Friday
Feb182011

Paris fights to remain European capital of smoking

Maintaining my recent European theme, Peter Thurgood has written an article for The Free Society entitled Spot the difference: how Paris is coming to terms with the public smoking ban.

The first thing I noticed was that almost every bar/restaurant, had outside seating, with patio heaters and a plastic awning around it. The second thing I noticed were the ashtrays on every table. Could this be the headquarters of the French Resistance? Whatever it was, I was determined to enter, and hopefully join up.

Inside the area cordoned off by the plastic awning, it was comfortable and warm, and the waitress accepted me and my smoking habit with a friendly smile and no irritating hand waving in front of her face, which we seem to experience in the UK. Other customers came and went, some smoked, some didn’t, but the atmosphere at all times was warm and friendly, just the opposite to the intolerance smokers are subjected to here in the UK.

I went to a number of other restaurants, bars, and cafes and, at a guess, I would say that approximately 80 per cent of them had this same type of plastic awning surrounding their outside seating area. In other words, the needs and comforts of smokers are well and truly catered for. Also catered for are the needs of the non-smokers who have the whole of the inside of the building ... in which to enjoy their self-imposed segregation, if they so wish.

I have written about this before, but Peter's article reminds me of the time that Forest sent a delegation of smokers to Paris in order to escape No Smoking Day in Britain.

We chose Paris because, in those days, the French capital thoroughly deserved the title 'European capital of smoking'. Our little group - which included Lord Harris of High Cross and Judith Hatton, authors of Murder A Cigarette, and Bob Shields of the Daily Record - travelled by Eurostar (which still had smoking coaches) and was met at Gare du Nord by representatives from a smokers' rights group in France.

Lunch took place at a restaurant used, appropriately, by the Resistance during the Second World War, and the entire day was a great success.

Whether Paris remains the European capital of smoking is arguable. In 2011 Prague and Budapest are obvious rivals, but read Peter's article and make up your own mind. Comments welcome.

PS. I wish I could find Bob Shields' report. With photographs, it occupied a double-page spread and was very, very funny. Unfortunately it was eleven years ago and I can't find a copy anywhere.

Thursday
Feb172011

Belgium shows the way forward

I was in Brussels on Monday.

I go there several times a year and I can report that everything was completely normal. The trains ran on time, a taxi took me to and from my hotel without mishap. The shops were doing a roaring trade in (what else?) Belgian chocolates, and it was business as usual.

Today, however, I read that Belgium hits world record for lack of government (EU Observer).

Radio Free Europe confirms that:

At midnight tonight, Belgium will claim the world record for the number of days it has been without an agreement on a government, overtaking the previous record holder, Iraq.

February 18 will mark 250 days since June's inconclusive national elections in which the diametrically opposed New Flemish Alliance and the Francophone Socialist Party won the most seats.

Imagine the United Kingdom without a government for a similar period. Actually, I can. In fact, I think that government, especially Big Government, is over-rated and we would be much better off without it.

The idea that without a proper government a developed Western country cannot go about its daily business is nonsense, and insulting to all law-abiding citizens.

Like the Belgians we would just get on with it, I'm sure.

So, like many people today, I shall drink a toast to Belgium, the country that doesn't have or, indeed, need a government.

See also: Belgium – eight months with no government (Independent on Sunday)

Thursday
Feb172011

Push for outdoor smoking ban begins

Following New York's decision to ban smoking in parks and squares, Five News last night reported the result of a YouGov/Five News survey on the subject.

"Some countries are clamping down on lighting up in the open and our survey reveals that 43 per cent of people in the UK think the smoking ban should be extended to all outdoor public spaces."

The Government, said Five News, has no plans to follow suit yet but does say that breathing in other people's smoke increases your risk of getting lung cancer by 24 per cent. "And our survey did reveal some pretty strong feelings."

Member of the public:

"It's breathing it in, or the smell that gets on your clothes. If you've got children in a buggy ... it's straight in their face. I think it's really inconsiderate."

Interestingly, the Roy Castle Foundation appears to be against an outdoor smoking ban. Interviewed by Five News, youth project manager Lisa Gill said, "Our concern is that parents and carers who are maybe motivated to protect their children within their homes by smoking outside would then move back into the home and start smoking in front of their children."

The suggestion by Five News that "breathing in other people's smoke increases your risk of getting lung cancer by 24 per cent" does of course refer to exposure to other people's smoke in a confined space over many, many years. It has no relevance whatsoever to smoking outdoors.

In truth, the risk of non-smokers getting lung cancer is so small that an increased risk of 24 per cent is, in etymological terms, statistically insignificant. To be significant the "increased risk" would have to be in the region of 200-300 per cent. Perhaps someone should tell Five News.

PS. Five News did contact Forest for an interview. Unfortunately I was in Brussels and unavailable.

Update: The YouGov website reports that "51 per cent support the idea of banning smoking in outdoors public places, such as open parks, beaches and pedestrian squares". Report here (but not the actual survey or the questions asked).

Tuesday
Feb152011

Man's arrest leaves a bad taste

According to a BBC News report:

A man has been arrested following a complaint that Crawley Town's FA Cup song featured a supporter mocking the victims of the Munich air crash.

Sussex Police said a man was arrested on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress and bailed until 25 February.

Are they serious?

I haven't seen the video (and I don't condone people mocking the dead) but this seems more a question of bad taste. Is that illegal? Seriously, I'd like to know.

Very occasionally I have edited/censored comments on this blog on the grounds that, in my opinion, they are in bad taste and I don't wish to encourage such comments or be associated with them.

But report the person to the police with a view to having them arrested?

Words fail me.

Tuesday
Feb152011

State adopts zero tolerance to personal choice

Demolition Man, says Martin Cullip, was a film set in a terrifying fictional society where autonomy was seen as a hindrance to state control. In 2011 does our own democratic government now regard this as a valid utopian goal?

Clifford Lyons, an inmate at Carstairs Psychiatric Hospital, last week successfully challenged a ban on unhealthy food designed to “improve the health of overweight patients”. Fitness-focussed Lyons argued that the prohibition of his obtaining protein bars under the terms of the hospital’s ‘Chocolate Ban’ was an abuse of his rights and he was rightfully vindicated by the court.

While it is easy to counter that he should be afforded no rights at all considering the reason for his being there in the first place, this is by no means a concern merely for those placed under the health spotlight as a result of their heinous crimes ...

Mr Lyons is without doubt a rather unpleasant individual, but his court success is a timely roadblock against the public health juggernaut which has set itself in motion to mow down personal choice and determination of what food we choose to provide, for ourselves or our families.

Sadly, the epilogue is not encouraging. Rather than admit that their approach is illiberal and contrary to the freedoms we cherish in our society, Carstairs Hospital is examining its options with a view to finding a way round the judgment.

Full article: Anything not good for you is bad, hence it should be illegal.

PS. Joe Jackson's tongue in cheek article about dogs, published by The Free Society last week, has now been published by the online magazine spiked under the title Dogs must be banned from all public places.

Tuesday
Feb152011

Smokers are voters too

Good luck to John Mallon who is launching Forest Eireann's 'Smokers' Manifesto' in Cork this morning.

The manifesto urges politicians to:

• respect the rights of adults who have made an informed choice to smoke tobacco in full knowledge of the health risks associated with this legal product

• acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of smokers are ordinary, decent, law-abiding adults whose habit does not affect their ability to make a positive contribution to Irish society

• relax the smoking ban so that pubs and bars can provide smoking rooms that allow adults to smoke in greater comfort without bothering non-smokers

• cut tobacco duty to tackle smuggling and reduce the temptation to buy tobacco abroad

• recognise the major financial contribution made by consumers who buy tobacco from legitimate retailers in Ireland

• review the use of public money to fund groups and quangos dedicated to persecuting adult smokers

• engage with the consumer so that one million smokers no longer feel ignored and disenfranchised from the political process

• treat one million voters [the number of adult smokers in Ireland] with the respect they deserve

The manifesto is being published in advance of the Irish election on Friday February 25. You can download it from the Forest Eireann website. Alternatively click here.

Sunday
Feb132011

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 (euobserver.com)

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!

Saturday
Feb122011

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)