Friday
Feb242017

The Pleasure Zone won hearts and minds

Delighted to report that our Pleasure Zone event in London on Wednesday went rather well.

A packed house (above) enjoyed a hugely entertaining evening that fully justified our decision to shoehorn two events into one.

The first was a presentation by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research and lead author of a recent report, 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers'.

The second was a balloon debate on the subject 'The Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'.

I first met Neil at a conference in Bologna in 2015. A few months later our paths crossed again – this time in Chicago – when we shared a taxi to the airport and spent a couple of hours chatting before our flight home.

Neil is extremely amiable and not a bit stuffy but I did wonder whether a presentation summarising the results of an academic study might be a little dry for an audience several drinks to the good before it even began.

Not a bit of it. Abandoning his Powerpoint presentation in favour of a more ad hoc approach, Neil struck just the right note. He was affable, humorous and, most important, interesting.

Dick Puddlecote has posted an excellent review of his presentation here. All I'll add is that Neil proved fearless in addressing several contentious issues.

In fact his very presence at the event, and his refusal to be intimidated by critics of his decision to work with Forest on 'The Pleasure of Smoking' report, says a lot about him, and them. (I'll return to this issue in another post.)

Anyway, after a warm round of applause from an audience that appreciated both his honesty and his integrity, it was time for the balloon debate.

We'd managed to engage the services of six speakers to advocate the following products – cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snus, heated tobacco (aka heat not burn) and e-cigarettes.

Each contestant had three minutes, give or take a few seconds, to make their case for the 'Best Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'.

I'll summarise the debate as follows – funny, engaging and enjoyable.

Andy Stewart, who has smoked a pipe for 35 years (he began when he was 17), kicked things off. He was followed by Ranald MacDonald (advocating cigars), Chris Snowdon (snus), Mark Littlewood (heated tobacco), Angela Harbutt (cigarettes) and, finally, Judy Gibson (e-cigarettes).

I don't remember much of what was said but I do remember plenty of laughter. I wish we'd had more time, especially for Q&As, but the format worked pretty well.

When we went to the first audience vote the three products with the fewest number of votes were ejected. In no particular order they were:

Heated tobacco, pipes and, surprisingly perhaps, e-cigarettes.

That left three contestants – Chris Snowdon (snus), Ranald MacDonald (cigars) and Angela Harbutt (cigarettes) – to battle out a final round (one minute per speaker).

The audience then voted for a second and last time and the winner was ... the humble cigarette!

"What did you expect?" I hear you cry. After all, it was a Forest event.

Truthfully? I really didn't expect cigarettes to win. Forest is a broad church and our events attract an equal number of smokers, non-smokers and, increasingly, vapers or dual users.

The public has been saturated with anti-smoking propaganda about smoking. Most smokers, we are told, are addicted and want to quit.

The consumption of cigarettes, in particular, is described as a dirty, disgusting habit.

Cigars are sexy, snus is cool, pipes are less harmful (you don't inhale), heated tobacco is the future, and e-cigarettes are, well, safer, fun and groovy.

Combustible cigarettes? Meh (or so we're led to believe).

On Wednesday night Angela Harbutt won the debate by a convincing margin, attracting more than two-thirds of the final vote.

So in 2017 it's official:

Cigarettes are the 'Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'!

Update: We've received many nice comments about the event. Here's one:

That was a great evening. I think it was one of my most pleasurable Forest events. Neil McKeganey was polite, humble and direct and a nice genuine guy.

The balloon debate was hilarious and very natural. A great platform for Forest and it showed great character. Being a smoker with strong views is increasingly difficult but humour always wins hearts.

See also: Fun in the Pleasure Zone (Freedom to Vape).

Below: Angela Harbutt with her prize, a jeroboam of wine courtesy of our event partner, Boisdale of Belgravia, presented by Dr Neil McKeganey.

Tuesday
Feb212017

The Pleasure Zone awaits ...

Final reminder that The Pleasure Zone, the first Forest event of the year, takes place tomorrow night (Wednesday).

Smokers, vapers, non-smokers and dual users are invited to join us for drinks at the Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, London SW1P 3LB from 6:15pm.

The main event starts at 7:00 with a short presentation by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, who will discuss the CSUR's recent report, 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers'.

After that we are delighted to present the first Forest Balloon Debate in which six contestants try to convince you of their choice of the 'Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'!

Speakers have three minutes to present their case. Members of the audience then have their say before voting three of the contestants off. A final round (one minute per speaker) will produce the 2017 champion.

Our doughty speakers are:

Judy Gibson, International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) advocating e-cigarettes
Angela Harbutt, founder of Liberal Vision, advocating cigarettes
Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, advocating heated tobacco
Ranald Macdonald, MD, Boisdale Restaurants, advocating cigars
Chris Snowdon, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit, advocating snus
Andrew Stewart, Pipe Club of London, advocating pipes

If you'd like to come – and haven't registered yet – email events@forestonline.org.

It should be an entertaining evening.

Thursday
Feb162017

Tobacco control unpacked

Further to my previous post ASH Scotland had mixed views about the smokers' survey that formed the basis of The Pleasure of Smoking report.

Writing on Tobacco Unpacked, the ASH Scotland blog (comments unwelcome), deputy chief executive John Watson commented:

We hear that Forest is paying for a survey with the aim “to find out what smokers really think”.

This is a laudable aim – and chimes with an interest of ours. We don’t know enough about who smokers are, what they are thinking or how they perceive the actions of public health interests (or indeed commercial ones).

In particular there is a need to explore how views and desires vary amongst the 900,000 people in Scotland who smoke tobacco – why do some groups smoke more than others? What services or functions are people seeking from smoking? Why does a consistent majority say that they want to stop?

Snootily he then added:

Sadly this Forest survey will not help us with this.

The Forest survey is being promoted on their website and social media, and punted around other pro-smoking/anti-regulation networks. A message urging participation is being sent to “friends of Forest”.

The people reached by these requests will not represent the general population of “smokers”, but instead the small sub-set of smokers who engage with Forest and/or other anti-regulation interests and who feel motivated to complete a survey distributed by those interests.

To put it another way, a survey sent around to ASH Scotland supporters would likely indicate considerable scepticism about Forest’s claim to speak on behalf of smokers, but we could not simply use this to claim that the whole population thinks this way. A survey of your friends only tells you about your friends.

Now it is perfectly valid to seek the views of this group, and most organisations will want to better understand their supporter base. But as a means of producing results about smokers as a whole, this survey has been rendered completely useless.

The stated aim “To find out what smokers really think” seems to have missed this crucial point. Surely Forest is not intending to use the results of this survey to make claims about smokers as a whole? To allay our concerns, will they state clearly that their survey cannot be taken as representative of the views of all smokers and will not be presented as such?

I wonder.

Well, the report was not only sub-titled 'The views of confirmed smokers' it came with this very clear statement from the researchers, the Centre for Substance Use Research:

The survey we have undertaken was funded by Forest - the UK’s leading smokers’ rights organisation. Specifically, we surveyed a total of 650 smokers who completed an online questionnaire circulated to smokers in contact with the Forest organisation ...

Whilst our research was funded by the Forest they had no role to play in the data we have collected (other than distributing notices of the survey’s existence and website for survey completion and suggesting some possible questions for inclusion on our instrument), nor in the analysis of the material collected or the write-up of these results.

In his introduction to the report Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the CSUR, also wrote:

In this report we outline the results of research that aimed to elicit the views of a group that one might characterize as having a positive orientation towards their smoking [my emphasis]. It might be objected that the views of these smokers are irrelevant to the mainstream commitment to reduce smoking prevalence. However, it could equally be said that no individual or organization dedicated to reducing smoking prevalence should so easily dispense with any interest in the views of that group who have remained somewhat immune to all of the current and recent attempts at discouraging their smoking.

The views of the individuals we have surveyed are of interest not simply because they are rarely conveyed but because they set out so very clearly the challenge faced by those seeking to further reduce smoking prevalence within society. It is only by understanding how smokers view their smoking that agencies oriented to further reducing smoking prevalence are likely to secure that goal. If we are to better understand the views of smokers themselves, including those who are most committed to the activity [my emphasis], it is essential that we enable smokers as platform to describe their own smoking activity in the way that they choose to describe it.

If they, or some of them, find pleasure in their smoking, then whether we are offended by that characterization or not, we do not have the right to disparage their accounts for fear of undermining what may be seen as the consensus of tobacco control.

ASH Scotland published Watson's blog post (The “smokers survey” that can’t tell us anything about “smokers”) on October 25. The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers was published two months later, on December 27.

Not only did ASH Scotland refuse to publish any comments on Watson's post, this taxpayer-funded organisation then chose to ignore the very report whose methodology it had been so keen to criticise prior to its publication.

Frankly I take that as a compliment to the work carried out by the CSUR. After all, if the report didn't stand up to scrutiny can you imagine how ASH Scotland and their fellow travellers would have reacted?

Nevertheless, having written what he did in October, anyone with an ounce of integrity would surely have reviewed the report or, at the very least, acknowledged the complete and utter transparency with which it was researched, funded and published.

Instead, standing on his taxpayer-funded pulpit, pontificating about Forest and, by association, the Centre for Substance Use Research, John Watson is the epitome of the professional tobacco control campaigner.

Rather than acknowledge the report, which contains some insightful truths about confirmed smokers and their habit, Watson and ASH Scotland have chosen to (a) censor comments posted in good faith on the ASH Scotland blog and (b) ignore the very research whose methodology they chose – in advance – to belittle and berate.

This pathetic attitude is typical of most tobacco control campaigners. Anything that departs from the official line about smoking (and smokers) is ignored or struck from the record.

I'm long past being angry or frustrated by this sort of thing. Instead I view the likes of John Watson with complete contempt. If it wasn't for the fact that public money is paying for their salaries I'd laugh them off as a joke.

Instead Watson and his ilk enjoy a good income, courtesy of taxpayers like you and me, and repay us by deliberately censoring, ignoring or belittling the views of anyone who goes off message.

Nice work if you can get it but symptomatic, sadly, of our intellectually and morally bankrupt tobacco control industry.

Dr Neil McKeganey will present the conclusions to The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, at a special event in London on Wednesday February 22. RSVP events@forestonline.org.

Tuesday
Feb142017

The elephant in the room

On balance last week was a good one for advocates of vaping.

If we leave aside the report that suggested, on very little evidence, that 'E-cigarettes act as [a] gateway to smoking for teens' (Daily Telegraph), there was general agreement, following the publication of yet another study, that 'Vaping is "far safer" than smoking cigarettes' (ITV News).

Campaigners – including public health advocates of vaping – naturally embraced the latter report and we were subjected to the usual sanctimonious drivel about e-cigarettes having the ability to secure world peace and make death history.

I jest but if you saw my Twitter timeline that's how it reads sometimes.

What really makes me laugh/cry is the apparent conviction that if every smoker switched to vaping the world would be a better, happier place and two billion people would live longer, healthier lives.

However there was (and is) one rather large elephant in the room that few people are willing to address and it's this – millions of people enjoy smoking tobacco and don't want to switch to an alternative nicotine product.

This simple, unarguable fact was one of the clearest conclusions of the recent report, The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, funded by Forest and published in December by the Centre for Substance Use Research.

The report was ignored, inevitably, not only by the media but also by public health campaigners and the evangelical vaping community.

One leading public health commentator (and vaping advocate) told me the report echoed his own views but did he review it on his blog? Did he hell!!

To those who prefer to stick their heads in the sand and pretend otherwise, here's a gentle reminder of how our sample of 600+ confirmed smokers reacted when asked about alternatives to smoking:

Respondents were asked about which of the electric nicotine delivery products, if any, they had tried and what they had thought of them. In total 344 (59%) of the individuals who were questioned provided information on the new products they had used. That more than half of the smokers we were surveying had tried a reduced risk nicotine product is interesting in itself and suggests that even amongst this group of pro-smokers there was a willingness to try a reduced risk nicotine product. In total 336 of the 344 smokers who had used a reduced risk nicotine product reported having used e-cigarettes.

Respondents were asked about what they both liked and disliked about the vaping products they had used as an alternative to smoking. Below we set out the range of comments received and their frequency looking first at what the smokers had to say about what they did not like about the vaping products they had used.

The most commonly voiced criticisms had to do with the vaping experience with 133 smokers identifying negative aspects of the vaping experience. The next most common set of criticisms had to do with the equipment used (expressed by 65 smokers) followed by criticisms of the taste (46) perceived harms of vaping (30) and then finally a set of criticisms that related more to the reaction of other people to the smokers having been seen vaping (12). We illustrate a range of the comments received in each of these broad areas.

The most commonly expressed criticism of vaping was this was simply “not the same” as smoking. This view was expressed by 66 of the 133 smokers identifying negative aspects of the vaping experience. A small number of the smokers commented that they did not like what they described as the lack of a nicotine “hit” from vaping. Other critical comments to do with the vaping experience included the observation that with vaping (in contrast to smoking) you don’t know when to stop: “You never actually finish an e-cigarette so you end up puffing away continuously”.

Other smokers commented negatively that they missed the “smoke” and the “aroma” of combusted tobacco when they had vaped. Some said that they felt vaping was a “colder” less social more individualistic activity: “Its different to smoking more anonymous compared to smoking which is inherently social” It just felt artificial. Some of the smokers noted that they missed the crackle sound produced by combusting tobacco. Others commented that in their view the vaping experience was just not as “pleasurable as smoking” and that it was in their view no substitute for the “real thing” being somehow less natural than smoking.

The second most commonly expressed criticisms of vaping had to do with what were seen to be deficiencies in the technology itself chief amongst which were complaints that the technology was fiddly, that the batteries were often unreliable and required attention to ensure that they were sufficiently fully charged, and that on occasion the devices leaked e-liquid: “Not interested in e-cigs that require constant filling” “having to maintain the equipment”, “looks strange to me”, “complicated” “the hassle” “plastic metal feel, “messy, fiddly devices”, “battery life is an issue and until you know how to use them they are quite fiddly and prone to not working”, don’t like the size of the devices”, “Not as satisfying. Don’t want to have to bother with filling, recharging, they look awkward medicinal devices and I don’t think of smoking as medicinal”, “they’re too heavy to hang from my lips”, “the hard plastic feel on my lips”, “they’re too large to carry easily”.

The next most commonly expressed criticisms had to do with the taste produced by e-cigarettes with some of the smokers commenting negatively that e-cigarettes in their view lacked a sense of taste or were “too rough” that there was “no real tobacco taste” produced by the devices, that the taste was somewhat “artificial”. With regard to the reported harms that were associated with e-cigarettes the most commonly voiced criticism from the smokers had to do with the capacity of the devices to irritate their throat and produce a cough.

A small number of the smokers drew attention to what they said were the unknown longer term harms associated with vaping whilst others commented that the devices would make their lips sore. Finally, a small number of smokers drew attention to what they saw as the negative reaction of other people to vaping feeling that this had undermined their own experience of the devices “ “Same social stigma now as smoking so what’s the point, may as well keep smoking the real cigarettes as much more pleasurable” “still had to stand outside to vape often right next to rubbish bins this made it pointless to switch hence not using now” “restrictions on use” “vaping bans” “its naff may as well have the word addict tattooed on your forehead” “people laughing at me” the “hipster stigma and the holier than though apologetic attitude most vapers hold is off putting”.

On a more positive note:

In relation to what our sample of smokers most liked about vaping 225 individuals provided comments with the most frequent (94) highlighting the importance they placed on being able to use e-cigarettes in settings where smoking was not allowed: “Useful if you are in a pub and its cold and wet outside”, “ I can use it indoors”, “It's permitted in more places”, “Can use it in more situations where lighting up is prohibited”. The second most commonly noted positive about e-cigarettes expressed by 38 smokers related to the cleanliness and specifically the lack of smell that was associated with their use compared to smoking conventional cigarettes: “I like the fact that I and my flat did not smell of smoke”, “My clothes and house and breath don’t smell”, “No smoke, no ash”, “No smoke, no ash and nobody knows you have vaped”, “Sweeter taste in the mouth, no finger staining no ash or butts”. The next most common set of positive views (expressed by 38 smokers) related to the fact that vaping was significantly cheaper than smoking: “Less expensive” “Lack of 90% tax on e-cigarettes”, “Cheaper”.

Twenty-seven smokers identified taste and flavouring as the most positive aspect of their vaping experience: “Pleasant flavours”, “Variety of flavours and nicotine strengths”, “The variety of flavours compared to smoking. When I first started vaping I imagined that I would need a tobacco flavoured e-liquid and tried a large variety. Gradually I experimented with many other flavours available. Now I don’t use tobacco flavoured e-liquids and have actually come to dislike the taste of them."

The health related benefit of using e-cigarettes was the fifth most commonly voiced set of comments with smokers (26) noting that “They are better for my health”, “Better for breathing”, “Good for my health”. Given that e–cigarettes are often discussed and presented in terms of their being significantly less harmful than smoking combusted tobacco, it is interesting that our sample of smokers placed less importance on the health benefits associated with e-cigarettes than the greater variety of situations they could be used in, their greater perceived cleanliness, their cost, and their taste.

Nine smokers commented that they particularly liked the fact that the vaping was very close to the smoking experience and in some ways more convenient: “Closest thing to smoking”, “Similar throat hit to smoking”, “Similar to smoking”, “Not having to find my lighter”. There were only a small number of individuals who commented that they particularly liked the technology of e-cigarettes and the reactions of other people to the sight of them using the equipment: “I thought it looked cool”, “Easy to use”, “I enjoy the customisable options in both hardware and flavours”, “Less stigma”, “Not being treated like a leper”, “Less public opprobrium”.

Btw, I'm not discouraged by the lack of interest in The Pleasure of Smoking report. It merely confirms what we've known for a very long time – that the concept of 'pleasure' in relation to 'smoking' is increasingly taboo and even so-called 'libertarian' commentators and bloggers are reluctant to stick their heads above the parapet on the issue.

The good news is ... The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers is available online and in print.

Copies have been circulated widely already and the report will continue to be disseminated at home and abroad in the weeks and months ahead. You can do your bit by forwarding a copy to family, friends, your local MP and anyone who might be interested.

You can also support our event in London next week when Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research and lead author of The Pleasure of Smoking, will give a short presentation highlighting the main conclusions.

Neil's presentation will be sandwiched between a drinks reception and a balloon debate on the subject 'The Best Nicotine Delivery Device in the World' so it should be an entertaining evening.

Full details here. RSVP events@forestonline.org.

Tuesday
Feb072017

Shameless BBC bias (update)

Older readers will know that I've been battling BBC bias for more than 30 years.

In the Eighties I was director of the Media Monitoring Unit (1985-1990) and one of my 'achievements' was to inspire a front page headline in the London Evening Standard that screamed, in bold letters, 'YES, THE BBC IS BIASED!'.

That evening every vendor's stand in London bore the same headline. That was quite a thrill, I can tell you.

As director of Forest I've fought a regular battle with the BBC, frequently requesting that anti-smoking reports include – where appropriate – an opposing view. I don't always succeed but it's not for want of trying.

Anyway, BBC News Wales outdid itself last week. To be honest I was unaware of the report (Calls for tougher smoking and junk food rules in hospitals) until I read this blog post by Chris Snowdon, Shameless BBC bias.

I suggest you read it yourself (then pop back here) but having read and watched the reports, tweets and video it refers to I couldn't have put it better myself.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that Chris had uncovered a two-year-old tweet from the journalist responsible for the BBC Wales report. Posted in February 2015 it read:

Chris's post was actually an extended version of a complaint he posted via the BBC website. Interestingly it appears to have been acted upon because on Friday I received an email from ... Rachel Flint.

It read:

Hello Simon,

I’m a reporter with BBC Wales News Online looking into the issue of smoking outside hospitals.

A potential new law in Wales will ban smoking on hospital grounds – including car parks – giving health board legal backing for voluntary bans already in place.

A clause in the Public Health Wales Bill would give hospital managers discretionary powers to introduce designated smoking areas.

But the chair of BMA Cymru says smoking should be banned in all parts of hospital grounds and there should be no reason for anyone to smoke on hospital grounds.

Considering people are in a high emotional state and may have had bad news, what are your views on this? Should people be able to smoke?

I received Rachel's email at 14.05. I was about to travel across London on the Underground but as soon as I arrived at my destination (at 14.56) I sent the following comment:

"It's not just petty, it's inhumane to ban smoking everywhere on hospital grounds.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a patient, a visitor or even a member of staff. Hospitals can be stressful places.

"Smoking is a comfort to many people. To tell anyone, especially elderly, infirm or long-term patients, that they can't smoke anywhere on the grounds is an abuse of power.

"Smoking outside isn't a health risk to anyone other than the smoker.

"The cost of treating smoking-related illnesses is a fraction of the revenue smokers contribute in tobacco taxation so smokers have no reason to feel guilty about their habit.

"Designated smoking shelters are the very least smokers deserve, but what's more important is that politicians and hospital administrators demonstrate some common sense and compassion."

Yesterday there was still no sign of my comment on the BBC News website so I emailed Rachel and asked if she had received it. She thanked me, explained she had just got into work, but would "look over it".

Six hours later I'd heard nothing more so I emailed her again:

Is anything happening on this? Bit confused that you asked us to comment but haven't used the quote. We were v concerned at the one-sided nature of last week's report/s re smoking in hospital grounds on BBC Wales so I was hoping you were going to redress the balance and publish an opposing view.

No reply.

So this morning I rang the BBC Wales newsdesk and asked to speak to her but she wasn't there. Instead I spoke to one of her colleagues and sent the following email:

Hi X,

See email correspondence below, including our views on hospital smoking bans that Rachel had (belatedly) requested.

We are extremely concerned about the one-sided nature of the coverage of this story by BBC Wales last week and we are not alone - see this blog post by Chris Snowdon, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs (Shameless BBC bias).

I had drafted our own letter of complaint when Rachel emailed me at 14.05 on Friday, requesting our views. My response was sent at 14.56. I then sent a further email suggesting that my comments could be prefaced by the information that Forest intends to fight any further extensions to the current smoking ban in Wales.

I now understand that Rachel left work at 3.00 on Friday but I wasn't aware of this at the time. In response to an email sent by me yesterday morning she said she would look at my comments. I have heard nothing since.

Apart from our concern at the one-sided nature of your report/s last Wednesday, I am confused why Rachel would invite us to comment and not use or even acknowledge our views.

I would be grateful if you could acknowledge and respond to this email as a matter of urgency. Thanks.

An hour later I received this response:

The comments you sent to Rachel have now been added in the article – the reason for the delay is because we are also editing the accompanying video to reflect your views.

My final email, sent a few minutes ago, read:

Thanks. I appreciate that, although updating an article six days after it was published seems rather futile to me, especially as there is no longer a link on the BBC News (Wales) home page. To say the horse has long since bolted is an understatement.

Unless someone specifically searches for articles about smoking on hospital grounds the chances of anyone reading it will be very small so I'm disappointed that our response has been marginalised like this.

We're always happy to comment on smoking-related issues so please bear us in mind in future.

So there we have it. BBC Wales News Online has amended both its report and video to include an opposing view but it took them six days to do it!

The chances of more than a handful of people reading the updated report must be very small indeed, but there you go. It's better than nothing.

The lesson here is that wherever we encounter biased, one-sided reporting it must be challenged.

In my experience there are plenty of BBC journalists who understand the need for balance and impartiality. They can be reasoned with as long as you don't over-react and become abusive.

I'm not a fan of naming and shaming either and I hate the mob bullying of journalists that sometimes happens on Twitter.

Sometimes however a report is so biased that a line has been crossed. This was one of those occasions.

Sunday
Feb052017

Gary Lineker, political protester – what would Des Lynam think?

I was driving home from Derbyshire last week and listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra.

The first programme that came on was Touchline Tales featuring two old friends – broadcaster Des Lynam and writer Christopher Matthew.

Nothing much happened. They pottered around sharing anecdotes and stories about sport. Lynam, one of Britain's finest broadcasters, was typically humorous and laconic.

It's a huge shame that his mainstream career effectively ended a decade too soon after he took the disastrous decision to leave the BBC and join ITV to present live Champions League football.

As many people observed at the time, ITV didn't suit Lynam's relaxed style because as soon as he opened his mouth he was forced to go to yet another ad break.

The person who stepped into his shoes at the BBC was Gary Lineker. For an ex-footballer with no experience of journalism and very little experience of broadcasting, Lineker has made a pretty good job of it.

He's clearly worked very hard to get where he is but that's part of the problem. With Lynam almost every link or joke was seamless. Can you say that of Lineker, many of whose jokes feel a bit forced?

Even his body language – leaning forward, as if a little anxious – feels more urgent and therefore less comfortable than Lynam's more relaxed posture although, to be fair, the latter was usually sitting behind a desk.

But that's not why Lineker is stretching my patience. The truth is I can no longer watch Match of the Day without being reminded of his political views.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but by choosing to work for the BBC Lineker is in a privileged position. Most BBC presenters understand this (even those that work on Newsnight!).

Unlike Piers Morgan, who was almost certainly hired by ITV precisely because of his polarising views and large Twitter following, Lineker's foghorn opposition to Brexit and Trump are in my view a serious distraction.

I don't want to know what the presenter of Match of the Day thinks about the leading political issues of the day. When I think of all the presenters of the past I have no idea who David Coleman or Jimmy Hill voted for or what their position was on the miners' strike, Nixon or the EEC.

Likewise, throughout his long and successful broadcasting career, I had no idea what Des Lynam's political views were. Only in semi-retirement (2013), long after he was a national figure hosting a much loved TV institution, did he come out and endorse Ukip.

Lynam and David Coleman, to name two, will be remembered as broadcasting legends. Lineker will never be in their league but someone should point out that joining political marches (including last week's protest against Donald Trump's state visit) is not merely self-indulgent, it doesn't reflect well on the publicly-funded broadcaster that employs him.

Readers may recall that Rod Liddle was sacked as editor of the Today programme for writing an article in the Guardian attacking the Countryside Alliance and people who hunt. Clearly there was one rule for Liddle (in 2002) and another for Lineker in 2017.

The Match of the Day presenter has of course argued that he's not a member of staff, he's freelance. That however is unlikely to be the perception most people have, even the very small number who see him presenting Champions League football on BT Sport.

Consequently he has a responsibility, like all BBC employees (especially those in the public eye), not to draw attention to his political beliefs.

Former Blue Peter presenter and Five Live broadcaster Richard Bacon seems to share Lineker's views on Trump and Brexit. He too is freelance but unlike Lineker his BBC work is far more sporadic these days. He's not on national television every week. It's an important difference.

The fact is, as long as Lineker enjoys a big fat income for presenting a long-running, high profile television programme for a publicly-funded broadcaster, he should abide by the same guidelines as editors, producers and journalists.

Technically it might not be in his contract but Lineker's reinvention as a political protester suggests a poor understanding of the need for impartiality at all levels of the BBC.

Whether it's driven by naivety or arrogance I can't say. Whatever the answer, someone at the BBC should have a little word in those jug-like ears.

PS. I think I've discovered the person responsible for Lineker's opinionated persona – it's Des Lynam!

Lynam is a fan of Lineker's broadcasting abilities. He's said and written as much many times. In May 2010 however he had some advice for his MOTD successor that may have been misinterpreted.

Writing in the Telegraph, Lynam urged:

Go on, Gary, let’s hear more of your views. It will make the next 10 years more interesting not only for the fans but for you as well.

Lineker has clearly taken that suggestion to heart – but not in a good way. To paraphrase Michael Caine in The Italian Job:

"You were only supposed to talk about the bloody football!"

Sunday
Feb052017

David Hockney: "Why shouldn’t I smoke?"

With delicious timing (see previous post) David Hockney has been talking about pleasure ... and smoking.

Interviewed by Geordie Greig, editor of the Mail on Sunday, and featured – smoking – on the cover of the paper's Event supplement ahead of the opening of a new retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain on Thursday, Hockney is as gently subversive as ever:

In his early years Hockney was a vegetarian, like his mother, while his father was a fanatical campaigner for nuclear disarmament and an anti-smoking fanatic. His Methodist mother loved her Bible and her strong faith.

David instead turned to meat, smoking and atheism, always going against the tide. Sitting back, Hockney holds close to his chest his lime-green cigarette lighter as he blows out smoke, and pours scorn on anyone who would wish him to desist to save his life.

‘I can’t stop smoking now. It would give my body a shock, wouldn’t it? All the young think they’re immortal; that’s why they’ll smoke. Of course, I now know I’m not and that I’m going to die.’

At this point he searches for a packet of cigarettes with a diseased lung shown on the packet to deter smokers. He again laughs. ‘They have one photograph of a lung to put you off, but it looks to me more like a roast chicken with carrots. It really does! I’ll show you,’ he says.

More chuckles as he fuses his agitprop argument into art criticism. ‘It’s not so easy to make a horrific image on a small thing like a cigarette packet because every image has to be attractive for you to look at it.

They don’t get that. I suppose the decline of religion might be bringing all this agitation, because I did point out, when they started their Smoking Kills message, Italians had these buildings that always reminded them of death – they were called churches! Death comes to us all.’ More laughter.

So has old age tempered him? ‘In a way I’ve probably got gentler.’ But then he is off again, beating against the anti-bohemianism of the 21st century. His libertarian streak as strong as his father’s intolerance, always the pro-smoking zealot, half cross, half wry.

‘My father would always be worried about smokers, and then go and eat chocolate biscuits in the park, which killed him. He went into a coma because he was diabetic. Every time he went into a coma. He’d already had three, and then had a fourth and went into hospital and died.

'So, chocolate biscuits killed him. Not cigarettes, chocolate biscuits! Not that I would suggest you put on the chocolate biscuit wrappers These Might Kill, because they won’t, just as cigarettes won’t. My father had thought he was going to live to be 100.’

Later:

He dismisses those who want to curtail individual pleasure. He once made and wore badges saying End Bossiness Soon. He added the soon in case he sounded too bossy. ‘They just seem to me mean, all these people wanting to destroy some little pleasure for somebody else – why shouldn’t I smoke? I see lots of things like that: destroying pleasure.’

Full interview: Art icon David Hockney on why he’s still laughing and grafting (and smoking) as he approaches 80 (Mail on Sunday).

The Guardian reports that the Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain is the fastest-selling exhibition in Tate's history.

Friday
Feb032017

Welcome to The Pleasure Zone

Delighted to announce the first Forest event of the year.

The Pleasure Zone on Wednesday February 22 will feature a short presentation by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research and lead author of the recent report, The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.

Following Neil's presentation there will be Q&As and a balloon debate on the subject 'The most pleasurable nicotine delivery device in the world'.

Contestants are:

Judy Gibson, International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations
Angela Harbutt, founder, Liberal Vision
Mark Littlewood, director-general, Institute of Economic Affairs
Ranald MacDonald, managing director, Boisdale Restaurants
Andrew Stewart, Pipe Club of London

Format is as follows. Each contestant will have three minutes to make a case for one of these products:

Cigarette, cigar, pipe, e-cigarette and heated tobacco.

We were hoping to get someone to advocate snus but that would have involved flying someone in from Sweden!

The audience will then vote and the 2-3 contestants with the lowest number of votes will be thrown overboard (metaphorically speaking).

The remaining contestants will be given a further minute to persuade the audience that they should win and the result will be determined by one final vote.

Venue is the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. The main event starts at 7.00pm but you are invited to join us for drinks (courtesy of Boisdale) from 6.15.

To register email events@forestonline.org.

Update: Pleased to confirm that Chris Snowdon, head of the IEA's Lifestyle Economics Unit, will advocate for snus. Should be fun so register now!