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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.


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.


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!


Review of the week


Lynn Hughes: the sound of silence

I am still awaiting a response from Lynn Hughes, editor of the Luton Herald & Post, following last week's now infamous article.

On Monday I sent the following email:

Dear Ms Hughes

Re Alan Dee's article in the current issue of the Herald & Post, I am writing to add the name of Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) to those who have already commented via email and on various blogs including my own.

Unlike tobacco control lobbyists (who refuse frequently to share a platform or debate openly with us) I believe in free speech and I defend anyone's right to be offensive or to have a different opinion to mine.

For that reason I will not be joining the chorus of voices who wish to take this matter to the Press Complaints Commission or, worse, the police.

Nevertheless, on behalf of our supporters, I must express deep disappointment with the tone and content of Alan Dee's article.

It seems that smokers are an easy target these days. I certainly can't imagine Alan Dee having the courage to make similar comments about other minority groups, or those who are unfit, overweight, enjoy a drink etc.

He is mistaken too to speak so derisively of Stony Stratford where an ill-judged attempt to ban smoking in all outdoor public places has met fierce opposition and attracted little or no support.

The people who protested so vehemently against a ban on smoking in the streets of Stony Stratford are ordinary people. They included smokers and non-smokers like myself.

Alan Dee is entitled to both his opinion and his adolescent sense of humour, but the people he is attacking represent not just ordinary people but a substantial percentage of your readership.

I am not seeking an apology, although we would like an acknowledgement of the anger Alan Dee's article has provoked.

Instead I would like to request the right of reply in your next available issue, preferably on the same page occupied by Alan Dee. (I'm sure he won't mind giving up his column for one week only!)

I appreciate that this may go against your normal editorial policy but in the light of Alan Dee's incendiary article - which coincided unintentionally with the grave and tragic events in Norway - I believe that it would be an appropriate response.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Simon Clark
Director, Forest

If anyone has received a response from Lynn Hughes it would be useful to know before we take the matter further.

On Monday grumpybutterfly reported that he thought she sounded "contrite" when he spoke to her.

No evidence of that so far.

If I was in Lynn Hughes's shoes I would have at least acknowledged our complaints, if only to take the heat out of the situation.

Instead she may be hoping we will go away. We won't.

PS. I am trying to track down a copy of this week's issue, out today, to see whether there is any reference to Alan Dee's article.

Meanwhile I have sent a further email to the editor:

Dear Ms Hughes

I would be grateful for a response to my email, sent on Monday, and your reaction to the complaints you have received following the publication of Alan Dee's article last week.

An early response would be appreciated.

Simon Clark
Director, Forest


Forest Eireann fights back

My arrival in Ireland yesterday coincided with the news that Minister for Heath and Children Dr James Reilly wants to ban smoking in cars with children.

"I don't think anyone in their right mind could agree that smoking in a car with a child is a sensible, wise, moral or ethical thing to do," he said.

The good news is that in contrast to the introduction of the smoking ban in Ireland, when there was no organised opposition, our decision to launch Forest Eireann last year is at last being vindicated.

I've lost count of the number of interviews FE spokesman John Mallon did yesterday. He was even quoted by RTE, an important breakthrough.

This morning John is also quoted in the two quality dailies, the Irish Times and the Irish Examiner. The former, in particular, sets the news agenda in Ireland and is read by most politicians.

I still kick myself that Forest didn't establish a group in Ireland long before the smoking ban was enforced in 2004. I'm not saying we would have stopped it, but at least there would have been a debate.

The purpose of Forest Eireann is to make sure that no more tobacco control regulations are introduced in Ireland - with the potential knock-on effect in Britain - without a fight.

PS. I'm seeing John Mallon later today. I imagine we may have a drink or three to mark the occasion.


Travel news

Arrived home from Edinburgh, via Stansted, at eight o'clock last night.

This morning, twelve hours later, I am back at Stansted to catch the 9.50 Ryanair flight to Dublin.

Limited blogging today!


Days like this

It's on days like this that I wonder why I ever left Edinburgh.

Blue sky, bright sunshine and a very light breeze that is keeping the temperature exactly how I like it - warm enough to stroll around without a jacket but cool enough not to (how shall I put this?) perspire. Perfect.

I am currently sitting in Caffe Lucano on George IV Bridge surrounded, as ever, by newspapers, books and assorted notes.

It wasn't my first choice of cafe but I had forgotten that The Elephant House across the road (I am looking at it as I tap the keyboard) now promotes itself as the 'Birthplace of Harry Potter'.

As a result there is a long queue for seats and the place is heaving with tourists. What a pity. It used to be one of my favourite cafes. I'll come back in January, perhaps, when it should be less busy.

As it happens, Edinburgh is blessed with lots of great cafes, pubs and restaurants. Living in Cambridgeshire it's one of the things I miss most about the city.

Last night we had dinner at The Ship on the Shore in Leith. It's possibly one of the best seafood restaurants in Britain. Friendly staff, great atmosphere, and the adjoining pub served a great pint of Old Speckled Hen!

What is noticeable since I left Edinburgh in 1999 are the enormous number of outside tables - a direct result of the smoking ban. Fine on days like today but not much fun during those long winter months.

Anyway, there's a simple remedy whenever I have thoughts of moving back to Scotland - I amble down the Royal Mile and reacquaint myself with the Scottish Parliament and all that it symbolises.

Never say never and all that, but for the foreseeable future I'll stick to regular visits.