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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)


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.