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Government to announce plans for plain packaging

I have just been interviewed by LBC on the subject of plain packaging.

If you haven't read today's papers you may be unaware that the Coalition Government is (allegedly) planning to use No Smoking Day on Wednesday to announce the introduction of plain packaging on tobacco products.

There may also be an announcement about Labour's tobacco display ban, which was opposed by both the Tories and Lib Dems in opposition but is still on the agenda.

According to the Independent on Sunday:

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has called several retail representative bodies, which are largely against the probable changes, to his office on Wednesday morning. They include the British Retail Consortium, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and the Association of Convenience Stores, the last of which represents more than 33,500 local shops.

Later that day, Mr Lansley is expected to confirm plans to stop businesses displaying tobacco in a move that critics believe will backfire and glamourise the industry for youngsters, as cigarettes will be seen as more illicit.

On plain packaging the Telegraph reports that:

All brands of cigarettes would be stripped of logos and colour schemes, leaving health warnings as the most prominent feature on the packet.

I am still gathering my thoughts on this extraordinary if not entirely unexpected development, but I wanted to publish this post as quickly as possible so you can add your own comments about plain packaging, in particular.

Apparently the Government sees plain packaging as a chance to "lead the way" in the war on tobacco.

"Leading the way" is becoming a nauseating mantra from the tobacco control lobby. Ireland "led the way" with its smoking ban; Scotland "led the way" when MSPs voted for a display ban; and last week the Welsh Assembly "led the way" on something else. (I've forgotten what it was - a week is a long time in politics - but tobacco was at the heart of it.)

The problem with "leading the way" is that there is no evidence that the plan will actually work. In this instance I have yet to meet a smoker who will quit because his regular brand loses its logo and colour scheme.

Nor will it stop teenagers smoking because there is little evidence that young people are tempted to smoke because of the "glitzy" packaging. If anything it will make smoking appear more illicit and, potentially, more attractive.

Looking at the wider picture, smokers are clearly persona non grata when it comes to David Cameron's Big Society. You won't be receiving an invitation to join the PM's great big social experiment. If you consume tobacco you can expect to be marginalised, stigmatised and denormalised until you learn to behave in a state-approved manner.

I will almost certainly be doing more interviews on the subject over the next few days so I would welcome some feedback.


The trouble with Facebook

I wasn't planning to write about this until my attention was drawn to an article on the Daily Mail website.

I should declare an interest, having been one of the first people to be added to the self-styled Colonel Gaddafi Support Group nine days ago.

No, I wasn't impressed.

Having received notification, a series of increasingly inane comments appeared in my inbox. From the group's creator, for example:

I have told the Colonel that he must open a Twitter account and start tweeting to the Libyans and the rest of the world. I do hope he can bring himself to trust me and listen to my well-meant advice.

As soon as I could I posted a message asking to be removed from the group. "I want nothing to do with it," I wrote, and I wasn't alone.

Andrew Neil commented: "How do I get out of this absurd group? Why is it possible u can be made a member without permission?"

Journalist Bel Mooney added: "I have nothing whatsoever to do with this and object to my name being anywhere near that of a murdering tyrant."

Broadcaster Fi Glover wrote: "Take me out of this group and get out of my inbox. You are driving me mad you silly prat."

The Spectator's Rod Liddle was even more forthright: "Grow up or fuck off" he wrote.

Those who wanted to leave the group were mocked:

"Uh oh. Mary Ann Sieghart is mad at me for adding her without asking first."

"Lighten the mood, Simon. Have a cig on me!"

"There is only one way of escaping, but if you cannot find a way of leaving you are trapped here FOREVER! MWAHAHAHA."


If we didn't find it funny we were accused of having no "sensayumah" (yawn).

The fact that the group's creator is/was a member of the BNP might explain our failure to see the funny side, but the principle goes deeper than that. If I want to join a group - any group - I'll make that decision for myself, thank you very much. I don't need someone else doing it for me.

PS. This week we have been inviting people to join The Free Society subscribers' list - not adding their names without permission. There's a big difference. If you would like to register your support please click here, but only if you really, really want to.


Tom Miers joins The Free Society

I am delighted to welcome a new recruit to the Forest family.

Tom Miers is joining us to work as commissioning editor for The Free Society. He will speak at various events and act as spokesman for TFS on a range of issues, including tobacco.

Tom is an independent public policy consultant with experience of the City, politics, journalism and business. Last year his Policy Exchange report The Devolution Distraction: How Scotland's Constitutional Obsession Leads to Bad Government was reported by the BBC, Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman, among others.

Tom's latest book, Democracy and the Fall of the West, co-written with Craig Smith, is described as follows:

Democracy is killing the West. That is the stunning conclusion of this book that tears apart the consensus underpinning modern political assumptions.

Democracy is held to solve one of the oldest puzzles of human social life: how do we ensure that our rulers have a legitimate mandate and rule in the interests of the whole community? We are supposedly now guided by institutions whose democratic mandate ensures that they will govern in a benign manner in the interests of all.

Democracy and the Fall of the West challenges that assumption by drawing on an alternative theory about the nature of modern democracy and its impact on Western society. It argues that the secret of the West's success is not democracy, but liberalism.

Writing for The Free Society today, Tom asks: "Do we live in a free society? This question is becoming ever harder to answer." Defining the role of the state and the importance of individual liberty in a free society, he says:

For me, the keystone of our society is that individuals must be able to live their lives in a way that is immune from arbitrary intervention by the state. So long as we pursue our aims and seek happiness without harming others, we should be left in peace. Indeed, the role of the state is to protect that private sphere from outside intervention, not to join those seeking to break into it.

This – the liberty of the individual – is what sets Western society apart from the tyrannies of the past and the despots of the present. It is also the key to our success. From individual freedom stems secure property, market exchange, intellectual freedom, and hence material prosperity, artistic endeavour and the ability to order our lives in a way that best suits our characters, tastes and abilities.

These days there is an alarming trend for government to intervene in one important aspect of this – the decisions we make on our lifestyles. The Big State is becoming increasingly concerned that we don’t know what’s good for us, and is ever more willing to force us to follow its own version of the path to happiness.

The implications of this go way beyond whether people smoke or drink or eat too much. This is why The Free Society is such an important campaigning unit in the war of ideas. Over the next weeks and months we will explore not just the practical absurdities of government restrictions on lifestyle choices, but the wider consequences for society of such intervention.

Full article: Definition of a free society

To register your support for The Free Society and receive occasional e-bulletins please click here. Under Tom's management the website will be updated most days. We are also working on our 2011 series of events which will be announced shortly.


Breast cancer and passive smoking: evidence not conclusive, says BMJ

Passive smoking 'raises breast cancer risk' reports BBC News today.

Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke as a child or adult appears to increase a woman's risk of breast cancer, experts say.

The story, based on a study published by the BMJ (Association of active and passive smoking with risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women) is reported worldwide with similar headlines:

Breast cancer risk rises with 2nd-hand smoke (CBC)
Smoking ups breast cancer risk in women (Times of India)
Cancer risk for postmenopausal smokers (Irish Health)
Women who smoke at ANY stage of their live 'are more likely to get breast cancer' (Daily Mail)

But wait, what's this? According to the British Medical Journal:

Postmenopausal women who smoke or used to smoke have an up to 16% higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who have never smoked, according to this prospective cohort study. It also suggests an association between passive smoking and increased risk of breast cancer. An accompanying editorial says that the study supports the hypothesis that smoking increases the risk of breast cancer, in particular when the habit starts early in life. But the data need to placed in the context of the overall evidence, some of which found no increase in risk. And the evidence on secondhand smoke is not conclusive.

Let me repeat that final sentence:

The data need to placed in the context of the overall evidence, some of which found no increase in risk. And the evidence on secondhand smoke is not conclusive.

So, not much of a story, then.

H/T Chris Snowdon who will address this study on his blog shortly.

Update: Passive smoking and breast cancer (Velvet Glove Iron Fist)


Ban smoking in cars, says BLF

Here's the "story" I promised you, courtesy of the British Lung Foundation:

Children from across the UK will visit parliament today to present a petition to the Government calling for an end to smoking in cars.

To coincide with today’s presentation, the BLF have released new research that reveals over half (51%) of eight to 15 years old have been in a car when someone has been smoking. The research also showed that eighty-six per cent of children across the UK want people to stop smoking when they are in the car.

The children will represent the new schools initiative from the British Lung Foundation which has been working across England to empower children and give them a voice to help change legislation.

Medical evidence shows that smoking near children can cause a range of respiratory illness, such as bronchitis and pneumonia and increases their risk of getting cancer as adults. Over 300,000 children in the UK present passive smoking related illnesses to their GP every year.

To highlight the huge health risks posed when children are exposed to cigarette smoke in cars, 25 campaign champions from across the UK, have travelled to London today to hand over the BLF petition which is signed by over 15,000 people.

The findings are particularly worrying given previous research showing that smoking just one cigarette in the car, even with the window open, creates a greater concentration of second-hand smoke than a whole evening's smoking in a pub or a bar.

I don't know about you, but I'm a bit uneasy about children "from across the UK" being used for a PR stunt like this, and I'm curious to know how they were recruited.

Although I am about to do a few local radio interviews on the subject, I can't find a single press report about the BLF's "new research". Instead, the media seems rather more interested in the claim that Passive smoking 'raises breast cancer risk' (BBC News).

Then again, Reuters reports that Being too fat raises risk of deadly breast cancer.


Hold the front page

Very busy this week, hence the lack of posts.

Lots to report but some of it is currently confidential or there are still details to be ironed out and confirmed.

I will however have an announcement to make tomorrow concerning the The Free Society. And, yes, it's good news.

Before that I shall be commenting on a report about smoking in cars. I have just recorded an interview for BBC Radio Lincolnshire and I am booked to appear on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire at 7.35 and BBC Radio Merseyside at 9.10.

The "story" is embargoed until midnight tonight, otherwise I would share it with you now. Bet you can't wait.


Location, location, location

Even on holiday I am never more than a phone call away from work.

On Thursday the Welsh Assembly announced Bold plans to slash number of Welsh smokers by a third. The quote I gave the Western Mail was composed at Harthill Services on the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Earlier, I dictated a response to an enquiry from BBC Wales (Welsh Assembly Government's 'smoke-free society' aim) from a multi-storey car park off Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

Car parks and motorway service stations feature quite a lot in my 'career'. Some years ago, during another short break in Scotland, I had to stop at Kinross Services in Fife to respond to a breaking news story. Two hours later I was still there, taking one call after another, while my family sat and simmered in the car.

The most spectacular location for a holiday 'interruption' was Cat Bells overlooking Derwentwater in the Lake District. I was halfway up this famous fell when my phone rang and I was asked to provide a quote, quite literally, on the hoof. (At least it gave me the chance to sit down and take a breather.)

I've been interviewed while driving off ferries and sitting in airport lounges, but always fully clothed - unlike a former director of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association who told me that he once conducted an interview with the Scotsman whilst standing on the balcony of his Mediterranean villa stark naked.

Now there's a picture I shall take to my grave.


From your royal correspondent

Just back from four stress-free days in Scotland. Bliss.

On Thursday morning we went to the Glasgow Film Theatre to see a "screwball comedy" starring James Stewart and Ginger Rogers. Visiting the GFT is like stepping back in time, but in a good way. Within its wood-panelled walls are the most wonderful cinema and cafe that evoke the golden age of film. I can't recommend it highly enough.

On Friday we were in St Andrews. By coincidence Prince William and Kate Middleton were there too. Anyway, we were driving past my old school playing fields on the edge of town when we were held up by a police road block and signs that read 'Royal Visit'.

We had been sitting in a motionless queue of cars for perhaps ten minutes when a small cavalcade of vehicles, led by a police motorcyclist and a black Range Rover, passed in the opposite direction. And yes, in the Range Rover sat Kate and William, smiling broadly, directly at us, as we waved to them.

A few hours later, following a leisurely lunch at a restaurant overlooking St Andrews Bay, we were strolling along Market Street when I was stopped by a film crew. Would I mind answering some questions about the monarchy and the young couple in particular?

Would I mind?! Is the Pope Protestant?

The next minute I was launching into a short spiel. The crew looked at each other and laughed. "Do you do this for a living?" asked one.

No, but I'm open to offers ...