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Sunday
Aug072011

Smoking in parks: councils threaten zero tolerance

The Sunday Times reports, on its front page, 'Smoking to be banned in parks'.

Councils are planning to ban smoking in parks, using the government's new Localism Bill to fine smokers. It is the first evidence here of a move towards the zero-tolerance policy practised in some parts of the United States.

There is no mention of smoking outside being a threat to the health of non-smokers, including children. Instead, a ban is justified for the following reasons:

1. "It is getting to a stage where people think it is socially unacceptable in parks" (Bill Wearing, head of Cumbria council's health and well-being [sic] committee, who adds: "Nobody wants to see anyone smoking near children's play areas." Nobody? I wouldn't encourage it but I don't see the big deal, and I certainly wouldn't ban it or fine someone for it.).

2. In parts of Britain one in three people still smoke. (Implication: we are going to make it as difficult as possible to light up so people are forced to quit whether they like it or not.)

3. "Siblings and parents are role models for children. If a child's parents smoke, they are three times more likely to smoke themselves." (Smokefree South West)

As it happens, Forest was contacted by the Sunday Times for a quote. I made a number of points, among them:

"No reason to ban smoking in parks ... no health risk to other people ... tobacco is a legal product ... if adults are role models what about parents who are obese or drink alcohol in front of their children – should that be banned too?

In the event my comments were distilled into this short sentence:

A spokesman for Forest, the smokers' lobby group, said: "It is a completely unnecessary intrusion into people's lives."

PS. Should you choose to respond by writing a letter for publication (strongly recommended), the email address is: letters@sunday-times.co.uk.

The more letters the better but keep them short and sharp, and remember – the Sunday Times is not the enemy so don't criticise the paper. Stick to the issues.

Sunday
Aug072011

Out of Africa – postscript

My son returned, apparently fit and well, from Malawi last week.

He brought with him a variety of gifts – bracelets, beads, wooden carvings and, for me, crushed chillies and Mzuzu coffee.

Bearing the legend 'Placing Your Health First', the latter is said to:

  • Improve mental health performance
  • Improve alertness
  • Improve athletic performance
  • Reduce the risk of lever [sic] cancer
  • Reduce the risk of diabetes
  • Reduce the organization of gallstone
  • Protect from the development of Parkinson Disease
  • Protect from colds

Sounds like the secret elixir I have been searching for all my life.

On Monday I then drove him and three friends to Brighton where they had arranged to stay in a Travelodge, 30 minutes' walk from the beach and other, er, attractions.

I'd be lying if I said I was totally relaxed with the idea. Nevertheless I reasoned that at the same age I was allowed to spend a week in the Lake District, 200 miles from home and similarly unaccompanied.

Anyway they came home on Friday and whaddya know? Having survived three weeks in Africa, my son found himself in hospital on Wednesday night complaining of severe sickness and stomach cramps.

"I thought I had malaria," he tells me, unconvincingly. Tests proved negative.

Interestingly, though, when he mentioned the m-word and Africa he was fast-tracked to the top of the queue quicker than Rowan Atkinson in a McLaren F1.

God bless the NHS!

Saturday
Aug062011

Review of the week

Saturday
Aug062011

Best Smoking Area finalists

The finalists for the Great British Pub Awards were announced this week.

There are 14 categories including a new award for Best Smoking Area (supported by JTI and Save Our Pubs & Clubs).

The finalists in this category are:

The winners will be announced on Thursday September 8 at the Hilton Park Lane Hotel, London.

PS. The advertisement above will appear in next week's Morning Advertiser (or, to give it its full title, The Publican's Morning Advertiser).

Thursday
Aug042011

Save us from e-petition mania

As noted elsewhere, the Government has today launched its new e-petitions website.

There is a time and a place for petitions (I'm not a fan, in general) but you've got to be in it to win it, so they say.

This afternoon, therefore, a petition has been submitted with the title 'Save Our Pubs and Clubs: Amend the Smoking Ban'.

There are still several hoops to jump through so goodness knows whether it will be accepted. Watch this space.

PS. My worst fears about this Government initiative/gimmick are being realised. All afternoon the e-petition website has carried the message 'Sorry if you're experiencing problems accessing e-petitons. There is currently a much higher level of demand than we expected'.

No doubt every pressure group and activist in the country is busy submitting a petition. Every nutter too. God help us.

Tuesday
Aug022011

Proof that you can have serious fun in Manchester

Yet another foreign footballer is having a pop at Manchester.

To be fair, I've done it myself.

Nevertheless, following my recent trip to the city, I am delighted to reveal that on Monday October 4, during the 2011 Conservative conference, Forest will present Stand Up For Liberty!, a drinks reception followed by 60 minutes of live stand-up comedy.

To demonstrate the serious nature of what I hope will become an annual event, we have hired The Comedy Store, booking both the main bar and the theatre-style auditorium which can hold upwards of 300 people.

We are now negotiating to book an MC and two highly rated comedians. They're not household names but they have appeared on national television and their politically-inspired stand-up routines have attracted rave reviews.

Before you ask, the purpose of Stand Up For Liberty! is to convey our message in the most entertaining and unusual manner possible.

Politics and comedy? It's a perfect fit.

The event is free and outside the secure area so anyone can attend. I hope you will join us.

Tuesday
Aug022011

Big Pharma shows its true colours

Further to my previous post, I thought I should highlight the fascinating thoughts of our friends in the pharmaceutical industry.

I have added my own comments in italics.

According to the EC's Report on the Public Consultation on the possible Revision of the Tobacco Products Directive:

  • The pharmaceutical industry argued in favour of improving consumer information about smoking, especially smoking cessation services. They cited evidence suggesting that advertising quit lines and cessation services on tobacco packaging results in increased usage of these services in the short and medium term.

Of course they did. Big Pharma wants you (the taxpayer) to pay for more smoking cessation services in the expectation that they will sell more of their products. I imagine they also want the taxpayer to pay to promote these services.

  • Representatives also argued for mandatory pictorial warnings that rotated regularly to maintain effectiveness.

Graphic health warnings contribute to what David Hockney calls the "uglification of England". Some of the diseases featured on packets may be a result of smoking but they are also extremely rare. No matter. Big Pharma wants to make these images compulsory throughout Europe in the hope that the consumer will be so shocked they will buy a Big Pharma product to help them quit this horrible habit.

  • The pharmaceutical industry expressed support for the replacement of the TNCO [Tar, Nicotine and Carbon monoxide] information on packaging, claiming that such information gives the impression that certain tobacco products are healthier than others.

I don't know anyone who talks about one product being 'healthier' than another (although an argument could be made for snus and other smokeless products), but the dose is the poison and the more information the better, surely? Why should we be denied some pretty fundamental information? Let the consumer be the judge, not Big Pharma.

  • The pharmaceutical industry pushed for regulation of ingredients through a positive common list of tobacco ingredients ... The goal with this list should be consistent with the goals of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: reducing or preventing tobacco dependence.

Ah, the goals of Big Pharma are consistent with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Says it all, really.

  • The pharmaceutical industry pushed for a ban on all distribution channels [internet sales, vending machines and display], in order to limit access to tobacco products inside the EU.

Banning vending machines and forcing tobacco under the counter is about as illiberal as it gets, short of banning the product completely. Why would Big Pharma want to do that? Oh yes, they want smokers to quit and they want you to buy their product in the process ...

  • Finally, they advocated the increased usage of tobacco education programmes, as limiting access is only half of the current approach to reduce tobacco use.

So, having "limited access" to tobacco, the pharmaceutical industry wants more "tobacco education programmes". I don't about you, but that sounds more like Big Brother to me. And, once again, who's going to pay? Perhaps Big P should put its money where its mouth is.

Sunday
Jul312011

EC cries foul as citizens have their say

Late last year we invited you to sign an online petition.

It was set up so consumers could respond to the European Commission’s public consultation on the possible revision of the EC's Tobacco Products Directive.

Last week the EC published its long-awaited report on the consultation. It makes for interesting and sometimes hilarious reading.

The first thing to note is that the consultation generated over 85,000 responses, which is similar to the 96,000 responses that were generated for the British Government's 'Consultation on the future of tobacco control' in 2008.

According to the Department of Health at the time, "Responses overwhelmingly supported removing tobacco displays in shops, and tough action to restrict access to vending machines", which is true. Digging a little deeper, however, we quickly found out why.

Writing on this blog in December 2008 I pointed out that of the 96,515 responses the overwhelming majority (79,272) were generated by the publicly-funded tobacco control industry.

Did the DoH think fit to comment on this? Did they heck, and why would they? After all, the result of the consultation suited the government because it rubber-stamped its own policy. As I said at the time, this was not a public consultation, it was a public sector consultation.

Fast forward to the report on the EC consultation and there are two striking differences.

One, there is a huge majority against further tobacco control measures. Yes, you read that correctly. I quote from the report:

A significant majority of (citizen) respondents were against extending the scope of the Directive (ie further regulations).

A vast majority of (citizen) respondents ... were in favour of lifting the ban on snus.

A significant majority of (citizen) respondents disagreed with the regulation of ingredients at the EU level.

A significant majority of (citizen) respondents opposed limiting access to tobacco products.

To put this in perspective, the number of citizen respondents was 82,117 (or 96 per cent of the overall total). We are therefore talking about a massive majority against further tobacco controls.

Two, unlike the DoH which chose not to comment on the source of the 'citizen' responses (no doubt because the result in 2008 suited its agenda), the EC is far less reticent. For example:

It is to be noted that the responses to the consultation do not represent a survey of a diverse cross-section of society ...

While it is encouraging to see a great number of responses, it should also be noted that this volume appears to be a result, to a large extent, of several citizen mobilisation campaigns that took place in some Member States ...

Several different methods of mobilising and encouraging participation in the consultation process were utilized: from producing websites providing detailed information and guidance on how to participate ... to producing and distributing videos via YouTube about the need to limit changes to tobacco product regulation and tobacco control policy.

The actions and efforts of these campaigns and their ability to mobilise citizens seem to have affected the overall results of the public consultation.

As a result of this, the report argues that:

"It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the outcome of the public consultation procedure".

Difficult to draw firm conclusions?!!

I beg to differ. I defy anyone to read this report without coming to the (remarkably easy) conclusion that:

  • Most EU governments support further tobacco controls. Ditto public health organisations and pharmaceutical companies.
  • A significant majority of EU citizens who will be directly affected by further tobacco controls are opposed to more tobacco regulation. Indeed, they would like some existing restrictions, like the EU-wide ban on snus, lifted.

The problem for the EC is this:

It is not the result they were expecting, hence the almost desperate need to point out that the largest number of responses were from Italy (36 per cent) and Poland (28 per cent) where there were two popular retailer-led campaigns. (The UK, btw, was third, with nine per cent, just ahead of Germany and Spain with eight per cent each.)

The implication is that the response to their own public consultation was not representative and they will focus instead on an earlier Eurobarometer survey, published in May 2010, in which "respondents .... were considerably more supportive of all proposed changes presented in the public consultation".

I would also hazard a guess that – to avoid similar embarrassment in future – EU member states will be encouraged to copy the example of the British Government in 2008 and large sums of public money will be given to tobacco control groups to ensure that such a result never happens again. We'll see.

To read – and enjoy – the full report click here.

Oh, and thanks to everyone who signed the Forest petition!