"Crackling with exasperation" – Rod Liddle at The Freedom Dinner

The Spectator has published an abridged version of Rod Liddle's speech at the Forest Freedom Dinner:

It’s that time of year again. After Rod Liddle used the key address at the fifth annual Freedom Dinner to turn his attention to Labour’s Jew-bashing, the anti-Brexit mob and Tim Farron, he was invited back by popular demand to speak at the event this week.

At the annual libertarian bash, hosted by Forest, Liddle spoke frankly on a range of topics – calling out the ‘double think’ among the ‘metro-liberal left’, namely Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry.

See: Rod Liddle’s Freedom Dinner speech: Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott and the metro-liberal left.

Oddly enough the speech works even better, I think, as a stand alone polemic outside of the context of the dinner.

As I hinted in my previous post about the event, I wasn't entirely convinced it suited an evening that is primarily a celebration of people's freedom to eat, drink and smoke without the nanny state governing our every move.

Nevertheless it was topical and like the best of his writing Rod brings an edge to his speeches that is great for the audience because you genuinely don't know what he's going to say next. Compared to most after dinner speeches this is extremely refreshing.

There were some moments during the speech when I felt slightly uncomfortable, but this was partly because I didn't know where he was going. I sensed that some members of the audience felt the same although several came up to me afterwards and said how much they agreed with everything he said.

Watching the video of the speech a few days later I can appreciate it so much more, not least because alongside the serious issues he was addressing there are some genuinely laugh out loud moments.

As a state of the nation address it's hard to beat. Enjoy.

Meanwhile Wharf News which, as its name suggests, features "news from Canary Wharf and the Docklands", has devoted a full article to The Freedom Dinner that is well worth reading:

Right-wing, left-wing, fond of tobacco, strong of word and opinion, they came. Many acquired tastes; cigarettes and cigars burning bright as the fires of their convictions.

According to reporter Jon Massey, guest speaker Rod Liddle "crackled with exasperation":

He used his time to slice into those who’d seek to constrain commentators’ freedom of speech, especially those linking recent terrorist attacks with Islam.

He brought glove puppet Sooty to satirise those espousing politically correct views he supposed would delight of the likes of Jon Snow and the Channel Four news team.

Tiptoeing indelicately through the daisies of press censorship, the cant and hypocrisy he finds in the left and the inherent doublethink of liberals, he reached the eventual conclusion his little yellow bear must be decapitated for the good of serious debate.

After Rod's speech Massey spoke at length to Ella Whelan, assistant editor of Spiked and a winner of one of our Voices of Freedom awards. She told him:

"It’s very nice, I wasn’t expecting it and I’m very grateful. I’d say to people they need to get serious in today’s political climate about defending freedom.

"I think Rod Liddle can be a welcome breath of fresh air because he challenges the current climate of censorship – his views on freedom of speech and the ability to speak out and say what you think are very welcome and a needed intervention into the ‘you can’t say that’ climate in politics at the moment.

"I disagree with some things he stands for but on the whole I think he makes a very good point about Islam that we need to challenge the prevailing very, very strong level of censorship around religion – the inability to criticise and openly talk about what’s going on at the moment.

"My position as someone on the left of the left is that the left is all consumed with identity politics at the moment and has been for decades

"So Spiked and myself are trying to make an argument for a genuine radical change in politics that shakes the status quo for social change.

"I’m an absolutist when it comes to free speech. It’s a principle and you don’t waver from a principle.

"People should be allowed to say and think whatever they like and the consequences of that should be free too."

Full report: Smokers and libertarians join for a celebration of freedom in Canary Wharf (Wharf News).

To view Rod's speech on YouTube click here.


Reaction to the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban

As I'm sure you know, today marked the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in England.

Media interest was relatively lukewarm throughout the week. I did a handful of local radio interviews – BBC Sussex, Suffolk, Kent, Manchester, Newcastle, Three Counties.

The Newcastle experience was amusing. I saw a tweet from Fresh (aka Smokefree North East) thanking the station for interviewing their spokesman.

Forest hadn't been asked so we tweeted something to that effect and BBC Newcastle replied, inviting us on. Twitter works, folks!

This morning I did an interview with BBC Bristol in which I was paired up with Hazel Cheeseman of ASH. A few minutes later I was on Five Live with her boss Deborah Arnott.

At lunchtime I was on the BBC News Channel (with Deborah as my adversary again) but for a so-called milestone event it's been relatively quiet, broadcast wise.

It was a similar story online and in print. The tenth anniversary has been reported by sections of the national and regional press but the coverage has been far from universal.

A reasonable number of reports featured quotes from Forest or mentioned the results of our report (Road To Ruin? The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice?) but our poll (Public split on allowing separate smoking rooms in pubs) was ignored by everyone apart from a passing reference on the BBC News website.

The Liverpool Echo reported:

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “There’s very little evidence that the health of the nation has benefited significantly from the smoking ban. Instead thousands of pubs have closed and choice has been sacrificed on the altar of tobacco control.

“Allowing separate well-ventilated smoking rooms or relaxing the unnecessarily strict regulations on outdoor smoking areas would reignite freedom of choice and give publicans greater control over their business.

“Proposals to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas including beer gardens will be fiercely resisted. Smoking is a legitimate activity and pubs must be allowed to accommodate adults who choose to smoke.”

Yesterday we got wind of an ASH report, embargoed until this morning, that celebrated the "enormous success" of the ban and called for further anti-smoking measures. Our response to that read:

"Contrary to claims by anti-smoking campaigners, polls suggest there is little appetite among the general public for further anti-smoking measures.

"The smoking ban decimated pubs in England with little evidence that it had a significant impact on public health.

"Instead of punishing smokers for their habit the government should embrace and promote harm reduction products like e-cigarettes.

"The key to smoking cessation is choice and education not prohibition and other repressive measures that hurt legitimate consumers."

Today, ITV News quoted our reaction to the specific claim that the smoking ban has resulted in two million fewer smokers since 2007.

"It's disingenuous to suggest the smoking ban has been a significant factor in reducing smoking rates.

"For five years after 2007 smoking rates fell in line with the pre-ban trend. The most substantial fall in smoking rates happened after 2012, a period that coincided with the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

"Attempts to force people to quit are invariably counter-productive. Education and support for less harmful products is the way to go, not prohibition and other restrictive practices.

The blogging community has chipped in with several bloggers commenting adversely on the ban.

But a special H/T to Chris Snowdon. Apart from Forest Chris has probably been the most vocal critic of the smoking ban this week.

See: The smoking ban turns ten. What did it really achieve? (The Spectator) and Myths and realities of the smoking ban (Velvet Glove Iron Fist).

Ella Whelan, winner of a Voices of Freedom award at our Freedom Dinner this week, was another critic on Sky News.

Tom Welsh, former features editor at City AM and now assistant comment editor at the Telegraph, wrote a well-intentioned column entitled 'The smoking ban marked the end of Britain as a libertarian nation'.

Aside from the fact that Britain has never been a libertarian nation, Tom (a smoker) began by declaring, 'There is virtually zero support for reversing Labour’s ban on smoking in pubs, clubs and bars.'

I'm sorry, this is nonsense. Even ASH doesn't claim there is no support for the ban to be repealed but it's symptomatic of the negative mindset many smokers now adopt when discussing the issue.

Poll after poll conducted by Populus for Forest in recent years has found a small majority in favour of separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

The latest poll, conducted two weeks ago, found that 48 per cent of adults in Britain would allow smoking rooms in pubs, while 42 per cent were opposed to the idea.

Elsewhere I was interested to read an interview with Nick Hogan, the Bolton landlord who became the first and only publican to be jailed for allowing customers to smoke on his premises.

The Manchester Evening News has the interview here and you can read about the small part I played in getting him out of jail here and here. It was without doubt one of the most surreal things I have ever been involved with.

Last but not least, Rob Lyons, author of our Road To Ruin? report, is getting a bit of a hammering on ConservativeHome where he has written an article, 'Ten years on from the smoking ban, the Tories could gain by rolling it back'.

You might like to pop over there and comment.

If the reaction of ConHome readers is a bit depressing, the good news is that, on the evidence of the past week, opposition to the smoking ban and other anti-smoking measures remains alive and well.

ASH, Cancer Research and Public Health England might have expected a free run this week. That's not been the case.

So to everyone who spoke out, wrote an article (or blog post) or posted a comment online, grateful thanks.

Here's a sample of reports that included comments from Forest:

Pro-smoking group calls for review 10 years after ban (Morning Advertiser), Smoking ban saw a huge shift in pub culture (Lancashire Evening Telegraph), Cigarette ban killing off British pubs: 11,000 lost in 10 years (Daily Star), 'Sledgehammer' smoking ban ruling played part in pub and club decline in Bolton (Bolton News), A decade after UK smoking ban introduced, how has the law affected Bristol? (Bristol Post), How the smoking ban killed off the local boozer (Spiked) and Pub smoking ban: 10 charts that show the impact (BBC News).

Update: Despite our best efforts, including a phone call to the news desk on Friday morning, the Press Association failed to use a single comment from anyone opposed to the smoking ban.

Instead they squeezed into their report a Cancer Research press release celebrating the "enormous success" of the ban and an ASH press release that claimed there is "increasing public support for further measures such as a licensing scheme for tobacco retailers and a levy on the tobacco industry to pay for measures to reduce smoking".

Needless to say the PA copy has been published online by dozens of local newspapers and several national titles.

I shouldn't allow myself to get so annoyed but the level of bias involved is quite shocking for a national news agency. I may write a separate post on this once I've simmered down.

Update: The PA has assured me they did include a comment from Forest in the copy they filed and sent to all media.

They even sent me the evidence so I have to believe them, although I'm still annoyed they ignored our data on pub closures.

Curiously, however, and with the exception of ITV News, almost every title (national and local) that used the PA's copy chose to omit our quote. 

Fancy that!


Voices of Freedom 2017

A recent feature of the Forest Freedom Dinner is the Voices of Freedom Awards.

We began this year's presentation by re-visiting the 2016 awards. Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, left her trophy under her chair (alcohol may have been involved) and attempts to return it to its rightful owner over the last twelve months failed because I invariably forgot to take it with me when we met up.

We began the 2017 awards by inviting her to come on stage so she could be reunited with this valuable piece of plastic. That in turn led to Claire taking part in our first presentation, to Ella Whelan, assistant editor of Spiked.

Videos and citations, as read by me, below.

Ella Whelan
Our first award goes to someone I first became aware of 18 months ago. Suddenly she seemed to be everywhere - especially television and radio. It got to the stage where it seemed impossible to watch The Big Questions or the Victoria Derbyshire Show on the BBC News Channel without this person making another impressive appearance.

Today she's assistant editor at the online magazine Spiked. She also writes regularly for the Spectator and City AM on issues ranging from feminism to free speech and much, much more.
We are grateful to her too for being a staunch opponent of policies like plain packaging of tobacco, despite the fact that - to the best of my knowledge - she has given up smoking. Like the best liberal activists, however, she doesn't abandon her principles just because her own lifestyle has changed.

Ladies and gentlemen ... Ella Whelan.

Martin Cullip
Our next award goes to someone I have a lot of admiration for. He's been writing a libertarian blog for almost ten years now, which is some feat when you have a full-time job running your own company that employs goodness knows how many people.

Back in 2011 he took his activism a stage further when he organised a day of protest in a sleepy Buckinghamshire town called Stony Stratford. Some of you may recall that a local councillor had taken leave of his senses and proposed a ban on smoking throughout the town centre.

The protest was a great success. It attracted over 100 people and was featured on the local evening news and the idea was subsequently rejected by more saner heads on the council. Better still, the councillor concerned later lost his seat.

Since then our fearless warrior has maintained a steady stream of blog posts as well as attending all manner of conferences and events around the globe including, this year, the World Health Organisation's FCTC conference in Delhi where he took his life in his hands and braved the city's shocking smog, which puts the occasional whiff of tobacco smoke in perspective.

Today our award winner is an outspoken advocate of vaping but he still defends smokers' rights and is a persistent thorn in the side of the enemy, otherwise known as Action on Smoking and Health. Ladies and gentlemen .... Martin Cullip, also known as blogger Dick Puddlecote.

Guillaume Perigois
This next award goes to one of our own, which is only fair, I think. Last year we gave an award to John Mallon who has represented Forest in Ireland since 2010. This year we want to acknowledge someone who has been part of the Forest family for only a few months but has nevertheless taken on a daunting task with flair and aplomb.

He's French but he lives in Brussels. He's worked in the European Parliament and had a promising career but I am delighted to say he has given it all up to work for Forest. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please give a warm Brexit - sorry, British - welcome to Guillaume Perigois, the recently appointed director of Forest EU.

Elise Rasmussen
And now, the final award of the evening. I first met this person at a Forest event at Boisdale of Belgravia in 2008. As with all Forest events at Boisdale we'd had a few drinks and towards the end of the evening this person - small, blonde, female - approached me and asked if I'd like to go to Rio with her. The sad thing is, I am genuinely so cynical about almost everything that I didn't for one minute think she was being serious. And so I ignored her invitation and never went to Rio.

The good news is, I've made up for that terrible error of judgement and over the last seven or eight years I have followed this remarkable woman around the world to Antwerp, Bangalore, Cape Town, Bologna and West Virginia. These places were all locations for the Global Tobacco Network Forum, or GTNF, which is now known as the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum, and our final award winner is the person who organises that annual conference.

It's a huge undertaking but every year GTNF brings together just about every stakeholder including consumers. And that is why we want to present her with this award. A great many conferences on tobacco are dominated by industry or public health campaigners. The consumer, smokers especially, are often overlooked. In a world where everyone, including the tobacco companies, are quite rightly embracing harm reduction and products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco, it's very easy to forget that there are still millions of people who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

The organiser of the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum doesn't forget that. She is always willing to go that extra mile to accommodate a group such as Forest that defends the interests of adults who enjoy smoking. She bends over backwards to find hotels and venues that have - not just smoking rooms but glorious smoking rooms. Last year, for example, in Brussels, she did a deal with the hotel that resulted in an extraordinarily baroque room on the ground floor being designated as the smoking room for the duration of the conference.

We called it the Liberty Lounge and it's just one of the many reasons I am delighted to present Elise Rasmussen - a great friend of the consumer - with her very own Voices of Freedom award.

Ladies and gentlemen ... Elise Rasmussen.


The Freedom Dinner 2017

Is this the defining image of the Forest Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Tuesday?

Quite possibly, but there are so many to choose from. (See Dan Donovan's full set of pictures here.)

I'm not sure how to describe Rod Liddle's speech. Let's just say it went in a direction I hadn't anticipated (and, no, I'm not referring to the unexpected appearance of Sooty).

I enjoyed the evening, and I think most of the guests did too, but for me it didn't quite live up to last year. Then again, that set a very high bar.

ConservativeHome's Harry Phibbs probably put his finger on it when he said that last year's event took place shortly after the EU referendum and there was a palpable sense of euphoria in the air given that many of the guests voted for Brexit.

Reflecting the current mood the atmosphere on Tuesday inevitably fell short of those giddy heights. Rod's speech certainly had fewer laughs. It was more a howl of anger (that had nothing to do with smoking).

Talking of which, this year's dinner marked the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban, which is hardly cause for celebration.

Copies of the new Forest report (Road To Ruin? The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice) were on display and I referred to it in my opening comments, pointing out the number of pubs that have closed since the introduction of the ban in 2007.

If I can find my notes I'll post them here but I think I chucked them away.

There were 160 guests in total including a fair number of MPs and peers. We also had journalists, parliamentary researchers, political commentators plus an eclectic mix of industry lobbyists and think tank wonks.

Smokers, I'm pleased to say, were very much in evidence, as Dan's images will confirm. Vapers too.

After Rod's speech we presented the 2017 Voices of Freedom Awards but I'll cover that in a separate post.

The last guests standing – an eclectic group that included Harry Cole (The Sun), Katy Balls (The Spectator) and Judy Gibson (INNCO) – were ushered towards the exit at 12.30am where we stood, in the rain, waiting for taxis to take us home.

If I remember, Harry Cole was quietly singing ...


Devastating impact of the smoking ban on pubs laid bare

It's the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban on Saturday.

This morning Forest published a new report, Road To Ruin? The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice.

You can read the full press release on the Forest website but here's a taste:

The smoking ban decimated England’s pubs and hurt local communities, according to a report published today.

New figures obtained by the smokers’ group Forest show there are 11,383 fewer pubs in England compared to 2006, a decline of 20.7 per cent since the smoking ban was introduced on 1st July 2007.

London alone has 2,034 fewer pubs than in 2006, North West England has lost 1,788, Yorkshire is down by 1,589 and the South East has a net loss of 1,013.

But the biggest decline in pub numbers has been in the Midlands where there are 2,560 fewer pubs than before the smoking ban, a drop of 23.7 per cent.

While the fall in the number of pubs is part of a long-term trend and is not solely down to the smoking ban, the report found there was a clear acceleration in pub closures after the ban was enforced, with pubs in poorer urban areas suffering most.

Road To Ruin? was written by Rob Lyons, former deputy editor of the online magazine Spiked. The figures on pub closures were obtained (at great expense!) from research specialists CGA Strategy who are a well respected name in the hospitality industry.

They represent net losses so the number of pub closures will actually be higher because new pubs have opened since 2007 but they are mostly the type of family-friendly establishments championed by the likes of Wetherspoon.

In addition the figures don't reflect the number of pubs that have adapted to the smoking ban by becoming pub restaurants. There are several in my area (and very nice they are too) but to call them pubs, in the traditional sense, is nonsense.

Truth is, the old style boozer is dying out fast. I've no problem with things evolving according to customer demand but the smoking ban had a brutal impact on many pubs, forcing those that were already struggling out of business.

Hardest hit were the urban, inner city pubs, many of which had no outdoor space so smokers were forced to stand outside on the street. A substantial number went out and never came back. Or, if they did, they stopped visiting their 'local' every day.

The Morning Advertiser, which covers the pub trade, published an interesting feature last week. The headline is indicative of where its sympathies now lie (A breath of fresh air: how the smoking ban has changed the pub trade) but at least it acknowledged the fall in numbers of what it calls the "pint-drinking, cigarette-smoking, male regular".

Beyond that however it's clear the trade has turned its back on its traditional customer base in favour of something very different – families with children, for example, hence the focus on food.

Again, I understand the need to evolve but I do think the pub trade is its own worst enemy. When we launched our campaign against the smoking ban in 2004 ('Fight The Ban: Fight For Choice') the support we got from the hospitality industry was laughably inadequate and although most trade bodies said they were opposed to a ban they weren't inclined to stick their hands in their pockets.

By failing to fight for separate smoking rooms and doing nothing to support our subsequent call to relax the regulations so pubs can provide more sheltered outdoor smoking areas, the industry gives the impression of not giving a damn about customers who want to smoke and drink.

There are exceptions of course and some publicans have gone to considerable lengths to accommodate smokers in greater comfort. Only last week, at the Forest boat party, I was shown a picture (by a publican) of a fantastic outdoor smoking 'room' he had erected in the garden of his rural country pub.

It looked magnificent but there aren't enough facilities like that. Worse, as soon as the sun comes out, anti-smokers who happily sit indoors most of the year wander out and demand that the outdoor area belongs exclusively to them too.

I'll post extracts from the report when I get a chance. In the meantime click here if you want to read the whole thing.

See: Cigarette ban killing off British pubs: 11,000 lost in 10 years (Daily Star).


Revolt in Style: Forest at The Savoy

Bookings have now closed for the Forest Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Tuesday.

We have 160 guests including MPs, parliamentary researchers, journalists and supporters.

Think tanks and trade associations will be represented. We also have guests flying in from America, Lisbon and Brussels.

Last year's speaker, Rod Liddle, proved so popular we've invited him back and this time we'll film him properly!

I'll post a report after the event.

In the meantime tomorrow sees the publication of a new Forest report concerning the impact of the smoking ban on Britain's pubs.

Next Saturday (July 1) marks the tenth anniversary of the ban in England. We have new figures that show the net loss of pubs in England in the intervening decade, broken down into regions (London, Midlands, North West, North East etc).

I'll post details, with a link to the report, tomorrow.

As it happens it was on June 25, 2007, six days before the ban was enforced, that we hosted our very first Freedom Dinner.

The full title of that event was Revolt In Style: A Freedom Dinner. It was a nod to a track on Sound-On-Sound, the 1979 album by Bill Nelson's Red Noise that, lyrically at least, featured several allusions to George Orwell's '1984'.

'Revolt Into Style' was released as a single on blue vinyl. The previous single, 'Furniture Music', was released on red vinyl. I still have them somewhere.

Given the venue, the magnificent ballroom at The Savoy Hotel in London, and the nature of the event, which was promoted as a "last opportunity to eat, drink and smoke in an enclosed public place", Revolt In Style seemed an appropriate name.

In 2007 I had known Ranald Macdonald, MD of Boisdale Restaurants, for less than a year. We approached him about organising a dinner to mark the smoking ban because we wanted to do something on a reasonably grand scale and given the price I thought we'd have to charge I didn't think we'd get very many people if Forest tried to do it alone.

Ranald was happy to help. Initially however he wanted to host the event at Boisdale of Belgravia which has a capacity of 90 covers. It's also a rather strange shape with lots of nooks and crannies that don't lend themselves to the sort of event I had in mind. I thought we could go bigger.

What I wanted was an event in a larger venue with a proper stage. (Boisdale of Canary Wharf, which has a stage and can accommodate up to 200 diners, didn't open until 2011.)

So we approached The Savoy, organised a meeting with the events department and booked the ballroom for Monday June 25, 2007.

The only problem was, we had less than a month to organise and promote it and our target was 200 guests with tickets priced at £99 each.

Thankfully tickets sold remarkably quickly. Within ten days we'd reached our target of 200 and tickets were still selling.

We eventually sold well over 300 and including comps to MPs, journalists and special guests, a grand total of 390 people attended the event, just short of the ballroom's 400 capacity.

Some, like Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas, and Rod Liddle, will be with us on Tuesday.

Claire was one of three speakers in 2007. The others were TV chef and Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson, and Andrew Neil, our principal speaker.

Antony was great, Andrew was a revelation. But he wasn't our first choice. That was Boris Johnson.

We contacted one of the agencies that handled Boris's public speaking engagements. Curiously, when quoting his standard price, they issued a gentle warning.

Their client, they said, had a habit of turning up shortly before he was due to speak (ie missing dinner) and leaving very soon after. For this (and a 20-minute speech) we would be charged £10,000.

As it happens we subsequently received word that Boris couldn't do the dinner because Monday was the one evening he apparently kept free so he could more spend time with his family. Or so they said.

In hindsight I think we had a lucky escape. In contrast to Boris Andrew Neil arrived at 7.00 for the pre-dinner drinks. Within minutes he was chatting with other guests.

The only person I've seen work a room so well was Margaret Thatcher – and that was at The Savoy too.

Maggie and Denis arrived together and the policy seemed to be, she would do one side of the room while Denis did the other. If you were a guest you were almost certain to speak to one of them. It was hugely impressive.

Andrew Neil not only turned up well before dinner, he stayed long after too. (He left after 11.00, I think.)

He also gave a brilliant speech despite having warned us in advance that he couldn't be political because of his BBC contract.

In the event it was one of best 'libertarian' speeches I have ever heard and he got a standing ovation.

Revolt In Style also featured live music by the Boisdale Blue Rhythm Band who sat on stage looking extremely swanky.

A few months earlier they had recorded a special CD for Forest. It was called 'You Can't Do That!' (after the Lennon-McCartney song) and subtitled 'Songs for Swinging Smokers'.

It featured 19 songs including 'Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette', 'Giving Up Giving Up', and 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'.

To mark the smoking ban it also featured 'I'm Going Outside', a new song with lyrics by playwright Alan Plater.

Plater, who was one of Britain's most successful dramatists, described the Labour government’s anti-smoking crusade as "hypocritical", "puritannical" and "sanctimonious".

He wrote the lyrics after he and his wife found themselves standing outside every time they wanted to light up on a trip to Orkney where a smoking ban been introduced (along with the rest of Scotland) in March 2006.

"I’m 71, it’s minus four degrees, and I’m going outside!" he told me.

Plater and his wife Shirley Rubinstein were among our special guests at The Savoy and I think they were genuinely touched when 'I'm Going Outside' received its first live performance.

Sadly Alan died of cancer, aged 75, exactly three years later. His death was reported on June 25, 2010.

The current Freedom Dinner was launched in 2011. It's never achieved the scale of the dinner that inspired it because that was a one-off event that heralded a well-publicised milestone in British history, the introduction of a national public smoking ban.

In 2007 we had film crews from twelve countries including Russia, Greece, Hungary, France, Germany and the UK and I think many guests saw it as a genuinely historic occasion that might never be repeated in the UK.

But the 'success' of Revolt In Style was bittersweet because it marked the introduction of a policy we had fought, with relatively little support, for several years.

Today, ten years on, it remains to be seen who is still opposed to the smoking ban. We know (because polls tell us) that opposition to separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs is outweighed by those who support the idea.

But what about the pub industry not to mention politicians and groups who purport to support a socially 'liberal' society?

People and organisations are judged on words and deeds so it will be interesting to see who has the guts or inclination to speak out on the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban.

Politically there may be more important issues. Culturally and economically however the smoking ban had a devastating impact on many pubs and individuals that continues today.

I don't doubt that many people have adapted to the smoking ban but that doesn't make it right.

It's important therefore that those who believe the ban to be wrong continue to speak out. If we don't it will be extended to other 'public' areas including beer gardens and al fresco drinking and dining areas.

Silence shouldn't be an option but it seems some people can't be arsed to fight anymore.

More fool them.

Smokers in last-gasp stand on ban (BBC News, June 24, 2007)
Huffing and puffing: Adam Edwards joins a pack of rebellious smokers and pipemen for a last-gasp celebration of tobacco at the Savoy (Daily Telegraph, June 27, 2007)

PS. I had completely forgotten, until I saw these pictures a few minutes ago, that we had also hired some actors to play the role of 'smoke police' at The Savoy.

Goodness, what else have I forgotten about that night?!


"Magical evening" on the Thames

Thanks to everyone who attended Smoke On The Water, our annual boat party, on Tuesday night.

The weather was a great improvement on last year when we shivered under wet, grey skies.

Ironically the heat may have persuaded some people to stay away. One prospective guest emailed to say he was remaining "in the country" because it was "too hot" in London.

On the water however there was a nice breeze so conditions were perfect.

Those who did come included many familiar faces but each year we seem to attract new ones.

Inevitably someone on social media questions the purpose of the party. This year, in response to the person who enquired, via Twitter, "What was the point?", I wrote:

"No point, apart from engaging with supporters, potential supporters, parliamentary researchers and the Westminster village."

Smoke On The Water, like The Freedom Dinner, helps maintain Forest's profile in Westminster.

Many of the guests are political researchers working for MPs. Others work for Westminster think tanks.

Events such as this also help us maintain a core base of supporters who can be called upon at short notice, something we've found very useful in the past.

Interestingly, many of the people who attend Smoke On The Water are not only young (twenties and thirties), they're mostly non-smokers.

The point is, they may not smoke but they're still willing to support/engage with us. Moving forward, that's important.

Anyway, here are some of the comments we're received about this year's event:

"Great evening, as always."

"Thank you for another magical evening."

"Gorgeous evening to cruise down the Thames."

"One of the best nights of the year, by far!"

"Thank you for organising such a great party. Everyone had a fantastic time."

Some excellent photos were posted on social media by several guests including Steven George-Hilley, Sarah-Jane Sewell and Elise Rasmussen.

If you're on Facebook you can see some of them there.

Next week: The Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf.

Photo above courtesy Steven George-Hilley. The picture of Tower Bridge at dusk (bottom) was taken by Elise Rasmussen. The one directly below is one I managed to take myself!


Serious question: why don't more smokers switch to using e-cigarettes?

Remember The Pleasure of Smoking report, published at the end of last year?

Co-authored by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow, and funded by Forest, it was based on a survey of 650 'confirmed smokers'.

The study found that 95 per cent of confirmed smokers smoke because they take pleasure from the habit. Over 70 per cent had no plans to quit any time soon.

The researchers also asked respondents about e-cigarettes and got some interesting and detailed responses.

That research has now been published in a peer reviewed paper published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Entitled Why Don’t More Smokers Switch to Using E-Cigarettes: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, it's summarised as follows:

Whilst e-cigarettes have been characterised by Public Health England as being around 95% less harmful than combustible tobacco products, only a minority of current smokers (around 16% within the UK) are using these devices.

In this paper we report the results of an online survey of 650 smokers in contact with a smokers’ rights group in the UK. A total of 91% of the smokers surveyed were smoking on a daily basis. Fifty nine percent reported having used electronic nicotine delivery systems, the majority of whom reported having used e-cigarettes.

Those smokers that had not used these devices principally explained this in terms of the pleasure they derived from smoking. The features smokers liked most about e-cigarettes had to do with the range of settings in which they could be used, the lack of an offensive smell associated with their use, the available flavours and the reduced level of harm.

The elements which smokers liked least about e-cigarettes had to do with the vaping experience, the technology, the chemical nature of e-liquids and the complex technology that was associated with these devices.

If a greater number of smokers are to be encouraged to take up e-cigarettes, it will be necessary not only to convey accurate information on the relative harm of these devices (compared to combustible tobacco products), but to ensure that they are able to be used in a wider range of settings than those within which smoking can currently occur and that the vaping experience more closely resembles the smoking experience.

Aside from the fact that this is the first time, to my knowledge, that Forest has ever been associated with a peer reviewed paper in any publication let alone a leading international journal, I'm delighted the CSUR's research has been recognised in this way.

It's an important piece of work because it's a rare example of the views of committed smokers being listened to and taken seriously.

Smokers are, by and large, dismissed as addicts with little or no willpower over their own behaviour. What the research found is that while 56 per cent of respondants accepted they're addicted to smoking, very few were concerned because they enjoy their habit and don't want to quit.

In other words, far from considering themselves to be unwilling slaves to the evil weed, they happily embrace their addiction.

At the same time, the research found that a substantial minority of confirmed smokers did NOT believe they were addicted.

None of these responses is something the tobacco control industry wants to hear, hence few public health campaigners were willing to acknowledge the existence of the original report.

Using the same research, Neil McKeganey's peer reviewed paper asks an important question: why don't more smokers switch to vaping?

The pleasure many confirmed smokers get from smoking is a major factor but so too is their experience of vaping.

Fifty-nine per cent of those who responded to the CSUR questionnaire provided feedback on their use of reduced risk nicotine products. Interestingly, given that we're talking about smokers who by and large don't want to quit, almost all of this group reported they had used e-cigarettes.

The paper, like the original report, highlights what they liked or disliked about e-cigarettes. It's quite illuminating and should be essential reading for tobacco control campaigners and anyone interested in tobacco harm reduction.

Over the next few days I'll watch with interest to see how many of the leading THR advocates review or tweet a link to Neil McKeganey's paper.

I'm guessing they won't because they're far too busy slapping themselves on the back about the latest ONS figures that show that the smoking rate in the UK has fallen below 16 per cent, a drop they associate almost entirely with the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes.

Inevitably it's a bit more complicated than that. Personally I think the significant reduction in smoking rates since 2012 is due to a combination of factors. Vaping is undoubtedly one of them; so too is the increasingly prohibitive cost of tobacco (which has the knock-on effect of driving some smokers to the black market).

What no-one seems to be addressing is the fact that the sharp rise in the use of e-cigarettes is said to have peaked. If that's true research such as Neil McKeganey's excellent paper is even more important because it offers a valuable insight into why more smokers aren't switching to vaping.

Unfortunately I fear many tobacco harm reduction advocates are living in a bubble, preferring to listen only to those who have quit smoking or switched exclusively to vaping.

A case in point is the Global Forum on Nicotine that concluded in Warsaw yesterday. The organisers were aware of The Pleasure of Smoking report but did they invite Neil or his co-author to address the conference? Did they heck.

To the best of my knowledge there wasn't a single presentation by anyone representing smokers who don't wish to quit or switch to e-cigarettes. Why? Surely, if vaping is to overtake and ultimately replace smoking, the views of confirmed smokers must not only be sought out and acknowledged, they must be acted upon, not sidelined or ignored because some people find them unpalatable or off message.

Yes, consumers were well represented at GFN but they were overwhelmingly (or exclusively) ex-smokers and vaping advocates, not current or confirmed smokers, so the plethora of speakers, most of them from the public health or THR communities, were preaching mostly to the converted.

Would it have been too much to invite someone to speak on behalf of smokers who don't want to quit or switch?

To read 'Why Don’t More Smokers Switch to Using E-Cigarettes: The Views of Confirmed Smokers' in full click here. To download a pdf, click here.

If you're on social media, please share.

PS. According to one tobacco control campaigner, The Pleasure of Smoking report was lightweight and contrived.

A penny for his thoughts now the same research has been peer reviewed and published in a leading international journal.