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Friday
Mar162018

Impact of the smoking ban on consumers' behaviour

The March Forest e-newsletter was published this week.

It includes items on the new 'Make Smoking History in Greater Manchester' campaign (you can complete the survey here), plans to create smoke free zones in various towns and cities, plus the death of inventor Trevor Baylis.

In other words, everything you've already read here, with one exception.

Joanna Frost is a third year student at Northumbria University. She's currently carrying out small-scale project to investigate the impact of the 2007 smoking ban in England on the behaviour of smokers, non-smokers and ex-smokers. She told us:

"As part of this project I would like to collect primary data via a series of semi-structured interviews with individuals aged between 30 and 60-years-old."

For full information download the participation information sheet.

We like to help researchers, including students, with smoking-related projects so if you're interested in answering some questions please email joanna.frost@northumbria.ac.uk asap.

See Forest Newsletter - March 2018.

Thursday
Mar152018

Ashmob – a great idea perfectly executed

Loved the concept, loved the execution.

On July 1, 2007, Metro reported:

In London’s Covent Garden, dozens of smokers held an Ashmob – based on flash mobbing where hundreds of people create a seemingly spontaneous event.

The smokers all lit up simultaneously at 2pm and waved placards reading ‘Roll up, Roll up’ and ‘Sex, Cigs and Rock & Roll’.

See Smoking revolt smouldering on.

Ashmob wasn’t just an event. It was a group with a website and a MySpace page. It even had a 'president'.

The website featured some stunning photographs taken in Regent’s Park by a professional photographer.

The founder and president had previously interviewed me for a now defunct publication called Total:Spec.

Two years later, in 2009, I asked what had happened to Ashmob. He told me:

I'm still very much behind the principle we stood for but sadly not really in possession of enough time to make it all work properly, so probably need to accept that it's time to move on. Shame, really.

I won't publish his name because he's gone on to have a good career as a freelance journalist, writing for the Guardian among others, and may not appreciate it.

I’m pleased to report however that Forest has just acquired the rights to use these and other Ashmob photos for as long as we want.

We'll use them sparingly but the aim is to keep both the memory and the idea alive.

PS. On Saturday I’m addressing a European Students for Liberty leadership forum. I’m tempted to include one or two of these images in my presentation.

Wednesday
Mar142018

UK consumers to be hit by excise tax on heated tobacco

'UK to introduce excise duty on heated tobacco' read the headline.

The decision, reported by Politico Europe yesterday, is in response to a consultation on the tax treatment of heated tobacco products.

I expected more interest from the media but apart from Politico the only publications that have mentioned it are two retail titles, The Grocer and Convenience Store.

Both reports featured quotes from a Forest press release that criticised the Government’s decision:

"Heated tobacco may not be as safe as electronic cigarettes but current evidence suggests there is almost certain to be a reduction in risk for cigarette smokers.

"Why would any government want to undermine the future of a product that may encourage smokers to quit voluntary and without coercion?

"Many smokers have tried e-cigarettes but don't like them. The attraction of heated tobacco is that it fills the gap between combustible cigarettes and e-cigarettes which don't contain tobacco.

"Heated tobacco products are still in their infancy. Adding excise duty will almost certainly deter many smokers from switching to a potentially safer device.

PMI, which makes the iQOS 'heat not burn' device that was launched in the UK in 2016, welcomed the ‘recognition’ that heated tobacco was "fundamentally different" from combustible tobacco but was broadly supportive of the imposition of an excise tax on ‘heat not burn’ products.

Instead, the company simply reiterated its belief that "taxation should be proportionate to harm and heated tobacco should therefore be taxed at a lower rate."

That's not an unreasonable position to take. However excise duty on heated tobacco is unlikely to remain "at a lower rate" indefinitely. Regardless of the risk, that's not how governments or the tobacco control industry works.

Ultimately the consumer always pays so it will be interesting to see what impact the imposition of excise duty has on the heated tobacco market.

Meanwhile it's worth noting that, only eight weeks ago, the European Commission decided, 'due to lack of sufficient information', that no excise tax should be imposed on either e-cigarettes or novel tobacco products including 'heat-not-burn' tobacco.

See 'Commission opposes excise tax on e-cigarettes and novel tobacco products, for now'.

In other words, by introducing its own excise duty category, the UK Government has done what it did when it fast forwarded the introduction of plain packaging.

It has 'gold-plated' an existing EC directive (in this case the Tobacco Excise Directive) and gone further than it needed to.

Some might say this is because the UK is one of the few EU member states where iQOS is sold, but the message is clear - post Brexit we may have to lower our expectations about a reduction in unnecessary and counter-productive regulations.

PS. In its report on the consultation on the tax treatment of heated tobacco products the Government includes a list of stakeholders consulted.

It won’t surprise you to learn that the list includes not a single body representing the consumer.

Wednesday
Mar142018

Vive la résistance!

It's No Smoking Day today.

I'll forgive you if you didn't know. Nationally it's been a non-event for years. It wasn't always like this, though.

When I started working for Forest I was told that No Smoking Day and the Budget were the two busiest days of the year, media wise, and I'd be run off my feet.

Nineteen years later I've been booked to do just two interviews – BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Radio Suffolk. I dare say other local radio stations will do the odd item and it will be featured in some regional newspapers, but the glory days are long gone.

What's done for No Smoking Day is a combination of things including another smoking cessation initiative – Stoptober.

Less than a decade ago No Smoking Day was a charity with a budget of £600k and its own chief executive. In 2011 it merged with another charity, the British Heart Foundation.

I’ve no idea who runs the event now, though. There’s no mention of it on the BHF website, which seems odd.

Cheerleaders include ASH, ASH Scotland and Fresh North East but even they seem a bit half-hearted about it.

Anyway, if you've heard this story before I apologise but the year I joined Forest I suggested we send a group of staff and supporters to Paris (which we dubbed the 'European capital of smoking') to escape the horrors of No Smoking Day in the UK.

In those days Eurostar trains had coaches where smoking was permitted. Naturally we occupied one and my colleague Juliette Torres found herself conducting a series of interviews with local radio stations before the train entered the tunnel.

Our intrepid group included Bob Shields, features editor of the Daily Record, who had flown down the night before to join us. Bob (pictured above at the old Eurostar terminal at Waterloo Station) was a smoker so he fitted right in.

When the train arrived in Paris (I stayed in London to handle other media enquiries) the group was met by our counterparts in France and taken for lunch in a restaurant allegedly used by the French Resistance in World War II.

After that the group broke up with some people visiting famous landmarks and others decamping to the nearest bar.

Somewhere there's a wonderful picture of Bob and Juliette, in silhouette, lighting cigarettes with the Eiffel Tower behind them.

Needless to say not everyone caught the train they were scheduled to return home on. The last to return got back long after midnight.

Bob, who was one of the last to return, flew back to Glasgow the following day and wrote an hilarious article that was published as a double page spread with some great pictures. (I forgot to mention he was accompanied to Paris by a photographer.)

He left the Daily Record in 2008 to run a pub in Ayr where he still writes a column for the local paper.

Below: Forest's Juliette Torres aboard Eurostar heading for Paris. On the left, sitting down, is our office manager Jenny Sharkey who left the following year to work for Theresa May, and still does!

Monday
Mar122018

The ideological bullying of smokers

Ian O'Doherty is one of the most fearless journalists in Ireland.

In my experience very few columnists – he writes for the Irish Independent and Irish Daily Star – are prepared to tackle some of the difficult issues he addresses.

He's also a smoker and is one of the few remaining journalists who's prepared to admit it without apologising.

Naturally he was top of the list of people we wanted to meet when we organised a series of dinners in Dublin last year.

Not only did he join us on a couple of occasions, he even accepted an invitation to say a few words at the Golden Nanny Awards in November when he also proposed an ad hoc toast to the woman who had previously been his bete noire, Senator Catherine Noone, winner of the 'Nanny-in-Chief' award.

On Saturday Ian used his column in the Irish Independent to attack those who refuse to let mental health patients' smoke even in the grounds of mental health units.

But he went further. He also criticised blanket bans on smoking on the grounds of Irish hospitals, pointing out that:

People smoke in hospitals for a variety of reasons, and one which is never considered by the authorities is that it is actually good for their head.

Certainly, when my father spent a few years in and out of James's hospital with the terminal, non-smoking related disease which would ultimately kill him, he measured the days by increments of when he'd go out for a smoke. It broke the endless monotony of living on a ward and, like many other long-term patients, he was determined to not become a 'lifer', one of those lost, institutionalised souls who simply lie in bed all day staring at the ceiling.

Getting up and going out for a break is often the only relief a patient gets.

To enforce such a rule on people who are already in so much turmoil that they are in a residential mental unit just seems needlessly, spitefully cruel. Life has already proved intolerable for many of these patients, and taking away what may well be their last bit of pleasure and relief is an extraordinary act of ideological bullying.

Ian also included a comment from Forest Ireland’s John Mallon (taken from this press release) which I’m pleased about because John was an outspoken critic of the plan to ban smoking in three mental health units in Cork when it was first reported locally.

Anyway, the article is well worth reading. Click here. You can register for free and it only takes a moment.

Above: Ian O'Doherty at the Golden Nanny Awards, Dublin, November 2017. Below: with Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas, Dublin, May 2017.

Saturday
Mar102018

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend

It's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

For the past few days I've had the vicarious pleasure of following the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town, mostly via Twitter.

As I mentioned in my previous post there were at least 35 tobacco control activists from the UK in South Africa for the three-day event.

The total could have been higher because several more names appeared, giving presentations, during the week.

As you would expect at an event like this there was a huge amount of mutual backslapping, with delegates falling over one another to congratulate themselves on their 'achievements'.

The uninvited 'evil enemy' was of course the tobacco industry but consumer representatives were also noticeable by their absence.

A handful of vaping advocates were present and were suitably aggrieved that e-cigarettes and other non-combustible products like snus were not given the prominence they thought they deserved for reducing smoking rates in the UK, USA, Japan and the Nordic countries (Sweden and Norway).

It was hard to have much sympathy though because it's difficult at times to distinguish between a tobacco harm reduction campaigner and an anti-smoking activist.

I had to mute one THR advocate whose gushing praise for Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, proved too much even for my constitution.

But what really had me torn between laughter and tears was the reaction of some vaping advocates to the fact that Derek Yach, founder of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, had been refused entry to the conference.

You'll recall that the FSFW was launched last year with the support of Philip Morris International (PMI) which has committed to donate a handsome $1bn to Yach's organisation over the next twelve years.

At the same time PMI has set 2030 as a reasonable date by which it hopes to stop selling cigarettes in the UK, if not elsewhere.

Despite their commitment to a Utopian 'smoke-free' future, neither PMI nor FSFW were welcome at WCTOH2018. Worse, there was an entire session devoted to excoriating the entire project.

THR advocates were furious, which points to a serious problem. Morally and ethically some are getting in a terrible tangle.

Quite rightly they want to discredit the World Health Organisation and any government or NGO that wants to restrict or prohibit access to non-combustible products.

That’s an honourable objective but to achieve it you shouldn’t have to get into bed with those whose goal is a ‘smoke-free’ world in which smokers have been denormalised and discriminated against to the nth degree and smoking has been taxed or prohibited out of existence.

‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is an ancient proverb that ‘suggests that two opposing parties can or should work together against a common enemy’.

The problem for smokers and anyone of a genuinely liberal persuasion is that, in this instance, the enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend. He’s my enemy too.

Instead of supporting, unequivocally, choice for all consumers (while opposing punitive anti-smoking policies designed to force smokers to switch or quit), far too many THR campaigners are playing a dangerous political game.

Effectively they are endorsing the creeping prohibition of smoking. At the same time they are helping to create a template for the prohibition of non-combustible nicotine products.

In his former role with the WHO, Derek Yach – as he likes to remind us – was one of the architects of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. That alone should set off alarm bells.

Despite being refused admission to the World Conference on Tobacco or Health and criticised by many of his fellow tobacco control campaigners, Yach remains committed to the goal of a 'smoke-free' world.

Anyone with an ounce of support for smokers' rights should take note. Instead some people are so blinded by the glow from Yach’s THR halo - and the fact that he has been ostracised by the enemy - that they are desperate to embrace him as their friend.

Part of me does of course enjoy seeing Yach disrupt the tobacco control industry. The more divisions the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Like Yach I also support tobacco harm reduction but the movement away from smoking has to be on consumers' terms not those of Big Government, Big NGO, Big Pharma or even Big Tobacco.

Where I draw the line is treating him as some sort of benevolent god or hero. Some of the sycophantic comments I’ve seen this week must be seen to be believed. Nauseating doesn't even begin to cover it.

The reality is, no-one who supports unconditionally the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is a friend of the right to smoke (aka freedom of choice).

Given the FSFW’s enthusiastic promotion of WHO propaganda about the alleged threat of secondhand smoke, it suggests they’re no friend of science either.

Something else the FSFW’s apologists, many of whom loathe and detest the WHO, should take note of is this.

If you read the FSFW’s tweets and statements it’s clear they are desperate to ingratiate themselves with the WHO and the rest of the tobacco control industry.

Bizarrely even Michael Bloomberg was quoted this week as saying, "I've always supported the right to use tobacco. I think you're making a mistake, but you have the right."

Admittedly he then added, "But you don't have the right to expose others to second-hand smoke." But at least he recognised smoking as a legitimate 'right'.

Has Derek Yach ever made a similar concession about smoking? I don’t know. Perhaps someone could tell me.

Ironically, while Yach is now regarded by the tobacco control industry as their enemy (a fact that has won him support from THR campaigners), Yach himself wants to be their friend.

Meanwhile the tweeter who was praising Deborah Arnott and ASH for their allegedly ‘pro-vaping’ stance in the UK is also a keen supporter of Derek Yach’s new foundation, which Arnott is opposed to.

Confused?

Another thing. I know many THR advocates argue that they too are fighting for choice – or the 'right to good health' as they rather nauseatingly put it.

The reality is rather different. With a few honourable exceptions (I won’t list the ones I know but they know who they are and I respect them for it) the overwhelming majority of THR campaigners have never fought for smokers’ rights.

When smoking bans and other anti-smoking policies are proposed and enforced the only sound to be heard is silence. Their ‘fight for choice’ is strictly limited to non-combustible products.

I've said this so many times I'm beginning to bore myself but it needs to be said, again and again.

The enemy is anyone who aspires to a 'smoke free' world because, once that’s achieved, the goalposts will move and the new target will be a 'nicotine free' world.

Meanwhile, what about alcohol? I've been writing about this for almost a decade (see 'The bully state moves in on alcohol' and 'Alcohol and tobacco, two peas in a pod') but the message that came back from anti-smoking campaigners was always, 'Tobacco is a special case.'

In Cape Town this week that response was completely blown out of the water. Appeasement of those working towards a ‘smoke-free’ world will almost certainly end in tears because the prohibitionist mindset won’t end with smoking.

Alcohol, sugary drinks, non-combustible tobacco and e-cigarettes ... the die is cast.

Wednesday
Mar072018

How the UK is driving the global tobacco control industry

All roads lead to Cape Town this week – if you're a tobacco control activist, hanger-on or, dare I say it, schmoozer.

Incredibly, as Guido reports this morning, there are at least 35 delegates from the UK attending the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, many of them beneficiaries of taxpayers’ money.

Naturally they include Deborah Arnott (ASH), Ailsa Rutter and Catherine Taylor (Fresh NE), plus a host of academics from Bath, Stirling, Edinburgh, York and Warwick universities which are all members of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS), a network of 13 universities (12 in the UK, one in New Zealand) that conducts research on tobacco and alcohol.

If you want to know the extent to which the UK is driving the global tobacco control industry, check the programme. These are the UK attendees who are giving presentations. There may be more:

Deborah Arnott - ASH
Anna Gilmore – University of Bath
Tim Baxter – Department of Health
Rosanna O’Connor – Public Health England
Catherine Taylor – Fresh North East
Catherine Best – University of Stirling
Ailsa Rutter – Fresh NE
Marisa de Andrade – University of Edinburgh
Danielle Mitchell – University of Stirling
Kamran Siddiqi – University of York
Allison Ford – University of Stirling
Amanda Amos – University of Edinburgh
Jamie Pearce – University of Edinburgh
Andy Rowell – University of Bath

Apparently there are going to be awards for the countries and NGOs that are doing most to combat the tobacco 'epidemic'. That should be interesting.

Also present in sunny South Africa is Linda Bauld who wears so many hats (CRUK, UKCTAS, Stirling University) it’s difficult to keep up.

There must be mornings when Linda wakes up and can’t remember what country she’s in or what issue (smoking, alcohol, obesity) she’s lecturing us about today.

Other familiar faces in Cape Town are Clive Bates, vaping advocate and former director of ASH, and Derek Yach, founder of the Foundation for a Smokefree World, although I'm not sure Yach has been invited to the party.

Given that his organisation has accepted a generous donation from PMI, I suspect not.

Other noticeable absentees are stakeholder organisations representing smokers or the tobacco and vaping industries. Plus ça change (as PMI is discovering).

The conference began, officially, this morning but good to see there's a social side too.

Tobacco control - one big happy family.

Tuesday
Mar062018

State regulation, a free press and the CEO of ASH

The state-approved press regulator Impress came under further attack yesterday, this time in Parliament.

In a debate on the Data Protection Bill in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said:

"A free Press is one that cannot be regulated by the state. And so quite understandably no serious newspaper of the Left or of the Right has been willing to bend the knee to Impress and nor should it."

Ouch.

Meanwhile Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, is still a member of the board of the state-approved press regulator Impress.