Tuesday
Jul052011

Zealots on the march

"Attempts by anti-smoking zealots to smear a report on civil liberties reveal just how bankrupt their arguments are."

Further to my previous post, Rob Lyons, deputy editor of the online magazine spiked, writes:

Yesterday, I received an email from Amanda Sandford, research manager of the anti-smoking organisation ASH UK: ‘We understand that a report published by the human rights “watchdog” organisation Privacy International has been released today. Please note that this is a tobacco industry-funded report published over a month ago in association with the tobacco manufacturers front group, Forest.’

Phew! Not only has ASH long been a guardian of the nation’s collective health, protecting us from the nasty smoke spewed out by cigarette abusers, but now it is stepping up to the plate as moral guardian, too. Many easily led people may simply have checked out the report, Civil Liberties: Up in Smoke by Simon Davies, and fallen into the trap of judging the arguments within on their merits. Never fear, because ASH has saved us from that. Some money from Big Tobacco helped to fund the report, so there’s no need to read a word of it or engage in any debate about it.

Such is the nature of the discussion today about smoking, where anti-smoking campaigners seem to take the jokey name for tobacco - the ‘evil weed’ - quite literally, and regard anyone who has a good word to say for cigarettes and smokers as somehow infected with the evil, too.

Taking my life in my hands, I decided to examine the contents of this contraband report. Does Davies argue that children should be forced to chain-smoke from the age of three so that they are hooked on nicotine and set up for a lifetime of addiction? Does he at least argue that smoking isn’t that harmful? Er, no. The report explicitly does not examine the evidence about smoking and health. Instead it looks at how, in a remarkably short space of time, smokers have gone from being the life and soul of the party to latter-day lepers.

Full article: The fag end of the argument.

I do believe ASH have shot themselves in the foot.

Again.

Monday
Jul042011

Civil liberties up in smoke: ASH's response

Four weeks ago we launched the 2011 Voices of Freedom series of debates with a discussion entitled 'Civil liberties up in smoke: what are smokers' rights in a free society?'.

Guest speakers included journalist Peter Hitchens (who is anti-smoking), Dan Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch, and Simon Davies, director and co-founder of the well-respected privacy advocacy group Privacy International. (I invited Deborah Arnott of ASH to speak as well but Debs declined to reply to my email.)

We distributed to members of the audience advance copies of a report by PI's Simon Davies that bore the same name as the event itself – Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke.

The printed report was not released to anyone else (although a pdf was available to download on this blog) because we wanted to find the right moment in a very busy month. Last Tuesday, in advance of the fourth anniversary of the smoking ban in England, we mailed copies of the report to a wide range of journalists with a press release embargoed for today.

This morning we backed this up by emailing the press release to over 500 media contacts. ASH (bless 'em) have responded by issuing the following 'Note to News Editors':

Civil Liberties: Up in Smoke a report by Privacy International

We understand that a report published by the human rights “watchdog” organisation Privacy International has been released today. Please note that this is a tobacco industry funded report published over a month ago in association with the tobacco manufacturers front group, FOREST.

The implication that I draw from this is that we have been economic with the truth about Forest's involvement or how the report was funded. In fact, we made sure that it is there in black and white for all to see.

On the title page of the report it states, very clearly, 'Supported by Forest'.

On the next page it reads:

First published in Great Britain in 2011 by Privacy International ... in association with Forest'.

Simon Davies then begins his introduction by writing:

This paper has been prepared by a team led by Simon Davies of Privacy International at the request of Forest, the UK smokers' rights group. Forest has also contributed to the cost of the research, for which we are grateful.

At the bottom of the press release, in a 'Note to editors', it reads, very clearly:

Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke has been prepared by Privacy International, a leading privacy advocacy group, at the request of Forest, the UK smokers’ rights organisation. Forest has also contributed to the research costs.

How open and transparent is that?!!!

Clearly, ASH will stop at nothing to block discussion of smokers' rights in a free society. It's up to free-thinking journalists and fellow bloggers to make sure they don't succeed.

If you would like to review or comment on Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke you can download the report from the Forest website. Or read the press release for a summary.

PS. ASH's 'note' has been issued by research manager Amanda Sandford. Amenda's email address is Amanda.Sandford@ash.org.uk, should you, er, wish to comment.

Monday
Jul042011

In defence of smokers

Feature in today's Independent:

Four years on from the ban, it's a surprise to find the pro-cigarette lobby in such rude health. But their argument, that we should all be allowed our vices, is strangely compelling, says Nick Duerden.

Includes quotes by me, Joe Jackson and another Forest supporter, Oscar-winning screenwriter Sir Ronald Harwood who took part in our recent Voices of Freedom debate, 'Civil liberties: up in smoke'.

Full article: Is smoking still defensible? (Independent)

You can comment.

Saturday
Jul022011

Review of the week

From the Forest website:

And here's a round-up of the coverage of the Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons:

But the blog posts of the week have to be:

Beautifully written and warmly recommended.

PS. If you're enjoying ASH's discomfort, see also Happy smoking ban day everybody! – don’t believe big tobacco’s corporate spin (Left Foot Forward) which I drew your attention to earlier in the week.

The comments are a joy.

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.