there are serious health risks associated with smoking, but these diseases can also be caused by bad diet, lack of exercise etc, so it's wrong to target smokers in particular.

"If the suggestion is that employers should think twice before they employ smokers, then they are potentially going to be losing out on thousands of very talented people. Drinking within reason and being a moderate smoker have no impact on a person's ability to do their job, and I think it would be very wrong for governments to try and encourage employers to monitor the lifestyles of their employees."

The other person – Rebecca Hirst, marketing manager at Coca-Cola – appears to have been asked a completely different set of questions because this is what she had to say:

"Since I joined Coke, I've maintained a stable weight; an achievement given that there are free drinks on offer. Every Tuesday lunchtime I go to running club, and I use the on-site gym at least twice a week. Once would be my personal training session with the gym manager and then I would also do one of the classes in the studio. The biggest benefit for me is the way that I feel; I'm more energetic and productive.

"If I go a full week without exercising, I feel more lethargic, I don't sleep well and I find it harder to switch off. I'm more lax in my eating and I'll hit the chocolate harder. When I exercise, the benefits spiral into other areas of my life in a really positive way. I'm hardly ever ill. I've only had two days off sick in the past 12 months. At Coca-Cola we work hard: we work long hours and we travel a lot, and exercise works to counterbalance that."

You've got to laugh. I'm just grateful they didn't ask about my lifestyle. My numerous ailments could fill the entire newspaper!

Full article here.