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Wednesday
May112011

Ireland's shame

Postscript to the previous post.

As well as sending press releases to the Irish media, Forest Eireann has been emailing a handful of Irish bloggers in an effort to generate some discussion of smoking online.

No joy. With the honourable exception of Grandad, whose brilliant Head Rambles blog is essential reading, we haven't found a single libertarian or smoker-friendly blog in the whole of Ireland. Not one.

Not even Twenty Major, a blog that is sub-titled, quite erroneously, 'Still smoking in Dublin bars'. Last year, reacting to a press release from Forest Eireann the author sniffed:

Like a few others I’ve just been spammed by a group called Forest Eireann. Their aim is to ‘Campaign against the denormalisation of smoking and the vilification of smokers by the tobacco control lobby’.

They have a spokesman called John Mallon from Cork. He says:

"I’m no radical but I believe in the citizen’s right to oppose those things that seek to marginalise them. The outcome of the smoking ban, now in its sixth year in Ireland, suggests that it has been counter-productive. Smoking rates have increased while one pub a day closes due to the effects of the ban."

Really? It’s the smoking ban that’s forcing pubs to close? Here was I thinking it was the fact that drinking in pubs is now ridiculously expensive. We’re fleeced for beers, spirits, soft drinks, the whole lot.

Regulations mean pubs can’t have ‘happy hours’ to bring in customers and very few pubs are doing anything to attract customers, like, you know, lowering the price of drink, which is why people go to pubs. Not to smoke.

I don't doubt that the price of drinks, and drink driving laws, have had a significant effect on Ireland's pubs. But let's get this straight. A blogger called Twenty Major, whose blog features the legend 'Still smoking in Dublin bars', claims that people go to pubs only to drink. Not to smoke.

Another Irish blogger, responding to our study which showed a clear correlation between the smoking ban and a rapid increase in pub closures in Ireland, complained that since the ban "smokers monopolise the outside tables at licensed premises, leaving us to having to stay inside on the nicest of summer days or put up with breathing in their noxious fumes".

Yesterday Forest Eireann received the most po-faced response from another blogger who claims to be a "political junkie" yet clearly has no interest in one of the most important political and cultural issues of our time.

Replying to our press release about the loss of 7,000 workers in the pub/drinks industry in Ireland in 2010, he wrote:

To whom it may concern,

Please remove me from your email list. I have not signed up for it and you do not advertise on the list a way of removing one's self from the email list which is a breach of the data protection act.

I love visiting Ireland, on business and on holiday. But can someone tell me why there is so little interest in defending, ahem, individual liberty or promoting the free market?

I can find no evidence of a single free market think tank. Nothing, certainly, on a par with the Adam Smith Institute or the Institute of Economic Affairs in Britain.

The Freedom Institute, a free-market classical-liberal think tank was founded in Ireland in 2003, but four years later it folded and its founder fled to England.

The Progressive Democrats, a liberal, free-market political party founded in 1985, was disbanded in 2009.

Ireland, it seems, is a graveyard for social and economic liberals. Why that is I have no idea, but it does explain the absence of any serious opposition to the smoking ban and the subsequent tobacco display ban.

PS. Having written this post I visited Twenty Major to see what he was writing about today. (Not smoking, obviously.) His last and, it appears, final post was on April 4 and the headline is 'Game over'.

For Twenty Major, perhaps, but not for us.

Tuesday
May102011

Government must intervene to save Irish pubs, says Forest Eireann

New figures released by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland show that 7,000 jobs were lost in the pub trade in 2010 alone.

“It is ironic to think that a smoking ban ostensibly introduced to protect the health of bar staff should be contributing to their loss of employment,” said John Mallon of the smokers' group Forest Eireann.

Full response here.

PS. Did we really say "Government must intervene". Er, yes, but only in the sense that the Government should not have intervened in the first place. In this instance 'intervention' means relaxing the regulations ...

Monday
May092011

ASH Scotland: the bully state in action

The following was posted in the comments on the previous thread.

I removed it because it was off topic but I don't want my anonymous correspondent (or anyone else) to think that I want to hide the story.

Far from it. I intend to do everything I can to expose ASH Scotland for what they are - state-sponsored bullies who are happy to organise a conference about alcohol and tobacco without inviting representatives of either the drinks or tobacco industries, but are quick to complain and cast aspersions when a section of the hospitality industry has the initiative to organise a small event of its own to discuss the impact of the smoking ban.

Anyway, this is what ASH Scotland posted on their website earlier today:

Last week, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association publicised an event to discuss proposed retrograde moves for Scottish pubs, including reintroducing smoking areas, and using ventilation to tackle second-hand tobacco smoke. Unsurprisingly given these backwards looking, expensive and unworkable proposals, the event is part funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association; an organisation of just three member [sic], British American Tobacco, Gallaher Ltd (a member of Japan Tobacco), and Imperial Tobacco. It is also being organised by Oliver Griffiths who was involved in promoting the tobacco industry’s AIR (Atmosphere Improves Results) campaign. AIR targeted retailers, presenting the discredited and expensive solution of ventilation as an alternative to the smoking ban

Full article here.

My informant (who goes by the name of, er, 'Informant') commented, a little unfairly I thought, "ASH Scotland on the attack but the SLTA remain silent".

Truth is, the SLTA were probably unaware, until a short time ago, that ASH Scotland had even issued this statement.

Far from "publicising" their event, the SLTA had kept it low-key. To the best of my knowledge, invitations were issued only last week and only to a handful of interested parties. No fanfare, no press release, nothing.

This is a small private event, not a political rally, and if the SLTA need a helping hand to pay for it, who can blame them? Thanks in part to the smoking ban, neither the SLTA nor their members have a pot to piss in.

Under attack from a bully state that is now rampant north of the border, Scotland's pubs are defenceless. They need all the help they can get.

Anyway, I really didn't expect to be commenting on this but if ASH Scotland want a fight, bring it on.

Monday
May092011

Voices of Freedom 2011

Following the success of The Free Society's Voices of Freedom series of debates in London last year, I am pleased to announce that we are returning with a second series next month.

Programme as follows:

Wednesday June 1: Civil liberties up in smoke
Wednesday June 8: Nudge and the nanny state
Wednesday June 15: Risk and the pursuit of happiness
Tuesday June 21: Freedom, education and the state
Tuesday June 28: Definition of a free society

Venue: IEA, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster.
Time: 7.00-8.00pm with drinks from 6.15.

As before, each debate will be co-hosted by The Free Society and various partners. This year they are Privacy International, Manifesto Club, Democracy Institute, Adam Smith Institute and Liberty League.

Guest speakers, I can reveal, include Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday's famously acerbic columnist; Toby Young, associate editor of The Spectator; author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and founder of the West London Free School; and Sir Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning screenwriter and a member of Forest's Supporters Council.

Also taking part: Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Simon Davies (Privacy International), Alex Deane (formerly Big Brother Watch), Dolan Cumming and Josie Appleton (Manifesto Club), Dr Alena Buyx (Nuffield Council on Bioethics), Patrick Basham (Democracy Institute), Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas), Tom Clougherty (Adam Smith Institute), Tom Miers (The Free Society), Simon Richards (Freedom Association), Dennis Hayes (Academics for Academic Freedom), economist Paul Ormerod who is currently writing a new book, Beyond Nudge: Networks and Public Policy in the 21st Century and many more.

I will update you as more speakers are confirmed. In the meantime, put these dates in your diary ... June 1, 8, 15, 21, 28.

RSVP via email to events@thefreesociety.org or telephone Nicky on 01223 370156.

See also: IEA Forthcoming Events

Saturday
May072011

Review of the week

Friday
May062011

Mental patients win fight for judicial review on smoking rights

STOP PRESS

Will this week never end? I am about to do a radio interview on the subject of mental patients winning the right to a judicial review on whether they should be allowed to smoke in the hospital grounds and on "community visits".

Story here.

Friday
May062011

You want to smoke? That'll be £1, please

Not everyone is going to be happy with this but you can't please everyone.

Earlier this week Forest was contacted by BBC Radio Ulster and Five Live. They wanted our response to a story that Belfast International Airport is charging smokers £1 to use a designated smoking area while they are waiting to board their flights.

Before we had even conferred, Paul Rowlandson, our Northern Ireland spokesman, and I had come to the same conclusion: we didn't think it was a big issue. In fact, we welcomed it on the grounds that at least Belfast Airport was giving consideration to smokers.

Anyway, that's what we told the BBC in London and Belfast and we never heard back. It wasn't the response they were expecting!

(This, btw, gives you some idea of how the media operates. If you don't fit in with their preconceived 'angle' they won't use you. It's not the first time it's happened and it won't be the last but we're not going to say something we don't agree with just to get airtime.)

So, if you want our response you'll have to read the Daily Mail:

Although the move is unlikely to please some smokers, it has gone down surprisingly well with pro-smoking organisation Forest, which has welcomed the move. Spokesperson Paul Rowlandson said it "congratulated" the airport:

"It is encouraging that Belfast International is making provision for travelling smokers.The fact that smokers will be partially exposed to the outside elements is not the fault of the airport. It is a requirement of the unreasonable legislation which governs the provision and construction of areas where people may smoke.

Rowlandson continued: 'The modest charge of £1 for entry to the smoking room seems fair, providing that the charges go towards the maintenance of the smoking facility, as the airport assures us they will. At some other airports one can pay £40 for entry to a VIP lounge, but still be unable to smoke."

Sorry if that's not what some of you want to hear but I believe it to be a reasonable, measured response.

What we don't want is airports banning smoking completely.

Full story: Belfast International Airport charges smokers a £1 to light up before jetting away (Daily Mail)

Friday
May062011

Michael Siegel: friend or foe?

Interesting article in the New York Times today.

Michael Siegel is a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health. He writes a thoughtful blog, The Rest of the Story, that offers "tobacco news, analysis and commentary".

Siegel corresponds with opponents of smoking bans on both sides of the Atlantic. He has a deserved reputation for being one of the more reasonable members of anti-smoking movement. Unlike some, he doesn't seem to be driven by intolerance of smokers or hatred of the tobacco industry.

Today's article focuses on the ban on smoking in New York parks and beaches, which will be introduced (if not enforced) from May 23.

Siegel supports smoking bans in workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos:

I base my position on the scientific evidence demonstrating that chronic exposure to secondhand smoke — the sort of levels you’d experience working in a smoky bar or restaurant — significantly increases the risk of respiratory disease, heart disease and lung cancer

He questions however the claim by the US Surgeon General’s office that “even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events, such as heart attack,” and that “inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer.”

The Surgeon General’s statement conflates the temporary negative effects of secondhand smoke on the circulatory system, which have been shown to occur with short-term exposure, with heart disease, a process that requires repeated exposure and recurring damage to the coronary arteries. It also conflates one-time DNA damage, which occurs with any carcinogenic exposure, with cancer risk, which likewise generally requires repeated exposure.

Siegel's concern is that:

... in trying to convince people that even transient exposure to secondhand smoke is a potentially deadly hazard, smoking opponents risk losing scientific credibility. The antismoking movement has always fought with science on its side [my emphasis], but New York’s ban on outdoor smoking seems to fulfill its opponents’ charge that the movement is being driven instead by an unthinking hatred of tobacco smoke.

That, in turn, could jeopardize more important fronts in the antismoking fight, in particular the 21 states that still allow smoking in bars and restaurants.

A ban on outdoor smoking may provide a symbolic victory. But from a public health perspective, it’s pointless. Instead, antismoking organizations should focus on extending workplace protections, already enjoyed by millions of New Yorkers, to the 100 million Americans still denied the right to work without having to breathe in secondhand smoke.

In other words, for all his good points, Michael Siegel is as keen as any anti-smoker to ban smoking in every workplace in every state in America. (I assume that's what he means by "extending workplace protections" rather than improving ventilation or introducing separate smoking rooms. If I'm wrong I apologise.)

Once that is accomplished the anti-smoking juggernaut will simply move on, in every state, to the next logical step. Science, as Michael knows, doesn't even come into it.

See: A smoking ban too far (New York Times)

PS. Talking of junk science, Brian Monteith has this to say on The Free Society: Warning: junk reporting of junk science threatens individual freedom.