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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 ....


Great British Pub Awards – the judging begins

Yesterday was the first round of judging for the Great British Pub Awards 2011.

I couldn't be there because I had a previous engagement – the Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists' annual lunch at Lords Cricket Ground (guest speaker Tom O'Connor following in the formidable footsteps of Bobby Davros, George Galloway and Boris Johnson).

Anyway, the aim of the first judging round is to select a list of potential winners, national and regional, based on the written entry forms.

The next stage of the judging process involves visits to our preferred candidates, 12-15 pubs scattered around the country. The five finalists will be announced in August and the winner will be revealed at the Great British Pub Awards dinner in London in September.

I've seen some of the written entries and I've been struck by the effort that has been made to accommodate smokers so they don't feel "ostracised" (as one landlord out it) from the rest of the pub.

Branded ceramic ashtrays, mosaic tables, wicker chairs and smoking memorabilia are just some of the attractions, but the most important (apart from blankets and heaters!) is accessibility.

I was struck too by a very British sense of humour. One pub has a series of hand-painted signs that read: 'Please feel free to use ashtrays once the floor is full', 'Please don't put cigarette ends on the floor as they might burn the hands and feet of customers leaving'.

Another features a notice that reads:

This smoking cabin was built by three brave cowboys in the year of our Lord 2010. Despite it being the coldest December ever these brave souls worked on regardless. They had no design and no plans. They just made it up as they went along and with total disregard for health and safety. They were too cold to feel any pain and lots of blood dripped on to the white snow. So please honour their sacrifice and use the ashtrays. I am sure that you will remember them every time that you light up and also when cold water from the terrible roof runs down your neck.

I'm not sure if this is a recommendation for Best Smoking Area but it made me laugh.


Wizards of Oz - Big Tobacco fights back

Imperial warns of ‘nanny state’:

Imperial Tobacco has today launched a high-profile national advertising campaign in Australia to warn of the dangers of plain packaging. The Australian government is pushing ahead with legislation to force tobacco products to be sold in generic packaging by July 2012.

Imperial’s ad campaign was unveiled at a press conference in Canberra hosted by Wayne Merrett, General Manager Australasia. The TV, radio and newspaper ads warn of ‘Nanny State’ legislation that erodes adult choice and sets a dangerous precedent for other products, such as alcohol and fast food.

A website for consumers NoNannyState has also been launched.

Full press release on the Forest website: Imperial warns of "nanny state".

The move follows an initiative by Philip Morris, also in Australia. In April PMI launched a website, I Deserve To Be Heard, which was described in The Age:

Tobacco giant Philip Morris has launched a website calling on smokers to unite and flex their political muscle over tough federal government regulations.

The online campaign comes as the tobacco industry ramps up opposition to a government plan for cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging from next year.

Philip Morris’s new website ... claims smokers are under constant attack from a ”nanny state” determined to raise taxes and ban smoking in public spaces, such as beaches and city malls.

See also: Australia – the world’s number one nanny state (Chris Snowdon, The Free Society)


Is smoking good for you?

Another busy week so blogging may be light.

It's the third of our Voices of Freedom series of debates tomorrow and this time we're discussing 'Risk and the Pursuit of Happiness: is smoking, drinking, gambling good for you?'.

Chaired by Angela Harbutt of Liberal Vision, the discussion will feature Dr Patrick Basham (Democracy Institute), Mark Littlewood (IEA), cigar consultant Simon Chase and gambling addict Jake Brindell.

Venue: IEA, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster
Drinks from 6.15pm, discussion from 7.00pm.

'Is smoking good for you?' is a question I thought readers of Taking Liberties might like to answer, especially if you can't attend the actual event.

We know about the potential health risks but David Hockney, for example, has often argued that smoking is good for his mental health. What about you? And is smoking good for you in other ways?

And what about drinking? Or indeed gambling.

I will forward your comments to the chairman, Angela Harbutt, who may be able to include them in the discussion.


Smoking ban: opposition "orchestrated" by tobacco industry

It's been a busy week so I'm catching up.

On Monday Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, called for Scotland to "think European" on the smoking ban.

Writing in the Edinburgh Evening News, Waterson said:

When smoking was banned indoors, we were told that this was a sign of a brave new Scotland that was leading Europe. Most other countries didn't agree. In the EU, only the UK and Ireland, among the cold rainy countries of the north, have such severe bans.

In the south, countries such as Greece, Spain and Cyprus have followed suit - but what's the problem with smoking outside in lands of almost permanent sunshine and balmy evenings (even if the bans are enforced)?

Most countries, however, chose a middle path between a total ban and allowing smoking everywhere. These countries seem to have balanced any potential improvement in public health against the very real threat to those wonderful social and community centres, therapy providers, and entertainment hubs we call pubs.

They have considered how to prevent staff from being exposed to smoke and come up with the wonderful idea of smoking rooms - which are quite separate from the rest of the bar. They have even thought about bars that are owner-operated and so have no members of staff who could be 'involuntarily' exposed to tobacco smoke - and have exempted them.

Some countries, such as France, have allowed new smoking spaces to be built in the grounds, or even housed in tents. In other words, they have been flexible - and they have saved hundreds and thousands of pubs, bars and cafes from going bust.

Full article: Ban's left our pubs gasping for breath.

Today Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, has responded by trotting out all the usual nonsense. I'm surprised she can keep a straight face but the likes of Duffy aren't exactly known for their sense of humour.

She writes:

As well as being widely supported in terms of both public opinion and compliance, Scotland's smoke-free legislation has delivered major and proven health benefits.

Research studies have shown reported improvements in bar workers' health and a 17 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome.

There's evidence of children's exposure being reduced as well as that of non-smoking adults, and of an 18 per cent reduction in child asthma admissions to hospital.

I fail to understand how banning smoking in pubs and bars, especially traditional boozers where children are rarely if ever present, can be responsible for a reduction in children's exposure to tobacco smoke or an "18 per cent reduction in child asthma admissions to hospital".

As for the "17 per cent reduction in hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome", that claim was shown to be rubbish years ago. (See Has the smoking ban reduced heart attacks?, The Spectator, October 31, 2007).

Pursing her lips in righteous indignation, Duffy then comments:

It seems strange that Paul Waterson, who heard the evidence put to parliament and who sits on the ministerial group on tobacco, remains confused about the real health dangers of breathing tobacco smoke.

Perhaps he has been unduly swayed by a recent campaign orchestrated by the tobacco industry and timed for the run up to the July anniversary of smoke-free legislation in England, aimed at amending the Westminster smoking ban.

I think she means this so as director of the campaign I shall respond in my normal (delightfully polite) manner.

Does Sheila Duffy think the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Working Men's Clubs and Institute Union are stupid or easily led? If she does, more fool her.

I've known Paul Waterson for several years and he's no patsy, believe me. Likewise Mick McGlasham, a former miner, and his colleagues at the CIU. These guys do what they think is right for their members. Stooges of Big Tobacco? I don't think so.

It's quite humbling to meet a man like McGlasham and witness his efforts to keep Britain's working men's clubs in business. Then again, I don't think Duffy does humble. It's her way or no way and to hell with the consequences.

Frankly, she should get out a bit more and experience the real world. I looked in vain for her at the CIU Annual Meeting in Blackpool in April. I don't think she was there. Pity. She might have learned something.

The simple truth is this. If the smoking ban has been such a great success and has had so little impact on Britain's pubs and clubs, no amount of "orchestration" would encourage the SLTA or the CIU to call for a change.

My guess is that they would either say nothing or they would state that they are happy with the ban and see no reason to amend it.

But that hasn't happened. Why? Because for thousands of pubs and clubs, many more bar staff, and hundreds of local communities, the smoking ban has been a disaster.

I don't deny that Forest has a leading role in the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign, but I'd like to see evidence that the campaign is "orchestrated by the tobacco industry". (Sorry, I forgot. Tobacco control doesn't do evidence. Just smears and innuendo.)

Anyway, the accusation is a bit rich coming from a member of the multi-million pound tobacco control movement, which is routinely awarded huge sums of public money which it then uses to lobby government (see Government lobbying government, January 2011).

Now that's what I call orchestration.

Oh, and lest we forget, ASH Scotland alone has almost 30 employees on their publicly-funded payroll.

Full article: Ban reversal would be toxic. Worth commenting, I think.