The original cliffhanger

Day 4 of COP7 in India and with the future of e-cigarettes hanging in the balance (allegedly) I am reminded, again, of a scene in The Italian Job.

Best known as 'Cliffhanger' it marks the climax of the film when Michael Caine's gang find their gold-laden bus rocking over a sheer Alpine drop.

I'll leave you to figure out the analogy with COP7 and ENDS (aka electronic nicotine delivery systems) but in the circumstances these famous words seem particularly appropriate:

"Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea ..."

The outrage meanwhile that has greeted reported attempts by some COP7 delegations to ban e-cigarettes globally has been hysterical. Literally.

One person quoted an article that suggested that "Denial of choice to allow smokers to escape [sic] from smoking is an act of violence."

Another likened it to "mass murder".

Calm down everyone. Whatever happens at COP7 e-cigarettes will NOT be banned in the UK.

So if you want my advice ...


"You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"

There's only one story in town today so let's get it over with.

Whatever happens in future I'm quietly pleased Hillary Clinton didn't win. (There, I've said it.)

So, where were we? Oh yes, the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

As mentioned previously, this grandiose taxpayer-funded event is taking place in New Delhi this week.

There has been lots of excitement on Twitter but with the exception of one incident – the forced removal of 500 tobacco farmers who were protesting outside the conference venue – everything is much as expected.

For example there was the anticipated announcement that after the first day both the public and the media were to be excluded from the conference hall.

This was followed by the physical ejection of a journalist who ignored the ban and took a seat in the hall the next morning. If that sounds familiar it's because it was.

The very same thing happened at COP6 in Moscow. Same journalist too.

Personally I prefer it when journalists report the story rather than become the story. There's plenty to write about at COP7 without putting yourself centre stage.

Earlier today for example it was rumoured that India, Kenya, Thailand and Nigeria are calling for an amendment to the FCTC that would include a ban on e-cigarettes.

I genuinely don't think vapers in the UK have much to worry about but it's a talking point.

One of the most outspoken critics of the WHO's attitude to vaping is Clive Bates, the former director of ASH.

Clive has co-written an article that is well worth reading. Published yesterday, the headline is self-explanatory – Could changes to a global tobacco treaty harm health?.

It begins:

It's hard to believe that a global public health treaty dedicated to stopping smoking — and saving millions of lives in the process — could lead to more unnecessary disease and premature death. But that’s what may happen if the World Health Organization has its way.

Clive has six pieces of advice for delegates at the FCTC meeting in Delhi. You can read them here.

What the article doesn't mention, and I'm sorry to keep giving these history lessons, is that Clive helped devise the Convention on Tobacco Control.

Introduced in 2003, it was one of the last things he worked on before he left ASH.

Ironically, however, he couldn't disguise his frustration at the way the treaty was being watered down in the face of alleged tobacco company lobbying.

In October 2002 Clive wrote a scathing attack on government delegates – How bad does it have to be before it's worse than nothing? (CorpWatch).

A few months later, in January 2003, he couldn't contain himself:

"Cigarettes are the original weapons of mass destruction, with over five trillion of these biological and chemical devices released into society each year addicting and then killing one in two users and likely to cause a billion deaths in the 21st Century if no credible action is taken. The new text a feeble response to the world’s worst public health problem."

See ASH says new WHO tobacco treaty text is a ‘feeble response’ to the global tobacco epidemic (ASH).

I don't know if that outburst had any impact but few can argue that the current treaty is pretty robust on smoking and the tobacco companies.

In 2002/2003 tobacco control NGOs wanted "bans on tobacco advertising, a package of measures to tackle smuggling, new warning labels, bans on misleading branding, and a series of initiatives to 'globalise' the public health response to tobacco."

Today the tobacco companies are excluded from negotiations with signatories to the treaty, and both the public and the media are banned from attending the biannual Conference of the Parties.

In the intervening years the screw has been turned ever tighter on smokers as tobacco control continues its never-ending mission to look for the "next logical step".

In 2016 that includes secret discussions about e-cigarettes and threats of global prohibition. How predictable is that?

In short, Clive helped create a monster. How ironic then that earlier today he tweeted:

I can only speculate on what today's Clive would say to his younger self but I'd like to think it would be something like:

"You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"


My Tobacco Control Movie

On Saturday I saw Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge.

It's my favourite local cinema with a good class of clientele. (The last time I was there Richard Osman was just a few seats from me.)

It's also got a nice bar/restaurant where I sometimes go even if I'm not watching a film.

But I digress.

Reviews have been mixed but I really enjoyed My Scientology Movie. In typical Louis Theroux style it has a lightness of touch that belies the subject matter.

There were several laugh out loud moments but there were also some darker episodes that gave the film an edge, not unlike a thriller.

Theroux was at pains to point out that both the Church and individual Scientologists do many good things and this was not an attack on their religion.

Instead the film was intended to put a spotlight on its current leader with the help of a well-placed whistleblower whose accusations were strenuously denied by the Church.

What was undeniable was the level of paranoia.

Theroux and his film crew found themselves being followed and subsequently filmed by people who repeatedly refused to give their names.

It got to the point where Theroux was filming them filming him. Funny but absurd.

Paranoia and lack of transparency are rife at COP7 in Delhi too.

The media and the public are denied access by the World Health Organisation because, according to officials, they may have been infiltrated by the tobacco industry.

As a result taxpayer-funded delegates from 175+ countries will be able to endorse policies without scrutiny or, possibly, debate. We'll never know.

It would make a good movie though. I can imagine Theroux gliding around the conference hall with a hint of a smile (or bewilderment) on his face.

I can certainly envisage him being filmed by WHO officials because that is exactly what Dick Puddlecote describes here.

I can also see him outside braving the extraordinary smog. To 'protect' themselves from the pollution (that had nothing to do with the 500 tobacco farmers - now removed - who were protesting against WHO policies) some delegates were actually wearing face masks.

The Louis Theroux irony meter would be off the scale.

Instead of ramming conspiracy theories down our throats he would allow viewers to laugh at the pomposity and opaqueness of WHO and their gauleiters in government and NGOs worldwide.

But beneath the humour My Tobacco Control Movie would convey a serious message.

Tobacco control is the new religion and the World Health Organisation - the shadowy body behind it - deserves far greater scrutiny than it currently receives.

Update: Chris Snowdon has also commented on the WHO. See E-cigarettes above Ebola? How the WHO lost the plot (Spectator Health).

I definitely think there's scope for a screenplay here.

Louis? Anyone?


COP7 – The Rebel rebels

Thirty years ago I produced, with a Russian friend, a newsletter called Soviet Labour Review.

It was as dull as it sounds and I'm not even sure what the target audience was. I left that to my friend who was a member of a Russian emigre group that opposed the communist regime.

Anyway, I remember being struck by the long and often impenetrable titles given to Soviet committees and when the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control took place in Moscow on 2014 it seemed a perfect fit.

In a further cap doffing exercise to the old Soviet regime, the organisers of COP6 banned both the press and the public from all but the first day of the conference.

Journalist Drew Johnson was physically removed and his reports for the Washington Times (UN’s health agency boots public to work on a global tobacco tax in secret and The WHO’s secret tobacco tax were seized upon in tobacco circles – which needs a few heroes.

See Kicked out of COP (Tobacco Reporter).

Anyway, two years later the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is taking place in Delhi and it's déjà vu all over again. (That's a joke, btw.)

Johnson is now reporting for the Daily Caller and what we've learned is that last night, shortly before the close of play on the first day, WHO announced that both the public and the media were to be excluded from the rest of COP7.

Cue mass indignation on Twitter, some of it a bit faux if you ask me because I can't believe anyone who knows anything about the event could have been in the least bit surprised.

In some ways it makes things more interesting because it tests the ingenuity of those who have been banished. How will they respond? What tales will they bring back from the frontline of tobacco control?

That said there is little or no sign of the mainstream media at COP7 so we are reliant on new media, notably The Rebel TV which I had never heard of until yesterday.

Based in Toronto it's an online subscription channel. The news team attending COP7 is led by the extremely feisty Faith Goldy whose attempts to get answers from the Canadian delegation after the announcement of the media ban is a masterclass in persistence, even if she didn't get any answers.

It's compulsive viewing and if you have any interest in COP7 I urge you to follow Faith!

As for Drew, he's not giving up either. See below.


Pro-vaping campaign claim leaves me speechless

The Freedom Association has published a report suggesting that "87 per cent of UK councils are ignoring advice from Public Health England" on vaping.

It's a diligent piece of work. According to their website:

In the first report of its kind, The Freedom Association has asked every council in the UK what its policies are on staff using e-cigarettes.

Using freedom of information requests, all UK councils (district, county, unitary, metropolitan, London boroughs, and the City of London Corporation) were asked if their policies on vaping differed from those on smoking; if they allowed vaping in the workplace; and if e-cigarette users were required to vape in designated smoking shelters.

In total, 386 councils responded - a successful response rate of over 92.5 per cent.

The key findings, say The Freedom Association, are:

  • 112 councils (29 per cent of those who responded) require vapers to use designated smoking areas in all or some circumstances, despite that fact that vapers are not smokers - indeed the vast majority of those who vape do so as a means of quitting combustible tobacco or to reduce the amount of tobacco they consume. Two included in the list required vapers to vape in close proximity to designated smoking areas.
  • 335 councils (87 per cent of those who responded) have the same (or effectively the same) policy on vaping as they do on smoking.
  • Just one council - the London Borough of Enfield - allows vaping indoors and actively encourages staff to vape instead of smoking combustible tobacco, in line with recommendations from Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians.

All very interesting. However press coverage of the report leads with the extraordinary claim that:

Nearly one in three local authorities could be breaking the law by making e-cigarette users vape alongside smokers, a report warns.

This remarkable suggestion features in all three newspaper reports that mention the study. (Well, those I have seen anyway.)

The headline in The People reads 'E-cig ban 'illegal', the Mirror headline is 'Illegal' vaping bans mean a third of councils could be breaking the law, while the Sunday Express report begins:

Nearly a third of councils could be on the wrong side of the law by insisting e-cigarette users "vape" alongside smokers, claims a study.

Breaking the law? Wrong side of the law? 'Illegal' vaping bans? What are they talking about?

Well, it seems The Freedom Association has gone to the oracle (aka Public Health England) and translated PHE's advice about vaping in the hope councils will interpret it as follows:

By not allowing any form of indoor vaping, by ensuring that vapers stand with smokers in designated smoking areas, or by insisting that vapers leave the grounds in order to vape, the majority of councils are not encouraging those members of staff who have voluntarily chosen to quit smoking through the use of e-cigarettes, to stay smokefree.

By insisting that vapers use designated smoking areas, they are not complying with smokefree law and policies.

Incredibly The Freedom Association seems to believe that any council that ignores this interpretation of PHE's advice is "breaking the law". Or perhaps they thought this was the best way to spin the story.

Curiously The Freedom Association hasn't posted its press release on its website, only the report, but the only way the Mirror, People and Sunday Express could have published almost identical stories is with the help of a press release that began:

Nearly one in three local authorities could be breaking the law by making e-cigarette users vape alongside smokers, a report warns.

This morning, on Twitter, the campaign group denied that its report throws smokers under a bus by implying that smoking outside is a threat to anyone else's health, but that is exactly the effect it achieves because it plays to those who believe that smoking, even outdoors, is a risk to non-smokers.

Also, it's not first time The Freedom Association's Freedom To Vape campaign has suggested the health of vapers could be at risk if they are forced to stand outside with smokers.

Back in August I wrote:

Last week, following the launch of a new "vapers' rights" campaign, it was suggested it was wrong to make vapers stand outside in the cold with smokers, breathing in their smoke.

I read that to mean it might be bad for their health even though there is no evidence that smoking outside is harmful to anyone other than the smoker - and even that should be qualified because millions of smokers live long and healthy lives regardless of their habit.

Well, that interpretation was wrong, apparently. What the author and campaign manager meant was that the smell of tobacco smoke is alluring and might tempt vapers back to smoking (which is a terrible thought, obviously).

See Tempted by the smoking of another (Taking Liberties).

Let me be clear. I am strongly opposed to workplace vaping bans, just as I am opposed to excessive restrictions on smoking in the workplace, and given the opportunity Forest will continue to lobby and speak out against such policies.

But the idea that "forcing" vapers outside with smokers is a danger to their health or undermines their efforts to remain "smokefree" (sic) is utter bilge.

As for the suggestion that by ignoring PHE advice councils (and presumably other employers) may be breaking the law, I am speechless.

First rule of campaigning – get your facts right and avoid scaremongering. Did The Freedom Association learn nothing from the EU referendum campaign?

Anyway, I've just seen a couple of tweets from a vaper supporting the spin:

(1) PHE's advice may not be law "but it does render those councils liable to legal action".

(2) "A fully switched vaper is a non-smoker with the same rights."

For the benefit of this numbskull it's worth pointing out, again, that there is no evidence that smoking in the open air poses a threat to anyone.

Two, even before the smoking ban was introduced there were only a handful of legal cases where plaintiffs sought damages for the effect of 'passive' smoking.

Of those cases that went to court (I think there were four or five in the UK) not one was settled in the plaintiff's favour. If I remember correctly they all failed for lack of evidence.

A number of plaintiffs did win out-of-court settlements. The assumption at the time was that the defendants chose not to go to court because they didn't want to risk a large legal bill, especially if the plaintiffs didn't have the money to pay costs in the event of the defendant winning.

I'm no lawyer but my guess is that the chances of a vaper taking a council to court and winning the right to vape in the workplace on these grounds is very small indeed.

If anyone wants to try, good luck!


The Times' war on free speech and freedom of association 

The story so far.

Five weeks ago I attended the annual Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum, a tobacco industry event organised by Tobacco Reporter.

Prior to the event there was an attempt by tobacco control activists in the USA and Brussels to discourage some scientists and researchers from going.

Two weeks after the event The Times published an extraordinary attack on both the event and some of the partipants. I wrote about it here (The smear factor):

The Times has today devoted an entire page to a 'story' in which Cancer Research UK has "condemned scientists who accepted tens of thousands of pounds from tobacco companies to carry out research into e-cigarettes".

Under the pejorative heading 'Academics making a packet' The Times names four people – Karl Fagerstrom, Riccardo Polosa, Clive Bates and David Sweanor – whose speaking roles at GTNF 2016 are highlighted in the main report.

The implication is clear, although only Polosa is credited directly with receiving money from a tobacco company, "a $316,060 grant from Philip Morris in 2003-05 for research on nicotine addiction".

None of the people The Times named are on my Christmas card list (although I have met Polosa and he is very charming). Nevertheless even I could see the injustice of the report, hence my comment:

I hope they will respond to this mean-spirited attack.

Well, as some readers know, they did indeed respond and last week The Times published an apology that you can read here.

Now Carl Phillips has weighed in with an interesting interpretation of the 'apology'. Commenting on the paper's "retraction" of the suggestion that the likes of Clive Bates have accepted money from the tobacco industry, he points out that the real issue is not money or some trivial perks that we all benefit from when we attend a conference, but the right to free speech and free association.

Bates et al were concerned at the alleged damage to their reputations if they were perceived, wrongly, to have accepted payments from the tobacco industry, but why should that be the major issue?

I know that within the media and tobacco control it is, but we should still fight the argument.

One of the things held against Profs Enstrom and Kabat, authors of the biggest ever study into the impact of 'passive' smoking, is that they received funding from Philip Morris.

If I remember their research was originally paid for by tobacco control but that source of funding ceased after several years in mysterious circumstances.

Some have speculated that because the results weren't going the way their former paymasters would have liked (Endstrom and Kabat concluded that the link between environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than is generally believed) funding was withdrawn.

The study was therefore in danger of never seeing the light of day until Philip Morris stepped in to pay for a further year's research that led to the completion of the report. Personally I don't see anything wrong with that. Without that funding years of research would have gone down the drain. 

As an aside, tobacco control activists (including Clive Bates) are very sniffy about groups like Forest because, shock horror, we also accept donations from tobacco companies. But who else will fund a tobacco lobby group - the food and drink industries?

Tobacco companies have every right to support a group that defends people's right to smoke. In my view they would be negligent if they didn't.

It's important however that the group in question is continually active and can be trusted to act responsibly, which is why so many groups have bitten the dust before they are established.

This is subjective, I know, but I think most people can use their common sense when judging what is responsible and what isn't.

For example, railing at 'health fascists' and calling them 'Nazis' or denying heavy smoking poses any health risk to the consumer is, in my view, irresponsible not least because you will be quickly sidelined and ignored by politicians and the mainstream media, thereby destroying your raison d'etre.

The chances of attracting support from the general public will also be minimal.

Anyway, back to Carl Phillips' point about free speech and free association. Carl points out, rightly, that The Times' "apology" is double-edged because while the paper accepts it was "wrong" to imply that Bates et al had "received funding for research into e-cigarettes", it still believes that anyone who accepts tobacco industry funding is "tainted".

This is clearly worthy of further debate but The Times isn't having it. This is a definitive statement, included within an official apology. The question is, did Bates et al approve it? I think we should be told.

Hand on heart, I've met some brilliant scientists who work for the tobacco industry. Today they all seem to work in the field of harm reduction and some are so evangelical on the subject I sometimes wonder if they have forgotten about the millions of consumers who enjoy their companies' core product.

The tobacco industry scientist I knew best retired a few weeks ago. Steve Stotesbury, formerly of Imperial Tobacco, is a man who wears his passions on his sleeve.

Whether it was fighting the fraudulent secondhand smoke scam or, more recently, embracing the e-cigarette revolution with his trademark enthusiasm, Steve was transparently honest.

Why should his work be "tainted" because he chose to work for a tobacco company? Ditto the British American Tobacco scientists in Southampton, the PMI scientists in Lausanne and so on.

I would go further and argue that scientists working for the tobacco industry are doing more for public health (in terms of tackling smoking-related diseases) than many of their counterparts in public health or the pharmaceutical industry.

As Carl rightly notes The Times' retraction didn't tackle this issue because it wasn't the subject of the complaint. It must be addressed, though.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I would like Clive Bates to publicly acknowledge the role he and his fellow tobacco control advocates played in fermenting unreasonable hostility towards smokers that led to a hugely illiberal anti-smoking programme that, ironically, is now being used as a template for the World Health Organisation's war on vaping.

I doubt it will ever happen because tobacco control campaigners rarely look back and never admit their mistakes. Nevertheless I welcome Clive's annual participation in GTNF – Brussels was his fourth successive appearance – just as I welcome the presence of other anti-tobacco campaigners.

My only complaint is when GTNF teeters on the brink of being an anti-tobacco conference, but more about that another time.

What is important – and this is what makes GTNF different to public health conferences – is the willingness of people with different backgrounds and agendas to engage, on some level at least.

Indeed, the right to free speech and free assocation is so fundamental to a free society it's unfortunate the debate about The Times' report should focus exclusively on money.

In the wake of Article 5.3 is clear that attempts are being made to shut down debate between the tobacco industry and tobacco control on any level when even a lunatic should see that engagement is the way forward.

This policy will of course reach its logical conclusion in Delhi this week when the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control kicks off.

Not only has the tobacco industry been excluded from participating, anyone associated with tobacco has been given their marching orders, including representatives of governments that part own tobacco companies.

The media too is excluded but I don't see anyone, least of all The Times, complaining, which is odd, don't you think? In contrast GTNF was reasonably transparent yet gets no credit. Extraordinary.

GTNF is of course a tiny event compared to COP7 and many public health events but it's clearly seen as a threat. Why else would tobacco control activists target scientists and researchers before and after GTNF 2016?

The clear aim is to recreate a climate in which any scientist or researcher who has any link with the tobacco industry is "tainted" by the connection, however insignificant.

I say "recreate" because tobacco control activists thought they had won this battle. The idea that the tobacco industry and respected tobacco control professionals might share a platform is therefore a threat to the estabished order.

It's the same reason tobacco controllers (including, ironically, all those who attend GTNF) will never entertain the thought of allowing well-ventilated smoking rooms where smoking bans are already in place, even if the 'risk' to non-smokers is negligible.

Allow smoking rooms and their goal of a 'smokefree' world will be under threat too.

What is astonishing is that The Times, which used to be a respected newspaper, is effectively promoting a war on free speech and freedom of association.

It has gone largely unnoticed because no-one, apart from Carl Phillips, has thought to mention it, least of all the injured parties.

Talking of whom, Clive Bates posted an intriguing tweet the other day. I wonder if anyone is going to be brave enough to follow it up.

I'm tempted but it's not Forest's battle and I'm not sure I want to risk a potential libel action by naming names.

The Times won't follow it up, I'm sure, because they've made their position clear.

The Guardian – which has revelled in The Times' embarrassment – probably won't either because highlighting awkward splits in the tobacco control movement is unlikely to further the tobacco control cause the paper is inextricably wedded to.

It is nevertheless an intriguing story. Perhaps Clive himself should follow it up. I know I would if I (or Forest) was the target of a similar report.


Joe Jackson on A Billion Lives

Thanks to those who responded to director Aaron Biebert's reply to my review of the pro-vaping documentary A Billion Lives.

Carl Philips provided his usual thought-provoking analysis and there were strong views from several others, many of which I agree with. I chose however to remain silent (I think I've said enough) and let others do the talking.

One commentator was Joe Jackson. Joe and I don't see eye to eye on everything but I consider him to be a great friend of Forest and I always listen to and value his comments, even the more critical ones!

If I get a moment this weekend I will post some pieces from his website where he writes beautifully and often very amusingly about his favourite music and musicians.

In the meantime here is his response to Aaron Biebert. It includes an amusing twist at the end:

Dear Aaron Biebert,

If Simon isn't ready to respond to your points, there are plenty of us who are. And plenty of us who defend smoking and smokers not because of a 'right to smoke', but because we are in the midst of a huge, well-funded, nasty crusade against us, and it's a crusade powered by lies, exaggerations, and misleading statistics.

Just to respond to a couple of your points: Statistics really are the issue here because that is what anti-smoking is built on - not on genuine science. Where you have 'lost the plot' is that you seem to think the war against vaping is dishonest and corrupt, but the war against smoking is pure as the driven snow.

You can't claim your movie is 'not about' smoking or the tobacco industry, since your whole premise is based on accepting outrageous antismoking propaganda as gospel. Why are people making a big deal about your 'Billion Lives'? Because it's the TITLE of your movie, for God's sake! You then back-pedal by saying 'so what if that's not the exact number? What's the right number?' That's just the point. THERE IS NO RIGHT NUMBER.

'70%' of smokers want to quit'. No, we don't. This is one of many antismoking 'soundbites' that are simply repeated over and over because they don't get challenged. Others include 'biggest preventable cause of death', and 'tobacco will kill half its users' - which I've watched rise from a quarter, then a third - not because of new evidence but because they can say anything they like and get away with it.

Infuriating when that happens, isn't it?!

This is just a blog post, so no room for lots of facts and figures, but there are many sources. All I can add is, if the work you've put into the vaping issue serves you as preparation for the real issue - which is that the whole damn antismoking industry is dishonest and corrupt, and that antivaping is just the latest offshoot of it - then your time and our time will not have been wasted.

On the other hand ... !

Just the existence of this movie is symptomatic of a growing interest in the issue of vaping, something that could turn out to be the 'game-changer' many of us hope for. It puts 'tobacco control' in a deliciously awkward situation. On the whole, they're anti-vaping, for three reasons: (1) ignorance and prejudice against anything that 'looks like' smoking; (2) neither they nor their supporters in the Pharma industry created it or profit from it, in fact it could mean loss of funding for them; (3) the more attention vaping gets, the more the rest of their lies and corruption could get exposed.

Update: In my introduction to Aaron Biebert's response I mentioned that A Billion Lives is due to be screened in Delhi on November 9, coinciding with the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) that takes place in Delhi from 7-12 November.

A key interviewee in the film is the former Winston Man David Goerliz who has worked for the tobacco industry and public health and is now an outspoken advocate of vaping.

Goerlitz was due to appear at the screening of the Delhi screening but Biebert last night announced that the Goerlitz has been refused, without explanation, a visa.

Funnily enough this reminds me of the hoops we had to jump through when attending the Global Tobacco Networking Forum (as it was known) in Bangalore in 2011.

I got my visa but I was advised not to say I was attending a tobacco industry conference.

Likewise, when we arrived at Bangalore Airport at 4.00am, tired and disheveled after an eleven hour flight, we were under strict instructions not to mention the reason for our visit.

"Don't mention the c-word," hissed one of the organisers as we queued to show our passports.

She meant "conference".

Finally, Lisbet from Norway tells me that A Billion Lives will be shown in London on December 12.

I assume she means central London (unlike the Greenwich screening that takes place on November 16).

When I get further details I'll let you know, if you're interested.

Update: Lisbet now says December 12 was only a rumour which means I have failed the first rule of journalism - always get your story corroborated by a second (reliable) source!!

LBC presenter Iain Dale offers a nice take on this here.


Stoptober celebrities feel the pinch

Credit where credit's due.

Public Health England responded with impressive speed to my request for information about Stoptober.

I'm still waiting for an answer to my query concerning the number of smokers who signed up for Stoptober 2016. (It was 215,000 last year, down almost 15 per cent on the previous year.)

I do however have a figure for the amount of money PHE paid Phil Tufnell, Craig Revel Horwood, Chris Kamara and Natasha Hamilton to promote the campaign.

The total sum was £29,000.

Compare that to last year when Al Murray, Bill Bailey, Rhod Gilbert and Shappi Khorsandi were paid a total of £195,000 to promote Stoptober.

Or 2014 when PHE allegedly paid £250,000 to Al Murray, Paddy McGuinness, Lee Nelson and Andi Osho for their work.

Anyway, in response to Forest's enquiry, PHE has issued this statement:

"The celebrities were paid £29,000, significantly less than last year, and we worked with Carat, DST, Freuds, M and C Saatchi, MEC, Ogilvy One, Serco and 23Red on the campaign. We operate tight controls to ensure our campaigns return on investment, by delivering savings for the NHS and other public services."

Knowing what some celebrities charge for an after dinner speech, for example, I can't pretend this is unreasonable.

For example, at the height of his popularity Forest was quoted £35k for Al Murray.

Other people we made tentative enquiries about included Stephen Fry (£25k), Joanna Lumley (minimum £12k) and - before he was Mayor of London - Boris Johnson (£10k).

I should stress that our enquiries never went further than an agency so even if we had the money I have no idea if any of them would have agreed to speak at one of our events.

The point is, if you ignore the use of taxpayers' money, £29,000 for four celebrities, two of whom are currently on prime time television shows, is not a bad deal.

It does however beg the question, who approved the payment of £445k for eight comedians (seven if you allow for the fact that Murray was hired twice) over the previous two years.

A more blatant example of a taxpayer-funded quango burning our money I have yet to see. The good news is, such profligacy appears to be over.

Nevertheless, PHE still spent one million pounds of public money on the 2016 Stoptober campaign, so where has all the rest gone?

We know that £500,000 was allocated for Facebook ads and I'm guessing that Carat, DST, Freuds, M and C Saatchi, MEC, Ogilvy One, Serco and 23Red didn't volunteer their services for free.

What will be interesting is how the figures for Stoptober 2016 are ultimately spun. In September, in an interview with Sheila Mitchell, PHE's marketing director, Marketing Week reported that:

Stoptober has been a shining success for the government health body. Out of the 2.5 million smokers who made a quit attempt last year, 500,000 were successful.This is the highest recorded success rate and is up from 13.6% six years ago.

If 215,000 signed up I'm not clear how they can also claim that 2.5 million smokers attempted to quit during the campaign with 500,000 being successful.

Aside from the suspiciously round figures, how on earth do they know?

In the meantime let's take heart from the fact that, this year at least, a bunch of 'C' list celebrities aren't being paid excessive amounts of money at our expense.

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