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What do ASH and Left Foot Forward have in common?

I have just read an article by Martin Dockrell of Action on Smoking and Health.

It's entitled Is Big Tobacco blowing smoke in Cameron’s eyes? and it appears on the "number one left-wing blog" Left Foot Forward.

I haven't got time to give it a proper fisking but I thought you'd like to know what ASH and Left Foot Forward have in common.

As you know, I don't like debates that feature only one side of an argument so we make it our business to embrace, if possible, all sides.

Sadly it's not always possible because the left, with few exceptions, refuse (or decline) to debate with us.

Last year I invited Will Straw, son of Jack Straw and the founder of Left Foot Forward, to take part in our 2010 Voices of Freedom series. To be fair he did reply but he wanted to be paid (he was the only person to raise the issue) and we didn't have a budget to pay speakers.

Will has since moved on to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), an influential left-wing think tank, so a couple of weeks ago I invited his successor to speak in the 2011 series.

I sent the invitation to two email addresses but no reply. Not a dicky bird.

What has this got to do with ASH? Well, a few weeks ago I invited to Deborah Arnott to speak alongside Peter Hitchens in our debate 'Civil liberties up in smoke: what are smokers' rights in a free society?'. I emailed Debs (who I have no personal animosity towards at all) and, like the editor of Left Foot Forward, she didn't even bother to reply.

This week, taking a different tack, I telephoned ASH with a view to inviting her colleague Martin Dockrell to speak in our next debate 'Risk and the pursuit of happiness: is smoking, drinking, gambling good for you?'

The person who answered the phone sounded like Deborah but wasn't. (They must be cloning little Deborahs.)

"This is Simon Clark from Forest," I said. "Can I speak to Martin Dockrell?"

Pause. Ten seconds later:

"He's in a meeting."

I left my number. "Can he call me back?"

Four days later I'm still waiting for that call. (Perhaps he was too busy writing for Left Foot Forward.)

PS. ASH and Left Foot Forward aren't the only lefties to decline our regular invitations to speak. The list is endless. But at least the likes of Polly Toynbee took the trouble to reply and decline gracefully.

As far as Debs and Dockrell are concerned, it's not just the refusal to debate I find depressing. It's the lack of class.


Review of the week

Headlines from the Forest website:

From The Free Society:

Quote of the week:

"The debates hosted by the IEA and the Free Society in Lord North Street are the stuff of Westminster legend."

Alex Deane, Bell Pottinger

See: A Golden Age For Think-Tanks (PR Week)

A few years ago Forest events were described by Pandora, the Independent's diarist, as "among the best in diary land".

Good to know that we have gone from "among the best" to "stuff of legend"!!


So much for free speech

"This public intellectual has no right to speak!"

Patrick Hayes witnesses a debate on arts funding with Professor A C Grayling. Article and exclusive photo on The Free Society.

Click here.


Sitting as dangerous as smoking

Well, that's me f***ed!

Full story here.


Latest news from The Free Society

Voices of Freedom, Smoke On The Water ...

Click here for our monthly newsletter.

To receive the newsletter direct to your inbox sign up here.

Hope to see some of you at tomorrow night's Voices of Freedom debate – 'Nudge and the Nanny State: how far should the state intervene in people’s lifestyle?'.

Chaired by Dolan Cummings (Manifesto Club), the event features Josie Appleton (director, Manifesto Club), Dr Alena Buyx (assistant director, Nuffield Council on Bioethics), Dr Steve Davies (education director, Institute of Economic Affairs), John Springford (Social Market Foundation) and economist Paul Ormerod who is currently writing a book, Beyond Nudge: Networks and Public Policy in the 21st Century.

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


Imperial Tobacco wins Forest plain English award

There are many things I like about my job. Writing submissions for 'public' consultations isn't one of them.

I've lost count of how many times we have responded to local, national or international 'consultations':

Consultation on Smoking in Public Places (Greater London Authority Smoking in Public Places Investigative Committee), Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control (Department of Health), Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill (SP Bill 22), Green Paper Consultation (Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: policy options at EU level) and many, many more.

Most recently we submitted a response to the Consultation on the Draft Tobacco Control Action Plan for Wales, despite the fact that Forest wasn't on the 'List of Consultees'. Nor was any other consumer organisation. Clearly, the consumer is not expected to have an opinion when it comes to tobacco control. You'll do as you're told, that seems to be the message.

Undeterred, we submitted our response anyway because it's important that we take every opportunity to get our message across. If we didn't we may as well pack up and go home. (And as someone else once said, this is a marathon not a sprint.)

Anyway, I was interested to read another submission to the same consultation.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (great title) is Imperial Tobacco's response to the Draft Tobacco Control Plan for Wales and I've singled it out because, unusually for such documents, it's written in plain English and it makes a point of standing up for the sorely neglected consumer.

Here's a taste:

The Government's tobacco control policies have never been subjected to proper evaluation. There is therefore no basis on which to claim that the decline in smoking rates is a direct result of [previous] policies ...

The Plan contains multiple references to unelected anti-smoker groups, indicating an alarming level of undue influence on policy formulation and implementation. For example, ASH Wales are featured no less than 39 times in the 45-page Plan. Such levels of influence from vested interest groups invariably lead to unrealistic, unachievable and ineffective policies ...

Rather than talking up what it sees as the benefits of the smoking ban, we would ask the Government to be more forthcoming in its Plan about the significant unintended consequences, in particular the devastating impact that it has on local community pubs. It is now beyond all reasonable doubt that the smoking ban has had the biggest single impact on accelerating pub closures in the UK since 2007. This provides a stark warning to those considering increasing smoking restrictions in and around pubs ...

Government has no mandate to regulate the private lives of adults who have chosen to use a legitimate product. Furthermore, the evidential base for the introduction of invasive legislation is often absent or highly flawed. For example, one report that was extensively recycled in the media claimed that second-hand smoke was "23 times more toxic in a vehicle than in a home". Such claims are without any substance and have been roundly refuted by the evidence.

The use of the term 'smoke-free' is a deliberate attempt to play down the real intention of the introduction of more restrictions and bans. More bans amount to more restrictions on personal freedoms ... Denormalisation is not a strategy that is pursued in other public areas as it has been shown to be ineffective and counter-productive, alienating those whom policy-makers are trying to influence.

You can download The Good, the Bad and the Ugly here. Definitely worth a read.


Smoking and pregnancy on Five Live tonight

Got a call this afternoon from the Stephen Nolan Show on Five Live.

They want to talk about women smoking during pregnancy. It follows a story in today's papers about former EastEnders actress Hannah Waterman who is "seven months pregnant but can't stop smoking".

I said I was happy to do tonight's programme but I suggested the names of a couple of people who I felt could speak with greater authority on the subject, not least because they are women who smoke and have children.

One of them is Pat Nurse.

Coincidentally Pat deleted her blog Tea and Cigarettes this weekend. I understand her reasons for doing so - although I reject strongly her recent and protracted criticism of our Voices of Freedom event with Peter Hitchens - but I know she will be a passionate and articulate speaker, which is why I recommended her.

I understand she will be on after 11.00pm. Worth staying up for.


Is the iPad the greatest thing ever?

Absolutely loving my shiny new iPad.

Screen is crystal clear and it's a joy to use the touchscreen keyboard. The iPhone, in contrast, can be a bit fiddly simply because it's so much smaller.

Operating system is lightning fast. Only problem is the broadband speed in my neck of the woods. We're so far from the telephone exchange that a tortoise could deliver a faster service.

I've hardly downloaded any apps on to my iPhone. Couldn't see the point of them. Now I can. The larger screen makes all the difference. I've just downloaded The Times app (free for the first month) and it looks fabulous. I shall never buy the print version again.

Can't decide whether to download the Telegraph app - £9.99 per month. I buy the Telegraph every day and I like the fact that it's a broadsheet. Difficult to read on the train, though, so perhaps I will subscribe to the electronic version.

I may even download an e-book using iBooks or the Kindle app. Never thought I'd say that. I'm a complete Luddite when it comes to that sort of thing but I can totally understand the appeal of not having to carry around several books, especially on holiday. The iPad is the weight of one large paperback so it makes complete sense.

Minutes before writing this I discovered that Squarespace, who host this blog, also have an app. I didn't think that blogging could get any easier until I downloaded it.

Just noticed too that the iPad hardly heats up at all, unlike a laptop.

Seriously, this is the greatest thing. Ever.