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Saturday
Mar232019

PMI, Vice and me

According to a report in the FT on Thursday:

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International has teamed up with youth-focused Vice Media to promote vaping, in a move that has alarmed health campaigners.

Vice has agreed a deal with PMI to produce sponsored content endorsing ecigarettes, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.

One said the deal would cost the tobacco group £5m and that the campaign was due to start in April ...

The latest PMI initiative will be produced by a team of journalists recruited to work for a new online platform on Vice’s UK website.

Full story: Marlboro maker teams up with Vice for vaping push.

A source has since told me the FT article contains “inaccuracies”.

What is not in doubt is that Vice and Philip Morris have worked together before – see Vice Media attacked for making tobacco adverts for Philip Morris (March 2016) – so it's hardly a revelation.

Funnily enough, back in January I was interviewed by a freelance journalist who was writing an article for Vice.

He had been commissioned, he said, to write about the ‘smoking lobbies’.

We met at Boisdale and talked for the best part of two hours.

The article has yet to appear but I’m told it’s due to be published next month.

Update: PMI’s Dr Moira Gilchrist, vice president, Scientific and Public Communications, has tweeted:

Friday
Mar222019

Vanishing act

The second reading of Tracy Brabin’s bill to ban smoking on hospital premises has been delayed for a second time.

Originally scheduled for Friday March 15, it was then listed for today, March 22.

Yesterday however it suddenly disappeared from the order of business.

Although the Smoking Prohibition (National Health Service Premises) Bill has very little chance of becoming law, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to know what’s going on.

Tuesday
Mar192019

Pubs in hospitals? I’ll drink to that!

Further to the Forest report about hospital smoking bans, published last week.

Rob Lyons wrote an excellent piece for Spiked that was headlined, a little misleadingly, ‘Why we should allow smoking in hospitals’.

(The report called for smoking to be allowed outside, on hospital grounds, not inside.)

Anyway, I was rather taken by the following response that was posted in the comments:

Speaking as a lifelong non smoker I agree with this article. Smokers are a hectored, bullied group. Any other group can of course claim discrimination and win, this group can't.

As an added point I would also like to see alcohol served, preferably with a bar in hospitals. I recently spent a day in hospital whilst my wife had an operation. The boredom was unbelievable.

Wetherspoons have pubs in airports and motorway service stations. Why not hospitals? I jest not!

Pubs in hospitals? I'll drink to that!

Saturday
Mar162019

I think I’m having a breakdown

It’s mid morning on a Saturday and I’m sitting in my car in the Novotel Hotel car park near Heathrow awaiting the arrival of the BMW breakdown service.

It isn’t how I hoped the day would go.

I left home at five o’clock to collect my daughter Sophie whose flight from Atlanta was due to arrive at Terminal 3 at 7.00.

On the M25, ten miles from Heathrow, a message appeared on my screen.

There was a fault with the drivetrain (whatever that is) that would result in a reduction in power but I was advised to keep driving.

Soon after that I noticed the car wouldn’t go faster than 60mph. Pretty quickly it dropped to 40.

A new message appeared warning me there was almost no oil in the engine and I should add a litre as soon as possible.

Stuck on the M25 with no service station ahead of me there was little I could do.

Smoke was coming from the exhaust and the engine was beginning to rattle.

I limped along, joined the M4 towards Heathrow but instead of coming off and turning right to Terminal 3 I turned left towards West Drayton.

At which point a third message appeared. Pull off the road and turn the engine off!

And that’s how I found myself in the Novotel car park at 7.00am.

A taxi took me to Terminal 3 to collect my daughter. The driver then brought us both back to the Novotel.

At 8.00 I called the AA but my membership had lapsed. I could either rejoin, they said, or I could contact BMW’s own rescue service that is valid for all BMWs that are less than three years old.

(Who knew? Not me!)

BMW Emergency Assist, to give it its proper title, said someone would be with us within 90 minutes, probably sooner because it was a Saturday and they weren’t too busy.

That was three and a half hours ago.

During that time I have spoken to three (four?) different people at BMW Emergency Assist, spending a combined total of one hour on the phone listening to muzak and recorded messages.

Each time I have had to repeat my name, postcode and car registration number. I have also had to explain - several times - what was wrong with the car.

At 11.00am, three hours after I first spoke to them, I was given a new time for the arrival of a technician - 12.40.

Judging by the smoke, the smell of burning and the engine rattle, I’m not convinced a technician will be able to solve the problem on site, but we’ll see.

My car, incidentally, has 5,000 miles on the clock. Oil and engine management should not be an issue.

And, yes, I know that BMW drivers deserve little sympathy but I’m one of the decent ones, honest.

Update: My daughter is asleep on the back seat and a text has arrived:

‘Your technician is on the way.’

I’ll keep you posted.

Update: The technician, when he arrived, diagnosed that the turbo charger had blown. A breakdown truck was called and the car was taken away.

BMW Emergency Assist arranged a hire car but it was mid afternoon before I was handed the keys.

After driving my daughter back to Birmingham I finally got home at 8.00pm, 15 hours after I left!

Friday
Mar152019

Dear Tracy Brabin

Today sees the second reading of the Smoking Prohibition (National Health Service Premises) Bill.

It's a private members' bill proposed by Labour MP Tracy Brabin and few people expect it to become law.

Sometimes however what begins as a backbench initiative - even by an Opposition MP - develops legs and is adopted by government.

Anyway, Brabin was interviewed on BBC Look North on Wednesday and we might have gone head-to-head had I not been driving back from Cardiff. (I was asked if I was available but I wasn’t.)

The programme is no longer online but my comment that banning smoking on hospital grounds is “inhumane” was put to her and she did appear a bit uncomfortable.

She admitted that calling the police to remove a smoker from the grounds of Hull Royal Infirmary, as the hospital is alleged to have done, is probably not the best use of police time.

And she revealed she had been asked by an NHS hospital trust (Mid Yorkshire, I think she said) to put forward her bill.

You might think that NHS trusts have better things to do than lobby MPs to enact new legislation but it shows just how political these taxpayer-funded bodies are.

A BBC source told me the trust had also lobbied the local council to introduce a bye-law to make it an offence to smoke on the trust’s grounds but the council wasn’t interested.

If the local authority won’t act why the hell should central government get involved?

Anyway, I took the opportunity yesterday to write to Tracy Brabin and this is my email:

Dear Ms Brabin,

Please find attached a copy of our new report, Prejudice and Prohibition: Results of a study of smoking and vaping policies on NHS hospital trusts in England.

The accompanying press release can be read here:

In particular I would like to draw your attention to the foreword which I have posted below.

We completely understand why hospitals do not want to be seen to encourage smoking. Nevertheless, many smokers take comfort from smoking, especially when they are stressed or upset. It calms them and in an environment where much of their independence has been taken away, the act of smoking also offers a small sense of autonomy.

Again, we understand why hospital authorities don’t like the sight of people smoking around hospital entrances. Nevertheless, talk of people having to walk through clouds of tobacco smoke is greatly exaggerated.

Forcing smokers to leave the site and stand on public roads is, in our view, unreasonable and occasionally inhumane. In particular it discriminates against those who are infirm or immobile without third party assistance.

Our report recommends a compromise. One, restrictions on vaping should be lifted to give the smokers the choice of switching to a safer nicotine product. Two, to incentivise smokers to move away from the hospital entrance, NHS trusts should be encouraged to install comfortable, well-signposted smoking areas (or shelters).

We believe strongly that a caring, compassionate society should not be threatening people with fines or other penalties for the ‘offence’ of smoking in the open air, especially at a time when they may be at their most vulnerable.

I appreciate that behind your bill lies the best of intentions but there are two sides to this debate and I would be grateful if you would at least read the foreword to our report (below).

I also invite you to read this article, published yesterday by the online magazine Spiked following the publication of our report.

The headline, I should add, is a little misleading. No-one is suggesting smoking should be allowed back inside hospitals (although the problem of people smoking by the entrance is a direct result of the closure of the old hospital smoking rooms). We are however asking for some common sense and compassion when it comes to smoking outside.

Finally, can I draw your attention to the remarkable incident at Hull Royal Infirmary, reported by BBC Look North yesterday (on which you were interviewed). Incredibly, despite it not being illegal to smoke on hospital grounds, the police were apparently called to escort a smoker off the premises. How can that possibly be considered a productive use of police time?

Unfortunately, should your bill become law, the police could regularly be called to investigate such ‘offences’ with the result that otherwise law-abiding people could find themselves in court charged with the ‘crime’ of smoking in the open air where they are harming no-one but (possibly) themselves.

I do hope you will take these points into consideration before proceeding with your bill.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Clark
Director, Forest

If I get a reply I’ll let you know.

Update: The second reading of Tracy Brabin’s bill has been put back to Friday March 22.

Thursday
Mar142019

Piers Morgan v. Philip Morris

In case you missed it, yesterday was No Smoking Day.

No-one can accuse Philip Morris of missing an opportunity to promote its relentless anti-smoking campaign and there, up with the larks on Good Morning Britain, was Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK.

The only problem was, the interviewer was professional antagonist Piers Morgan.

I'll leave you to judge how the 13-minute interview went. Personally I found parts of it quite uncomfortable to watch and the Mail Online's subsequent headline didn't beat about the bush:

Piers Morgan ridicules Philip Morris boss for 'staggeringly hypocritical' campaign to 'end smoking' with help of less harmful alternatives - despite still selling cigarettes

I get that it's not realistic to expect Philip Morris to stop selling cigarettes any time soon. Shareholders would be in uproar and, as Nixon says, consumers would simply switch to other brands.

But, I'm sorry, there is something nauseatingly hypocritical about a company that repeatedly urges smokers to quit or switch to a 'better' product while continuing to not only sell cigarettes worldwide but to actively promote them (via advertising) in countries such as Singapore.

It is disingenuous too for PM to predominantly target its anti-smoking campaign at UK consumers when the company's share of the UK market is, I believe, less than ten per cent and the principal impact will be felt by competitors whose market share is far bigger.

While part of me felt sympathy for Nixon as he struggled to answer his inquisitors (the question about his salary was a bit intrusive), the reality is that as long as Philip Morris sells cigarettes whilst sticking rigidly to its 'quit smoking' mantra, accusations of hypocrisy will never be far away.

As I've said before, a more logical and defendable position has to be that adopted by companies such as British American Tobacco, JTI and Imperial.

BAT, for example, talks not of quitting the cigarette market but of "extending choice" by offering consumers a range of products including e-cigarettes and heat not burn.

JTI is equally committed to harm reduction but a page on its website is quite explicit: “We believe in the freedom of adults to choose whether they smoke or not.”

As for Imperial, chief executive Alison Cooper made that company's position clear last year:

"I think in terms of the current cigarette smoking population, many of them very much enjoy smoking. We know it’s a controversial product but therefore it’s even more important that responsible companies still continue to deliver that product to smokers, so I see that being a very important part, still, of Imperial’s story, but at the same time we very much want to develop the vaper business, Blu and Myblu in particular, and really start seeing smokers switch more into those products.

In contrast, and however well-intentioned they may be (Philip Morris responds to accusations of “staggering hypocrisy”), PM's position leaves the company wide open to the sort of attack Peter Nixon experienced yesterday on GMB, which in turn lead to this rather desperate attempt at damage limitation:

There was also this brief exchange with Forest:

Wednesday
Mar132019

‘Adopting a more sensible approach to vaping does not justify further restrictions on smoking’

As promised, here's my foreword to the Forest report, Prejudice and Prohibition: Results of a study of smoking and vaping policies on NHS hospital trusts in England.

If you’re in any doubt about Forest’s position, read on ...

At Hull Royal Infirmary they used to have a smoking shelter. Regrettably it was demolished and replaced with a stark ‘No Smoking’ sign. Today patients are forced to go off site to smoke. “It’s humiliating having to stand at a bus stop,” a 21-year-old woman wearing a nightgown and a catheter told BBC Look North. “It’s like being punished for smoking.”

The same report featured another patient ambling slowly off site with the aid of crutches. Walking alongside her was a “stop smoking specialist” who could be heard saying, “I was wondering if you’d like to take this opportunity to stop smoking.” Was he helping or harassing her? Either way, it looked and felt wrong. Last year a hospital in West Yorkshire installed a public address system that at the press of a button plays messages to ‘shame’ smokers to stub out their cigarettes. Elsewhere a local radio presenter, no fan of smoking, has described how his terminally ill father was denied the ‘pleasure’ of a cigarette while he was in hospital because smoking was prohibited throughout the site.

Equally distressing scenarios are being enacted across the country. Banning smoking on hospital grounds may seem reasonable to many people but the policy demonstrates a staggering lack of empathy and compassion, targeting, as it does, people who may be feeling particularly vulnerable – stressed, upset and in some cases in need of a comforting cigarette. I would go further and argue that it’s cruel and a shocking indictment of our ‘caring’ NHS. Where’s the compassion in forcing someone to go off site before they can light up? They may be infirm, physically and mentally. It could be dark, late at night and they might be alone. No-one who is already suffering from ill health or may be recovering from an accident or serious operation should be treated in such a callous fashion.

Yes, it can be unsightly if a group of people are smoking directly outside a hospital entrance, but this is one of many unintended consequences of the workplace smoking ban. Unable to light up indoors in a dedicated smoking room, smokers are forced to stand outside. Understandably they prefer to remain close to the entrance under a canopy that provides shelter from bad weather. If the powers that be don’t want people to smoke next to the entrance incentivise them to move further away by providing a comfortable smoking shelter. Don’t ban smoking everywhere on site because that’s disproportionate to the problem. Some people may not like the smell of tobacco smoke but there’s no evidence that smoking in the open air is a health risk to anyone other than the smoker.

Even in these difficult financial times a smoking shelter represents money well spent. Enforcing outdoor smoking bans means CCTV cameras, public address systems and tobacco control wardens ordering smokers to ‘Put that cigarette out!’. What a waste of public money and scarce resources. The public appear to agree. According to polls conducted by Populus for Forest, tackling smoking has consistently been considered the least important in a list of ten priorities for the NHS. The most important issues were investing in new doctors and nurses, addressing response times at A&E, and improving general waiting times.

Tobacco, lest we forget, is a legal product. Despite this anti-smoking campaigners justify the constant war on smokers by estimating that the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses is £2.7 billion a year in the UK. To put this in perspective, smokers contribute a staggering £12 billion to the Treasury annually through a combination of tobacco duty and VAT. In short, using a discredited financial argument to justify further discrimination against smokers is not only wrong, it’s unjust.

If there is some good news it’s the fact that an increasing number of NHS trusts are adopting a more relaxed attitude to vaping. The overwhelming majority of vapers are ex-smokers or smokers who wish to cut down or quit smoking altogether so banning the use of e-cigarettes on hospital premises never made any sense. It’s encouraging therefore to see more trusts amending their policies to allow vaping on site and even in hospital buildings.

Adopting a more sensible approach to vaping does not however justify further restrictions on smoking. Hospitals can be stressful places and for some smokers – patients, visitors and even staff – a cigarette provides comfort at a difficult time. The NHS has a duty of care to protect people’s health but that doesn’t include the right to nag, cajole or bully smokers to quit or switch to a state approved e-cigarette.

Just as bad is the despicable threat to punish staff who enable patients to smoke outside hospital buildings. In theory this could result in a member of staff, with years of dedicated service to their name, being disciplined because, with the best of intentions, they assisted or turned a blind eye to a patient who wanted to smoke and whose immediate mental well-being may have been helped by being allowed to have a cigarette.

The level of pettiness is such that smoking is not only prohibited outside the majority of hospital buildings but even in hospital car parks and private vehicles while they are on NHS sites. Common sense and decency are being sacrificed on the altar of ‘public’ health. Increasingly, it seems, hospitals are in the hands of tick-boxing bureaucrats with little empathy and no compassion for those who don’t conform to today’s anti-smoking orthodoxy.

To download the full report click here.

Update: I have just taken a call from BBC Look North. From today, No Smoking Day, Hull Royal Infirmary will ‘strictly enforce’ its no smoking policy.

Smokers are being escorted off the grounds to public roads and in one case, according to the BBC, the police were called to escort somebody off the premises.

Think about that for a moment. As if the police have nothing better to do, someone working for our caring, compassionate NHS has called the boys in blue even though it is not illegal to smoke on hospital grounds.

Wednesday
Mar132019

Managing the news

Happy No Smoking Day to all my readers!

I hope you'll join me (in spirit) when I light up later today. (I'm currently in Cardiff looking for venues with a smoking terrace.)

Quick update on Forest's hospital smoking/vaping report (Prejudice and Prohibition). Given Brexit I think we did pretty well to get the coverage we did. To the list I reported on Monday I can also add the Telegraph (print edition).

Meanwhile Rob Lyons has written an excellent article for Spiked. See Why we should allow smoking in hospitals: patients are meant to be treated not bullied over their ‘bad habits’.

The New Nicotine Alliance has also posted a piece on its blog – Government messages are still not getting through to NHS trusts.

I was amused too to see that the vaping company Totally Wicked reported our findings on its website (55% of hospitals ban vaping on their grounds) without mentioning or crediting Forest for the data.

The reason our press release – and the subsequent media reports – led with the issue of vaping is because in this context it’s far more newsworthy.

Had we issued a press release headlined '76 per cent of NHS hospital trusts ban smoking' few journalists would have considered that news and the report would have disappeared without trace.

It's called news management.

Nevertheless the war on smoking remains our principal concern and this afternoon I’ll post the foreword to the report which makes it pretty clear where our priorities lie.