Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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I spy Dan's eye

On Friday night my wife and I drove up to Wisbech.

Wisbech, in case you don't know, is the capital of the Fens, an inland port on the very edge of Cambridgeshire, "a town that looks as if time stood still around 1925".

It's less than an hour north of Peterborough but once you get there it feels further away.

For some reason it's developed a dodgy reputation but there are some gorgeous Georgian buildings along the river and in the centre of town.

Anyway, we went because we'd been invited to a "private book launch and exhibition of photographs" at the Angles Theatre.

The book and photographs were by Dan Donovan, who lives locally.

My Eye is a photo journal that features images from a number of countries – America, Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy and of course England (Ely, Emneth, Downham Market and London, to name a few places).

They are personal to Dan but anyone can admire them in their own right.

Two of my favourite photographs were taken from the rustic attic bedroom Dan and his older sister shared in their home in Matlock, Derbyshire, when they were small children.

I'm not very good at describing these things but the room is completely dark and the focal point is a wooden staircase and a single window that provides the light and looks out over the countryside which is left to your imagination because there's barely a glimpse of it.

In the photo it looks more like a hayloft than a bedroom. Perhaps it was, once.

Dan's father died when he was five, I think, so they're not only lovely images but rather poignant as well.

My wife took a fancy to a photograph taken in a wood in Sandringham. It features a wonderfully ethereal shaft of light that casts a natural spotlight on the ferns on the ground.

Dan's sister and brother-in-law liked it too so we could be in a bidding war. (Dan, if you're reading this, relatives come first. I don't want to be the cause of a family dispute.)

For those who don't know, I've worked with Dan for over nine years and I can't thank him enough for the work he has done for Forest.

He first contacted us in September 2005, before the smoking ban was introduced. I still have the email:

I'd like to register my support for the 'Fight the ban: fight for choice' campaign.

Sunday evening at Naples airport, about to enjoy a cigarette after checking in. I was told there was no smoking areas and I would have to wait 'till I got to Gatwick. I was then told with the other boarding passengers to wait next to the shuttle bus as we were about to get on the plane.

We all stood for approximately 10-15 minutes as the bus churned out diesel fumes waiting for the OK so we could get on. The bus finally took a 400 yard trip to the plane which in fact would have been a hundred yard walk. The irony of it all enraged me.

The world has gone mad. All the passengers were exposed to lethal fumes and yet I wasn't allowed a cigarette. What's more I figured the bus was pretty much running all day, making unnecessary trips, guzzling fuel and pouring out fumes in a 'smoke free' environment!?

It's this kind of scenario that encourages me to support your campaign even more. Authorities should consider that the smoker isn't the health threat here and do something about encouraging good air con, less pollution and stop scaring the life out of non-smokers.

At that stage I had no idea what he did. In April 2006, two months after MPs voted for the smoking ban, he emailed us again offering his services. I have that email too:

I run a graphic design company, just up the road from you, and if ever you need our services I would be happy to help.

We met the following week in Ely. It was obvious he was the real deal, a superbly gifted designer, photographer and musician.

Since then Dan has designed most of Forest's campaign materials including logos, letterheads, posters, invitations, beer mats, book covers and much, much more.

Dan attends many of our events, filming or taking photographs. I've not yet had the courage to book his band, King Kool, to play at a Forest event (they're far too loud) but their music has featured on several videos Dan has produced for Forest, including the one below.

For someone whose band makes such a racket he's remarkably quiet and unassuming. I'm sure I must annoy him when I change my mind or request a minor amendment to his artwork at some ungodly hour of the day or night, but I've never heard him utter a single cross word. Not even an exasperated sigh.

Dan's circle of friends are an eclectic bunch.

Unless I'm mistaken, Ben, his assistant, has added even more body jewellery since I saw him at Forest's 'Stop The Nonsense' event in London in February.

Jo, Dan's wife, could stop the traffic with the colour of her hair. (I mean that as a compliment, btw.) Jo is Irish and works at a private hospital in Kings Lynn. She described herself to me as "occasionally fiery". I didn't argue.

Pas, drummer with King Kool and the archetypal "wild man of rock" (looks wise), had cut his hair and trimmed his beard since I saw him last. Wisbech, he said, was attracting a younger hipster crowd and I suspect he wants to fit in.

Meanwhile, playing cello, was another friend of Dan's, a musician who has worked with Blur and other bands.

My Eye (the cover photo was taken by Dan's teenage daughter Fern) is a limited edition 100-page, soft back, perfect bound book. You can view the images and buy a copy here.

Warmly recommended.


Smoking and mental health: must read transcript of a very interesting discussion

There was a fascinating, extremely well-balanced discussion on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 on Thursday.

It followed a report on the Today programme that highlighted Public Health England's new guidance on smoking in mental health units.

You can listen to the Jeremy Vine discussion here for a few more days or you can read the transcript below.

It's long but worth the effort. It features an interview with Mary, matron at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, who is determined her patients should stop smoking, plus insightful contributions from several mental health patients (past and present) who smoke.

Hats off to Jeremy Vine, by the way. He was studiously impartial and appeared genuinely interested in the issue:

Jeremy Vine, presenter:
So we learnt today that patients in mental health units are three times as likely to be smokers than the rest of the population. What’s even more interesting though is that while smoking has been generally in decline in England the smoking rate for mental health patients has barely shifted in the last 20 years. It's just not moving.

It's thought that 64% of those been treated in mental health units are addicted to tobacco. Those numbers come from a survey carried out the Government organisation Public Health England which wants to see all psych hospitals become smoke free zones but many psychiatric patients say cigarettes are a welcome distraction and they depend on nicotine to stay calm. Experts warn, they say hang on, smoking can actually increase depression and anxiety and even prevent their medication from working. Many of those who smoke while being treated in a mental health unit actually take up the habit in a hospital perhaps that’s because everyone else is doing it, relieves the boredom.

Maybe your smoking habit began when you spent time in a mental health unit. Can you tell us about that? How would you have felt if you would had been prevented from lighting up by a nurse who 10 years ago would have been only too happy to help you with a walk outside? Sima Kotecha, BBC reporter joins us, who has broken the story. So, it's very interesting, it's just not moving in the mental health population?

Sima Kotecha, BBC reporter:
Yes absolutely. So, in the general population, as you just said in your intro, we have seen smoking figures decline over 20 years. If we look at the same time period for those in mental health hospitals and mental health units, it hasn’t really changed. So why is that? Well, as you say there is a perception that smoking makes you feel more relaxed, it makes you feel more at ease, perhaps it eases the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Medical experts that I have spoken to say that’s absolutely not the case. In fact it's more likely to do the opposite.

Jeremy Vine:
And what was very interesting about your piece is that it seems people are starting to smoke when they arrive on the ward. So they get into a smoking culture. Is that right?

Sima Kotecha:
Absolutely yes. So the patients that I have spoken to say that they actually some of them started when they were admitted into hospital and it is absolutely that social culture, that time of the day when you can go out with the other patients, have a chinwag, escape from the misery that you are feeling because you are unwell, and also I have been told that some nurses maybe unconsciously encourage this type of behaviour by giving patients time out to go and have a cigarette, saying to them, 'Do you want to nip out and have a fag while it's sunny outside?', and the nurses I have spoken at Maudsley Hospital in South London, a psychiatric hospital, say there needs to be a cultural shift. Doctors and nurses need to be a lot more stern in terms of telling patients that smoking is going to be bad for you if you are suffering from a mental health illness.

Jeremy Vine:
But is it bad for you if you are suffering from a mental health illness? If your illness is causing you to be unhappy and smoking is making you happier, why not?

Sima Kotecha:
Exactly, you might have that viewpoint, but the Royal College of Physicians says that increasingly it believes that smoking can actually void out that medication that you are using and not make it be as strong because of the smoking. So what they are saying is, if you give up smoking the medication will work as a lesser prescription, if you like, and cost the NHS up to 40 million pounds less per annum.

Jeremy Vine:
Right, OK Sima, stay with us, we have just got on the phone Judy Mead who is from Bristol. Judy you were a patient in a mental health unit and did you smoke?

Judy Mead, former mental health patient and a smoker:
I did. I smoked, yes.

Jeremy Vine:
So you smoked in the unit? Did you start smoking in the unit?

Judy Mead:
I already smoked before I went into the unit. In those days you were allowed to smoke inside and outside.

Jeremy Vine:
So when was this, can I ask?

Judy Mead:
That was 1985 and 1987.

Jeremy Vine:
OK, and I know your mental health problems are behind you, thankfully, and that’s great.

Judy Mead:

Jeremy Vine:
Did the nurses in the unit almost facilitate you as a smoker?

Judy Mead:
No, in the sense they would ration them so it would be easier to make, you know, a packet of ten last a couple of days or something like that.

Jeremy Vine:
And did you feel that cigarettes were helpful to you?

Judy Mead:
I did because it’s such a lonely and frightening experience being sectioned and being detained and being given electric shock treatment. Cigarettes were like a friend to me.

Jeremy Vine:
Sure, and I guess there is quite a smoking culture on mental health wards for that reason.

Judy Mead:
Yes, I imagine so.

Jeremy Vine:
Thank you very much, Judy. There is the case for, Sima?

Sima Kotecha:
Yes, and the smokers' lobby group Forest are not very happy about this. They actually have told us that Public Health England has absolutely no right to deny people a choice, that it would be discriminatory to stop smokers from smoking when it's something that is legal across the country.

Jeremy Vine:
So what are they trying to do about it, the authorities?

Sima Kotecha:
Well, they have published some new guidance which encourages mental health units across the country to go smoke free. At the moment 9% of mental health units across the country are smoke free. They want everyone to adhere to those rules and they are saying that if you do this you will actually improve the wellbeing of your patients and they say that you can do this by having non-smoking clinics on premises where patients can go and ask for help and advice and learn more about how they can actually give up this habit.

Jeremy Vine:
And you went on some wards I know when you were looking into this. Did you find patients prepared to go smoke free or maybe ones who have given up and thought it had helped them?

Sima Kotecha:
I spoke to one patient, yes. A former patient who suffered from clinical depression. He said that he wished that somebody had told him when he was in hospital how it could actually effect the medication he was taking and I spoke to the nurses on the ward. They were the ones that had very strict views about wanting to cut down on this and, if you like, very little, well, sympathy I guess for those who were saying that, 'You know, I really need a cigarette, it helps me to relax'.

Jeremy Vine:
Thank you very much, Sima Kotecha, BBC reporter. You can see why from that there is such a lag on the whole anti-smoking thing in the realm of mental health but do you think they should now crack down on it and stop people in psychiatric wards from smoking?

[Short break]

Jeremy Vine:
Smoking in mental health units. We heard from our reporter Sima Kotecha who has done the story talking about the fact that they are now getting around to thinking that this is not good for the patients. Mary Yates is a matron at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust which runs four mental health units. I know that you are pretty anti-smoking, you are a health professional, so you would be.

Mary Yates, matron, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust:
Well it's not so much that I am anti-smoking but I am interested in considering tobacco dependence as a clinical issue and making sure that people with mental health problems have access to the treatment that they require to address that issue.

Jeremy Vine:
Sure, but tobacco smoking is a physical dependency and if somebody has a mental health problem that comes first, right? So if smoking is helping them be happy, let’s leave them smoking, surely?

Mary Yates:
Well I can understand why you might think that, Jeremy, but in fact all of the evidence that we have now is suggesting that smoking not only harms people’s physical health but is also detrimental to their mental health and well-being.

Jeremy Vine:
What is this evidence? I have never heard of this before.

Mary Yates:
Well it's quite compelling evidence now, which is suggesting that quitting smoking in fact really enhances people’s health and well-being.

Jeremy Vine:
The mental or physical health?

Mary Yates:
Their mental health.

Jeremy Vine:

Mary Yates:
People who have successfully quit, and we have lots of people now at South London Maudsley who have been supported to quit, and what we find is that their confidence improves, their self-esteem improves, their anxiety levels are decreased, they feel more able to tackle the other issues in their lives.

Jeremy Vine:
So it's bit like alcohol is it where people who have got depression or anxiety reach for a pint of beer, totally understandably? It's a brilliant short-term treatment for anxiety but long-term is dangerous, is that right?

Mary Yates:
It's lethal. In fact we want people to try and change their attitude to smoking and to see it as a silent killer. We want staff in our hospitals up and down the country to be really confident and capable to address this issue because it's gone unnoticed really up to now.

Jeremy Vine:
Sure, but if you have a mental health patient and they are in a state and they want to have a cigarette it's difficult to argue that long-term they will be happier if they give up the short-term anxiety relief of that fag. So help me out.

Mary Yates:

Jeremy Vine:
How do you make that case to them?

Mary Yates:
I am completely sympathetic to that because tobacco dependence, as you rightly say, that is quite a fierce addiction. What we are saying to people is we are not saying you have to ditch the nicotine. You can have as much nicotine as you want because people who are addicted to nicotine are really quite dependent on it.

Jeremy Vine:
So they can do vaping and patches?

Mary Yates:
They can have all of that.

Jeremy Vine:

Mary Yates:
And what we have promised to our patients is that within 30 minutes of their admission, if they are a smoker, we will make sure we have the nicotine replacement ready and waiting for them. So our cupboards are full of patches, inhalators, lozenges, whatever people want, so that ...

Jeremy Vine:
Do they get stressed when you say that?

Mary Yates:
For some people it has been a surprise because as you know smoking has been rife in our hospitals. You know it has been part of the routine, part of the culture for such a long time.

Jeremy Vine:
Do nurses smoke in your mental health ward?

Mary Yates:
There is a higher prevalence of smoking amongst health care professionals. Slightly higher than the national average. I mean we have done great work around smoking cessation in this country. We have now got prevalence of smoking below 20% for the UK population. It is a bit higher amongst health care professionals. The sad thing is that the prevalence of smoking amongst the mental health population is around about 70% and we have to do something about that. I mean it's crazy not to.

Jeremy Vine:
It seems part of the reason, Sima was saying that it’s a communal thing. It may not even be the physical addiction. It's to do with sharing something in this really difficult environment with other patients.

Mary Yates:
Yes, I completely understand that and, you know, smoking is a social behaviour, isn’t it, and it's a thing that people don’t generally do on their own. They do it together as a group. So we have to make a commitment to making sure that our hospitals are places where people are engaged in meaningful, therapeutic social activities but not activities that are going to race them fastly towards an early grave.

Jeremy Vine:
OK, we have got Vicky Gooding in Derby on the phone and Vicky, you were diagnosed with bipolar illness? Is that right?

Vicky Gooding: former mental health patient and a smoker
Yes that’s correct.

Jeremy Vine:
OK and did you smoke around that time or you smoked before and you stopped or what?

Vicky Gooding:
I started smoking when I was 21 when I first really started becoming very ill from bipolar disorder and then when I did go into psychiatric unit later on I continued to smoke. While I was in there I actually found smoking was a great help because while you are in the unit it's very extremely stressful situation because you are trying to deal with emotions and many other things and also being in an environment which is completely alien to you.

Jeremy Vine:
I totally, well, that’s the point I was making to our brilliant matron here, but Mary, if you go into her unit, you open the cupboard and she’s got patches in there and she has got probably some vaping canisters and she has got everything except cigarettes. So would you be happy with that, Vicky?

Vicky Gooding:
No, I wouldn’t be happy at all because when you have a mental illness, unlike physical, it completely changes your perception of the world. So to take away something that you really rely on that helps you to deal with stress will make your actual illness worse.

Jeremy Vine:
OK, so we have deadlock then, Mary? So what’s your next gambit when you are dealing with this, Vicky?

Mary Yates:
Well, obviously what my interest in is improving people’s health and well-being and I am very sympathetic to Vicky. I understand that the routine and the culture of smoking has prevailed and that it's a huge change for people but I am absolutely confident that if the right nicotine replacement and the right programme for supporting Vicky and others like her to understand the harmful effects of tobacco.

Jeremy Vine:
Right, but you see you are at the front desk of the psychiatric unit and you started a battle about smoking when there are a way bigger issues for Vicky? So don’t you just let this one go? Just say that, 'Vicky, smoke as much as you want.'

Mary Yates:
I am afraid that as a health care professional I can’t do that because my interest is in Vicky as a whole person and I think it is completely inappropriate for me as a health care professional not to consider her as somebody who needs to be afforded the most up-to-date evidence-based and cost effective treatment for the condition that she has.

Jeremy Vine:
OK, so Vicky, go on.

Vicky Gooding:
Can I ask a question then? The medication that I am taking at the moment causes far more damage to my liver than ever smoking will do because most of my medication is either old or not up to date to the standard of, say, cancer treatment. So at the moment the medication I take is causing damage to my liver and will continue to do so. So that is a far greater risk to my health than smoking will ever be.

Mary Yates:
Well, I have no doubt that there are lots of side effects to the medications that you are using, Vicky, but what I would say to you and to others like you that are taking lots of psychotropic medication, if you are able to cut down and if you are able to get the right support to quit your smoking you will potentially be able to reduce by 50% the medicines that you are currently taking.

Jeremy Vine:
Is that right? Well this is the other thing that in this report is surprising, that you can take less medication if you stop smoking. Is that right?

Mary Yates:

Jeremy Vine:

Vicky Gooding:
I haven’t read any research regarding that because I have been bipolar for a long time and recently I have actually gained an assistant to help me deal with my bipolar. Actually that has been so far the most effective thing in dealing with that on top of medication but I don’t believe stop smoking will make any difference at all. Yes, it will improve my lungs and my physical health, but mentally I haven’t found any benefit when I have tried to stop. I have actually found my mental health has got worse when I tried to stop smoking.

Jeremy Vine:
OK, thank you, Vicky. Thank you as well, Mary Yates, matron at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. Did I get the names right? We have spent a lot of time on the name.

Mary Yates:
It’s a long one.

Jeremy Vine:
We are one of the first programmes to get it right. It's bit of a breakthrough at this end.

Mary Yates:
Thank you very much.

Jeremy Vine:
Thank you. It's nice to see you as well. Right, we are talking about smoking and mental health.

[Short break]

Jeremy Vine:
We were just talking about Mary Yates, the brilliant matron we had here, and Vicky, thank you for your call as well, who smokes and has bipolar, and just thinking, how did that conversation end up at the front desk because it was complete deadlock there. Vicky is going to smoke and Mary doesn’t want her to and I think she is going to take Vicky’s cigarettes. I think that’s going to happen. You are not going past the front desk now on a mental health ward with your cigarettes. Is that right?

Ellie Downs has emailed. Hi Ellie. She says:

My aunt Felicity was autistic and in institutions from, it's so sad, the age of eight to her death at 55, and my aunt was allowed to smoke in the hospital. She smoked when we visited. The visits could be disturbing but then when she smoked she was visibly more relaxed and happy and it was a gift for her parents. It was her only pleasure. Cigarettes.

Anonymous text in from Bath saying:

Some psychiatric wards are so appalling, out of date and frightening, the only thing you got is your cigarettes. Maybe they can use yoga or gardening but of course they have taken the gardens away where we used to relax and recuperate and they put up high fences. So it's like a prison. So bring back the gardens and then lose the cigarettes.

Paul Kelley says:

I work in a psychiatric unit in the North West where smoking is banned. Patients then smoke in the toilets on the ward which puts all of us at risk.

Getting lots on this. or tweet or Facebook or you could write a letter but it won’t get to us today.

Jean in Liverpool says:

My daughter has suffered with bipolar disorder since she was a teenager and she needs cigarettes to get through the day. She used to have disastrous and occasional violent times when she didn’t smoke.

Ella Maude says:

I am a mental health nurse. Patients on locked wards consider smoking one of their few remaining liberties after they are being sectioned. So taking away smoking on wards will cause riots.

Gosh this is so interesting and how you enforce it I have got no idea. Here is a last comment from Jacqueline who has emailed:

I am a smoker of 20 years, smoke about 10 cigarettes a day. I have also suffered from waves of extreme anxiety and depressive episodes. Now I have stopped smoking 10 days ago with the aid of a licensed inhaler from my pharmacy and I cannot put into words the turnaround in my state of mind and my immediate health. It is truly amazing.



Plans to ban smoking on a beach in beautiful Pembrokeshire have been described as "idiotic and bonkers" by, er, me.

According to the Mail Online:

Simon Clark, director of pro-smoking [sic] group Forest said: "It is idiotic and bonkers. There is no evidence of health risk from smoking in the open air.

"It is another example of a local authority throwing its weight around on what should be a private matter.

"Youngsters start smoking from peer pressure and family members and not from someone enjoying a smoke on a beach."

See: Britain plans first 'no smoking' beach on the Pembrokeshire coast to discourage children from taking up the habit on holiday (Mail Online).

An edited version of the same quote (but always including the words "idiotic" and "bonkers") has also appeared in The Times, Daily Express, Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph.

The funny thing is that while the sentiment is 100 per cent accurate, "idiotic" and "bonkers" were put in my mouth by an agency journalist who rang me, listened for 30 seconds, then asked: "Would you say the decision is silly or bonkers?"

I laughed because I knew exactly what he wanted.

And so it came to pass that "bonkers" (not a word I often use) became Forest's considered response to yet another ban on smoking in the open air.

In truth my private reaction is much stronger but – to answer those who want me to use words like "thugs" and "bullies" – I am of the opinion that overtly aggressive language rarely plays well in the mainstream media. In fact I can almost guarantee Forest wouldn't get quoted at all if we went down that path.

Nor does it generate support from middle England (or Wales or Scotland). To get people – non-smokers especially – on our side we have to laugh at the absurdity of these petty rules and regulations which are not supported by scientific evidence.

We have to hold them up, not to abuse but to scorn and ridicule.

Calling our opponents "thugs" or worse is unhelpful. They may be wrong, in our eyes, but many tobacco campaigners and politicians are genuinely well-meaning and sincere. (Others aren't but we'll deal with them separately.)

The wrong language makes us appear the aggressor, and that's counter-productive.


Eat, drink, smoke, vape: Rob Lyons joins Action on Consumer Choice

Meet our new recruit.

Rob Lyons is a journalist who has written widely on science, health and personal freedom for over a decade.

He's the former deputy editor of the online magazine Spiked and is the author of Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder.

He's written for The Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, The Australian and the South China Morning Post.

He's a frequent guest on TV and radio, appearing on Newsnight, Channel 4 News, BBC Breakfast and The World Tonight as well as other national and international programmes.

Now he's has been appointed to work on Forest's latest project, Action on Consumer Choice, which will address issues relating to food, drink and (smokeless) tobacco.

The good news is that as a smoker and a vaper Rob can be relied upon to talk about e-cigarettes without appearing to be anti-smoking. Halleluha!

He began work this week and was provisionally invited to appear on Nolan Live!, Stephen Nolan's TV show in Northern Ireland, to talk about obesity and sugar taxes.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the subject was dropped in favour of MPs' salaries. Nevertheless, from little acorns .... 

PS. Rob is currently in Warsaw representing ACC at the Global Forum on Nicotine. You can follow his tweets via @action_choice (#GFN15).

Top right: Rob at last year's Freedom Dinner. He likes a drink too.


Financial incentives offered to force mental health patients to quit smoking

Public Health England will today publish "new guidance to reduce high smoking rates among patients in mental health units".

According to a press release:

New figures from Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England shine fresh light on the high smoking rates among people living with mental health problems.

Nationally 33% of people with a mental health problem smoke compared to 18.7% in the population as a whole. A PHE and NHS England survey found that smoking rates among service users in mental health units is even higher at 64%. High smoking rates among people with mental health problems are the single largest contributor to their 10 to 20-year reduced life expectancy.

We're told that:

Alongside the physical health improvements, an increasing body of research is finding that mental health can be improved by stopping smoking. Contrary to the myth, evidence shows that stopping smoking is associated with reduced depression, anxiety, stress and improved positive mood and quality of life.

Evidence also shows that people who smoke often require higher doses of psychotropic medication as smoking increases the metabolism of these drugs. Smoking is estimated to increase psychotropic drug costs in the UK by up to £40m per year. Medical guidelines indicate stopping smoking can lead to reductions in dosage and usage of psychotropic drugs which benefits the patient by reducing the side-effects associated with these medications.

Significantly, the PHE press release adds:

The guidance coincides with new financial incentives from NHS England, which encourages mental health care providers to support users in secure settings to stop smoking.

In other words, force mental health patients to quit smoking and their 'health care providers' will benefit financially. What sort of racket is this?

Prompted by PHE's press release, BBC Radio 4's Today programme had an exclusive report on the issue at 7.20 this morning.

Forest was invited to respond with a short statement and this is it:

"Smoking is not just about health, although many smokers believe it helps reduce anxiety and stress. If some mental health patients enjoy smoking why should they be denied that pleasure?

"Public Health England has no right to deny people choice. Who are they to dictate whether or not a mental health patient can smoke a product that is legally available to every other adult in Britain?

"What PHE is proposing is discrimination. It will target unfairly a group of people who, being dependent on others, have little alternative other than to comply."

Only one sentence made it into Today's report ("Public Health England has no right to deny people choice") but we were quoted at greater length here:

Mental health patients 'smoke three times as much' (BBC News)

Update: On April 12 I wrote this post, Commonsense and decency sacrificed on the altar of public health.

The sentiments are even more relevant today, especially this passage:

The 'caring' profession is nothing of the sort. All they care about is their wretched no smoking policy which must be obeyed at all cost. Commonsense and decency are sacrificed on the altar of public health. What's happening is inhumane yet no-one is willing to do anything about it.

Newspapers report that no smoking rules are being ignored by many patients. I welcome that but what about those who are immobile or have mental health problems? They're being discriminated against because they don't have a choice. Being dependent on others they have no alternative other than to comply with a nasty, vindictive regulation that puts ideology before humanity.

Nothing further to add, m'lud.


The Freedom Dinner – book now!

Pleased to report that The Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf is proving as popular as ever.

Now in its fourth year, the 2015 event on Tuesday July 7 looks set to attract another full house.

The evening will begin with a whisky cocktail reception on the smoking terrace overlooking the fountains at Cabot Square.

At 7.30pm guests take their places in the main restaurant for a "sumptious three-course dinner with delicious wines" accompanied by live music.

After dinner speeches follow around 9.00pm and after that the majority of guests return to the terrace.

Speakers will be announced shortly. I had a meeting with our principal speaker at Boisdale of Belgravia yesterday and I'm sure you'll like him as much as I did.

He's certainly no stranger to alcohol or tobacco and he feels just as strongly as we do about the increasing restrictions on our individual freedom to eat, drink and smoke without constant nannying.

You can book tickets online by visiting this page. Alternatively telephone Valerie on 0207 715 5815.

Below: Guests on the smoking terrace at last year's Freedom Dinner.


Boy taken into care, level of cigarette smoke cited as major issue

Fuck fucketty fuck. A busy day just got busier.

The Press Association reports that "A two-year-old boy has been taken from his parents' care after a health visitor highlighted concerns about the level of cigarette smoke at his home."

Health visitor Julie Allen told a family court judge that she had not come across such a "smoky house" in her 10-year career.

She described the little boy and his father being surrounded by a "visible cloud of smoke" - and said she had difficulty breathing.

Judge Louise Pemberton, who was also told of a number of other concerns about the way the youngster was being cared for, concluded that he should be placed for adoption.

The Hull Daily Mail has the story here: Boy, two, taken into care because of parents' smoking, Hull court rules.

I've done an interview for Radio One. (A soundbite will be used on Newsbeat at 5.50.) I've also been asked to do more interviews in the morning.

Meanwhile we've issued this response:

"Isolated incident must not be used to stigmatise all smokers" says Forest

A smokers' group says a report that a two-year-old boy has been taken from his parents' care after a health visitor highlighted concerns about the level of cigarette smoke at his home should not be used "to stigmatise all smokers".

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said:

"It's important smokers are considerate to those around them, especially children, so we don't condone smoking throughout the home if children are present.

"Nevertheless it's important to stress that a number of other concerns were raised about the way the child was being cared for so it would be wrong to focus only on the smoking issue.

"The overwhelming majority of parents who smoke know how to behave around children. An isolated incident like this must not be used to stigmatise all smokers, nor should it be seized upon by those who want to ban smoking in the home."

I'll keep you posted.

Update: The BBC has a report here – Smoker's son, 2, to be adopted because of health risk.

It doesn't include a quote from Forest but unlike the original PA report it adds the following information:

The judge was told that the boy's father had mental health problems and had tested positive for cocaine, the house was "dirty, smelly and unhygienic" and that "potential drug paraphernalia" had been found there.

The judge added: "I am afraid that all of these matters lead me to an unavoidable and difficult conclusion that the risks to the little boy in being placed with his parents are far too high.

Meanwhile the PA has updated its report to include quotes from Forest and Jan Leightley, managing director of operations at charity Action for Children. According to Leightley:

"It's easy to over-simplify these cases, but it's apparent that this was just one of many factors leading the court to deem this child unsafe in his home.

"In cases of child neglect, professionals such as social workers consider a whole range of issues to build a complete picture of a child's life, based on hard evidence.

"Nearly one in 10 children suffers from neglect, which can take many forms. It's up to professionals to do everything they can to ensure children are in safe, happy environments in which they can thrive."

So was it really exposure to secondhand smoke that caused the boy's adoption and justified those lurid headlines?

Boy taken from parents over smoke (Press Association)

Toddler, two, is taken away from his parents and put up for adoption after health visitor complained about the amount of cigarette smoke in his home (Mail Online)

Boy, 2, placed for adoption because parents' house filled with cigarette smoke (BT)

UK child taken into care after govt health visitor says house was too 'smoky' (Breitbart)


Fight for the right to be left alone

On June 25, the day after Forest's boat party, the Institute of Ideas' Dave Bowden is hosting a debate, 'Fight for your right to party?', at Bishopsgate Institute in London.

From Camden’s attempt to licence buskers to the closure of popular bars such as Vibe Bar and Madame Jo-Jo’s, there is growing resentment that London’s informal culture is being regulated out of existence. Concerns have been raised even further by the sweeping powers given to councils to clamp down on ‘anti-social behaviour’ ranging from homelessness and disorder to ‘inappropriate dress’ and dog-walking.

Local authorities counter they are responding to pressure from residents to tackle the problems associated with the night-time economy and associated social issues. Is London in danger of becoming over-sanitised or is it simply cleaning up its act? Can we balance informal fun with the challenges of modern urban living?

As it happens we could be fighting for our own right to party soon. Next month ASH will unveil a new programme of tobacco control measures they want government to adopt and it doesn't take a genius to predict that one will be an extension of the regulations to cover shipping and other vessels.

In practice the smoking ban could be extended to include all parts of a ship or boat.

Smoke On The Water, our annual boat party, began five or six years ago in direct response to the current smoking ban.

Each year we dutifully ask the boat hire company, "Can guests smoke on board?" Each year the reply comes back, "Yes, on the open rear deck and the covered walkways on either side of the boat."

The noose tightens, however. Two years ago the captain threatened to abort the cruise because guests were smoking on the upper deck which has a large sliding roof (which was open!).

Last year we were told vaping was permissible on the upper deck, irrespective of whether the roof was open or closed.

This week I was told vaping will be restricted to the same areas where smoking is permitted.

If ASH have their way even that small pleasure could be taken away from us.

Fight for the right to party? Fight for the right to be left alone!

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