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Vice squad

New post by Tom Miers on The Free Society:

There’s something rather comforting about the thought of our leaders indulging in a little vice. It makes them somehow more human, more tangible. Once upon a time Clegg, Cameron, Blair, Obama, all of them dared to light up for the first time, perhaps disregarding the rules of household or school, trying out something, well, slightly naughty.

Full post: Think how much better off we'd be if our political leaders indulged in a few vices.


No rest for the wicked

Just back from London where I was interviewed by Five Live Drive and Channel 4 News.

Earlier I gave interviews on behalf of Forest to BBC Radio Sussex, Radio Devon, Radio Cambridgeshire, Radio Solent, Radio Sheffield and Radio Essex.

Meanwhile, representing The Free Society, my colleague Tom Miers was interviewed by Radio Cumbria, Radio Merseyside and Radio Lincolnshire.

I'd sleep well tonight ... if I didn't have to get up at 3.30 to drive to Stansted to catch an early morning (6.20) flight to Cork.

There really is no rest for the wicked.


That tobacco control plan in full

The Department of Health has now released its Tobacco Control Plan.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has confirmed plans to implement Labour legislation to ban the display of tobacco in shops.

Retailers will be given additional time to prepare. The regulations will now begin on 6 April 2012 for large stores and 6 April 2015 for all other shops.

On plain packaging, "the Government has an open mind and wants to hear views". There will be a consultation and an "assessment of the impact" before the end of 2011.

Quoting directly from the written statement, the Tobacco Control Plan has three "national ambitions" to reduce smoking rates in England by the end of 2015:

  • From 21.2 per cent to 18.5 per cent or less among adults
  • From 15 per cent to 12 per cent or less among 15 year olds, and
  • From 14 per cent to 11 per cent or less among pregnant mothers

"These ambitions represent reductions in smoking rates that exceed the reductions we have seen in the past five years."

The Government has set out key actions in the following six areas:

  • stopping the promotion of tobacco;
  • making tobacco less affordable;
  • effective regulation of tobacco products;
  • helping tobacco users to quit;
  • reducing exposure to secondhand smoke; and
  • effective communications for tobacco control.

Full Government statement here.

See also: Forest attacks tobacco control plans (press release),
Brand ban no way to a Big Society (Tom Miers, The Free Society)


Have the Tories misread support for tobacco control?

However depressing today's Government announcement may be, there is some good news.

Long gone, for example, are the days when it felt as though Forest was fighting a lone battle against the anti-smoking movement.

For the first time I can ever remember, there is a genuine coalition of forces lined up against against excessive tobacco control, as a letter in today's Daily Telegraph reveals:

Enemies of enterprise seek controls on tobacco

SIR – Today, smokers are asked to observe No Smoking Day. They may also finally get to hear Government proposals that could ban the display of tobacco products in retail outlets, and only allow tobacco to be sold in plain, state-prescribed packaging.

If the Coalition is committed to defeating the enemies of enterprise, as David Cameron, the Prime Minister, claims, a good start would be to call a halt to the relentless campaign to "denormalise” smoking through an endless barrage of new controls, directives and diktats.

Mr Cameron claimed last weekend that he would wage war on bureaucrats who concoct ridiculous rules and regulations. Banning the branding of tobacco products or making cigarettes an under-the-counter product would be yet another victory for these very bureaucrats. Life would become more difficult for newsagents and tobacconists and easier for the providers of illicit tobacco to pass off their wares as legitimate.

We cannot yet be sure whether the Prime Minister’s commitment to combating regulation and red tape is truly serious. If his Government now unveils proposals to further restrict the sale and purchase of tobacco, it will be a clear sign that his new commitment to enterprise is little more than political rhetoric.

Patrick Basham, Director, Democracy Institute
Dr Eamonn Butler, Director, Adam Smith Institute
Donna Edmunds, Director of Research, Progressive Vision
Dr Helen Evans, Director, Nurses for Reform
Dr Tim Evans, Chairman, Economic Policy Centre
Daniel Hamilton, Director, Big Brother Watch
Angela Harbutt, Executive Director, Liberal Vision
Tim Knox, Acting Director, Centre for Policy Studies
Mark Littlewood, Director General, IEA
Matthew Sinclair, Director, The TaxPayers’ Alliance
Simon Richards, Director, The Freedom Association

As it happens, I make a similar point in an article published this morning on Conservative Home which I reprint below:

Whatever happened to the party of business, deregulation and personal responsibility?

Today is No Smoking Day, an event that seems to have been with us since time began.

It was launched in 1984 (surprise, surprise) but under Labour every day felt like no smoking day so the event lost much of its impact. The Coalition Government, it seems, wants to give NSD the kiss of life.

This morning Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has invited retail trade associations to a meeting. According to newspaper reports he will use the platform of No Smoking Day to announce far-reaching tobacco control measures including, controversially, a ban on tobacco branding (aka plain packaging).

The tobacco control movement has been zealously active for decades but it was under Labour that it found a partner that shared its enthusiasm for unlimited regulation and pejorative propaganda (“If you smoke you stink”).

Between 2002 and 2010 the Labour government banned tobacco advertising and sponsorship, prohibited smoking in all enclosed “public” places (including private members’ clubs), introduced graphic warnings and passed legislation banning the display of tobacco in shops and outlawing tobacco vending machines.

The display ban, we were told, is necessary to stop young people being enticed by “glitzy” packaging. The truth is, hardly anyone buys tobacco on impulse and tens of millions of people (myself included) have never been encouraged to smoke by the sight of a cigarette packet behind the counter (or anywhere else).

In opposition both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems opposed a display ban. The financial cost to small retailers, it was argued, was too much to justify a measure that had very little impact on youth smoking rates when it was introduced in Iceland and Canada.

Labour’s election defeat was supposed to signal the end of hyper-regulation and the bully state. Conservatives were the party of business, de-regulation and the free market. Tories believes in personal responsibility and the right to make informed choices without excessive government intervention.

Or so I thought. Instead, more oppressive rules and regulations. As far as the consumer and small retailers are concerned, Labour could still be in power. What’s the difference?

And where is the common sense? If this pea-brained plan to ban tobacco branding goes ahead Britain will become a smugglers’ paradise.

It will be easier to counterfeit plain packaging, for sure. And who can blame consumers for buying tobacco on the black market at a fraction of the recommended retail price if the legal variety is hidden under the counter in a plain unbranded pack?

Thanks to excessive duty on tobacco, smuggling is already a serious problem that costs the Treasury billions of pounds each year, money that the country can ill afford to lose.

If this policy goes ahead government may lose control of the tobacco market completely and the revenue it generates could end up in the hands of unscrupulous crooks and counterfeiters.

The sale of tobacco will move from responsible, legitimate retailers (selling to informed adults) to irresponsible criminals who won’t think twice about selling cigarettes to children.

The legal version will develop the aura of an illicit product, making cigarettes more attractive to some people, including children.

There are other considerations. In a free society the consumer must be allowed to make an informed choice, and brand recognition is part of that process.

Ban product branding and the consumer will ultimately be denied choice because why should a manufacturer research and develop new products if they can’t communicate, at the point of sale, with their own consumers?

So who is behind these absurd ideas? Health Secretary Andrew Lansley may be making the announcement but I detect the hands of unelected anti-tobacco activists and faceless, unaccountable mandarins in Whitehall.

It’s like a scene from Yes Minister, but no-one’s laughing.

What next? Later this month Alcohol Focus Scotland and ASH Scotland are joining forces to organise a Scottish Alcohol and Tobacco Policy Summit. The event has already provoked controversy because the organisers have refused to permit any trade representatives to attend.

Imagine that – a meeting on alcohol and tobacco that deliberately excludes some of the key stakeholders. And yet it happens all the time and very few people, least of all ministers, object.

On Saturday, at the Conservative spring conference in Cardiff, David Cameron vowed to take on “the enemies of enterprise”.

All well and good. But what about the enemies of small business, or the enemies of personal responsibility and civil liberties?

There are millions of voters, not only smokers, who feel disenfranchised from the political process. Who will voice their concerns? Who will stand up for small business and the consumer?

Not the Conservative-led Coalition government if recent reports prove to be true.

Regardless of your political affiliation, please add a comment on Conservative Home to demonstrate the strength of opinion on this issue. Click here.

You should also write to your newspaper and to your Conservative MP, if you have one.


No Smoking Day - it's your call

There hasn't been this much excitement around No Smoking Day for years. We must thank Health Secretary Andrew Lansley for giving this tired old wreck the kiss of life.

As I write I am about to be interviewed by BBC Radio Cumbria followed by Radio Sussex, Radio Devon and Radio Cambridgeshire. My colleague Tom Miers from The Free Society is doing Radio Merseyside and I'm then due to appear on Radio Lincolnshire, Radio Sheffield and Radio Shropshire. We've also arranged for someone to appear on BBC Radio Wales between 9.15 and 10.00. I suspect there may be one or two more interviews before the day is out.

One that got away was Five Live Breakfast. I was contacted yesterday afternoon but they decided eventually to book a retailer plus our old friend Philip Davies MP to oppose someone from ASH.

(Yesterday, in response to a question from Davies who described the possible introduction of plain packaging as "nanny state politics of the worst kind", Lansley said that the forthcoming tobacco control plan would have a clear purpose – to reduce the "number of people smoking and as a consequence avoidable deaths and disease".)

Anyway we understand that the policy announcement will take place at 9.30 in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement. In the meantime, in the early hours of this morning, the BBC published this report - Plans to target sale of tobacco products to be unveiled - which provides a little more information. It sounds plausible but watch this space.

Update: I was told last night that tobacco control would be the subject of Your Call, the Five Live phone-in with Nicky Campbell (hence the title of this post). In fact, they are talking about religious bigotry surrounding Old Firm games in Glasgow so I have edited this post accordingly.


Smokers wanted

Tomorrow is No Smoking Day.

We occasionally receive requests from the media who want to speak to "ordinary" smokers who enjoy smoking, have no intention of giving up, and are prepared to say so.

Forest keeps a shortlist of people we put forward on such occasions. One of them is Jenty Burrill, a long-term supporter who invariably does a great job. Without ranting or raising her voice, Jenty comes across as sane, rational and utterly normal.

Presenters like her because she has a sense of humour and is honest about the potential health risks of smoking, and indeed her own health after many years of smoking. The last time she was interviewed - on BBC Radio Kent a couple of months ago - she charmed the presenter and it was a very entertaining few minutes.

If you would like to be considered please email with the following details: name, gender, age, town/region, telephone number.

A colleague will contact you in due course.


The One to watch

Phone call from the BBC to say that Gyles Brandreth – who I saw on stage three weeks ago – has filmed an item about smoking to be broadcast on The One Show on Wednesday (No Smoking Day).

Should we be concerned? Well, from what I remember when I interviewed him some years ago, Brandreth is a liberal in the true sense of the word. By that I mean he is largely tolerant of other people's idiosynchracies and doesn't favour excessive regulation.

Then again, if you read his diaries there is only one conclusion to be drawn about his attitude to smoking. He doesn't approve. I would be surprised and disappointed, though, if he endorsed the Government's latest tobacco control initiatives live on national television.


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.