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Minister’s links with ASH questioned

Letter from Kieran McDonnell, president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, to David Cameron:

21 June 2011

Dear Prime Minister,

Formal complaint regarding breach of the Ministerial Code

I write to you in my capacity as President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), which represents 16,500 newsagent members across the UK, with a complaint regarding the conduct of your Public Health Minister Anne Milton with reference public statements made and circulated on 15th June when Ms Milton attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking & Health’s 40th anniversary for Action on Smoking & Health (ASH).

At the meeting, Ms Milton credited the Vice Chair of the group (and former Chair of the Health Select Committee) Kevin Barron MP for his help “behind the scenes” when addressing smoking legislation. In addition the Minister also accepted an award and presented an award to the Director of ASH.

This statement and public acceptance and deliverance of awards to an organisation that has been lobbying her department, MPs and other government departments (and indeed is granted government funding on the basis that it not be used for lobbying purposes) has called into question the manner in which recent tobacco display ban legislation has been made; and the ability of the Minister to be considered unbiased on the issue.

I attach a copy of the event report from an independent parliamentary reporting service and would ask that you formally conduct an investigation into the conduct of your minister in the light of her public admission that she had worked with an officer of an ASH funded parliamentary lobby group on recent legislation “behind the scenes”. Moreover, this inappropriate conduct necessitates a review of the legitimacy of the legislation itself.

We have long suspected that ‘behind the scenes’ dealings have been going on in the formation of this legislation in the manner in which it has been pushed through without running the legislation past the Reducing Regulation Committee; without identifying a ‘one out’ for the legislation; and indeed without fulfilling the BRE Guidance to undertake a Small Business Impact Assessment.

In light of these recent statements, I regrettably now see proof of these suspicions which is deeply offensive to our members who have campaigned so hard to see the government fulfil its pre-election commitments to bring the debate back to the House of Commons for a free vote and which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats publically opposed in opposition.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Yours sincerely,

Kieran McDonnell
President, National Federation of Retail Newsagents

I'll let you know if he gets a reply!


Smoking in cars: show us the evidence that this is a major health hazard

Remember David Nuttall's Ten Minute Rule Motion to amend the smoking ban?

Today Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North on Teeside, will propose his own Ten Minute Rule Motion – to ban smoking in cars where children are present.

It is now standard practise for anti-smokers to claim that secondhand smoke is "23 times more toxic in a vehicle than in a home". And yet, according to Ross MacKenzie MA and Becky Freedman MSc of the University of Sydney School of Public Health in Australia, this widely reported 'fact' does not seem to be based on any scientific evidence whatsoever (Second-hand smoke in cars: How did the '23 times more toxic' myth turn into fact?, CMAJ, 2010).

MacKenzie and Freeman traced the claim to a 1998 story in – wait for it – Rocky Mountain News and a comment by the state legislator who "was quoted as saying she had become concerned about the issue upon hearing the now ubiquitous claim".

In other words, gossip and rumour.

I have just been interviewed on BBC Radio Tees and I explained all this (including the reference to Rocky Mountain News!). I also queried the need for legislation and yet another ban when a survey of 1000 adult smokers last year revealed that:

85.3% said they would not smoke at all [in a car with children present]. A further 6.5% said they would ask before lighting up, therefore 8.2% said they would smoke as normal.

Source: Holden Pearmain survey of 1000 adult (18+) smokers, May 2010

The other point I made was this: anti-smoking campaigners say they only want to ban smoking in cars where children are present. However, how can we believe them? It is only a decade since they were saying that all they wanted was more non-smoking areas in pubs and restaurants. Within a few years they were campaigning for a comprehensive ban.

It is a very short step from banning smoking in cars where children are present to: (a) banning smoking in ALL private vehicles, even if the only occupant is the owner/driver, (b) banning smoking smoking in the home if children are in the house.

Anti-smoking campaigners may say that is not their objective but history shows that they are always looking for the "next logical step".

PS. Philip Davies MP will oppose Alex Cunningham's motion which will follow Prime Minister's Questions at 12.30pm.


Freedom, education and the state

Sorry, very little time for blogging this week.

Tonight, The Free Society and the Adam Smith Institute present:

Is mediocrity for all preferable to excellence for some?

Venue: Institute of Economic Affairs,
2 Lord North Street, Westminster, SW1

Not a bad line-up, if I say so myself.

Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas)

Tom Clougherty (Adam Smith Institute)
The Rt Hon David Davis MP (former shadow home secretary)
Matt Grist (senior researcher at Demos)
Professor Terence Kealey (vice-chancellor, University of Buckingham)
Toby Young (associate editor of The Spectator and founder of the West London Free School)

We're expecting a full house – and more – so do join us. RSVP or telephone Nicky Shepherd 01223 370091.


Register now if you want to change the smoking ban

Save Our Pubs & Clubs reception
Terrace Pavilion, House of Commons
Wednesday 29th June 2011, 4.00-6.00pm

You are invited to join us at the Save Our Pubs & Clubs reception to be hosted by the Rt Hon Greg Knight MP, Roger Godsiff MP, and John Hemming MP on Wednesday 29th June.

The reception marks the fourth anniversary of the introduction of the smoking ban in England and comes a few months after the fifth anniversary of the ban in Scotland.

MPs from the three main political parties are uniting to support our campaign to amend the smoking ban to allow a separate smoking room with proper ventilation in private premises, including pubs and clubs.

It is vitally important that this event is well supported. If possible, you should also contact your MP in advance and arrange to meet them at the reception.

RSVP as follows. Email your name and full postal address – and that of any guests you wish to bring – to:

After you have registered, you will be sent an admission ticket, which you will need to bring with you to the reception. Tickets will be posted this week.

Please make every effort to attend this event and demonstrate your support for the campaign to change the smoking ban.


Better late than never, Sunday Mirror wants to save the British pub

The Sunday Mirror has launched a campaign to Save Our Pubs.

Needless to say there's a political angle – British Pubs facing closure under the Tories reveal their battle to survive, screams a headline in today's paper:

They have been at the heart of our communities for centuries - but now Britain's pubs are under threat. Six close down every day and those still open face a constant struggle to survive.

The local is in crisis. So today the Sunday Mirror calls on PM David Cameron to honour his election promise that his Government would be "pub-friendly and take the urgent action needed to protect a treasured national institution".

The paper highlights four areas for the problems facing the British pub – cheap supermarket alcohol, tax and duty, pub chains and, yes, the smoking ban:

The smoking ban dealt a devastating blow to thousands of traditional pubs. Takings nosedived by as much as 40 per cent at some town centre and inner city locals as smokers decided to drink at home. Supporters of the ban - introduced in Scotland in 2006 and the rest of the UK in 2007 - say it has made pubs more family friendly and people healthier. But street corner pubs with no beer garden have suffered badly.

Funnily enough, I distinctly remember the Daily Mirror (if not its sister paper) supporting the smoking ban when it was introduced by the previous (Labour) government.

Oh, well, at least our message about the impact of the smoking ban is finally getting through.

Welcome aboard.


Review of the week

From the Forest website:

From The Free Society:

Above: Parliamentary event to mark the 40th anniversary of ASH. Doesn't look the most exciting occasion, does it?

From left: Sir Richard Thompson (president, Royal College of Physicians), Stephen Williams MP (chair of All Party Parliamentary on Smoking and Health), Kevin Barron MP, Anne Milton (minister for public health) holding the WHO World No Smoking Day Award, Deborah Arnott (CEO of ASH), Professor John Moxham (chair of ASH).


DoH stats "little more than guesses" but vending machine ban goes ahead

Deborah Arnott and I are quoted in today's Sun.

We were asked to respond to a decision by Appeal Court judges to uphold the ban on tobacco vending machines, despite a challenge by Sinclair Collis, a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco.

ASH's chief executive told the paper:

"For years vending machines have been an easy source of cigarettes for children. The British Heart Foundation filmed kids of 14 undercover in pubs and on every occasion they were able to buy cigs unchallenged.

"Adults rarely use machines because they are expensive. Less than one per cent of sales are from machines, so the economic impact will be tiny. The health benefit is considerable."

My response:

"The vending machine ban is grossly disproportionate and not based on sound evidence. The overwhelming majority of machines are inaccessible to under-18s.

"Government policy seems to be about putting cigs out of sight in the hope smoking rates will fall. In fact, the more you put cigs under the counter and ban vending machines, the more you create an allure which people find desirable."

Rather more interesting are the words of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger. According to the Sun he admitted the Department of Health's arguments were "not very convincing" but said tobacco's health risks meant courts should not interfere with Government restrictions.

The Daily Mail adds this telling information:

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, said that given the health risks posed by tobacco, "virtually any measure which a government takes to restrict the availability of tobacco products, especially to young people, is almost self-evidently one with which no court should interfere".

Although statistics used by the DoH to justify the ban were "little more than guesses", the judge said they did "not appear fanciful" and the ban was "lawful" and "proportionate".

One person evidently disagreed. The Appeal Court judges voted by only 2-1 to uphold the ban.


I think I'm going to be sick

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Smoking and Health yesterday celebrated the 40th anniversary of ASH with a function at the House of Commons.

Here are some of the 'highlights':

Guests welcomed by Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, chairman of the APPG on Smoking and Health.

Williams, Labour MP Kevin Barron (former chairman of the Health Select Committee), and public health minister Anne Milton presented with awards by Cancer Research.

Milton said it was a pleasure to celebrate ASH’s "birthday party". She then presented Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, with the World No Tobacco Day Award from the World Health Organisation.

Accepting the award, Debs thanked those who funded ASH.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, which founded ASH in 1971, wished a "very happy birthday to our baby, now our grown up child" and called for a campaign to "get rid of cigarettes eventually".

Prof John Moxam, chairman of ASH, compared it to his own birthday, and spoke of an "ASH family across the world".

Sir Richard, he said, was was "the father of ASH" and the support of the Royal College of Physicians has been "absolutely wonderful".

He also paid tribute to Kevin Barron who he described as a "warrior for the cause", adding, "ASH just thinks you’re magic".


Ms Milton, he said, was "tremendous", and had "won over the hearts of everyone involved".

I think I'm going to be sick ....