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More spin and bluster from ASH

Today I've been brainstorming in a rather beautiful part of the country.

Just got home and what do I find? Like her colleague Martin Dockrell last week, Amanda Sandford of ASH has written an article for the leading left-wing blog Left Foot Forward: Happy smoking ban day everybody! Don’t believe big tobacco’s corporate spin

You may wish to comment.

Earlier today ASH issued this press release. I think we may have ruffled some feathers.


David Hockney lights up the House of Commons

Where to begin?

Yesterday's reception for the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign at the House of Commons went as well as we could have hoped. Better, actually.

It wasn't perfect. Thirty-five parliamentarians registered to attend but I'm not sure how many turned up. There was a debate in the chamber that kept several MPs away (including my own who nevertheless sent a member of staff to say hello). In addition we were competing with a garden party at Buckingham Palace and some of our guests were double-booked. (Guess which event they chose to attend?!) In several instances they did however send a researcher to represent them.

Of the 300 people who pre-registered at least 200 – possibly more – joined us in the Terrace Pavilion. (If you're wondering what happened to the rest, this is quite normal for a 'freebie' event. Experience has taught me that around two-thirds of people who register will turn up on the day. The capacity of the Pavilion is 200 standing so the numbers were just right.)

At one point, looking at the queue at the Cromwell Green entrance and knowing how long it can take to get through security, I was concerned that some people might not make it in time. I needn't have worried. A trickle of guests became a flood and soon the Terrace, in particular, was full of people talking, drinking and (what else?) smoking.

Lots of familiar faces – Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes), Eamonn Butler (Adam Smith Institute), Dan Hamilton (Big Brother Watch), Alex Deane (formerly Big Brother Watch), Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Angela Harbutt (Liberal Vision), Nick Hogan, Lembit Opik – and some less familiar ones including publicans and members of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union. (The arrival on College Green of the CIU's National Executive Committee reminded me of a scene from The Godfather.)

The big news is that David Hockney turned up. We sent him an invitation a couple of weeks ago but we only got a call yesterday morning to say that he was coming. At 4.40 we were told he was "in the building" and at 4.50 there he was, as large as life, standing next to me as our hosts – Greg Knight, Roger Godsiff and John Hemming – launched into their speeches.

Mick McGlasham, general secretary of the CIU, also spoke but it was David who got the largest cheer and, as ever, he didn't disappoint. In a short but humorous speech he spoke of being "angry" and attacked the politicians who are turning Britain into a "mean-spirited" country. He had come, he said, because he "wanted to do his bit".

The BBC conducted interviews on the Terrace and we also had two camera crews of our own. (We've commissioned two videos of the event which should be ready next week.) Fingers crossed, there should also be a feature in the Independent to coincide with the anniversary of the smoking ban.

Finally, I was so busy I didn't speak to that many people so apologies if you were there and I didn't say hello. If you came, many thanks for making the effort. It was very much appreciated. Online activism is all well and good but the biggest statements are made in person.

See: Labour's ban comes home to roost (Guido Fawkes)
Pub smoking ban needs review says MP (The Daily Politics, BBC1)
MPs call for smokers to be allowed back into pubs (Birmingham Mail)
Campaign fighting for rethink over smoking ban (Bristol Evening Post)

Above: David Hockney (right) with The Rt Hon Greg Knight MP


Stick an exhaust pipe in your car, says doctor – it's safer than smoking

I got a call yesterday from the Press Association.

Delegates at the British Medical Association's annual conference in Cardiff had called for a blanket ban on smoking in cars (irrespective of whether children are present). What was Forest's response?

I said what I usually say (“A car is a private vehicle and an outright ban would be a gross intrusion" blah blah blah) but what struck me, when I read the reports this morning, was this comment by "public health doctor" Douglas Noble who told the conference:

“It would be safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car. A ban would protect non-smokers, particularly pregnant women and children."

Safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car?!!!

I'm no expert but, as I understand it, attaching a hose from your exhaust pipe and feeding it into the car is a very effective way to commit suicide. If Dr Noble is correct (and why wouldn't he be, he's a "public health doctor" for goodness sake), Britain's roads – in the Fifties and Sixties especially – would have been littered with the corpses of drivers (and their passengers) who expired at the wheel thanks to their suicidal habit of smoking while driving.

I know we have to put up with a lot of hyperbole and sometimes downright lies from anti-smoking activists, but is there no limit to which tobacco control advocates will sink when arguing their case?

See: Don't smoke and drive, say doctors calling for a ban (Daily Mirror)
Dangers of smoking in cars extremely damaging to health - say BMA (Wales Online)


Messages from absent friends - and even the BBC is interested!

Beautiful sunny day in London. Total contrast to yesterday.

The hotel where I stayed overnight has thoughtfully provided an iMac in every room and the broadband is lightning fast - well, lightning fast compared to the service at home.

In approximately eight hours we will be welcoming guests to the Save Our Pubs & Clubs reception at the House of Commons.

I don't want to tempt fate (people can be remarkably fickle) but the news is that the event is significantly over-subscribed. Almost 300 people have registered to attend. If they all turn up it's going to be a bit of a scrum, but rather that than no interest at all.

Anyway, it's going to be a pretty hectic day so excuse me if I don't blog. Full report to follow tomorrow.

In the meantime I will leave you with two messages that I have received from absent friends.

From Joe Jackson:

"Sorry I can't be with you today. I am in Berlin, where there is a choice of smoking and nonsmoking spaces, business is good, and everyone is happy. It really is time for the UK government to stop promoting fear and intolerance, stop blurring the line between public and private places, and let publicans set their own policies in their own pubs."

From Antony Worrall Thompson:

"I am sorry I can't be with you today as I'm on my way to catch a flight to Holland because they have seen sense and done a u-turn and amended their ban so they now allow single room bars to choose. At last, a sign of common sense! Let's hope more countries take this lead. It's all about choice - we don't need nannying - we're grown ups. Have great, productive event."

The BBC is reporting the event here: MPs campaign to relax smoking ban in pubs

See also: MPs join campaign to change smoking ban (Morning Advertiser)
Campaign fighting for rethink over smoking ban (Bristol Evening Post)

PS. Weather forecast isn't so good from mid afternoon. Fingers crossed!


Definition of a free society

Tonight is the last of the current Voices of Freedom debates:

To round things off, The Free Society and Liberty League UK present:

How does Britain rate in 2011?

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


Tom Miers (The Free Society)
Anton Howes (Liberty League)
Emma Boon (TaxPayers Alliance)
Andy Mayer (Liberal Vision)
Dennis Hayes (Academics for Academic Freedom)
Simon Richards (The Freedom Association)

Another full house is expected but we can squeeze in a few more. RSVP or telephone Nicky Shepherd 01223 370091.

PS. What's your definition of a free society? I'll read out the best ones.


From the mouths of publicans

Further to my post about the latest Save Our Pubs and Clubs report on the impact of the smoking ban, the London Evening Standard reported on Friday that:

More than 700 pubs in Greater London have closed since the start of the smoking ban, research reveals today ... Research by CR Consulting for the Save Our Pubs And Clubs campaign found 4,800 pubs had closed in England during the same period.

As usual, the British Beer and Pub Association poured cold water on the issue of the smoking ban:

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said a 35 per cent rise in beer duty over three years was the biggest issue. She said: "With more big rises planned, it is one area where the Government could make a big difference."

Full story here.

See also: Inner city pubs were hardest hit by smoking ban (Big Hospitality)

Meanwhile I received an interesting email last night from a publican who shall remain anonymous but he has good connections within the industry. He writes:

Like many publicans I sympathise with your views on the issues of the smoking ban. My pub has seen some fairly radical changes in clientele since the ban. Luckily for us we have some outdoor space and have managed to accommodate the upheaval but I know many have not been so fortunate.

I will be the first to admit that the smoking ban, supermarket pricing and tax have all had their role to play in a very turbulent and demanding time for pubs, but I see JD Wetherspoon and all the managed house groups seem to be fairing pretty well, with like for like profits increasing year on year and plans for expansion and development.

The one thing that differentiates the latter from the majority of pubs actually closing is the beer tie and with the tied tenanted model offering little in the way of tenant earnings sadly many have insufficient resources to weather the economic storm of the combined influences and a further downturn in turnover as a result.

The pub owning companies cure for this downturn in volume sales is to try and achieve similar returns from the dwindling customer base by increasing their prices to tenants, who in turn must pass it on to the customer and practically drive them away with a shi**y stick into the arms of those pesky supermarkets who rather inconveniently are passing on their discounts, achieved by their buying power, to their customers.

Be under no illusion, I believe as publicans we should have been offered an opportunity to offer smoking and non smoking areas, or even choose whether our pub was a smoke free or not venue, but with 2.3% of all tied tenanted pubs closing (660) as against 1.3% of free houses closing (300) – the latter includes wine bars and cafes – in the 12 months between Dec 09 and Dec 10, I think it's fair to say there is a pattern of closure reflecting tied pub profitability being at an all time low.

Update: Brigid Simmonds has declined our invitation to attend the Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons on Wednesday. No matter. There are lots of other people coming. I'm looking forward to it.


Welcome to the rat race

Had dinner with my friend Todd Buchholz on Wednesday.

I have known Todd since 1983 when we met at a conference in Washington. (I have told this story before so I won't bore you with it again.)

Todd – who lives in San Diego – often pops over because his eldest daughter is in her first year at Cambridge University. (In fact, this is Victoria's third year in Cambridge because she left home, aged 16, to spend two years at a sixth form college in the city.)

Anyway, Todd – who is the author of bestselling books New Ideas From Dead Economists and New Ideas From Dead CEOs – has a new book out and it's called Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race.

The book has attracted glowing reviews and inspired an article – Is stress good for you? – on the BBC website:

The lure of a better, simpler life in the country has grown ever more attractive as modern work has become more and more intense. Feeling tired and disillusioned? You need to sort out your work-life balance, take a holiday or find a less stressful job.

But such reactions are totally wrong, argues a controversial new book published in America. Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race argues that far from being ground down by pressure, we need stress to feel alive. It keeps our minds agile, makes us feel good about ourselves and helps us live longer.

By and large, I believe this to be true, although it would be nice to have the choice. Increasingly, few of us have that choice. There's not even the prospect of a comfortable retirement to look forward to. We just have to keep going until we fall off our perch.

Meanwhile, as I contemplate another weekend working around the clock to meet various deadlines, Todd has flown to Rome with his family and, as I write, is on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean.

Now that's what I call the rat race!!

See also: Kids' summer fun can prepare them for real life (CNN)


Review of the week