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Passive smoking? It's over-regulation that's killing me! says Tory MP

More on outdoor smoking bans.

Prior to the launch last week of Smoked Out: The Hyper-Regulation of Smokers in Public Places we received a very welcome message of support from Conservative MP Nigel Evans which I read out on the night:

Sadly I cannot be with you this evening but I feel very strongly about this issue. It's not other people's smoke that is suffocating but other people's over regulation that is killing me!

As in all these cases the solution is balance and proportionality. Those who smoke are not inconsiderate morons who wish to inflict their smoke on other people, but there are a group of arrogant activists who believe that smokers have no rights, and wish to inflict their intolerance and uncompromising attitudes on others.

If we do not stand up to those who would dictate through over regulation the activities of those who have the temerity to partake in a legal activity in open air, then how long is it going to be before they dictate the length of my hair, the colour of my ties, the number of sugars in my tea or how many biscuits I can have with it?

This is not their final push. This is just another step towards the clipboard mentality deciding how we will lead our lives. It's a freedom thing and I for one will stand up and say to these people – back off.

To download Smoked Out: The Hyper-Regulation of Smokers in Outdoor Public Places, click here.

Below: Manifesto Club director Josie Appleton at the report launch


Reflections on risk

From Action on Consumer Choice:

Comparing the risks of processed meat with active smoking seems alarmist. But the figures being bandied about for the risks from processed meat are much the same as those being quoted for passive smoking in the run-up to the introduction of smoking bans. Take this from a report by the US Surgeon General in 2004: 'The pooled evidence indicates a 20 to 30 percent increase in the risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure associated with living with a smoker.'

And just as with the evidence for meat, there were plenty of confounding factors to call into question such a small effect. As the BMJ noted, also in 2004, 'The considerable problems with measurement imprecision, confounding, and the small predicted excess risks limit the degree to which conventional observational epidemiology can address the effects of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.'

But, by and large, the kind of scientists who are now berating the media for 'simplistic reporting' were silent about the weakness of the evidence on passive smoking. Organisations like Cancer Research continue to trumpet the risks of 'secondhand' smoke despite the feeble conclusions of research on the matter. The consequence was a draconian and comprehensive ban on smoking in workplaces and enclosed spaces, regardless of the wishes of business owners or their customers.

It seems that politics, not statistics, is the decisive factor in such 'myth-busting' commentary. And it's also understandable why consumers should react badly to their food being labelled 'carcinogenic' – because they know that bans, regulations and taxes may soon follow.

See: The Killing Game: Bacon, smoking and the politics of health (Action on Consumer Choice)


Playing politics with smoking and vaping

Does banning the sale of e-cigarettes to teenagers increase teen smoking rates?

A new report suggests it does, although the "statistically significant" increase among 12-17 year-olds was only 0.9 per cent.

It was enough however to generate a flurry of excitement on Twitter, beginning with the very excitable Dr Attila Danko:

The tweet that really caught my eye however was from Clive Bates, the former director of ASH who is now a prominent advocate of e-cigarettes:

The reason I'm commenting on this is because – almost alone, I think – Forest has publicly taken the view that it might be counter-productive to ban the sale of e-cigs to 16 and 17 year-olds.

Last month, for example, in response to a consultation on the Public Health (Wales) Bill, we wrote:

If the primary aim [of public health] is to discourage children from smoking combustible cigarettes it makes little sense to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to those aged 16 or 17. Setting the minimum age of sale for e-cigarette devices at 16 rather than 18 would distinguish between two very different nicotine delivery systems. It might also nudge those teenagers who are tempted to smoke towards electronic cigarettes in preference to the potentially more harmful combustible cigarette.

We made an identical statement in our response to the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Bill in August and when I was invited to appear before the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee last month I reiterated the point:

There should be a restriction on the age of sale. There is an argument to be had over whether the age restriction should be 16 or 18. Until a few months ago we were firmly of the opinion that it should be 18. As more evidence comes to the fore – Public Health England and the Royal Society for Public Health have said in recent weeks that e-cigarettes are potentially a lot less harmful than combustible cigarettes – it might be a courageous stance for the Scottish Government to take to create a clear marker between combustible and electronic cigarettes and allow people to buy electronic cigarettes at 16.

In contrast my fellow witnesses stuck firmly to the 18 age restriction. Linda Bauld (Cancer Research) declared:

There was almost universal acceptance in the responses to the consultation on the bill that we need an age-restriction on nicotine-containing products, and there is a commitment to bring Scotland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom by introducing an age-of-sale limit of 18. There is no reason why a child who has never smoked and never used a nicotine product should start using nicotine, so even among members of the smoking and vaping community there is strong support for an age-of-sale limit.

The NNA's Andy Morrison was even clearer:

I agree with what Linda Bauld said: we do not want under 18s to pick up these devices.

And then there was Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland and a late convert to the potential of e-cigs (out of political necessity, perhaps?), who added:

We support an age restriction of 18 for consistency and because it is the internationally accepted age for protection.

At the time I felt a little uncomfortable because no-one else in the room seemed to share my view that legislators might consider an age restriction of 16 rather than 18. Instead I discover the reason some e-cig advocates are shying away from the issue is because, by their own admission, they're playing politics.

This is hardly news, I know, but how many other issues are vaping activists trying hard not to comment on as a result of some misguided sense of "political necessity"?

Outdoor smoking bans, certainly. Invited by the Health and Sport Committee to comment on smoking in hospital grounds, the NNA's Scottish spokesman neatly side-stepped the issue by declaring, "I would rather not talk about tobacco, to be honest."

When vaping activists fail to condemn excessive regulations including outdoor smoking bans they clearly hope that by doing so they can distance vaping from smoking.

As for endorsing something merely out of "political necessity", we would never back regulations that are inconsistent with our belief in choice and evidence-based policy. That, and our long-standing opposition to excessive regulation in all areas, not just tobacco.

That's the type of consistency we believe in, not the ASH Scotland variety (ie if other countries do it we'd better do it too, even if it's wrong or counter-productive).

I don't expect Forest will get any credit (or support) from the ex-smoking vaping community. But we'll continue to support their cause because, ultimately, it's very similar to our own.

See also: Why smoking bans matter to vapers (Action on Consumer Choice)


Vaper sets off fire alarm shock

Text from my daughter, sent at 00:35 this morning:

Boy on my stairwell just set fire alarm off because he was vaping in his room NOT COOL 👀👀


Everyone [outside] wrapped in duvets.


We know where he lives …

Students today, eh?


Austerity Britain

From today's Scottish Sunday Express:


Hero worship

Overheard after John Cooper Clarke's set in Harrogate last night.

"He was good but I could have done without the swearing."

Not sure what she expected. We're talking about the original punk poet, after all.

Anyway, a very enjoyable evening. After the show I queued three times.

First, to buy some Squeeze merchandise and a token for the CD of the concert.

Second, to present my token and collect my CD of the concert.

Finally I stood in a long queue that led, eventually, to the entire band signing the CD.

Me to Glen Tilbrook: "The first time I saw you was in Aberdeen in 1978. You were supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods."

GT: "That must have been our first tour."

Me: 'Yes."

Me to Chris Difford: "I like your blog."

CD: "Thank you."

You can't beat moments like that with your heroes.


Squeeze – happy ending?

I'm travelling to Harrogate today to see Squeeze.

We could have seen them closer to home but the Cambridge Corn Exchange is an all-standing venue and I don't fancy standing for the best part of three hours.

Anyway I quite like Harrogate so it's no hardship.

The first time I saw Squeeze was in Aberdeen in 1978. I was a student, it was the day after my 19th birthday, and they were supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods and Radio Stars.

Tickets at the old Capitol Theatre in Union Street were £2.50 and £2 seats, £1.50 standing. Even in those days I insisted on sitting.

In 1982 I was living in London when I saw them at Hammersmith Palais, a horribly sweaty nightclub also known as "London's most famous old dancehall".

The band broke up a few months later but when they reformed I caught them at Hammersmith Apollo (1985 and 1989) and Glasgow Concert Hall (1993).

I saw them twice at the Royal Albert Hall as well (most recently in 2011) but I don't think it suits them. They're better in smaller, more intimate venues.

Anyway, here we are in 2015 and the band is currently touring to promote a new album Cradle to the Grave which featured on the soundtrack of the TV adaptation of Danny Baker's autobiography.

Harrogate is the last show of the tour and I had to buy our seats at a slightly inflated price via the secondary ticket agency Seatwave. (Market forces in action!)

By coincidence (or perhaps I just have great taste), the support act is John Cooper Clarke who I also saw in Aberdeen in 1978 when he supported Be Bop Deluxe.

Fingers crossed tonight's show lives up to these reviews:

Squeeze – 'play more new material' shout the crowd (Guardian)
Squeeze and John Cooper Clarke perform with true expertise (Wales Online)
Cool cats put new life into old tales (London Evening Standard)
Squeeze prove better than ever (Gazette Live)
Squeeze – 'they can still cut it' (Telegraph)

PS. I strongly recommend this 2012 BBC documentary. Music aside, the story of Squeeze is an interesting one, occasionally poignant yet strangely life-affirming.

Littered with drink, drugs and fractured relationships, it's oddly heart-warming that, for now at least, there seems to be a happy ending.


TabExpo at London's ExCel

I visited TabExpo yesterday.

It's a tobacco trade exhibition organised every four years by the same people who host the annual GTNF conference.

Alongside the four-day exhibition there was a two-day 'Congress' that featured 20 speakers discussing a variety of issues.

This year the speakers included several people who are GTNF regulars – Patrick Basham (Democracy Institute), Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs) and Clive Bates, the former director of ASH who is now an enthusiastic advocate of e-cigarettes.

Ironically, given Clive's involvement and the high profile given to harm reduction products at both GTNF and TabExpo, the tobacco control lobby - including ASH and Cancer Research - has spent much of the week tweeting disparaging comments about the tobacco industry using the hashtags #tabexpo2015 and #tabexposed.

All rather childish. Any sensible person interested in harm reduction should understand the benefits of engaging with the tobacco industry. But no, the likes of ASH prefer to hurl insults from afar, even when one of their own is participating.

Anyway the venue for this year's TabExpo, which was last held in Prague in 2011, and before that Geneva, Vienna, Barcelona and Paris, was the ExCel centre in London's Docklands.

It was my first visit to the ExCel and I'm not sure how to describe the general surroundings. An apocalyptic industrial wasteland? A bit harsh perhaps because it's not that bad. There is some residential housing and a short walk from the main entrance to the ExCel was a 4-star floating hotel.

The developers are making an effort to renovate one or two older warehouses alongside the modern buildings but it hasn't quite come together yet. It reminds me of Canary Wharf 15 or 20 years ago but without the high rise buildings that give E14 its unique feel.

The ExCel is big but unlike the far larger Millennium Dome it doesn't have a 16,000 seat auditorium or an impressive choice of bars, cafes and restaurants. It is what it is, a modern but characterless exhibition and conference centre.

It goes without saying that within TabExpo I didn't see a single image of anyone smoking. With its red carpets, fresh white walls, state of the art exhibition stands and funky furniture, this was a universe away from smoke-filled rooms and nicotine-stained walls.

There was, I was told, a significant increase in exhibitors promoting e-cigarette related equipment and other harm reduction technology. Then again, leaf suppliers were well represented too.

Some things hadn't changed and it was interesting that the most popular breakout areas were the temporary bars that had been set up under cover outside, overlooking the river, allowing delegates to smoke, vape and drink.

Socially the big event of TabExpo 2015 was the gala dinner on Wednesday in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. I would have liked to go but I had other commitments. I therefore missed the guest speaker, Ian Paisley MP, who I'm told was very funny.

Instead I gave a short presentation at the TabExpo Congress yesterday entitled 'Rights and responsibilities: why the consumer must come first'.

The gist of it was that smoking is not (in my opinion) a human right but consumers who pay billions of pounds in tax when purchasing a legal product must have some rights and the tobacco companies have a responsibility to support customers who choose to smoke and don't want to quit.

Not for the first time I concluded a presentation at a tobacco industry convention with a slideshow. Every image - there were about 30 in all - featured a portrait of someone smoking.

The underlying message is: embrace e-cigarettes and other harm reduction products but these are your core customers and they need your support.

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