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Two good reasons to change the licensing laws

I've had time to think these past few days.

First there was the eight-hour round trip to Blackpool. Then there were two more car journeys, 90 minutes each way, to and from Heathrow, and the flight to Vienna (although I spent most of that reading Brian Moore's autobiography Beware Of The Dog).

When I wasn't reading I was thinking about the Clubs & Institute Union and the difficult if not impossible task of reviving the fortunes of working mens' clubs.

I've also been thinking about the issue of teenagers and alcohol.

Personally, I don't have a problem with teenagers drinking alcohol in moderation. Like me, I'm sure many of you were given the odd glass of wine or beer at home or perhaps you slipped into a pub with your friends and bought one or two pints of beer, a vodka orange, or even a Bacardi and coke. At the age of 14 I was a Tartan Special man, sometimes Newcastle Brown. (Don't worry, my taste buds improved, eventually.)

We didn't go into pubs very often but we knew the ones where we could get served and I don't remember anyone getting drunk for three simple reasons: the landlord wouldn't have allowed it, we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves, and we didn't have the money.

We were in the pub – that was good enough for us. In fact, the only time we did get drunk was at parties in other people's homes when their parents were away and we were unsupervised.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds are going to drink anyway and it's better for them to drink in a controlled environment than in the street or a nearby park.

So how's this for an idea – change the licensing laws so that private members' clubs can apply for a licence to serve alcohol to anyone aged 16+. Suddenly, they would seem a whole lot more relevant and enticing to younger people.

Pubs will object (level playing field and all that) and health campaigners will have a heart attack, but I think it's a way to revive our community clubs and give children aged 16-18 an acceptable place to drink, other than the home. Who knows, they may even develop a lifelong commitment to the place.

It will never happen, I know that, but as a parent I would take comfort from the fact that my children were learning to drink in safe, sociable surroundings.

Tom Miers has just written an article for The Free Society on a related issue. See: The government's licensing laws treat us all like children


Austrian Tobacco Forum 2011

Guest post by Dave Atherton:

Yes, the unholy trinity of Clark, Snowdon and Atherton were in Austria for the Tabakforum Osterriech 2011 (Austrian Tobacco Forum) in Altengbach, 35kms outside Vienna. I was looking for Julie Andrews to descend from the hills and waiters in lederhosen, so picturesque were the wooded hillsides.

The main purpose of the forum was a discussion with a range of interested parties from Austria and Germany how to fight the smoking ban mania which is now engulfing Europe. (I see Poland has succumbed to a ban and Hungary will be joining them soon.)

Walking into the hotel on Sunday I found the bar and restaurant were adjacent to reception. There were spherical glass implements on all the tables and I had to be reminded they were in fact ashtrays. Like a boy who has been promised a day out at Alton Towers, a visit to the bar was a must and even at dinner no-one minded if you smoked. There was a non-smoking section anyway, strangely not quite full.

The main business was on Monday and after the introductions by the excellent Klaus Fischer it was into the speeches. The first person to speak was Walter Wippersberg, an Austrian professor of film, who went into the history of smoking bans and associated authoritarianism – and, yes, he did mention the war.

I was the second speaker and covered the devastation of the hospitality trade in the UK, the science of passive smoking and the European Union dimension. Then it the turn of my old friend from Munich, Bodo Meinsen, who had invited me to Bavaria to speak six months ago. Chris Snowdon was excellent on the similarities of tobacco control with alcohol prohibition in the USA. Simon wrapped things up with a few words about Forest and the need to support the consumer.

The conference was well-timed. Anti-smoking campaigners in Austria are said to be planning a petition calling for a comprehensive smoking ban. They need 100,000 signatures for the Government to consider it. The good news is that before Christmas tobacconists in Austria organised their own petition (in response to the EU's Tobacco Product Directive). Out of a population of eight million, one million Austrians signed it.

If only consumers in the UK were equally motivated.

PS. Thanks to Dave for the above post. What he doesn't mention is that he missed not only his original flight to Vienna but there was a problem with his return flight too.

Update – Dave writes:

The Tube was playing up on Sunday so I missed my flight and had to go by British Airways.

I got to the airport in time on Tuesday after getting up at 4.00am. My lady driver was obviously taught by Nicky Lauder. She makes me look slow.

As I had missed the Austrian Airways flight on Sunday they cancelled my return flight and I had to book a new flight via EasyJet.

I can laugh now but not yesterday.


From Austria with love

Just back from Austria.

Further to my previous post I now have a complete set of cigarette packs featuring the following slogans: 'I Love Austria', 'I Love Nature', 'I Love Snow', 'I Love Mountains' and 'I Love Sunshine'. Imagine something similar in Britain. (No, nor can I.) The only thing missing is 'I Love Freedom'.

If you've never been to Vienna I strongly recommend it, if only for the legendary coffee houses. This time yesterday I was enjoying breakfast – or should I say frühstück – at Café Landtmann which is said to have been popular with Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster and Paul McCartney.

According to their website, "The Café Landtmann offers a big non-smoking area as well as large facilities for our guests who wish to smoke". We were sitting in what appeared to be the largest indoor area and as far I could tell there was an ashtray at every table allowing customers to eat, drink and smoke at the same time. A more civilised way to start the day I cannot imagine.

Café Landtmann wasn't the first coffee house I visited yesterday and smoking was allowed in every one. An increasing number of Viennese restaurants ban smoking indoors but not the one where I had lunch, so everyone has a choice, including staff.

Talking of food, Austrians love their meat. I feel like I've eaten an entire cow over the past two days. They like their food battered too, and I don't mean grievous bodily harm. At lunch on Monday even the cauliflower was deep fried.

Anyway, I'm about to hand you over to Dave Atherton who has written a guest post about the one-day conference we attended on Monday. It took place at Hotel Lengbachhof in Altlengbach, a short drive from Vienna and was organised by Verband der Cigarren und Pfeifenfachhändler Österreichs (VCPÖ).

And, yes, enquiries revealed that Hotel Lengbachhof was chosen not just for its conference facilities but because delegates could smoke inside the hotel in comfortable smoking areas and even in the restaurant (which is no longer the case in many Viennese hotels).

Anyway, I've thoroughly enjoyed the past few days. Austria? I'll be back.


Chris, Dave, the Danube and me

Currently in a Viennese bar overlooking the Danube.

Three hours ago I was in another bar, in a hotel some kilometres outside Vienna, with a certain Dave Atherton. Chris Snowdon - another name familiar to readers of this blog - was in the vicinity too, threatening to visit the hotel sauna.

What are we doing in Austria? I will reveal all on Wednesday when I get back. I have invited Dave to write a guest post, and Chris will be blogging too, I'm sure.

I should mention that people are smoking (shock horror) in the bar where I am currently sitting, just as they were in the hotel restaurant last night. Writing as a non-smoker, I genuinely consider it to be the height of civility and quite wonderful to behold. I can't understand why Britain doesn't try it.

Sadly, if the tobacco control movement has its way, the unsuspecting Austrians around me could lose this precious freedom in the near future if a referendum goes against them. We must do everything we can to stop it happening.


The smell of freedom

Just back from a very educational trip to Blackpool.

I was a guest of the Clubs & Institute Union (CIU) which represents working mens' clubs and was founded in 1862. On Friday night we gathered at Blackpool Football Club and had dinner in a modern function room overlooking the pitch.

Yesterday I was a speaker at the CIU's annual meeting in the Opera House, close to the Promenade and Blackpool Tower. I talked about the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, our aims and objectives, and how members of the CIU can help.

I confessed that I don't know very much about working mens' clubs but I do know that they are the heart of many local communities, they have been in long term decline, and the smoking ban has accelerated that decline. I promised to do everything we can to help them, and I hoped that in return they can help us.

I was number seven on the agenda, sandwiched between the Presentation of Club Management Diploma to 1st Prize Winner and Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, who gave a rousing speech about his childhood, his council house roots, and the value he places on working mens' clubs. Brian appealed for the CIU to work with local pubs, pointing out that issues likes the smoking ban affects both pubs and clubs.

Brian and I were invited to sit on the stage alongside the National Executive Committee. I sat next to David Clelland, the former Labour MP who helped launch the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign. David is now doing some consultancy work for the CIU.

There was a real sense of frustration from some speakers about the smoking ban – and bureaucracy in general – that is hastening the end of many clubs, but the meeting was dominated by financial matters and the need to address some very urgent problems.

It was the first union meeting I have attended (I felt like a member of the Politburo as I sat on stage!) but I felt enormous warmth and a great sense of camararderie. Society has changed and working mens' clubs have been a victim of that change, but there is no sense in hastening their demise with unnecessary and petty legislation.

Credit, btw, to the mayor of Blackpool, who looked like a slightly older version of Frank Skinner and had a similar engaging sense of humour. He not only turned up for dinner on Friday, he also made an appearance at the CIU's annual meeting. Now that's what I call dedication.

Anyway, I am going away again on business, this time abroad and for three days. I'll post when I can. In the meantime you might like to read an article by Tom Miers on The Free Society website. Tom is currently on holiday in France – he travelled via Holland and Belgium – and is relishing what he calls "the more adult approach to smoking on the Continent".

See: The heady scent of freedom


Review of the week


Blackpool beckons

Travelling to Blackpool later today.

I'm having dinner tonight at Blackpool Football Club with several hundred members of the Working Mens Clubs & Institute Union (CIU).

Tomorrow, wearing my Save Our Pubs & Clubs hat, I'm giving a short speech at the CIU's Annual Meeting at the Opera House in the famous Winter Gardens.

I'm told there will be 900 members at the Annual Meeting. I'll be asking them to become active supporters of our campaign and contact their member of parliament. (Note: I had a call only last week from an MP who stressed the importance of of writing letters. If MPs don't hear from constituents about a certain issue they assume it's not important.)

One MP who doesn't need any persuading to change the smoking ban is Brian Binley, Conservative MP for Northampton South. Brian is another guest of the CIU tonight. In fact, I think we're on the same table.

PS. I'll also be inviting branch secretaries and other members of the CIU to join us at a special event we are organising in June. Can't say more just yet but watch this space.


How healthy do you feel?

I've yet to read, complete or return my UK census form.

I don't know if ours is the same, but writing on the Forest Eireann blog today John Mallom points out that a new question in the Irish census reads: 'How healthy are you?'.

John suggests a different question. 'How healthy do you feel?'.

If you're feeling up to it you can respond here.