Saturday
Jun112011

Smoking ban: opposition "orchestrated" by tobacco industry

It's been a busy week so I'm catching up.

On Monday Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, called for Scotland to "think European" on the smoking ban.

Writing in the Edinburgh Evening News, Waterson said:

When smoking was banned indoors, we were told that this was a sign of a brave new Scotland that was leading Europe. Most other countries didn't agree. In the EU, only the UK and Ireland, among the cold rainy countries of the north, have such severe bans.

In the south, countries such as Greece, Spain and Cyprus have followed suit - but what's the problem with smoking outside in lands of almost permanent sunshine and balmy evenings (even if the bans are enforced)?

Most countries, however, chose a middle path between a total ban and allowing smoking everywhere. These countries seem to have balanced any potential improvement in public health against the very real threat to those wonderful social and community centres, therapy providers, and entertainment hubs we call pubs.

They have considered how to prevent staff from being exposed to smoke and come up with the wonderful idea of smoking rooms - which are quite separate from the rest of the bar. They have even thought about bars that are owner-operated and so have no members of staff who could be 'involuntarily' exposed to tobacco smoke - and have exempted them.

Some countries, such as France, have allowed new smoking spaces to be built in the grounds, or even housed in tents. In other words, they have been flexible - and they have saved hundreds and thousands of pubs, bars and cafes from going bust.

Full article: Ban's left our pubs gasping for breath.

Today Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, has responded by trotting out all the usual nonsense. I'm surprised she can keep a straight face but the likes of Duffy aren't exactly known for their sense of humour.

She writes:

As well as being widely supported in terms of both public opinion and compliance, Scotland's smoke-free legislation has delivered major and proven health benefits.

Research studies have shown reported improvements in bar workers' health and a 17 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome.

There's evidence of children's exposure being reduced as well as that of non-smoking adults, and of an 18 per cent reduction in child asthma admissions to hospital.

I fail to understand how banning smoking in pubs and bars, especially traditional boozers where children are rarely if ever present, can be responsible for a reduction in children's exposure to tobacco smoke or an "18 per cent reduction in child asthma admissions to hospital".

As for the "17 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome", that claim was shown to be rubbish years ago. (See Has the smoking ban reduced heart attacks?, The Spectator, October 31, 2007).

Pursing her lips in righteous indignation, Duffy then comments:

It seems strange that Paul Waterson, who heard the evidence put to parliament and who sits on the ministerial group on tobacco, remains confused about the real health dangers of breathing tobacco smoke.

Perhaps he has been unduly swayed by a recent campaign orchestrated by the tobacco industry and timed for the run up to the July anniversary of smoke-free legislation in England, aimed at amending the Westminster smoking ban.

I think she means this so as director of the campaign I shall respond in my normal (delightfully polite) manner.

Does Sheila Duffy think the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Working Men's Clubs and Institute Union are stupid or easily led? If she does, more fool her.

I've known Paul Waterson for several years and he's no patsy, believe me. Likewise Mick McGlasham, a former miner, and his colleagues at the CIU. These guys do what they think is right for their members. Stooges of Big Tobacco? I don't think so.

It's quite humbling to meet a man like McGlasham and witness his efforts to keep Britain's working men's clubs in business. Then again, I don't think Duffy does humble. It's her way or no way and to hell with the consequences.

Frankly, she should get out a bit more and experience the real world. I looked in vain for her at the CIU Annual Meeting in Blackpool in April. I don't think she was there. Pity. She might have learned something.

The simple truth is this. If the smoking ban has been such a great success and has had so little impact on Britain's pubs and clubs, no amount of "orchestration" would encourage the SLTA or the CIU to call for a change.

My guess is that they would either say nothing or they would state that they are happy with the ban and see no reason to amend it.

But that hasn't happened. Why? Because for thousands of pubs and clubs, many more bar staff, and hundreds of local communities, the smoking ban has been a disaster.

I don't deny that Forest has a leading role in the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign, but I'd like to see evidence that the campaign is "orchestrated by the tobacco industry". (Sorry, I forgot. Tobacco control doesn't do evidence. Just smears and innuendo.)

Anyway, the accusation is a bit rich coming from a member of the multi-million pound tobacco control movement, which is routinely awarded huge sums of public money which it then uses to lobby government (see Government lobbying government, January 2011).

Now that's what I call orchestration.

Oh, and lest we forget, ASH Scotland alone has almost 30 employees on their publicly-funded payroll.

Full article: Ban reversal would be toxic. Worth commenting, I think.

Saturday
Jun112011

What do ASH and Left Foot Forward have in common?

I have just read an article by Martin Dockrell of Action on Smoking and Health.

It's entitled Is Big Tobacco blowing smoke in Cameron’s eyes? and it appears on the "number one left-wing blog" Left Foot Forward.

I haven't got time to give it a proper fisking but I thought you'd like to know what ASH and Left Foot Forward have in common.

As you know, I don't like debates that feature only one side of an argument so we make it our business to embrace, if possible, all sides.

Sadly it's not always possible because the left, with few exceptions, refuse (or decline) to debate with us.

Last year I invited Will Straw, son of Jack Straw and the founder of Left Foot Forward, to take part in our 2010 Voices of Freedom series. To be fair he did reply but he wanted to be paid (he was the only person to raise the issue) and we didn't have a budget to pay speakers.

Will has since moved on to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), an influential left-wing think tank, so a couple of weeks ago I invited his successor to speak in the 2011 series.

I sent the invitation to two email addresses but no reply. Not a dicky bird.

What has this got to do with ASH? Well, a few weeks ago I invited to Deborah Arnott to speak alongside Peter Hitchens in our debate 'Civil liberties up in smoke: what are smokers' rights in a free society?'. I emailed Debs (who I have no personal animosity towards at all) and, like the editor of Left Foot Forward, she didn't even bother to reply.

This week, taking a different tack, I telephoned ASH with a view to inviting her colleague Martin Dockrell to speak in our next debate 'Risk and the pursuit of happiness: is smoking, drinking, gambling good for you?'

The person who answered the phone sounded like Deborah but wasn't. (They must be cloning little Deborahs.)

"This is Simon Clark from Forest," I said. "Can I speak to Martin Dockrell?"

Pause. Ten seconds later:

"He's in a meeting."

I left my number. "Can he call me back?"

Four days later I'm still waiting for that call. (Perhaps he was too busy writing for Left Foot Forward.)

PS. ASH and Left Foot Forward aren't the only lefties to decline our regular invitations to speak. The list is endless. But at least the likes of Polly Toynbee took the trouble to reply and decline gracefully.

As far as Debs and Dockrell are concerned, it's not just the refusal to debate I find depressing. It's the lack of class.

Saturday
Jun112011

Review of the week

Headlines from the Forest website:

From The Free Society:

Quote of the week:

"The debates hosted by the IEA and the Free Society in Lord North Street are the stuff of Westminster legend."

Alex Deane, Bell Pottinger

See: A Golden Age For Think-Tanks (PR Week)

A few years ago Forest events were described by Pandora, the Independent's diarist, as "among the best in diary land".

Good to know that we have gone from "among the best" to "stuff of legend"!!

Friday
Jun102011

So much for free speech

"This public intellectual has no right to speak!"

Patrick Hayes witnesses a debate on arts funding with Professor A C Grayling. Article and exclusive photo on The Free Society.

Click here.

Friday
Jun102011

Sitting as dangerous as smoking

Well, that's me f***ed!

Full story here.

Tuesday
Jun072011

Latest news from The Free Society

Voices of Freedom, Smoke On The Water ...

Click here for our monthly newsletter.

To receive the newsletter direct to your inbox sign up here.

Hope to see some of you at tomorrow night's Voices of Freedom debate – 'Nudge and the Nanny State: how far should the state intervene in people’s lifestyle?'.

Chaired by Dolan Cummings (Manifesto Club), the event features Josie Appleton (director, Manifesto Club), Dr Alena Buyx (assistant director, Nuffield Council on Bioethics), Dr Steve Davies (education director, Institute of Economic Affairs), John Springford (Social Market Foundation) and economist Paul Ormerod who is currently writing a book, Beyond Nudge: Networks and Public Policy in the 21st Century.

Venue: IEA, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster
Drinks from 6.15pm, discussion from 7.00pm.

Monday
Jun062011

Imperial Tobacco wins Forest plain English award

There are many things I like about my job. Writing submissions for 'public' consultations isn't one of them.

I've lost count of how many times we have responded to local, national or international 'consultations':

Consultation on Smoking in Public Places (Greater London Authority Smoking in Public Places Investigative Committee), Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control (Department of Health), Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill (SP Bill 22), Green Paper Consultation (Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: policy options at EU level) and many, many more.

Most recently we submitted a response to the Consultation on the Draft Tobacco Control Action Plan for Wales, despite the fact that Forest wasn't on the 'List of Consultees'. Nor was any other consumer organisation. Clearly, the consumer is not expected to have an opinion when it comes to tobacco control. You'll do as you're told, that seems to be the message.

Undeterred, we submitted our response anyway because it's important that we take every opportunity to get our message across. If we didn't we may as well pack up and go home. (And as someone else once said, this is a marathon not a sprint.)

Anyway, I was interested to read another submission to the same consultation.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (great title) is Imperial Tobacco's response to the Draft Tobacco Control Plan for Wales and I've singled it out because, unusually for such documents, it's written in plain English and it makes a point of standing up for the sorely neglected consumer.

Here's a taste:

The Government's tobacco control policies have never been subjected to proper evaluation. There is therefore no basis on which to claim that the decline in smoking rates is a direct result of [previous] policies ...

The Plan contains multiple references to unelected anti-smoker groups, indicating an alarming level of undue influence on policy formulation and implementation. For example, ASH Wales are featured no less than 39 times in the 45-page Plan. Such levels of influence from vested interest groups invariably lead to unrealistic, unachievable and ineffective policies ...

Rather than talking up what it sees as the benefits of the smoking ban, we would ask the Government to be more forthcoming in its Plan about the significant unintended consequences, in particular the devastating impact that it has on local community pubs. It is now beyond all reasonable doubt that the smoking ban has had the biggest single impact on accelerating pub closures in the UK since 2007. This provides a stark warning to those considering increasing smoking restrictions in and around pubs ...

Government has no mandate to regulate the private lives of adults who have chosen to use a legitimate product. Furthermore, the evidential base for the introduction of invasive legislation is often absent or highly flawed. For example, one report that was extensively recycled in the media claimed that second-hand smoke was "23 times more toxic in a vehicle than in a home". Such claims are without any substance and have been roundly refuted by the evidence.

The use of the term 'smoke-free' is a deliberate attempt to play down the real intention of the introduction of more restrictions and bans. More bans amount to more restrictions on personal freedoms ... Denormalisation is not a strategy that is pursued in other public areas as it has been shown to be ineffective and counter-productive, alienating those whom policy-makers are trying to influence.

You can download The Good, the Bad and the Ugly here. Definitely worth a read.

Sunday
Jun052011

Smoking and pregnancy on Five Live tonight

Got a call this afternoon from the Stephen Nolan Show on Five Live.

They want to talk about women smoking during pregnancy. It follows a story in today's papers about former EastEnders actress Hannah Waterman who is "seven months pregnant but can't stop smoking".

I said I was happy to do tonight's programme but I suggested the names of a couple of people who I felt could speak with greater authority on the subject, not least because they are women who smoke and have children.

One of them is Pat Nurse.

Coincidentally Pat deleted her blog Tea and Cigarettes this weekend. I understand her reasons for doing so - although I reject strongly her recent and protracted criticism of our Voices of Freedom event with Peter Hitchens - but I know she will be a passionate and articulate speaker, which is why I recommended her.

I understand she will be on after 11.00pm. Worth staying up for.