My Spanish adventure

I think I'd like to move to Spain.

This week was only my second visit but the weather alone was enough to give it serious thought. Bright sunshine, clear blue sky, crisp, clean air and a mild temperature. Perfect.

The first time I went to Spain, eleven years ago, I attended a smokers' rights conference in Seville. Those four days did more than anything to convince me that working for Forest had a purpose, contrary to what some people might think.

I met people from right across Europe - Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Spain itself. Most of them smoked but they didn't make a big deal of it. It was as natural to them as breathing.

They were smokers' rights activists but, more important, they were ordinary, considerate people who knew the health risks and couldn't understand why they were being lectured and marginalised for having a perfectly legal habit. They were prepared to take a stand but they didn't rant. They were thoughtful and charming.

I liked them very much and I have harboured an ambition ever since to organise a similar event in London, if only to demonstrate the "normality" of smokers and their habit which doesn't, I'm sorry to say, come across on some online forums where many activists sound as shrill, obsessive and intolerant as the opposition.

Anyway, on Tuesday I flew to Madrid where I was met at the airport by Alvaro Garrido who runs Club Fumadores por la Tolerancia, the Spanish equivalent of Forest. Alvaro also organised the conference in Seville. We have kept in touch and I was delighted to see him again after all these years.

After I checked in to my hotel Alvaro introduced me to his colleague Javier Blanco. We had lunch at Casa Lucio, a traditional tasca in old Madrid, and afterwards they took me on a tour of the city - on foot and, later, by car.

The smoking ban, they told me, is generally being observed in Spain and there is little or no opposition to the new law among mainstream politicians. If I understood correctly, bar owners are waiting to judge the effect of the ban before taking any further steps. By then, of course, it will be too late for some.

Some bar owners, it was suggested, will draw a curtain or usher someone they know into a separate room to allow them to smoke indoors, but customers fear getting the owner into trouble. Sound familiar?

Interestingly, the law in Spain exempts private smokers' clubs. In truth there are only a handful of clubs in Madrid and not a lot more nationwide. They can't sell food and drink and they can't make a profit so don't expect smokers' clubs to pop up all over Spain any time soon.

Anyway, it was a very productive - and enjoyable - couple of days and I am meeting Alvaro again in Brussels tomorrow. We are working on a joint project but I won't tempt fate by saying what it is. Not yet anyway.

See also: Meet the Spaniards fighting to stub out authoritarianism (spiked), and Prohibido prohibir – Ban the bans (

PS. At my hotel in Madrid I ordered an "All-Spanish" breakfast. According to the menu this consists of churros (water and flour batter sticks, deep fried in oil), torrija (milk soaked bread dipped in egg), mini-tortilla (potato omelette), cured ham on tomato, rubbed toast, slices of butifarra sausage, fruit salad, orange juice, jam, honey and butter.

It was delivered to my room at 7.00am and it won't surprise you to learn that I returned home a little heavier than when I left. (Thankfully, Ryanair didn't charge me for excess baggage but it's only a matter of time.)

Which reminds me, I don't think I saw anyone in Madrid who could be described as overweight, and none who might be called obese. Not one. How is this? If you know the secret please let me know!


That was the week

Reports and articles you may have missed:

1. I'm really choked that Barack Obama has quit smoking (Daily Telegraph)
2. Kick the bullies, not the habit (Independent)
3. Are e-cigarettes evil? (Huffington Post)

From the blogs:

4. Radical thinking on forestry (ASI blog)
5. No meat for Forest Green fans (Velvet Glove Iron Fist)

From The Free Society:

6. It's a dog's life (Joe Jackson)
7. Talk like an Egyptian (Jason Smith)

And finally ...

8. Bloomberg says police won't enforce new smoking ban for parks and beaches (NY Daily News)


Watch this space

I'm back from Madrid - wonderful weather, great food, fantastic coffee - but very, very busy so unable to blog for a bit.

Feel free to talk among yourselves and watch this space.

PS. Good piece on The Free Society website. Talk like an Egyptian: "Is it any wonder that successive UK governments have been able to erode civil liberties so easily when liberal middle-class professionals fail to support democracy around the globe, asks Jason Smith".


Departure lounge

There will be little if any blogging for the next two days. I am currently at Stansted waiting for an early morning flight to Madrid. Watch this space.

PS. Saw Roxy Music at the O2 in London last night. Had to leave early to catch a train home but enjoyed the evening. Got three hours' sleep before I had to get up and drive to the airport. Definitely in need of some strong coffee ...


Climb in a car, march off to war, but don't smoke in a bar

I was reminded this morning of the song Joe Jackson wrote in protest at the introduction of the smoking ban in New York City in 2003.

Joe moved to America in the Eighties and lived in New York for 20 years. On his website he explains that "The song was written to send up Mayor Bloomberg and the New York smoking ban, but also to help those fighting to get the ban repealed and to prevent similar bans elsewhere. All proceeds from CD sales and downloads will go to activist groups Forces, NYC Clash, and Forest".

Listening to it today it sounds as fresh and topical as it did seven years ago, but you be the judge:

In 20-0-3
a man drank a whisky
and a martini
or three, maybe four
He climbed in his car
and roared off at eighty
and that night he checked out
along with three more

So they cleared up the mess
but they didn't ban cars
and they didn't ban whisky or gin

So do what you want, or do what they tell you
It's the land of the free but don't take it too far
You can do what you want
You can smash up your car
But in 20-0-3 you can't smoke in a bar

In 20-0-3
a man ate a burger
and then ate another or two
Every day
at last he keeled over
but no-one could lift him
And there's millions just like him
and millions to pay

So they issued more warnings
but they didn't ban eating
and they don't ban potatoes or grease

So do what you want, or do what they tell you
It's the land of the free but don't take it too far
You can do what you want
You can live just on lard
But in 20-0-3 you can't smoke in a bar

In 20-0-3
a man joined the army
and soon he got shipped out
to fight in Iraq
He was caught in a crossfire
and lost his right arm
But they didn't ban bullets
or missile attacks

He's on his way home now
and who wants to tell him
he can't have a smoke with his beer

So do what you want, or do what they tell you
It's the land of the free but don't take it too far
You can do what you want
You can march off to war
But in 20-0-3 you can't smoke in a bar

Click here to listen.

As it happens we have just published Joe's latest article over on The Free Society. Dog lovers, you may want to cover your eyes!


Smoking, censorship and New York City

New York is often lauded as one of the world's great cities.

Not in my book. I've only been there once but I'm in no hurry to go back. OK, I chose the worst possible time to go. NYC in July is uncomfortably hot - so hot, in fact, that the open air theatre in Central Park was closed because no-one wanted to sit outside, even after dusk.

But, stifling heat apart, nothing about the city grabbed me apart from Ellis Island and the remarkable story of American immigration. Ironically many were driven to America to escape social and economic repression in Europe. How, I wonder, would they view New York today?

Brendan O'Neil, editor of the online magazine spiked, recently drew my attention to the second of a series of reports he wrote from NYC.

It was entitled When smoking becomes freedom of expression and it highlighted the fact that NYC theatre companies are now prohibited from featuring real cigarettes in their plays. If any character smokes they have to use the herbal variety, although producers can apply for a waiver.

Brendan wrote:

When George Bernard Shaw’s play about prostitution, Mrs Warren’s Profession, was first shown in New York in 1905, the police invaded the theatre, arrested the director and his entire cast, threw them into a cell for a night, and charged them with ‘offending public decency’.

A new production of Mrs Warren’s Profession, at the Selwyn Theatre on 42nd Street, is potentially politically combustible for a different reason - not because it features an unapologetic madam, but because one of the characters smokes. That’s as likely to outrage today’s defenders of decency as much as Shaw’s poke in the eye to sexual hypocrisy rattled yesteryear’s.

"Smoking is key to Shaw’s play," Brendan noted. Sadly he believes the producers "may have indulged in self-censorship".

They show Vivie [a leading character] smoking only once, but she puffs more frequently than that in Shaw’s original text. Maybe they wanted to limit the number of times they subjected the audience to the herbal whiff.

Other New York theatre producers have applied for that waiver which might, if some bureaucrat in City Hall is feeling generous, allow their actors to smoke real cigarettes on stage. But they’ve found the process art-stoppingly dispiriting. Abbie Strassler, general manager of the 2005 Broadway revival of The Odd Couple, in which the character Oscar chomps almost non-stop on a cigar, applied for such a wavier, and the whole process took four months. Shaw would be outraged.

The article concludes:

It is extraordinary to think that in a city as loud and boisterous as this one, where perfect strangers think nothing of telling you what they think of your sweatshirt (I speak from experience), an actor can’t have a real smoke on stage without City Hall’s explicit permission. In his ironic apology for Mrs W, Shaw said: ‘All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current concepts, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships. There is the whole case against censorships in a nutshell.’ I’ll smoke to that.

Me too.


The week that was

Stories and articles you may have missed:

1. 'Pub at home' beats the smoking ban (Croydon Today)
2. Bhutan monk faces jail for anti-smoking law violation (BBC News)
3. In defence of the nanny state (BBC News Magazine)

From the blogs:

4. And you thought the smoking ban was bad! (ASI)
5. A smoking ban does not make a nanny state (Path To Tyranny)
6. How to play the game (Smoking Out The Truth)

And finally ...

7. Childhood obesity may be caused by working moms‎ (Daily Health Report)
8. School lunches may lead to childhood obesity (Daily Health Report)
9. Central heating may be linked to obesity‎ (Afro American)
10. Loneliness, a killer that threatens obesity‎ (Times of India)

'May', 'may', 'may' - do you think they're trying to tell us something?


New York betrays the land of the free

You may have read that New York city council has voted to ban smoking in the city’s parks, beaches and public squares.

Supporters of the new measures say it will help improve the health of New Yorkers and prevent non-smokers from having to breathe other people's tobacco smoke. The Telegraph has the story here: New York bans smoking in parks, beaches and public squares.

John Mallon, spokesman for Forest Eireann, has been doing some interviews on the subject and we have just released his response:

“It’s nonsense to suggest that non-smokers are at risk from people smoking in the open air.

“Banning smoking in parks and squares has nothing to do with the health of non-smokers. It’s designed to force people to quit smoking whatever the consequences for civil liberties.

“It is completely unreasonable to ban smoking in all public places, indoors and out.

“Tobacco is a legal product and a huge proportion of what people spend on tobacco goes to the government. If the government wants our money we have to be allowed to smoke somewhere, and not just at home.

“We encourage people to smoke responsibly, but fining people if they light up outside is a step too far.

“Unfortunately anti-smoking zealots won’t be happy until smoking is outlawed completely. If that happens people will still smoke but in an uncontrolled environment and the main beneficiaries will be criminal gangs and the manufacturers of illicit cigarettes.”

I think they have a name for that. Oh yes, Prohibition.

I'll comment further when I get a moment.

See also: NYC bans smoking ... in parks (Big Brother Watch)

PS. Rob Lyons, deputy editor of Spiked, has just commented on my Facebook page: "This is a country where you can be arrested for not crossing the road in a state-approved place or for having a drink when you're 20 years old. Bloomberg seems to be just tidying up a few loose ends."