Road To Ruin?

Search This Site
The Pleasure of Smoking

Forest Polling Report

Outdoor Smoking Bans

Plain Packaging

Share This Page
Powered by Squarespace

Thoughts on smoking, vaping and middle-class snobbery

I was planning to publish the full transcript of my midweek interview on BBC Radio Guernsey.

Unusually however it was 24-minutes long and I don’t want to impose the whole thing on readers. Instead, here are some edited ‘highlights’:

On smoking being banned on government property

It would be excessive and also rather hypocritical because governments benefit massively from the taxation from tobacco. I mean the taxation that’s raised from tobacco far outweighs the cost of treating smoking related diseases for example. Now I understand the government, like hospitals, don't want to be seen to encourage people to smoke but I do think they have got to be a bit more pragmatic about this and stop treating smokers not just as second class citizens but really as third class citizens.

Tobacco is a perfectly legal product. It is not an illegal drug. People are allowed to buy it and as I say the state benefits massively in terms of finance. We've already got a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and when that was brought in it was brought in, we were told, to protect the health of bar workers. There was no mention at the time that some years later the smoking ban was going to be extended to outdoor public places as well and if we talk about smoking outdoors there's absolutely no threat to the health of any non-smoker so there really is no justifiable reason to ban it, whether on government property or any other outdoor public place.

On tobacco being made illegal

I think there are two things here, one is pragmatic and one is to do with the pleasure of smoking. In purely pragmatic terms we know that prohibition doesn't work. We all know what happened in the United States in the Twenties and Thirties when they tried to ban alcohol. All that happens is you drive the product underground and the people who benefit financially are the criminal gangs, and exactly the same thing would happen with tobacco. You wouldn't stub it out. People would continue to smoke. I mean we see [what’s happening] where smoking is largely banned in prisons in England, for example, and what's happening is that prisoners are turning to illegal drugs such as spice, which I am told is cheaper than tobacco, [so] people will always get around prohibition and, quite often, you will move people on to products that are potentially even more dangerous, but what basically happens is that you lose control of the market. So you are never going to stub it out completely.

Also, there is a fundamental thing here which a lot of people think is almost taboo to talk about these days. Yes, there are people who wish to quit smoking, yes there are people who wish they had never started smoking, but there are still a considerable number of people who take great pleasure from smoking, they enjoy it. They know the health risks, they know that they are potentially putting their health at risk, particularly in the long term, but they get so much pleasure out of smoking that they are prepared to put that to one side and I think we have to respect people's choices and if people choose to smoke a legal product then I think they have every right to do that as long as they are considerate to those people around them, and I think you will find these days that smokers are increasingly considerate to people around them. They have to be because they know if they are not considerate to other people then we are going to get more and more people demanding a complete ban on smoking in public places.

On vaping in public places

What people have to understand is that there are two different types of vaping. A lot of people can what they call ‘stealth vape’. You wouldn’t even be aware of it. You might be very close to them but you would have no idea because they are gently puffing away on a vape pen or something, but the pictures we see in the media tend to show people vaping these huge clouds of vapour. Now that is not the norm. Very few vapers do that and if they do that it in public places with a lot of people around them, frankly they are idiots and they are causing vaping to be banned in public places.

In pure health terms there is absolutely no reason to ban vaping in public places whatsoever. In fact if you're in the public health lobby or in government you would be absolutely mad to support a ban on vaping in public places because clearly at the moment vaping has been quite successful, it has been quite popular in the last few years. Smokers are switching to vaping. At the moment in the UK as a whole about there about three million vapers, about half of those are what we call dual users. So they are both vaping and smoking and but half have given up smoking completely.

The evidence at the moment suggests that vaping is massively less harmful, potentially less harmful, than smoking. So if you are in public health or government you really want to encourage people to switch from smoking to vaping. There’s absolutely no need, I mean it’s just ludicrous, to ban vaping in public places. If anything government should be encouraging smokers to switch and to vape instead.

On why a non-smoker defends smokers’ rights

I had the odd cigarette when I was 16 or 17 but I grew up in the Seventies when a lot of my friends smoked. I never took up smoking but I feel very strongly about this not just because I think smokers are under so much attack. I think it's quite wrong and unfair. I think it’s completely right that government educates people about the potential risks of smoking The government clearly has a role to play but when it comes to forcing, coercing people to give up through a whole raft of means, whether it's a comprehensive smoking ban, whether it’s punitive taxation, I think that's absolutely wrong.

I do think governments these days want to interfere in people's lives in a way that they wouldn’t have dreamt of doing 30 or 40 years ago and it's not just about smoking. It’s now alcohol, it’s now food and all the rest of it and in a civilised society we can't infantilise adults the way we are doing at the moment. People have to be allowed to make informed choices and if they choose to smoke that is a matter for them, it's not a matter for government.

On middle class snobbery towards smokers

There is a lot of snobbery, I have to say, around smoking. We get it all the time from cigar smokers. We defend people’s right to smoke cigars, smoke pipes, smoke cigarettes, we defend people’s right to vape, if that’s what they want to do. It all comes down to choice, but there is a huge amount of snobbery around smoking and you often find that cigars smokers will distance themselves from cigarette smokers and say, ‘Oh, we are a cut above them’, but I [also] think there is a lot of middle class snobbery here.

We know that, generally speaking, cigarette smokers tend to come from the C and D socio-economic categories. The majority of middle-class people have given up smoking and it tends to be people from perhaps poorer backgrounds who continue smoking. They are the majority of smokers these days. I think there is a huge amount of middle class snobbery that looks down their noses at people who smoke and I think it is quite outrageous actually.

For the full transcript, click here.

Incidentally, I’m glad to see that Chris Snowdon and I agree on middle-class snobbery. Here he is, speaking in Cambridge this afternoon:


PHE chief declares war on smokers

Further to yesterday’s post, The Sun has the story (above).

Nobody in England should be smoking within 12 years, a health chief has said.

The boss of Public Health England wants a “smoke-free society” by the year 2030.

Chief executive Duncan Selbie last night called for all smokers to be given help to quit.

He told the NHS England Expo in Manchester: “Smoking should no longer be seen as a lifestyle choice. It is an addiction that warrants medical treatment.

“Everyone who smokes must be offered the support they need to quit.”

The report includes a quote from me:

Simon Clark, of smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “It’s laughable to think England will be smoke-free within 12 years.

“Some people will always want to smoke.

“It’s their choice and if you’re an adult you have every right to do so.

“Some smokers would like to quit but many smoke because they enjoy it and no amount of state-sponsored bullying will force them to stop.”

To read the full report click on the image above or click here.

Btw, we need to keep reminding people of the economic fallacy of Selbie's argument – that 'helping' smokers quit will 'free up almost £900 million a year, cash the NHS spends treating illnesses caused by tobacco'.

Where the hell does he think a sizeable chunk of smokers' hard-earned cash goes after the government gets its hands on all that tobacco duty (£10 billion plus VAT per year)?

It goes – ta da – to the NHS. What is the government/NHS going to do when that source of revenue dries up? They'll tax something else – e-cigarettes, certainly.

It would also help if the tobacco control lobby could be consistent in its relentless propaganda.

For years we've been told the cost of treating 'smoking-related' illnesses on the NHS is £2.7 billion a year. (Before that it was £1.5 billion.)

According to Selbie the cost of treating 'illnesses caused by tobacco' (note the difference) is £900 million a year.

Either way these are just estimates and calculations – unlike the sums we know are raised by the Treasury through punitive taxation on tobacco.

Anyway, Selbie has made PHE's position clear. Smoking, he insists, is not a lifestyle choice. It's an addiction that requires medical treatment.

Vapers, take note. Eventually, at some point in the future, PHE will come for you too.

Update: Mail Online has the story too, with my quote – England should have NO smokers by 2030: Health chief calls for millions of smokers to quit within 12 years to save lives and cut NHS bills.


Public Health England chief vows to get "ruthless" on smoking

What do Philip Morris and Public Health England have in common?

They're both targeting 2030 as the year England will be 'smoke free' (sic).

Their definition of 'smoke free' is a strange one because it actually corresponds to a smoking prevalence of five per cent.

As the IEA's Mark Littlewood said at an event hosted by Philip Morris earlier this year (and I paraphrase), no-one would say Britain is 'heroin free' yet the number of people who use that drug is far less than five per cent of the population.

Moreover, five per cent of an adult population of 40 million is two million, so PHE (and Philip Morris) intend to declare England 'smoke free' when there are still two million people smoking. Really?

Anyway, PHE's chief executive Duncan Selbie has once again been making noises.

According to one report published today, Selbie says the NHS long term plan, which is due to be published in November, must have a “really big” prevention ambition'.

The same report notes that:

In a statement released today, PHE said prioritising smoking cessation, cardiovascular disease and obesity in the long term plan will have a huge impact.

It said this could lead to reducing smoking prevalence to less than five per cent by 2030, and halving childhood obesity and the number of avoidable deaths from cardiovascular disease.

If you want to know what that means, Selbie has posted an article – 'Prevention and the NHS long term plan: 3 ways we can save more lives' – on PHE's Public Health Matters blog:

Smoking [he writes] remains England’s biggest killer and ends the life of 200 people every day. Our prevalence rates are at an all-time low at just under 15% but this belies huge variation, such as in affluent Epsom and Ewell, where rates are at 4.9%, but just 60 miles away on the south coast in Hastings the rate is more than five times greater at 25.7%. We also see big variation particularly in people in manual work and those who suffer with mental health problems. Our prisons are now largely smokefree but it can be harder to smoke outside a railway station or pub than it can outside a hospital, and this is not okay.

Smoking is the single biggest modifiable risk factor that impacts on infant mortality and morbidity, causing up to 2,200 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages & 300 perinatal deaths per year. Almost 11% of women in England are still recorded as smoking at the time of delivery, which translates into over 65,000 infants born to smoking mothers each year. We need to take action and support women to increase the number having a smoke free pregnancy, including implementing the actions set out in the Government Tobacco Control Plan in respect of pregnant women and of the Maternity Transformation Programme.

Our ambition to remove smoking from England will only be achieved by the concerted efforts of everyone, but it can be done, and the NHS could be a more powerful driving force by actively nudging patients and its own staff onto cessation programmes, treating smoking addiction as a medical condition and taking an absolutely zero tolerant approach to smoking on the NHS estate.

All of this and more will play out through the long term plan and this time we must be more literal about the priority that we are giving to prevention. We need less rhetoric and more action. We need to be ruthless in our priority setting and ruthless in our implementation.

Interestingly, and despite PHE's declared support for e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, vaping doesn't get a single mention.

Selbie's contempt for smokers is all too obvious however.

Of course, if he achieves his ambition to make England 'smoke free' by 2030 (he won't), expect to see a new NHS plan featuring a "zero tolerant approach to vaping on the NHS estate" allied to the "need to be ruthless in our priority setting and ruthless in our implementation" of anti-vaping policies.

We probably won't have to wait that long because I predict that public health campaigners – even those that are currently advocating e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool – will turn on vaping the moment there are more vapers than smokers.

I'd bet my house on it, if my wife would let me. (She won't.)

Update: Here is Forest's response to PHE's statement:

Prioritising smoking cessation is an "attack on choice and personal responsibility"


Listen to the "incredibly informative director of Forest"!

Got a minute?

Then listen to the "incredibly informative director of Forest" talking to Jenny Kendall-Tobias on BBC Radio Guernsey earlier today!!

Subjects included smoking (and vaping) in public places.

Click here. Transcript to follow.


Will the eradication of passive smoking be followed by the eradication of smokers?

Some anti-smokers, I am convinced, have a psychotic disorder.

Psychosis may involve delusional beliefs. Delusions are strong beliefs against the reality, or held despite contradictory evidence.

Fear of ‘passive’ smoking - including even the briefest exposure to tobacco smoke indoors or outside - is a good example of this ‘illness’.

Prior to the smoking ban I was interviewed in a busy London pub. Alongside me was a long-serving employee of ASH who I quite liked because she didn’t have that chip on the shoulder aggression that characterises some of her sterner colleagues.

Sat in that pub however she was a different person. She became agitated and started waving her hand in front of her face.

I wondered what the problem was. Then I realised. It was the smoky atmosphere. And, to be fair, it was a bit smoky. But her reaction was disproportionate and weird.

A friend of 40 years, who I met at university, is so smoker-phobic that he won't attend any event where people are guaranteed to be smoking – even if they are confined to an outdoor smoking area.

Unfortunately if you repeat something often enough (like ‘Passive smoking kills’) a lot of people will believe it even when the evidence of harm is insignificant or inconclusive.

I don’t deny, btw, that a smoky environment can be unpleasant. I know people who grew up in homes where one or both parents smoked up to 40 cigarettes a day and one or two of them still grumble about it when the subject comes up.

Far from encouraging them to smoke, it did the exact opposite.

Without exception they are also living long and apparently healthy lives – and will probably outlive me – which suggests that long-term exposure to smoke in the home may be unpleasant for some but it isn’t as bad as we’re led to believe.

As I've said many times before, no generation has been so exposed to tobacco smoke as the children who grew up in the Fifties and early Sixties when 80 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women were smokers, yet that generation is living longer, and is generally in better health, than any generation before them.

If ‘passive’ smoking is as harmful as they say it is, how is that possible?

Anyway, a new study – reported this week – has found that ‘passive’ smoking has been almost eradicated. According to The Times:

The amount of secondhand smoke inhaled by non-smokers has been almost eliminated over the past 20 years, according to research.

Scientists from the University of Stirling found “dramatic reductions” in exposure since 1998 and evidence of continuing improvements, particularly in the decade after the smoking ban in public places was introduced.

The study was published in the journal Tobacco Control and The Times reported:

Since 1998 the average amount of cotinine — a biomarker for exposure to tobacco smoke — measured in non-smokers’ saliva has reduced by more than 97 per cent.

Or, in tabloid terms: Exposure to second-hand ciggie smoke drops by 97% (Metro).

Inevitably these results have been presented as a great public health success story. According to the research team:

Our analysis showed Scotland has made even greater progress in protecting [my emphasis] non-smokers from secondhand smoke than previous reports had suggested."

Note that word, 'protecting'.

Truth is, the level of cotinine in non-smokers’ saliva may indicate exposure to environmental tobacco smoke but it is not an indicator of harm caused as a result of that exposure.

We went through the whole cotinine argument before the introduction of the smoking ban. Bar workers were tested for cotinine in their saliva and some had a higher level than people who were not exposed to tobacco smoke on a daily basis.

However, attempts to prove that 'passive' smoking was the reason for ill health among bar workers failed consistently through lack of evidence.

A handful of cases resulted in out of court settlements (probably because employers feared a huge legal bill, not to mention compensation, if they lost) but the few bar workers whose cases went to court lost every time.

That apart, the reaction to the 'news' that non-smokers' exposure to tobacco smoke has fallen by 97 per cent since 1998 was notable for two things:

According to the research team at Stirling University:

"The proportion of non-smokers who have no measurable evidence of cotinine in their saliva has increased at almost every survey year and now stands at more than four out of every five adults.

"However, that still means nearly one-fifth of non-smoking adults experience regular exposure to second-hand smoke.

"We now need to work even harder [my emphasis] on making sure that we protect the remaining 600,000 non-smokers in Scotland who continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke on a regular basis.’

In other words, non-smokers’ exposure to tobacco smoke has been reduced to almost zero and we’re still not happy! Cue campaigns to prohibit smoking in the home, beginning with social housing, and smoking outside (to prevent smoke 'drifting' in through open doors and windows.)

Also noteworthy was the reaction of ASH Scotland, a body that works hand-in-hand with the Scottish Government and relies on that same government (using taxpayers' money) for most of its funding.

According to CEO Sheila Duffy:

"This [delivering a healthier environment] has not happened by accident but is the result of work by successive Scottish administrations and is a clear example of the benefits of public health campaigns."

Apart from the underlying message ("Keep funding us!") do you see how Duffy chose to politicise the issue, praising ASH Scotland's benefactors for reducing non-smokers' exposure to "secondhand tobacco smoke" when the truth is that smoking, and non-smokers' exposure to tobacco smoke, was in decline long before devolution was a twinkle in Tony Blair's eye.

There is no significant evidence that the health of non-smokers has improved as a result of the smoking ban and other policies introduced by "successive Scottish administrations". The famous 'heart attack miracle' has been debunked so many times it's frankly embarrassing.

As for the display ban, the ban on tobacco vending machines and the ban on smoking in cars with children (which were introduced in Scotland independent of Westminster or Brussels), show me evidence that a single one of these policies has led to "huge reductions in secondhand smoke exposure in Scotland, delivering a healthier living environment."

Long before the Scottish, Welsh and Westminster governments banned smoking in all enclosed public places, shops, cinemas and public transport had gone ‘smoke free’. Many if not most offices were smoke free too.

As we entered the new millennium pubs and working mens' clubs were among the last remaining places where smoking was allowed with few if any restrictions and millions of non-smokers didn't go to pubs, nor were they members of private clubs that allowed smoking, so the smoking ban made almost no difference to them.

As for smoking in cars with children, that was restricted to a handful of smokers long before a law was introduced making it a criminal offence.

In other words, legislation has played very little part in "delivering a healthier environment" in Scotland or anywhere else.

Nothing, of course, will appease the zealots in the tobacco control industry and now that they have ‘achieved’ the ‘eradication of passive smoking’ what’s left - the eradication of smokers?


How Hubbub beats Keep Britain Tidy in the litter lottery

I've been thinking about cigarette butts and the launch of Keep Britain Tidy's latest campaign, BinTheButt.

I understand that the campaign has been funded with a £400,000 grant from the People's Postcode Lottery.

I wonder how the Postcode Lottery will evaluate whether that is money well spent?

As far as I can tell BinTheButt is nothing more than a PR campaign, and a pretty unsuccessful one. If you ignore KBT’s frantic tweeting, the media coverage has been minimal and will be quickly forgotten.

Compare the ‘glitzy’ poster-driven KBT campaign with that of Hubbub, a charity that seeks creative and ‘playful’ solutions to environmental issues.

Unlike Keep Britain Tidy, Hubbub avoids tendentious, judgemental or emotive claims like accusing smokers of "flicking blue murder" and "poisoning the oceans".

More important, Hubbub actually has an idea designed to tackle the problem of cigarette litter. It’s called the Ballot Bin and it’s a "customisable bespoke ashtray that tackles cigarette butt litter".

Contrast that with KBT whose BinTheButt campaign launch was noticeable for an almost total absence of bins.

While there were plenty of giant butts on display, I saw just one campaign photo featuring a bin and I saw no mention of the need for councils to provide more cigarette bins to help smokers 'bin the butt'.

Instead of coming up with a practical solution, KBT was far more interested in pointing an accusing finger at smokers while giving the anti-smoking industry more ammunition to ban smoking outside.

If I have one criticism of the Hubbub ballot bin it's the design. It’s not cheap (over £200, I believe) but it looks like the sort of thing your grandad might have knocked up in his garage.

Then again, perhaps that is part of its charm. And it seems to work. According to the Local Government Association:

The Ballot Bin encourages the use of the ashtray by allowing the user to vote. When disposing their cigarette butt they can choose one of two receptacles. Each receptacle has a window to display the used butts, allowing a public opinion poll to be generated.

The question on the first bin was ‘Who’s the best football player? Ronaldo or Messi’. The ashtray went viral, orders came in from all over the world, and the bin proved to successfully reduce cigarette butt litter.

It’s also been reported that:

Observational research carried out during the [Neat Streets] campaign revealed that 29 per cent of ‘correct disposals’ were a result of people using the bins rather than littering.

In Southend, where 21 ballot bins were installed in the summer of 2017, the council reported a 46 per cent reduction in cigarette litter.

That's impressive. Can Keep Britain Tidy match that with their BinTheButt campaign? And how are they going to evaluate it?

I think we should be told.

Interestingly, Hubbub is not averse to working with the tobacco industry. According to the Tobacco Manufacturers Association website:

The TMA supported the ‘Neat Streets’ campaign in Villiers Street, London. The campaign was run over the course of several months and tested a number of new and innovative ways to tackle litter. A cigarette voting bin or ‘Ballot Bin’ proved to be very popular among smokers, reducing smoking litter by 46%, as well as catching the attention of the global media. The bin was trialled in Edinburgh where again it proved to very popular thanks to the use of targeted questions.

Hubbub, the social enterprise behind the ‘Neat Streets’ campaign approached the TMA for support in rolling out the bin to a wider audience. The bin has already been taken up by some private sector businesses, as well as a number of local authorities.

Again, contrast that with Keep Britain Tidy which severed its working relationship with the tobacco companies in December 2013 following pressure from the tobacco control industry.

It seems to me that one of these charities is genuinely trying to address the issue of cigarette litter while the other is merely going through the motions.

I’ll leave you to decide which is which.


Pocket appeal

Further to yesterday's post, Pat Nurse sent me an email about pocket ashtrays:

I collect pocket ashtrays. I am always banging on about them to smokers in a bid to help them avoid the penalty for dropped litter.

They cost about £4 or £5 but I have also seen cheaper versions, not so decorative, in newsagents and tobacco shops for £2 or £3. They are metal and clip shut.

I carry mine in a small velvet bag with a touch of dry lavendar inside to negate any stale tobacco smells until I can empty it.

I have noticed more smokers using small tins, pots or tiny hotel jamjars with screw tops.

It annoys me that the authorities will not promote the use of these things rather than come down jackboot first.

Several members of Forest's Facebook group have commented as well:

Jenny Burrill, a long-time Forest supporter, wrote:

Excellent little ash purses available on the Internet. Foil lined, which puts out the butt, and hold five butts. Can't understand why they don't seem to advertise, I always have one at the ready.

Liz Owen commented:

I hate butts in floors even more than most non smokers as just looks so awful. I have two portable ashtrays that go everywhere with me, but wish they sold them with the cigarettes in supermarkets as would encourage more people to use them.

I may have underestimated the appeal of pocket ashtrays. Go on Amazon and you'll find a wide selection, mostly very cheap.

I don't know how long they last, or how useful they are, but I'd like to test them and find out.

What we need is a panel of smokers willing to provide feedback so we can compare and contrast a range of designs over a set period – rather like those long-term tests in What Car? magazine.

Watch this space.

Below: Pat Nurse with cigarette and pocket ashtray in Bayeaux


Message to Keep Britain Tidy

Yesterday, in Manchester, Keep Britain Tidy launched a new campaign, BinTheButt.

I'll comment on that shortly but it reminded me that in 2009 KBT released a 40-second video that offered a dystopian vision of Londoners struggling through a sea of ash and cigarette butts.

The film was drawn to our attention by KBT themselves. In an email to Forest, their marketing coordinator wrote:

As an organisation which regularly communicates with the smoking community, we’re looking for your support to help us to spread our message.

We would be grateful if you would help us to promote the film, for example by publishing it on your website or forwarding it on to anyone you think may be interested.

Keen to know what readers thought of it, I posted it here (Message to smokers from Keep Britain Tidy).

Some of the comments were less than complimentary – to the extent that they prompted this reaction from KBT's marketing and communications manager:

In all of our advertising to reduce cigarette butts we have tried to ensure not to alienate smokers but just encourage them to use a personal ashtray or put it in the bin.

Our research shows that many smokers believe that butts are not litter, and when sent this advert we believed this would go some way to helping raise awareness of the issue.

You will see from our website that we run campaigns on all litter issues, not just smoking litter, and all we are trying to achieve is a cleaner country.

We sent this advert to Forest to inform them of the film and we are in no way making any comment on people's right to smoke!

This is not a personal attack on smokers and I am disappointed that this has now become a personal attack on one of my colleagues.

Despite this, a meeting was arranged with representatives of Keep Britain Tidy at Forest's old office in Wardour Street, Soho.

It took place in February 2010 and I eventually wrote about it here (Keeping Britain tidy).

At the time, in an email to a colleague who asked how it went, I commented:

The meeting was OK, quite friendly but a bit inconclusive. We seemed to have more ideas than they did about what we would like to do.

I was happy to meet and even work with Keep Britain Tidy because I genuinely believe smokers should take more responsibility for their butts and other smoking-related litter.

That said, smokers need some assistance and the smoking ban, which forces everyone to smoke outside, doesn't help.

Nor does the absence of cigarette bins which many councils are reluctant to install or give planning permission for in case they 'normalise' smoking.

As an aside, in 2010 Westminster City Council actually took the taxi firm Addison Lee to court for sponsoring wall-mounted cigarette bins outside pubs and clubs.

As LBC presenter Iain Dale wrote at the time (Jobsworth madness From Westminster City Council):

You'd have thought they would welcome them as something which helps keep Westminster's streets clean and tidy. But on the contrary.

In the absence of cigarette bins there are of course pocket ashtrays. The problem with pocket ashtrays is that while they are a neat promotional tool, they're not always very practical.

The best I’ve seen was a beautiful brown leather pouch that looked as if it would last a lifetime. It wasn’t cheap and it's no coincidence that the only person I could genuinely recommend it to was a multimillionaire - the late Felix Dennis – whose PA rang me one day to ask if I could suggest a suitable receptacle for her employer’s butts. (At the time Dennis was thought to smoke 40-60 cigarettes a day.)

Anyway, our relationship with Keep Britain Tidy didn’t go beyond that initial flirtation, probably because we couldn't offer them any money.

KBT did however work with two tobacco companies – Imperial and JTI – on a campaign called Love Where You Live which was set up 'to encourage individuals, companies and local groups to clean up after themselves'.

Coordinated by KBT, other partners included the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), McDonalds and Wrigley (the chewing gum people).

I understand that the tobacco companies contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds to the campaign. Defra also contributed.

In January 2013, however, under pressure from the tobacco control industry, David Cameron’s Coalition government pulled its support.

In a letter from parliamentary under-secretary Lord de Mauley to David Stapleton, chairman of Smokefree Somerset, de Mauley wrote:

Mindful if the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control we have now agreed an exit strategy ... Defra’s grant to Keep Britain Tidy has been reduced since the beginning of the Spending Review period and the campaign-related grant is to end in just over a year.

Shockingly, even though the companies were willing to support Keep Britain Tidy's efforts, de Mauley concluded his letter with these unequivocal words:

The Government categorically does not endorse the activities of tobacco companies.

What, not even when they're offering to help improve the environment?!

Anyway, in December 2013 the board of Keep Britain Tidy cravenly threw in the towel. Capitulating to Defra and the even more absurd Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control (signed, of course, by the likes of Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, and the-then public health minister Jane Ellison, who now works for the WHO in Geneva), KBT severed all ties with the tobacco industry.

In 2015, speaking to MPs at a meeting of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Giles Roca, director of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, commented:

"Keep Britain Tidy decided in December 2013 that it would no longer have any activity with the tobacco industry whatsoever. KBT will not deal with the tobacco industry. Local government will not deal with the tobacco industry on litter ...

We need leadership at a local level and at the national level. At the minute, Keep Britain Tidy will not talk to us. The board of Keep Britain Tidy passed a resolution in December 2013 that said it would not talk and not engage with the tobacco industry, which quite frankly is just preposterous."

And so to yesterday and the launch of KBT's latest campaign, BinTheButt, which was notable for several things but mostly the absence of two major stakeholders – the tobacco industry and the consumer.

Given the nature of the launch - the location (Manchester, home of the 'Making Smoking History' campaign), the crass, barely intelligible slogan (‘Flicking Blue Murder’), and the fact that there was no mention of councils providing more cigarette bins to help smokers dispose of their butts - I’m not sure Forest would have endorsed it anyway, but that’s not the point.

The point is that KBT has launched a campaign targeting smokers and two stakeholders who should be involved – manufacturers and consumers – have been sidelined and ignored because of a decision taken by a previous CEO who gave in to a politically motivated interpretation of a treaty that has absolutely nothing to do with litter!!

To be fair, I've heard good things about Allison Ogden-Newton, the current CEO of Keep Britain Tidy, and it's ridiculous that she should have her hands tied by a decision that was made before she took the job.

For the record, I am more than happy to reach out – again – to KBT. We can't bring money to the table but we can help promote their cigarette litter campaign if they are prepared to listen to what we have to say.

But first I would advise them to drop the 'FlickingBlueMurder' theme. One slogan (BinTheButt) is quite enough and if KBT want to get smokers onside without alienating them even further, accusing an already beleaguered minority of "poisoning our oceans" is probably not the way to do it.

Frankly, it smacks of a too clever by half PR/advertising agency with very little first-hand knowledge of smokers.

Speak to Forest however (and, dare I say it, the tobacco industry) and KBT will get far more sense than they'll get from tobacco control campaigners working with unelected but politically driven bureaucrats in Westminster (Department of Health) and Geneva (World Health Organisation).

Instead, by launching the BinThe Butt campaign in Manchester and screaming 'blue murder' at those who smoke, all KBT has done is confirm what many smokers already think – that Keep Britain Tidy is really just an offshoot of the multi-billion pound tobacco control industry that won't rest until every one of Britain's 7-8 million smokers has been bullied or shamed into quitting.

Anyway, here is Forest's response to KBT's new campaign – "A bin the butt campaign that ignores the importance of bins is a bit of a joke, to be honest."

Finally, I've just been re-reading the comments on my 2009 post (Message to smokers from Keep Britain Tidy) and this one by idlex (aka blogger Frank Davis) made me laugh:

I've not seen the film, but then I don't really need to. I stopped at the Badger and Ferret this afternoon, and the front door was, as ever, littered with giant cigarette butts. I had to be dragged over them with main force by a few of the stout regulars inside, who'd shouted "Reach out your hand, and hold tight."

Once inside, I rapidly realised that it was just as hard to get out as it was to get in, and so perforce I was obliged to stay far longer than I had intended, and eventually had six whole pints of Old Froggie rather than my usual half. When I was eventually dragged back out, I found that the street outside was also littered with the same enormous butts, and I had to drive very carefully to negotiate a path around them.

I had almost arrived home when I encountered a council crane, replete with flashing blue lights, busily working to lift away butts from an enormous pile of the things that had blocked the whole road. As a result I had to find another way home, which took me past the Cow and Partridge, at which I stopped for another much-needed refreshing quick half, which once again turned into another six pints of their finest Speckled Boar.

I eventually arrived home at a quarter to midnight (after another enforced stop at the Lizard and Petrel) to find my wife beside herself and worried that I'd been at the booze again. Happily I was able to calm her fears, ascribing my tardiness to the many giant cigarette butts that litter the streets and paths these days, and which our feckless councils seem to be unable to clear away. It doesn't seem to be getting any better, either. Why, only last week ...

Click here to read the other comments, including that response from Keep Britain Tidy.

See also: Keeping Britain Tidy, and Keeping Britain Tidy, part two.

PS. On the subject of pocket ashtrays, if money isn't an issue I rather like the look of this black leather and brass pocket ashtray from Yohji Yamamoto – price, £315.

Page 1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 ... 278 Next 8 Entries »