Wednesday
Jan032018

Milton – paradise regained?

I don't know how much truth there is in this, but it was reported yesterday that Theresa May could promote Anne Milton to Health Secretary.

According to the Sun:

She would replace Jeremy Hunt who pals say is keen for a new role after five years at the helm of Britain's health service.

Currently a junior minister at Education, Milton served in the Department of Health 2010 and 2012 as public health minister before a being appointed Deputy Chief Whip.

If readers of this blog are experiencing a sinking feeling I don't blame you.

During her previous DH posting Milton not only introduced the tobacco display ban (a piece of Labour legislation the Tories had opposed when in Opposition), she also developed what appeared to be an unhealthily close relationship with ASH and other tobacco control lobbyists.

According to Retail Newsagent (June 2011):

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents is demanding a formal investigation by Prime Minister David Cameron into the conduct of the public health Minister in charge of the tobacco display ban.

National president Kieran McDonnell has written to No 10 with evidence he says calls into question the actions of Anne Milton and the relationship between government-funded charity ASH and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health and that could even scupper the ban at this late stage.

He writes that Ms Milton’s “inappropriate conduct necessitates a review of the legitimacy of the [display ban] legislation itself.”

The letter backs up questions from Torbay Liberal democrat MP Adrian Sanders to Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley, asking for his comments on Ms Milton’s acceptance of an award at an APPG Smoking and Health event and presenting one to the director of ASH.

Mr Sanders also seeks Mr Lansley’s response to the chairman’s comment at the event that ASH “do a great job in supporting MPs with lobbying their colleagues in Parliament”. ASH receives Whitehall cash on the proviso that it does not directly lobby the government.

My post on the subject was headlined 'ASH's credibility goes up in smoke' but it could also have read 'Public health minister's credibility goes up in smoke'.

Milton's cosy relationship with ASH had been noted by this blog exactly twelve months earlier when I wrote:

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Smoking and Health yesterday celebrated the 40th anniversary of ASH with a function at the House of Commons. Here are some of the 'highlights':

Guests welcomed by Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, chairman of the APPG on Smoking and Health.

Williams, Labour MP Kevin Barron (former chairman of the Health Select Committee), and public health minister Anne Milton presented with awards by Cancer Research.

Milton said it was a pleasure to celebrate ASH’s "birthday party". She then presented Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, with the World No Tobacco Day Award from the World Health Organisation.

Accepting the award, Debs thanked those who funded ASH.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, which founded ASH in 1971, wished a "very happy birthday to our baby, now our grown up child" and called for a campaign to "get rid of cigarettes eventually".

Prof John Moxam, chairman of ASH, compared it to his own birthday, and spoke of an "ASH family across the world".

Sir Richard, he said, was was "the father of ASH" and the support of the Royal College of Physicians has been "absolutely wonderful".

He also paid tribute to Kevin Barron who he described as a "warrior for the cause", adding, "ASH just thinks you’re magic".

Ms Milton, he said, was "tremendous", and had "won over the hearts of everyone involved".

See 'I think I'm going to be sick' (Taking Liberties).

I'm not sure what Milton has done in the intervening years to deserve promotion to the Cabinet, but if she does return to the DH it could represent a 'Patricia Hewitt' moment.

Older readers will recall that when John Reid was Health Secretary the Labour government had no plans to introduce a comprehensive smoking ban.

Instead Reid wanted to compromise by allowing smoking in private members' clubs and pubs that didn't serve prepared food.

After the 2005 general election he was replaced as Secretary of State for Health by Patricia Hewitt who quickly changed tack and threw her weight behind a blanket ban.

Last year I was surprised how relieved – complacent, even – some people were after the Government announced its latest Tobacco Control Plan.

The fact that no new legislation was included in the plan may be a positive (time will tell) but I've been around long enough to know that the tobacco control industry never stops lobbying government to make that "next logical step".

Imagine how much easier it will be for ASH, Cancer Research et al to sell their ideas to a Secretary of State with whom they have previously enjoyed such a harmonious, mutually back-slapping relationship.

If I was Deborah Arnott, the prospect of my old friend returning to the DH as head honcho would be the best New Year gift I could imagine.

I might even crack another smile.

Below: Anne Milton, centre, with Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, in June 2011

Sunday
Dec312017

The year in pictures

Another busy year comes to an end. It's difficult to summarise 2017 in a few words so I've chosen a few of my favourite pictures instead.

In February we hosted a one-off event, 'The Pleasure Zone', in London.

The evening featured a drinks reception, a short presentation by Dr Neil McKeganey, lead author of The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, and a balloon debate on the subject, 'The most pleasurable nicotine product in the world'.

Contestants included Ranald Macdonald (cigar), Mark Littlewood (heated tobacco), Chris Snowdon (snus), Angela Harbutt (cigarette) and Judy Gibson (e-cigarette). The debate was won by Angela, naturally, but Judy (above) made the biggest impression!

Forest EU was launched offically in Brussels on May 31, World No Tobacco Day.

The launch party was attended by over 100 guests at a venue a few hundred yards from the European Parliament. 

Since then we've hosted three more events in Brussels featuring Prof Neil McKeganey (Centre for Substance Use Research), Clare Fox (Institute of Ideas) and, most recently, Prof Sinclair Davidson (Institute of Public Affairs).

Each one has attracted a full house – not bad in such a hostile environment – so we must be doing something right.

Smoke on The Water, our annual boat party, has not always enjoyed the best weather but 2017 was a good year.

Approximately 200 guests attended this year's event, including parliamentary researchers and other members of the Westminster Village. The photo above was taken on the return leg from Canary Wharf to Festival Pier.

Photographer and musician Dan Donovan missed Smoke On The Water this year because he was in California fulfilling a dream.

This photo, taken at sunrise, is one of many superb pictures Dan took while he was recording tracks at the famous Rancho de la Luna studio in Joshua Tree, deep in the desert.

Ironically, a few weeks after he was there, our old friend Juliette Tworsey (another musician) moved to Joshua Tree with her partner Jules. The scenery looks incredible but I suspect it's a little hot for me.

This was arguably the most memorable image from the Forest Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf.

Invited back by popular demand, speaker Rod Liddle (Spectator, Sunday Times, Sun) gave another tour de force, albeit one that was a little off message for some tastes!

The event, attended by 160 guests including peers, MPs and parliamentary researchers, also featured the presentation of four Voices of Freedom awards to Ella Whelan (Spiked), Elise Rasmussen (GTNF), Guillaume Perigois (Forest EU) and blogger Dick Puddlecote.

In August I embarked on an eight-day transatlantic cruise aboard Queen Mary 2.

We went with friends and subsequently spent four days in New York, including two nights in a hotel overlooking Ground Zero.

We were on the 52nd floor and while the view was undoubtedly spectacular I'm not great with heights so I wasn't unhappy to move to another hotel for our final two nights where our loft style room on the eleventh of 17 floors was far less intimidating.

A few weeks later I was back in New York for the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum.

But first I spent a weekend in Greenwich, Connecticut, with my old friend Gary Ling who had been invited a high school reunion.

We flew to New York, rented an SUV and drove to Greenwich, which is where this picture was taken shortly after our arrival.

Forest has been organising party conference events since 2005.

This year we hosted a reception at the Conservative conference in Manchester. Venue was the rooftop lounge and terrace at Great John Street Hotel which we also used in 2015.

Almost 200 guests attended the event including Clare Ambrosino (chairman, Parliament Street, above) and Nigel Evans MP who gave a barnstorming speech on a range of issues including (eventually!) smoking.

They said it couldn't be done but we did it.

In November Forest hosted a dinner for 60 guests in Dublin. It was called the Farewell to Freedom Dinner and it was supported by a several groups including the Hibernia Forum, an economic think tank, and Students for Liberty Ireland.

It also featured the launch of the Golden Nanny Awards. Unexpectedly one of our nominees (Senator Catherine Noone) collected her 'Nanny-in-Chief' award in person and thereby stole the show. Her 'achievement' was reported by The Times (Ireland), Irish Times, Irish Independent and Irish Daily Star.

Finally, I can't publish a review of the year (even in pictures) without adding that in 2017 Forest was mentioned over 2,000 times by the print, online and broadcast media.

We were quoted in a wide range of smoking-related reports and occasionally generated our own stories as a result of polls and other research.

We were quoted by, among others, The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, Sun, Mirror, Star and Independent.

As well as the usual news programmes (national and local) we were also invited appear on TV programmes such as The Big Questions (BBC1), Sunday Morning Live (BBC1) and Good Morning Britain (ITV).

It's for others to decide Forest's value in a rapidly-changing environment but I'll leave you with this comment by Taco Tuinstra, editor of the global trade magazine Tobacco Reporter, in the current edition:

At a time when even tobacco companies seem to be turning against cigarettes, few people are willing to speak up for smokers. Fortunately there are organisations, such as Forest in the UK, who continue to stand up on their behalf, even when it is increasingly unpopular to do so.

The example set by Forest is inspiring. So, as we move into 2018, let’s spare a thought for beleaguered smokers everywhere. Not only do they deserve respect as fellow citizens; they also continue to generate the bulk of our business.

To read the full editorial, plus an interview with me, 'Rebel With A Cause' (!), click here.

Saturday
Dec302017

Sheila and Deborah snubbed again

Five years ago I wrote:

Something has always puzzled me about the honours list and it's this:

Why no gongs for the likes of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH; Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland; Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West; or Andrea Crossfield, director of Tobacco Free Futures?

After all, it's titans of Tobacco Control like Deborah and Sheila who are often credited with introducing smoking bans and other measures that have saved tens of thousands of lives. Allegedly.

Surely they should receive recognition for their services to public health?

Someone must have been listening because a year later Fiona Andrews and Andrea Crossfield each received an MBE in the New Year Honours.

Nothing however for Deborah or Sheila.

Two years later they were still awaiting recognition while the likes of Ailsa Rutter, director of FRESH (formerly Smokefree North East) was being awarded an OBE.

In June this year, following the publication of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list (another blank for Sheila and Deborah), I pointed out the curious anomaly that while Fiona Andrews and Andrea Crossfield had each been honoured, their organisations - Smokefree South West and Tobacco Free Futures - had subsequently been forced to close following the loss of council funding:

Meanwhile Sheila Duffy, who has been CEO of ASH Scotland since 2007, continues her relentless pursuit of a smoke free society in the frustrating knowledge that her predecessor Maureen Moore was at least awarded an OBE.

As for my old friend Deborah Arnott, the wait for that elusive gong goes on. The good news is, there's always another Honours list.

Well, I’ve scoured the latest Honours List (all 48 pages) and there’s still no mention of either of Sheila or Deborah.

What’s going on?

Friday
Dec292017

New year, new anti-smoking campaign

It's New Year so Public Health England has launched yet another anti-smoking initiative.

The "major integrated smoking cessation campaign" costs £1 million of your money and features a "hard-hitting" TV ad that "urges England's seven million smokers to try to quit this year with help from the NHS Smokefree services, which include face-to-face help, stop smoking aids, an app, social media and SMS support."

According to the press release issued by Freuds on behalf of PHE and parroted (without a single opposing comment) by the Press Association:

One person every minute is admitted to hospital with a smoking related illness. As such, on Friday 29th December Public Health England (PHE) will launch their latest hard-hitting Smokefree Health Harms campaign to encourage the nation’s 7 million smokers to give quitting smoking a go this New Year - please find the press release and more information below, including interview opportunities.

The campaign highlights how poisons from tar in cigarettes enter the bloodstream, spreading around the body within seconds and cause damage to major organs. As part of the campaign, a new video will be released, featuring Dr Dawn Harper, which sees 6 long-term heavy smokers (including TV presenter and entrepreneur, Hilary Devey), take part in a unique toxicology demonstration showing the impact of just three poisons released into the bloodstream with each cigarette.

I'm not a scientist so I've no idea whether any of this is true but it reminds me of a previous campaign that claimed that “Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation".

The Department of Health's 'mutation health harms' campaign was launched on television on December 28, 2012. According to the voiceover:

“When you smoke the chemicals you inhale cause mutations in your body and mutations are how cancer starts. Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation. If you could see the damage you would stop.”

We were extremely dubious about this claim and submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. It was based on two counts: misleading information and the omission of material information.

Eighteen months later, after a tortuous investigation during which the ASA Executive upheld our complaint THREE times, the ASA Council took the unusual decision to ignore the recommendation of its own executive (which had commissioned a report from an independent expert) and side with the DH.

See At last, the ASA verdict on Forest complaint about DH "mutation" ad.

Meanwhile the new PHE campaign has been endorsed by lifelong smoker and former Dragon's Den star Hilary Devey who said:

“I’ve smoked at least 20 a day for over forty years. Like many, I’ve been hooked on cigarettes and ignoring the damage – even though I know the harm I’m doing, I’ve found it extremely difficult to quit for good. Even a stroke three years ago only led me to stop temporarily.

“Seeing the high levels of poisonous chemicals in my blood from these tests really hit home how dangerous continuing to smoke is – and for that reason, I’m done!

“I’m absolutely determined to try again this New Year and I hope other smokers across the country will join me making full use of all the free help available at Smokefree - this time next year we could be celebrating one year smoke-free and feeling the benefits.”

Could this be the same Hilary Devey who previously railed against smoking bans (on Room 101) and described a ban on smoking in cars as an "infringement of human rights" (TV Dragon speaks up for smoking)?

Or the same Hilary Devey who responded to a question from the London Evening Standard ("What would you do as Mayor for the day?") by saying, "Improve the smoking ban so that smokers could be accommodated indoors"?

OK, I appreciate her health problems may have changed her attitude to smoking (understandably so) but those comments were made at least two years after she suffered a stroke following an operation in February 2009. (If she suffered a further stroke "three years ago" that news eluded me.)

Ironically when she joined Dragon's Den in 2011 she also told Hello! magazine, "I was most nervous about meeting Duncan (Bannatyne) because everyone told me how anti-smoking he was and he told me so every day."

I was so convinced she might be a potential ally I invited her (twice) to speak at the Forest Freedom Dinner.

Her management company didn't dismiss the idea. Instead I was told, "She feels very strongly about smoking so I am sure she will look upon your [request] favourably."

That was in 2013. Sadly it didn't work out and Hilary is now a leading figure in a £1 million, publicly-funded, anti-smoking campaign.

Duncan will be so proud!

PS. Forest's response to the PHE campaign was reported by the Independent and the Daily Star.

According to the Star:

Simon Clark, director of smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “It wouldn't be New Year without an anti-smoking campaign designed to scare smokers to quit.

“The new ad is a complete waste of public money.

“Smokers know there are serious health risks associated with smoking. They don’t need another alarmist TV ad to remind them.”

Update: The Daily Mail offers some further insight into Hilary Devey’s current mindset:

Hilary Devey has vowed to finally kick her 40-year smoking habit after a health scare made her question her lifestyle.

Even suffering a stroke in 2009 wasn't enough to stop the businesswoman and self-made millionaire from kicking the habit.

'I had a separate health scare earlier this year, which turned out to be a misdiagnosis, but it was enough to make me realise that I needed to change my lifestyle - and finally try to quit smoking for good,' she said.

Full story: Dragon’s Den star Hilary Devey, 60, vows to finally kick her 40-YEAR smoking habit after terrifying health scare.

Thursday
Dec282017

Perfect sense

Hope you're enjoying the Christmas break.

I intended to publish this post yesterday. Instead I braved the snow and took my family to the cinema to watch Paddington 2 (which is very good, btw).

When we got back all roads into the village had flooded and we had to abandon the car and walk to the house.

It was then a rush to beat the rising water in order to drive my mother home to Derbyshire - avoiding the A14 that was blocked for seven hours yesterday – which is where I woke up this morning to a thick frost.

Now back home in Cambridgeshire I've been writing a response to a new publicly-funded anti-smoking campaign being launched tomorrow (and recording an interview for Sky News Radio).

Anyway, I wasn't intending to post much this week, apart from a review of the year (if I have time), but I thought I'd mention a report that appeared as an 'exclusive' in the Independent on Boxing Day.

The headline (Local councils cut millions of pounds from stop-smoking services while investments in tobacco companies soar) sums it up.

Councils are investing millions of pounds in some of the world’s largest tobacco companies at the same time as funding for services to help people stop smoking is being slashed, an investigation by The Independent has revealed.

Investments in cigarette giants including Phillip Morris and Imperial Tobacco by local authorities in England have increased by hundreds of millions of pounds over the past five years.

At the same time, councils have nearly halved the money available to help smokers to beat their addiction.

The paper was obviously waiting for a slow news day to run the story because Forest was invited to comment seven days before it appeared.

Our full response read:

“Investing in the tobacco industry and reducing funding for stop smoking services are completely unrelated.

“Councils have a duty not to waste public money and it would be silly to rule out investing in a legitimate and traditionally profitable industry.

“Cutting funding for smoking cessation services also makes perfect sense. Demand for stop smoking services has fallen by over 50 per cent since 2010 so it’s a complete waste of money to maintain funding at previous levels.

“Instead of using expensive public services, smokers who want to quit are increasingly switching to e-cigarettes without the need for any state intervention. That’s great news for taxpayers who shouldn’t be expected to pay for smokers to stop.”

I didn't expect the paper to use every line but they could have used a bit more than:

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said slashing funding for smoking-cessation programmes made “perfect sense” as demand for the service had dropped, with smokers increasingly turning to e-cigarettes.

C'est la vie.

Sunday
Dec242017

Happy Christmas!

Friday
Dec222017

Rebel with a cause!

‘Tobacco Reporter stories are thoroughly researched, fact-checked and contain insights that you won’t come across in competing publications.’

That’s very true. The latest issue features a three-page interview with yours truly in which I am described as “studious-looking”, “avuncular” and “engagingly combative”.

The headline, ‘Rebel With A Cause’, also made me chuckle. According to George Gay, who wrote the piece:

Part of his journalistic activities were devoted to radical/reactionary student publications, and he says he came to Forest from the “fringes of libertarian politics”. He was, I would guess, something of a rebel without sufficient cause, and Forest provided a cause.

Perhaps, but as George also notes:

It was empathy that got him hooked on Forest ... Shortly after joining the organization, he attended an international conference for about 12-14 smokers’ rights groups as he remembers it. He turned up concerned that it was going to be a meeting of fairly hard-core libertarian activists, but the people he met, he said, were ordinary smokers from around Europe, mostly volunteers representing groups of people who simply enjoyed smoking and who came across as rather bemused by the anti-smoking movement and the increasing restrictions being foisted on smokers.

All they had wanted was to be left alone to enjoy smoking. They didn't want to upset anybody; they didn't want to inconvenience other people; and they were happy with reasonable restrictions on where they could smoke. Clark said he felt very strongly that they needed a voice and that they should be supported.

With a delicious but unintended irony the person George interviewed for the previous issue was Derek Yach, the former WHO executive whose new project, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, is being bankrolled by Philip Morris International to the tune of $1 billion.

Perhaps that was at the back of editor Taco Tuinstra’s mind when he wrote this month's Editor's Memo:

At a time when even tobacco companies seem to be turning against cigarettes, few people are willing to speak up for smokers. Fortunately there are organisations, such as Forest in the UK, who continue to stand up on their behalf, even when it is increasingly unpopular to do so.

The example set by Forest is inspiring. So, as we move into 2018, let’s spare a thought for beleaguered smokers everywhere. Not only do they deserve respect as fellow citizens; they also continue to generate the bulk of our business.

To read Taco's editorial and the interview in full click here or on the image below.

The cover, btw, features one of my favourite photographs. It was taken by Dan Donovan and I used it in my presentation at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum in New York in September.

Pointing to the image on the screen, I said:

"This picture was taken at an annual Forest event called Smoke On The Water. Each year we hire a Mississippi-style paddle steamer and cruise down the Thames under Tower Bridge and past many of London’s iconic buildings including the Houses of Parliament. Guests include politicians, parliamentary researchers, political activists but, most important, ordinary consumers – smokers and vapers.

"I love this photo because it illustrates the type of person Forest represents – a gloriously unashamed smoker who enjoys smoking and doesn’t wish to quit or conceal his habit. Smokers, especially cigarette smokers, are invariably portrayed as victims of a terrible addiction. Does this man look like a victim to you? Of course not. Nor is he alone. There are many, many smokers just like him."

Two years after it was taken I can't tell you how satisfying it is to see it on the cover of a global tobacco trade magazine!

Thursday
Dec212017

Life lines

Boisdale Life is a quarterly magazine published by Boisdale Restaurants.

The Winter issue is now available and it includes an article by me. Here’s a taste:

The smoking ban gave the green light to a level of intolerance that has been depressing to behold. Note too how easily people have been persuaded that even the briefest exposure to ‘secondhand’ smoke is a genuine health risk. This has been achieved by a combination of zealots and fanatics working hand-in-hand with a well-funded public health industry that believes the end justifies the means. The ‘smoke free’ legislation is one of the most egregious examples of the nanny – no, make that bully – state. If we don’t take a stand choices that non-smokers hold dear will be threatened too.

It even features a little dig at my fellow writers:

Even contributors to Boisdale Life have bought into [the anti-smoking] myth. At a lunch to mark the magazine’s fifth birthday earlier this year I was disappointed to find little support for amending the legislation. Interestingly that puts them at odds with the general public because even in recent years polls have consistently found a small majority in favour of allowing well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

Frankly I sensed something that dare not speak its name – snobbery. At Boisdale it’s not enough to have a terrace where people can smoke. It has to be called a ‘Cigar Terrace’. I imagine it’s designed to appeal to a certain demographic that considers cigarettes to be a bit vulgar or second rate.

To download a copy of the article click here. To download a copy of the entire magazine click here.

Hard copies are available at each of the four Boisdale restaurants in Mayfair, Belgravia, the City and Canary Wharf.