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Thank God for Guinness

Returned late last night from our weekend in Dublin.

The least said about the rugby on Saturday the better. It was all going so well - for the first 30 seconds. After that - well, we were in the third row of the upper tier behind one end so we got a perfect view of the carnage that followed.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at Croke Park, home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) where Dublin were playing Mayo.

Having enjoyed a week's holiday in Westport, Co Mayo, several years ago - and seen Mayo play Fermanagh in an All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park in 2004 - we supported the visitors.

Dublin won. Naturally.

Before the match my son bought a hurling stick. The taxi driver who drove us to the airport after the match was visibly impressed. Not so airport security. They confiscated it as an "offensive weapon".

"Do we look like we're going to club someone to death?" I protested, but to no avail.

It was one of those weekends.

Thank God for Guinness.


Interrogated by the Morning Star - and I survived to tell the tale

Had a long conversation this afternoon with Rory MacKinnon, a reporter for the Morning Star.

He's working on a piece about the response to the Government's tobacco control plan and wanted answers to the following questions (which he kindly emailed in advance):

1. I understand you told a select committee in 2000 that Forest received around £250,000pa in funding from the TMA. Is this figure still accurate?

2. You also confirmed that this represented around 96% of Forest's operating budget. Is this also still accurate?

3. You have said in both your testimony to the select committee and on Forest's website that it was "not set up by the industry, but independently by this chap, Christopher Foxley-Norris, and a few of his pals." Can you confirm that neither the TMA nor its predecessor the Tobacco Advisory Council were behind its creation? If not, why do you maintain that Forest is an independent organisation?"

4. I've read several interviews and columns in which you've said there is no evidence for a tobacco display ban reducing the number of young smokers. How do you reconcile this with the importance the tobacco industry itself places on branding and visibility?

I won't repeat my replies to these and other searching questions. Suffice it to say I'm not expecting a ringing endorsement of Forest or our role in the war on tobacco!

Update: According to its Wikipedia entry, "The [Morning Star] was founded in 1930 as the Daily Worker, the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It was relaunched as the Morning Star in 1966. Since 1945, the paper has been owned by the People's Press Printing Society whose current policy is that Britain's Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party of Britain, underlies the paper's editorial stance."

Another Wikipedia entry states that the Communist Party of Britain is "not to be confused with Communist Party of Great Britain".

Confused? Never!


Ryanair - you're having a laugh

Tomorrow morning I am catching a flight, with my son, to Dublin to see England's Grand Slam match against Ireland.

I was rather lucky to get tickets. A friend of mine lives in Ireland and he just happens to know someone very close to the Irish rugby team and this person very kindly offered my friend tickets and he, even more kindly, gave them to me.

Anyway, I booked our Ryanair flights a few weeks ago and last night I was just about to print our boarding passes when I noticed that my booking had been registered in the name of 'Simon Philip' instead of 'Simon Clark' (Philip being my middle name).

I don't know how it happened. I have booked so many flights with Ryanair recently that I probably wasn't paying attention when I completed the online booking form. (Personally, I blame my 'smart' computer.)

To avoid any problem I thought I'd better change it before I arrive at Stansted tomorrow with a passport and boarding pass in different names. So I clicked on 'Manage Account', found the appropriate section, and changed the passenger name from 'Simon Philip' to 'Simon Clark'.

And you know what? Ryanair charged me £100 to do it!!!

I know, I know, Ryanair are famous for their additional costs. Well, I don't mind paying for extras like a gin and tonic, or even priority boarding (I love priority boarding!). But £100 to change my name?

They're having a laugh.


Are today's stars running scared?

With some honorable exceptions, are today's stars running scared of the bully state?

"What on earth has happened to the tradition of stars breaking taboos and causing mayhem?" asks Tom Miers on The Free Society.

It used to be said that the decadence of Western rock culture was a sign of our free society. The rockers reacted against the conservative mores of the post war years, and the more they were condemned the worse they behaved.

What started with floppy haircuts swiftly graduated to orgies, drugs, swearing, sex acts on stage, trashing hotels and general hell-raising. Smoking and drinking were minor props to the carnival of chaos ...

The whole point of rock ‘n’ roll is that it’s meant to break taboos and rebel against the established norms of boring old responsible society. So you would have thought that the stars of today would love nothing better than sticking a v-sign up at the PC brigade, not to mention the health lobbyists.

So what have they to be afraid of? Not falling sales, surely. Really bold establishment-bashing improves popularity among the young.

Perhaps there’s something else. Being a rebel now involves not so much teasing old fuddy-duddies as teasing government. And government carries a big stick. The bully state is starting to clamp down on opinions and behaviour it disapproves of. Maybe the rockers are running scared.

Full article here.


Editor of Marketing Week questions sale of tobacco

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but this article, by Mark Choueke, editor of Marketing Week, takes the biscuit: Time to deal killer blow to cigarette sales in UK.

As Dave Atherton points out, Choueke admits he chose to smoke a particular brand of cigarette not because of the packaging but because that was the brand most of his friends smoked (ie peer pressure). Despite this he supports plain packaging and the outlawing of tobacco displays.

Actually, he goes a step further than that. The editor of this "leading UK magazine for marketing jobs, marketing news, opinion and information ... covering advertising, media, PR [and] online marketing" writes:

I’ve heard all the arguments against such legislation. It’s the triumph of the nanny state over freedom of choice; removing branding means that quality of the product (let’s remind ourselves that we’re talking about the quality of a product that kills its users) will take a tumble; the counterfeit cigarettes market will thrive; banning packaging and display units will have a disproportional effect on convenience stores and newsagents.

These arguments may have some truth, but it doesn’t stop every one of them being stupid. As stupid as a newspaper column I read this morning that claimed: “Cigarettes may be bad for our health but they are good for the economy”.

Forget the arguments about secondary smoke, about whether the jobs we would risk would be worth it to save the £2.7bn that smoking costs the NHS annually. The product kills 4 million adults worldwide every year. Why is it allowed to be sold?

Fancy that! This "reformed smoker" isn't satisfied with bans on tobacco display and branding. By questioning the sale of tobacco, he is effectively advocating the prohibition of a legal product purchased by ten million people in the UK alone.

Has Mark Choueke learned anything from history?

You may care to follow the example of Dave Atherton and make your feelings known ... click here.


NHS Trust conducts poll on smoking in hospital grounds

An NHS Trust in Colchester wants to ban smoking in hospital grounds, forcing smokers to walk 300 yards to a busy main road if they want to light up.

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust used No Smoking Day to launch a poll on its proposals. You must respond online before March 31, but why wait (hint hint).

The local paper has the story, with a quote from me, here: Trust bosses want to make hospitals completely smoke-free.

Click here for the survey.


Scotland's smoking ban - battle not over

In ten days Scotland will "celebrate" the fifth anniversary of the public smoking ban north of the border.

Last week I spoke to journalists from two newspapers - the Mail on Sunday (Scotland) and Scotland on Sunday - and their reports duly appeared at the weekend.

SoS asked Five years on, just what has the smoking ban really achieved and are we seeing a backlash?:

"There is still a great deal of anger in some quarters," says Simon Clark, director of Forest and the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign.

"It is certainly true that the majority of smokers have adapted to the ban, but it's one thing to have a high compliance rate, and quite another to claim it's hugely popular. The reason for the high compliance rate is that the penalties for flouting the ban are quite severe, not so much if you're a smoker, but if you're a landlord who turns a blind eye to smoking. Not only can you be fined several thousands of pounds, but you could potentially lose your licence."

Clark accepts that, having got used to smoke-free pubs and bars, non-smokers are unlikely to support a change in the law, but he wants to see it reviewed. "What we want is a small amendment that would allow those pubs and clubs that have the capability of offering a separate well-ventilated smoking room," he says. "You would keep the smokers well away from the non-smokers, so they would never need to be exposed. The bar staff wouldn't have to go in for at least an hour afterwards."

Clark says most European countries allow such rooms, but Ash Scotland thinks the suggestion is laughable. "We say what we've always said. A no-smoking zone in a pub is like a no-urinating zone in a swimming pool. Smoke will always drift through," says [chief executive Sheila] Duffy.

In a report headlined 'Five years on ... 740 pubs have pulled their last pint thanks to the smoking ban', the MoS disclosed that:

More than one in ten of Scotland's pubs – 740 in total - have gone out of business since the smoking ban came into force five years ago this month.

And while the country's 14 health boards say it has helped 174,222 Scots stop smoking, the licensed trade warns the closures have cost about 1,200 jobs, many in rural areas where pubs are significant sources of employment.

Now industry officials and pro-smoking lbbyists plan to launch a fresh challenge to the ban at Holyrood, warning it is pushing Scots into dangerous, 'uncontrolled' home drinking environments.

They want MSPs to allow special licenses to pubs so that they can establish designated 'smoking rooms', which are cordoned off from non-smokers.

The drive is being spearheaded by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) and the pro-smoking lobby group Forest.

Watch this space.


The bully state re-emerges

On today:

Think tanks, pressure groups and Conservative activists are appalled by the government's U-turn on tobacco display and the decision to consider plain packaging.

Full article: The bully state re-emerges in Andrew Lansley's anti-smoking crusade.

You can comment.

See also posts by Helen Evans, director, Nurses for Reform, and Tom Clougherty, director, Adam Smith Institute. Both are referred to in my article.

PS. I could have added this post by Iain Dale - A nonsensical attitude to smoking (Total Politics) - but I forgot. I am sure there are several more.