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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)


Huff and puff

I shall be writing about Stony Stratford and a forthcoming protest inspired by Dick Puddlecote shortly.

In the meantime, here's an article from the new Huffington Post UK website – Smokers and Non-Smokers Alike Should Unite Against the Petty Authoritarianism of Stony Stratford Councillors.

The author is Patrick Hayes. Patrick works for the Institute of Ideas and is a columnist for The Free Society. He attended several Voices of Freedom debates and is joining us for our Smoke On The Water boat party next week.

Worth commenting because a lot of people, especially journalists, will be taking an interest in the HP.

See also: Trade concerned over smoking bylaw scheme (Morning Advertiser), Standoff In Stony Stratford, Saturday July 16th (Dick Puddlecote)

PS. Patrick also has a new article on The Free Society today – Supermarkets join the nanny state.


‘Bring back fags to save our pubs’

Further to our reception at the House of Commons last week, the Sun has published an article by Greg Knight MP, a leading supporter of the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign:

I am a lifelong non-smoker but I believe in fairness. I do not like the way the current law treats smokers like second-class citizens by making them stand outside to smoke.

In Holland, they tweaked the smoking ban to make it fairer. Around 2,000 small bars are now permitted to have smoking rooms. Surely it makes sense that

The Save Our Pubs and Clubs Campaign would like to see a thorough inquiry into the ban and its impact on the licensed industry.

There needs to be a debate in Parliament about whether we should modify the law.

It's all very well to defend the terms of the current ban. But with pubs closing at an alarming rate, smokers and non-smokers already pay the price of our inappropriate, heavy-handed legislation.

There is also a comment from Martin Dockrell of ASH that you might care to respond to:

Pubs have changed. The old street-corner boozers were in decline long before the smoking ban.

Indoor smoking areas don't work. They tried it in Spain and it failed utterly.

They had some places you could smoke in and some places you couldn't. Nobody knew the rules. Consequently nobody enforced them.

A number of countries have tried this approach and it just doesn't deliver the health benefits.

That's why the smoking ban came in. It's not just about a more pleasant environment for non-smokers, it delivers real health gains.

See: ‘Bring back fags to save our pubs’ (The Sun)


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.



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, should you, er, wish to comment.


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.


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.


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.


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.