Friday
Jul012011

No smokers, please, we're British

Above, the first wave of guests arrive on College Green, opposite the Houses of Parliament, for the Save Our Pubs & Clubs reception at the House of Commons on Wednesday June 29.

GUEST POST BY PAT NURSE:

People think I've become disillusioned about the smoking issue but the truth is I am sinking deeper and faster into despair under the sheer weight of daily stupidity dressed up as some sort of new 'scientific report' that shows smokers must be purged from 'decent' society by any means.

This is no longer about health but hatred of people who don't want to hurt anyone else but just want to be left alone to live their lives in peace. Lifelong smokers like myself from childhood who are from a different generation and a different age when smoking was perceived differently are the most affected. In just four years because of the smoke-free law and government backing of it we have gone from being heavily taxed contributors who have kept the NHS afloat for decades to 'disgusting', 'smelly' and 'selfish' pariahs who have no right to exist and are blamed for everything from child murder to global warming.

That is why I attended the Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons on Wednesday. I wanted to tell our elected representatives just how socially damaging, exclusive and downright unnecessary this social health policy is and why the time has come to redress the balance between those who can't or won't quit and those who despise them because we are standing in the way of those spiteful people who want the world in their own perfect image.

I was impressed by the number of attendees and uplifted to see so many people who feel strongly enough to make the journey from across the UK to London to visit the House of the Privileged and make their feelings known.

My own MP Karl McCartney indicated that he would have come but for “a prior engagement” and he has kindly agreed to see me at a local surgery in Lincoln today where I intend to tell him how the ban has encouraged the rise of a new phenomenon – smokerphobia.

That people can believe the alleged public health doctor who said that putting an exhaust pipe in a car is safer that smoking a cigarette in the vehicle shows how ignorant people are about the effects of smoking. They are ready to believe it because they have been taught over the last generation to hate and fear people who smoke. Evidence that the issue is now so far from removed from health is obvious by such stupid statements.

I wanted to tell any MP who was prepared to listen that the country is losing the plot over the smoking issue but I was deeply disappointed at the lack of parliamentarians at the event. I don't know how many were there as I didn't recognise any MPs other than our hosts, Greg Knight (Conservative), Roger Godsiff (Labour) and John Hemming (Lib Dem).

I spoke to Greg Knight as the person who I thought said that smokers were being penalised for a choice they made that others disagreed with – although actually I think it was the Labour MP Roger Godsiff.

As someone who began smoking at the age of eight, I asked I asked Greg how I could have consciously made a choice at that age. I did what a lot of other kids did at the time and continued into adulthood when no one had a problem with it until one was created by modern government who refused to hear both sides of the issue but put the smokerphobics at ASH into government to make public health policy.

I smoke now because I enjoy it but I cannot make an informed health choice to quit when not enough studies have been done to show what would happen to someone like me if I did. The only study that has been done on this – as far as I am aware – is the Arunachalam Kumar, Kasaragod Mallya and Jairaj Kumar study conducted at the KS Hegde Medical Academy in Mangalore, India.

They were "struck by the more than casual relationship between the appearance of lung cancer and an abrupt and recent cessation of the smoking habit in many, if not most, cases". They claim that lifelong smokers who quit increase their chances of getting terminal illness from 20 to 60 per cent. I'll stick with 20 per cent, thanks.

Greg seemed very interested to hear my story and I asked if he could arrange for me to speak at the Conservative party conference to explain to delegates why they need to start listening to us and why balance on this issue is vital if we are to avoid a social tragedy akin the the times when homosexuality was illegal, belonging to the 'wrong' religion could get you burned at the stake, and being from the 'wrong' culture could get you excluded from every public place in the UK.

We are going back to the days when it was acceptable to say 'No blacks, no Irish and no dogs' but this time legislation allows people to say 'No smokers'. Dogs are now more welcome than we are in a society that smokers helped to build until 2007.

Greg said he would if he could but that was not something in his power as the Conservative party secretary arranges such speeches. He said to mention this idea to Simon Clark who may be able to make it happen, at least by having me at one of Forest's fringe events.

I was disturbed that the House of Commons bar staff called security on us for smoking outside and angered that apparently only MPs can smoke out there because for them a blind eye is turned. I was, however, also uplifted to see the delegation of smokers at the event simply choose to ignore the bullies and carry on smoking.

It was great to catch up with some friends in the movement. I was upset to see one had become ill since our last meeting a couple of years ago but he looked remarkably well. Nick Hogan also looked great and it was fantastic to see him back on fighting form. Lou, my friend from Lincoln who has no computer and knows nothing about this cause or its characters, was anxious to meet Nick the most, such was her respect for what he did in trying to make a stand for people like us.

Dick Puddlecote, David Atherton and Charles Childe Freeman looked after Lou and me at the pub after the event and they were as always great company.

I fell in love with David Hockney for his sheer dedication to this cause and his call for a common sense approach. I am from the generation where people who have your respect are addressed by their title. MPs like Mr Knight, Mr Hemming and Mr Godsiff deserve that respect. I have only one name for those sitting in the House of Commons who make decisions based on what they hear from ASH rather than what they hear from the grassroots smokers themselves, but Simon's blog doesn't allow foul language.

I fear the pubs battle is lost. It is too late and was too late once the Conservatives and Liberals won the election. I knew that if we didn't get heard after the champagne socialists in Labour were gone then we would never be heard. Those pubs that were on our side were silenced or have now disappeared. Those that remain simply don't want us in their pubs.

The battle as I see it now is to stop smokerphobia from gaining even more ground. We must ensure that government listens to smokers. We must educate and make the media aware of how they are being manipulated and being made to look ridiculous by their acceptance of any old science by press release study, and we must get the wider public – both smoking and non-smoking – to realise what is being done to an unpopular minority for ideological reasons rather than any real concern about public health.

Smokerphobia is taking us back to science by witch doctor. It's a witch hunt and instead of real studies they are spouting mumbo jumbo nonsense simply because they can.

For all the above reasons I will be having a protest in my home town tomorrow and, if successful, I will hold it every year until the balance is redressed.

For the same reasons I will be back at the House of Commons again next year and the next, and the next, and the next, for as long at it takes.

Friday
Jul012011

Four years on, a town in Buckinghamshire wants to ban smoking outside

Four years ago today smoking was banned in every pub and club in England.

Where were you?

It was a Sunday and I was in the old Forest office in London, a short walk from Victoria Station (and Buckingham Palace), writing this blog post.

Surprisingly I was twiddling my thumbs. Media-wise the day was a damp squib because journalists had other things on their minds - flash floods, car bombs and the terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport.

We did much of our media work earlier that week when journalists and broadcasters attended our Revolt In Style dinner at the Savoy Hotel.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, assistant editor and leader writer Philip Johnston comments on yesterday's story that Stony Stratford, a small town in Buckinghamshire, wants to ban smoking outside.

Council chiefs want to introduce a bylaw to fine anyone caught lighting up in the town. It would be the first ban of its kind in Britain and would apply to smoking in the streets, parks or, presumably, even while sitting on the banks of the Great Ouse watching the river flow by.

Soon, smokers will only be able to light up in their own homes, though no doubt a way will be found to stop that as well. The ban was supposed to protect vulnerable people from the effects of passive smoking. But with nowhere else to go, many adults now stay indoors to smoke, causing their offspring to inhale fumes they might otherwise have avoided. Such perverse outcomes mean that Parliament should take another look at the ban and the way it has worked.

Other EU countries such as Germany and Sweden let bar owners provide smoking areas, so why can’t we? Our freedom of choice is at stake – or is that no longer important in a country once defined by a commitment to individual liberty?

Also at stake is the future of our traditional pubs, especially those in town centres unable to provide outdoor smoking cabins. Over the past four years, an estimated 6,000 pubs have closed, partly as a consequence of lost trade caused by the ban. At the House of Commons this week, publicans lobbied MPs to amend the ban so that premises can have separate smoking rooms. Is anyone listening to them? For the first time, their pubs now rely more on food than drink for their income; but the exodus of smokers is leaving many struggling to survive.

Years from now, provided the Cock and the Bull in Stony Stratford are still going, elderly patrons may tell a tale of when people could be seen in public smoking a cigarette or puffing on a pipe, but no one will believe them.

Full article here: A ban on outdoor smoking in Stony Stratford? Is this the Britain we want?

PS. Philip Johnston is the author of Bad Laws: An Explosive Analysis of Britain's Petty Rules, Health and Safety Lunacies and Madcap Laws. Last year he was a speaker at one of our Free Society debates.

Friday
Jul012011

BBC presenter admits: "I am an anti-smoker"

I was on Call Kaye, the BBC Radio Scotland phone-in this morning.

It was, ahem, a lively 30 minutes during which we discussed the BMA's call to ban smoking in all private vehicles.

My fellow guest was perky Miranda Watson, director of communications at the British Lung Foundation.

Towards the end of an occasionally heated discussion, presenter Kaye Adams admitted what I have known for many years. She is an anti-smoker.

Pity she didn't mention that at the beginning of the programme.

Update: To listen to the programme click here.

Thursday
Jun302011

More spin and bluster from ASH

Today I've been brainstorming in a rather beautiful part of the country.

Just got home and what do I find? Like her colleague Martin Dockrell last week, Amanda Sandford of ASH has written an article for the leading left-wing blog Left Foot Forward: Happy smoking ban day everybody! Don’t believe big tobacco’s corporate spin

You may wish to comment.

Earlier today ASH issued this press release. I think we may have ruffled some feathers.

Thursday
Jun302011

David Hockney lights up the House of Commons

Where to begin?

Yesterday's reception for the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign at the House of Commons went as well as we could have hoped. Better, actually.

It wasn't perfect. Thirty-five parliamentarians registered to attend but I'm not sure how many turned up. There was a debate in the chamber that kept several MPs away (including my own who nevertheless sent a member of staff to say hello). In addition we were competing with a garden party at Buckingham Palace and some of our guests were double-booked. (Guess which event they chose to attend?!) In several instances they did however send a researcher to represent them.

Of the 300 people who pre-registered at least 200 – possibly more – joined us in the Terrace Pavilion. (If you're wondering what happened to the rest, this is quite normal for a 'freebie' event. Experience has taught me that around two-thirds of people who register will turn up on the day. The capacity of the Pavilion is 200 standing so the numbers were just right.)

At one point, looking at the queue at the Cromwell Green entrance and knowing how long it can take to get through security, I was concerned that some people might not make it in time. I needn't have worried. A trickle of guests became a flood and soon the Terrace, in particular, was full of people talking, drinking and (what else?) smoking.

Lots of familiar faces – Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes), Eamonn Butler (Adam Smith Institute), Dan Hamilton (Big Brother Watch), Alex Deane (formerly Big Brother Watch), Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Angela Harbutt (Liberal Vision), Nick Hogan, Lembit Opik – and some less familiar ones including publicans and members of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union. (The arrival on College Green of the CIU's National Executive Committee reminded me of a scene from The Godfather.)

The big news is that David Hockney turned up. We sent him an invitation a couple of weeks ago but we only got a call yesterday morning to say that he was coming. At 4.40 we were told he was "in the building" and at 4.50 there he was, as large as life, standing next to me as our hosts – Greg Knight, Roger Godsiff and John Hemming – launched into their speeches.

Mick McGlasham, general secretary of the CIU, also spoke but it was David who got the largest cheer and, as ever, he didn't disappoint. In a short but humorous speech he spoke of being "angry" and attacked the politicians who are turning Britain into a "mean-spirited" country. He had come, he said, because he "wanted to do his bit".

The BBC conducted interviews on the Terrace and we also had two camera crews of our own. (We've commissioned two videos of the event which should be ready next week.) Fingers crossed, there should also be a feature in the Independent to coincide with the anniversary of the smoking ban.

Finally, I was so busy I didn't speak to that many people so apologies if you were there and I didn't say hello. If you came, many thanks for making the effort. It was very much appreciated. Online activism is all well and good but the biggest statements are made in person.

See: Labour's ban comes home to roost (Guido Fawkes)
Pub smoking ban needs review says MP (The Daily Politics, BBC1)
MPs call for smokers to be allowed back into pubs (Birmingham Mail)
Campaign fighting for rethink over smoking ban (Bristol Evening Post)

Above: David Hockney (right) with The Rt Hon Greg Knight MP

Thursday
Jun302011

Stick an exhaust pipe in your car, says doctor – it's safer than smoking

I got a call yesterday from the Press Association.

Delegates at the British Medical Association's annual conference in Cardiff had called for a blanket ban on smoking in cars (irrespective of whether children are present). What was Forest's response?

I said what I usually say (“A car is a private vehicle and an outright ban would be a gross intrusion" blah blah blah) but what struck me, when I read the reports this morning, was this comment by "public health doctor" Douglas Noble who told the conference:

“It would be safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car. A ban would protect non-smokers, particularly pregnant women and children."

Safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car?!!!

I'm no expert but, as I understand it, attaching a hose from your exhaust pipe and feeding it into the car is a very effective way to commit suicide. If Dr Noble is correct (and why wouldn't he be, he's a "public health doctor" for goodness sake), Britain's roads – in the Fifties and Sixties especially – would have been littered with the corpses of drivers (and their passengers) who expired at the wheel thanks to their suicidal habit of smoking while driving.

I know we have to put up with a lot of hyperbole and sometimes downright lies from anti-smoking activists, but is there no limit to which tobacco control advocates will sink when arguing their case?

See: Don't smoke and drive, say doctors calling for a ban (Daily Mirror)
Dangers of smoking in cars extremely damaging to health - say BMA (Wales Online)

Wednesday
Jun292011

Messages from absent friends - and even the BBC is interested!

Beautiful sunny day in London. Total contrast to yesterday.

The hotel where I stayed overnight has thoughtfully provided an iMac in every room and the broadband is lightning fast - well, lightning fast compared to the service at home.

In approximately eight hours we will be welcoming guests to the Save Our Pubs & Clubs reception at the House of Commons.

I don't want to tempt fate (people can be remarkably fickle) but the news is that the event is significantly over-subscribed. Almost 300 people have registered to attend. If they all turn up it's going to be a bit of a scrum, but rather that than no interest at all.

Anyway, it's going to be a pretty hectic day so excuse me if I don't blog. Full report to follow tomorrow.

In the meantime I will leave you with two messages that I have received from absent friends.

From Joe Jackson:

"Sorry I can't be with you today. I am in Berlin, where there is a choice of smoking and nonsmoking spaces, business is good, and everyone is happy. It really is time for the UK government to stop promoting fear and intolerance, stop blurring the line between public and private places, and let publicans set their own policies in their own pubs."

From Antony Worrall Thompson:

"I am sorry I can't be with you today as I'm on my way to catch a flight to Holland because they have seen sense and done a u-turn and amended their ban so they now allow single room bars to choose. At last, a sign of common sense! Let's hope more countries take this lead. It's all about choice - we don't need nannying - we're grown ups. Have great, productive event."

The BBC is reporting the event here: MPs campaign to relax smoking ban in pubs

See also: MPs join campaign to change smoking ban (Morning Advertiser)
Campaign fighting for rethink over smoking ban (Bristol Evening Post)

PS. Weather forecast isn't so good from mid afternoon. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday
Jun282011

Definition of a free society

Tonight is the last of the current Voices of Freedom debates:

To round things off, The Free Society and Liberty League UK present:

DEFINITION OF A FREE SOCIETY
How does Britain rate in 2011?

Venue: Institute of Economic Affairs,
2 Lord North Street, Westminster, SW1

Chairman:
Me

Speakers:
Tom Miers (The Free Society)
Anton Howes (Liberty League)
Emma Boon (TaxPayers Alliance)
Andy Mayer (Liberal Vision)
Dennis Hayes (Academics for Academic Freedom)
Simon Richards (The Freedom Association)

Another full house is expected but we can squeeze in a few more. RSVP events@thefreesociety.org or telephone Nicky Shepherd 01223 370091.

PS. What's your definition of a free society? I'll read out the best ones.