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Amend the ban? The people speak

Following last night's Smoke On The Water (see earlier post) ...

... here is the second of three videos from the Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons on June 29.

Features interviews with Forest Eireann's John Mallon (above), former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik, Paul Staines (blogger Guido Fawkes), Patrick Hayes (Institute of Ideas), jailed landlord Nick Hogan, publicans, members of the Working Men's Clubs and Institute Union, and David Hockney.

It's ten minutes long (there's an edited version on YouTube) but there are some good quotes and we didn't want to leave anyone out.

Feel free to post this or other videos from the Save Our Pubs and Clubs channel on other blogs and websites.


Is this the most odious man in Britain?

No, not Rupert Murdoch.

Gordon Brown.

I wanted an inquiry into the beastly media, but those horrid civil servants wouldn't let me (Daily Telegraph), Labour's former leader follows his successor's lead (Independent), Mr Speaker snarled like a Hyena as the red mist descended (Daily Mail)


Day after the party the night before

Still in London following last night's Smoke On The Water boat party.

The event took place under leaden skies but the expected showers failed to materialise and guests were able to experience The Elizabethan's unique sliding roof. This gives passengers a great view of some of London's best known buildings and bridges, and it's particularly atmospheric after dark when the coloured lighting on landmarks such as County Hall and the London Eye can be seen so clearly.

I first booked this Mississippi-style paddle steamer for a party in, I think, 1995. Smoke On The Water was the sixth time I have hired it and it has never let me down. Its only failing is a rather small bar that can cause a bit of a bottleneck for drinks, but that normally resolves itself following the initial surge. (Anticipating this problem, guests were offered a free glass of wine to kick start the evening, but we very quickly exhausted the 80 bottles we had set aside. Thirsty work, smoking.)

We had an excellent six-piece band, Urban Blue, who played a mixture of jazz, funk and soul, and between sets I was delighted to introduce our two guest speakers, blogger Dick Puddlecote and David Nuttall MP. Experience has taught me that speeches and stand up receptions are not a good mix (people are far more interested in drinking and continuing their conversation) and last night was no exception.

Nevertheless Dick and David both spoke with great conviction and the message was very clear and very simple. The fight for smokers' rights will continue for as long as it takes and far from going away (as some people predicted it would after the smoking ban in 2007) the 'movement' is actually growing, to the extent that 'ordinary' smokers like Dick have been emboldened to organise their own protest events.

Likewise, David Nuttall has no intention of abandoning the cause, unlike some of his fellow MPs. There is a small group of independently-minded MPs to whom we are very grateful for their support and with the help of David and others like him we intend to build on that.

It's worth noting that MPs' researchers (if not MPs) were out in force last night. I spoke to one (significantly, he's also a local councillor) and he is very keen to help. Watch this space.

In total, almost 250 people attended last night's event, very close to capacity. Interestingly, while there was some overlap, it was a very different crowd to the 200+ people who attended our Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons two weeks ago. Much younger, someone noted. If we could combine the two groups it's not unrealistic to think we could attract at least 500 – maybe more – for an even bigger event. Smoke In The Park, perhaps?

To date Forest's record attendance is 400 for our Revolt in Style dinner at the Savoy Hotel in 2007. In 2006 a Politics and Prohibition themed event at the Conservative conference in Bournemouth attracted a similar number to the Royal Bath Hotel. In fact, that event was so popular hotel staff had to stop people coming in, citing "elf 'n safety"!

Can you imagine ASH attracting similar support? No, neither can I. The conundrum is, how to convert the popularity of social events like Revolt In Style and Smoke On The Water into hard political currency.

PS. Loving the superfast broadband in my hotel. (Each room comes equipped with its own iMac. Bliss.)

I'm not one of those who considers broadband (fast or slow) to be a human right (ridiculous idea), but it does improve the quality of my life enormously.

Sadly I have to check out in a couple of hours otherwise I would happily stay here all day.


Message to ministers – amend the ban

Light blogging only for the rest of the week.

Here is the first of three videos from the Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons on June 29.

I'll post the others shortly, or you see them now on the Save Our Pubs and Clubs YouTube channel. Click here.


Follow your head (and your heart) to Stony Stratford

A strange thing seems to be happening.

After years of passive acquiescence, the nation's smokers are slowly beginning to fight back. I don't mean armchair activists commenting on blogs such as this. I'm talking about people who are willing give up their time and take to the streets (or even the Houses of Parliament) to make their point.

In 2008 Forest marked the first anniversary of the smoking ban in England by organising a small event at the House of Commons. Our 'protest' attracted 40 people.

A year later we launched the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign to amend the ban. Two weeks ago 200 people attended a Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons. There were publicans and members of the Working Men's Clubs and Institute Union, but the majority were ordinary, decent smokers, some of whom had travelled hundreds of miles to be there.

A few says later, in Lincoln, smoker Pat Nurse organised a small protest against what she calls "smokerphobia". Two things stood out. "I've never taken part in a protest before," she wrote on her blog. Later she reported that "Several more people came to lend their voice to the protest and I counted 14 of our own and two bystanders who joined in which made our number 16. That included the lady who was pleased to 'see something being done and said at last'."

This coming Saturday, in Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, blogger Dick Puddlecote is organising his own protest against proposals to ban smoking throughout the town. No-one knows how many people will attend. It could be 20, or 50. Not a huge number, but that misses the point.

The point is, a lot of people (smokers and non-smokers) have had enough of the bully state telling them what to do and where they can do it, and some of them are prepared to give up the best part of a day to make their feelings known.

I'm cautious about making rash predictions but I believe we could be seeing the start of a grassroots revolt that could change the course of the war on tobacco.

It's early days but all rebellions have to begin somewhere and Stony Stratford – like Lincoln – is as good a place as any. Details here.

See also: Health Hitlers and a mutiny in the town trying to ban smoking (Daily Mail)


Smoke on the water - update

Our Smoke On The Water boat party is now fully booked.

Weather permitting, we're expecting around 200 people to join us on board The Elizabethan, a Mississippi-style paddle steamer with a unique sliding roof and an outside walkway on three sides where you can admire the view of London while smoking to your heart's content.

The party, on Wednesday evening, starts with a drinks reception while the boat is static at Westminster Pier. Guest speaker is David Nuttall MP and there will be a five-piece band, Urban Blue, to keep everyone entertained.

From 8.15 the boat will cruise down river to Canary Wharf, returning to Festival Pier on the South Bank around 10.00pm. If it's anything like last year the party will continue in the local bars and restaurants.

PS. If you have registered your ticket is in the post.


Review of the week


Smoking in cars: head-to-head with the British Medical Association

I spent yesterday morning writing an article for The Times.

They wanted me to go head-to-head with the BMA's Vivienne Nathanson on the subject of smoking in cars. Unless you are a subscriber you probably won't be able to read it online so here are our responses, as published in today's paper:

Vivienne Nathanson
British Medical Association

Ten days ago doctors at a British Medical Association meeting voted to ask the Government to legislate to ban smoking while driving a motor vehicle. Is this a daft conceit or is there reason behind the concern?

Burning tobacco produces toxins — micro-particulate matter and hundreds of chemicals that are hazardous to health. The evidence on passive smoking is well accepted. It was the reason behind the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces. Passive smoking is a major health hazard with the unwitting smoker’s chances of getting cancer or having a heart attack increased. And the ban has meant that non-smokers have not had to seek cleaner air, it is theirs as of right.

Cars are enclosed spaces. The concentration of toxins reaches staggering levels — particulates 27 times higher than in a smoker’s home and 20 times higher than in a pub in the days when smoking was allowed in pubs. Air filtration and cleaning systems, including opening the windows, do not fully or effectively remove the toxins Public service vehicles such as taxis are already covered by existing bans. The new legislation would cover private cars. Why? Given that tobacco is a legal product why does the health lobby not just let smokers get on with poisoning their own environment? The simple truth is that non-smokers are often passengers in private vehicles.

Pregnant women, children and those susceptible to tobacco toxins are at risk if travelling in the car of a smoker, even when he or she stubs out before they get in the car. Children who travel in smokers’ cars risk respiratory and allergic disorders, and shockingly nicotine dependence. A British Lung Foundation study showed that 51 per cent of 8-15 year olds have been exposed to smoking in cars, 86 per cent of children want people to stop smoking in cars in which they will travel but 25 per cent were too afraid to ask the adult to stop. So should the ban be universal or should we allow the smoker who never has a passenger to continue to smoke?

Although some smokers claim they are only safe if they smoke because the nicotine helps them to concentrate, the evidence is that smoking increases driving-related risks. The 2007 Highway Code advised against smoking while driving — smokers have more crashes. Lighting up, stubbing out, flicking ash all distract attention, and 72 per cent of experienced drivers recognise this and support a ban. Smokers should use nicotine replacement in a format that leaves their hands free and does not distract from safe driving.

So where next? There is clearly more to be done in getting the public firmly and fully onside, and making sure that everyone understands the evidence. This will take time, and legislation should follow a campaign to inform and engage the public, as happened with seat belts. Doubtless the tobacco industry will lobby against this. But in terms of the ladder of interventions this is a clear winner. Failure to act condemns the vulnerable to continuing risk, and action will reduce health and road traffic crash costs for all of us.

Simon Clark

I wouldn’t encourage anyone to light a cigarette in a car with children, out of courtesy if nothing else, but a ban is out of all proportion to the problem.

According to a survey last year of 1,000 adult smokers, 85.3 per cent said that they would not smoke in a car if a child was present. A further 6.5 per cent said that they would ask before lighting up, and only 8.2 per cent said that they would smoke as normal.

What this tells me is the vast majority of smokers have changed their behaviour voluntarily, without government intervention. So why do we need another law that even its supporters accept would be difficult to enforce? Education has to be better than coercion.

Legislation is justified, we are told, because of the serious harm caused by “passive smoking”. Speaking at the BMA conference in Cardiff last week, Douglas Noble, a public health doctor, argued: “It would be safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car.” What nonsense. Sadly, it is typical of the myths and hyperbole we have come to expect from the militant anti-smoking brigade.

Another claim, often repeated, is that second-hand smoke is “23 times more toxic in a vehicle than in a home”. Yet last year an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal stated that there is no scientific evidence to support this argument.

“In [an] exhaustive search of the relevant literature, we failed to locate any scientific source for this comparison,” Ross MacKenzie, of the School of Public Health at Sydney University, said.

Others have described smoking in a car with children as child abuse. The entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne wants children to be able to report parents who smoke in a car to the police. He also believes that it should be illegal to smoke at home in front of children. The only way that this could be enforced is for neighbours, family members or even the children to go to the police or social services. Is that the type of over-regulated, curtain-twitching society we want Britain to become?

Significantly, campaigners aren’t satisfied with banning smoking in cars with children. Just as smoking is banned in every pub and private members’ club, the BMA wants a ban on smoking in all cars, regardless of who is in them. In other words, individuals would be prohibited from smoking even if they were the only person in the vehicle. How can that be justified, and is the Government really going to waste police time enforcing such an illiberal, spiteful law?

Grasping at straws, campaigners argue that smoking while driving is a threat to other road users. Large international studies show that smoking while driving is one of the least distracting activities in which a driver can engage. Far more distracting are chatting with passengers, outside activity, changing a CD or tuning the radio. Should we ban those as well?

Banning smoking in a private vehicle, with or without children, is an unnecessary infringement of people’s civil liberties. The Government, and the BMA, should butt out.

PS. You'll find it on page 65 (!) of today's paper.

See: A plague of doctors (Frank Davis)