Saturday
Jan222011

What hope for smokers in Ireland?

In the words of John Mallon, Forest's representative in Ireland, "The fat man has announced the election date - 11th March 2011".

Yes, following weeks of speculation, Irish prime minister Brian Cowen has announced that the country will go to the polls in seven weeks. With the country in financial meltdown a great many political heads are expected to roll.

John writes:

"To give you the majority feeling on the ground, we have had this government, give or take, for the last 13 years. When they got in the economy was booming, inflation was very low, we had the Irish pound, jobs were becoming plentiful, U2 were on top of the world, Riverdance was just around the corner, Ireland was cool, Michael O'Leary was offering to fly us anywhere for 10p, Munster rugby was taking off, the popular Polish Pope was still there, as was our nodding President, Mary Robinson. Ireland was in the throes of its first Industrial Revolution based on big American IT and Big Pharma, and Temple Bar was getting into full swing. For a small country that never had a toe on the world stage, there was a real feelgood factor.

"Everything that has happened has deconstructed the lot. You have no idea of the desperation and anger that is rampant now. Everything Fianna Fail has done in the last 13 years now stinks, including the smoking ban ...

STOP PRESS (14:08): The BBC reports that Irish PM Brian Cowen  is stepping down as leader of the ruling Fianna Fail party "but will continue to run the government until the general election". Ironically Cowen is a smoker and a leading contender to replace him would be Michael Martin, the man whose greatest political achievement is said to be the introduction of the smoking ban in Ireland.

Saturday
Jan222011

State of civil liberties in Britain today

Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, has produced a book that I warmly recommend.

Published by Biteback, it's called Big Brother Watch: The state of civil liberties in modern Britain and it's available on Amazon and in the larger branches of Waterstone's, like this one in Piccadilly where I bought my copy on Thursday.

You will be familiar with the names of several contributors because they include a number of people who took part in our 2010 Voices of Freedom debates: Guy Herbert, No2ID; Mark Littlewood, IEA; Josie Appleton, Manifesto Club; Philip Johnston, author of Bad Laws: An Explosive Analysis of Britain’s Petty Rules, Health and Safety Lunacies and Madcap Laws; and Alex himself.

Another contributor is Brian Monteith, author of The Bully State: The End of Tolerance, published by The Free Society in 2009. There's also an essay by Simon Davies of Privacy International who has just completed a report commissioned by Forest that we hope to publish next month. Watch this space.

Update: Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club and a contributor to Big Brother Watch (above), has written a piece on the rebellion against the Spanish smoking ban. "It's quite heartening!" she tells me.

Friday
Jan212011

Smoke free cars? Thanks for the tips

A new study published this week in Scotland claimed that "Smoking in a car exposes a child passenger to dangerous levels of poisonous particles … and even opening a window doesn’t protect them".

The findings, we were told, are so stark that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), which commissioned the study, has launched a high profile campaign "to persuade the thousands of Scots motorists who continue to smoke and endanger non-smoking passengers to make their cars smoke free".

According to the NHSGGC press release:

The study involved a child sized doll being fitted in a car seat with the very latest smoke monitoring equipment attached at the doll’s mouth so that precise measurements could be taken. The particles of tobacco poison were so high that they compared with the levels you would expect after being exposed to secondhand smoke in a busy smoke filled pub before the smoking ban.

Various "health experts" were wheeled out to comment on the "shocking" results. Surprisingly, no-one, not even Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, called for a ban on smoking in cars, although I have no doubt that is their aim. Instead we were given some 'Tips for a smokefree car':

  • Try to always take smoking outside
  • Try to make your car a smokefree car at all times for everyone
  • Have a cigarette before and after your journey
  • On long journeys, stop, have a break and smoke outside the car
  • Remove car cigarette lighters
  • Clear out car ash trays
  • Display a window sticker 'Our Car is Smokefree' (Ugh!)

A summary of the report can be downloaded from the NHSGGC Smokefree Services website.

The Scotsman has the story, including a short quote from me, here: Don't smoke and drive - it's as toxic as a pub fug for your children, insist doctors.

Thursday
Jan202011

Spot the difference

Welcome to the new-look blog. The old one was looking a bit of a dog's dinner so I thought it was time to do something about it.

I tried changing the design template on the old blog but with all those images to accommodate it looked even worse. There was only one solution - create a brand new, stripped down, clutter-free site.

And here it is. It's not finished so expect a few tweaks here and there.

In order to keep the old site live - for archive purposes - I have given this one a slightly different URL, taking-liberties.squarespace.com replacing takingliberties.squarespace.com. It's not ideal because it means there are now two sites instead of one but if you need to look for something on the old site just click on the Archive button on the top menu bar.

Apart from that the content, including the house rules, will be much as before. I don't have many rules:

  • My pet hates include long, rambling comments that repeat ad nauseum what we've already discussed on this blog (and elsewhere) for months if not years. I like to restrict comments to 300 words, which I think is generous, but it's not a hard and fast rule. If you've got something to say and do it well, I'll overlook it. On the other hand, comments in excess of a thousand words are, frankly, taking liberties. That's not a comment, that's a speech. If it's any good I'll publish it as a guest blog, or I suggest you offer it to someone else.
  • Another pet hate is a comment that has nothing to do with the original post or the preceding comments. This is a blog not a message board. It's rude and more often than not it kills the thread.
What else? Oh, yes:
  • I can take criticism but I won't be stalked or bullied via my own blog. It's only happened once or twice in four years, including quite recently, but it wasn't very pleasant. And while I welcome comments from all sides of a debate, I won't tolerate personally abusive comments aimed at people who, for example, choose to smoke. I like a good argument (preaching to the converted was never my thing), but this is a smoker-friendly site and I won't tolerate intolerance.

My favourite comments are those that are short, informative and entertaining. If you remember that I'm sure we'll become (or remain) good friends.

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