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Monday
Oct222018

Philip Morris launches new campaign to make smoking history

Last week I posted this video of Mark MacGregor, head of corporate affairs at Philip Morris UK.

It was filmed at a panel discussion (‘Should smoking be consigned to history?) hosted by Forest at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham on October 2.

Today Philip Morris has launched a new £2 million campaign designed to encourage smokers to quit and switch to alternative products “with the help of family and friends”.

The campaign has been widely reported in today’s papers and the company has angered Cancer Research and ASH by allegedly getting round advertising rules by purchasing a wraparound feature in the Daily Mirror (which has a leading article supporting the campaign).

Anyway, not only is it worth reminding ourselves of PMI’s business strategy, I thought you might like to see some clips from the other speakers, including me, at that fringe meeting in Birmingham.

See also - Philip Morris: why “smoke free” is the way to go (Taking Liberties).

PS. No peace for the wicked. Although I am currently on holiday in Turkey I shall be discussing Philip Morris’s new campaign on one or two BBC local radio stations this morning.

Update: I’m also on the Five Live phone-in after 9.00am.

Sunday
Oct212018

Number crunching

After every major public rally in London there is a debate about the number of people who took part.

The organisers will claim one figure, the Metropolitan Police will estimate another (usually smaller) number, and the BBC will do what it always does - report uncritically (and without evidence) the larger ‘estimate’.

Yesterday’s ‘People’s Vote’ march is a prime example. According to the BBC:

Protesters seeking a referendum on the final Brexit deal have attended a rally which organisers say was the biggest demonstration of its kind.

Young voters led the People's Vote march to London's Parliament Square, which supporters say attracted approximately 700,000 protesters.

The following, written by me in the aftermath of a TUC rally in 2011 that was said to have attracted up to 500,000 people, is as relevant today as it was then:

I have very good reason to be sceptical about this estimate. In October 1983 I stood on the roof of an office in Whitehall which gave me a bird's eye view of a CND march in London. According to the BBC, it was estimated that one million people took part in the march and subsequent rally in Hyde Park. Bizarrely this was far greater than even CND's estimate of 400,000.

They were both wrong. The group whose roof I was standing on belonged to an anti-CND outfit called the Coalition for Peace Through Security (CPS). Julian Lewis, who was director of CPS and is now MP for New Forest East, takes up the story:

"The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had, in its time, managed to rustle up more shouters on the streets than most: it turned out about 150,000 and 100,000 in 1981 and 1982 respectively, and characteristically claimed a quarter of a million on each occasion.

"In order to frustrate yet another such cavalier exaggeration in October 1983, the Coalition for Peace Through Security commissioned an expert photographic analysis which showed the true figure on that occasion to be approximately 98,000 for march and rally combined.

"So as to show 'progress' on their own grossly inflated estimates for the previous two years, the CND had felt obliged to claim 400,000 – a total ruled out as absolutely impossible by our aerial survey."

Without a similar survey I don't know how anyone could estimate accurately the number of people at Saturday's rally, but you can be sure that neither the TUC nor the BBC will have erred on the side of reality.

In the case of the People’s Vote march you can be equally sure that the number that took part yesterday is nowhere near the figure being estimated by organisers and reported by the media.

In any case the only number that counts is the 17.4 million people who took the time and trouble to vote Leave in June 2016, thereby winning a referendum whose outcome the government promised, in advance, to uphold.

Can me old-fashioned but I believe it’s called democracy.

Friday
Oct192018

Shameful - hospital targets smokers with tannoy and children’s voices

I was on Radio Two talking to Jeremy Vine today.

The subject was this story – Wakefield's Pinderfields Hospital smokers shamed via loudspeaker (BBC News):

People who ignore 'no smoking' signs by the doors of a Wakefield hospital are being shamed through a loudspeaker.

Staff, visitors and patients can activate the pre-recorded messages, which are then played through a speaker outside Pinderfields Hospital.

"Hi, I'm Georgia, would you mind not smoking outside? Someone's mummy or daddy could be having their treatment today," says one of the announcements.

The use of some very young voices is obviously designed as a form of moral blackmail. According to Metro:

The messages, which are all read out by children, say: ‘Excuse me, do you think you could put out your cigarette? Someone’s nanny, granddad, mummy or daddy, is having their cancer treatment today. Thank you.’

Another says: ‘A lot of our parents come here for their cancer treatment. Please think before you smoke,’ or ‘Please protect my family from your smoking outside… you can increase their chances of staying well if you stop.’

Forest was quoted in both reports. Our full statement read:

"Hospitals can be stressful places for patients, visitors and even staff. For some smoking is a comfort and it's pretty Orwellian to target them using loudspeakers and emotive messages.

"Banning smoking on hospital sites rarely works because people will light up anyway. A better solution is a comfortable smoking area away from the hospital entrance but not so far that it discriminates against those who are infirm or less mobile."

Last night I also appeared on Look North (BBC Yorkshire). Among the comments that subsequently appeared on Twitter was this one:

In contrast here's a comment posted by by Juliette Tworsey on the Forest Facebook page:

How about we create a 'shaming' button for those among us, who in all of their 'perfection', show absolutely NO empathy or human understanding/kindness towards another human being who might be experiencing a time of great stress in his/her life? How about we shame THAT person for lack of kindness and human understanding?

I do accept that a group of people smoking directly outside a hospital entrance isn't a great look. There are reasons why they’re there though.

Hospital smoking rooms disappeared a long time ago. Today NHS trusts either ban smoking completely (although it’s not illegal to light up on hospital grounds in England) or they provide a smoking area or 'shelter'.

The latter has to be at least 50 per cent open to the elements so if it's cold or raining it's human nature to want to stand near the entrance which is often under a large canopy.

Some patients may be attached to drips, in wheelchairs or largely immobile as they recover from hip replacements and who knows what.

For them it's physically difficult to walk or travel any distance, let alone off site, so they light up by the entrance – and who can blame them?

I take issue too with the claim that non-smoking patients, visitors and staff are forced to endure "clouds of smoke" when they enter and exit the hospital.

I've visited a number of hospitals over the years and although I've often seen small groups of smokers directly outside the entrance I've never been exposed to the "fug of smoke" described by Martin Barkley, CEO of Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, when speaking to Jeremy Vine today.

You might think that Barkley has more important issues to deal with. Earlier this year, for example, it was widely reported that:

Patients are being forced to sleep on floors with people stepping over them at a busy hospital in West Yorkshire - as the NHS winter chaos gripping Britain continues to worsen.

Shocking images taken at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield show members of the public lying down in corridors.

In one photo a patient dressed only in a loose hospital gown lies next to a metal wheelchair. A second shows a man, attached to a drip, bedded down with his head resting on his rolled-up coat.

See: Shocking photographs show patients 'forced to lie on the FLOOR with people stepping over them' at a busy Yorkshire hospital amid winter NHS chaos (Daily Mail).

Naturally I raised the issue while we were being interviewed by Jeremy Vine:

SC: It's only earlier this year that I believe there were some stories in the press about Pinderfields concerning patients having to sleep on the floor. I don't know if Martin can talk about that but it seems to me that type of thing is far more urgent to address than the matter of a few people standing outside having a quiet smoke.

JV: Martin, ball in your court.

MB: [nervous laugh] I mean that was, er, that story was absolutely (sic) misrepresentation of the facts, for a start, about the, um, sleeping on the floor. I want to go back to the point in question ...

You can listen to the full interview here from 33:30.

Meanwhile, what about this report from just two days ago:

A total of 64 patients were struck down by the winter norovirus at Pinderfields Hospital over a six month period, figures have revealed. The virus, often referred to as the winter vomiting bug, caused "severe disruption" between September 2017 and March 2018, the Mid Yorkshire NHS Hospitals Trust said ...

There were eight separate outbreaks of the norovirus at Pinderfields between September 1 and March 27, papers from the trust confirmed. The worst of these occurred in the hospital's stroke and neurology unit, which affected 22 patients and 13 staff.

I suppose that’s another ‘misrepresentation’. See: 'Severe disruption' hit Pinderfields Hospital after norovirus outbreaks.

Or this, from four days ago: 'NHS operations at Pinderfields could be postponed this winter'.

Addressing those issues, I would suggest, is rather more important than targeting a handful of people smoking outside.

But no, Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust is not only trying to stub out smoking using a tannoy and children's voices, it is actually boasting about it.

Shameful.

Monday
Oct152018

Philip Morris: why 'smoke-free' is the sensible way to go

Two weeks ago Forest hosted a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

Subject of the discussion was 'Should smoking be consigned to history?'.

Chaired by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas (which has just held its annual Battle of Ideas at the Barbican), the panellists were me, investment analyst Rae Maile, Chris Snowdon, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Mark MacGregor, head of corporate affairs at Philip Morris UK.

The video above features Mark's contribution to the discussion, unedited, including his response to one or two questions from the audience. It’s worth watching, I think, if you want to know more about the thinking that lies behind the company's current strategy.

Other opinions were available too and some of the most interesting points - because the views of tobacco analysts are rarely heard in public - came from Rae Maile.

To hear the full debate (audio only) click here. It’s a long listen (75 minutes) so here are a few soundbites:

Mark MacGregor, Philip Morris:

"It feels to me that technology has finally arrived in the tobacco sector ... The development of e-cigarettes and other innovative products that are coming online now, they feel as if they are a way of allowing smokers to have access to products that provide them with nicotine but without the harm.

"We believe we have a role to play in helping to convert smokers to one of our alternative products ... It doesn't mean that we're in favour of people being banned from smoking. If people want to smoke it's completely up to them, but it feels like, for our business at least, that's the sensible way to go."

Simon Clark, Forest:

"PMI have shown a huge amount of arrogance in the last twelve, 18 months with some of their statements. Putting a billion dollars into an organisation that's called the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World [is] a real kick in the teeth for consumers, many of whom enjoy smoking and get a great deal of pleasure from smoking.

"People have been smoking since 5000BC. The manufactured cigarette came along in the late 19th century ... so I think it's quite wrong for Philip Morris to say everybody should give up smoking and switch to our new product ... If people want to switch, if people want to quit, that's fine. But there are millions of people who enjoy smoking and that must be respected."

Rae Maile, investment analyst:

"I am particularly concerned at the approach that Philip Morris has used in trying to open a debate with regulators, with the health lobby, about this desire to move rapidly to a smoke-free future because customers have been, for 40, 50 years, increasingly under the cosh of ever higher taxation, ever more vitriolic messages, from public health about how stupid they are to carry on smoking.

"They have loyally bought the products of these companies and now you've got the largest of them saying, 'Well, actually, we kind of agree and we don't think you should smoke either.' And I think that's wrong ... That disrespect shown to the customer is absolutely wrong in a fast moving consumer goods industry."

Chris Snowdon, IEA:

"If you've got something that's been consumed very happily by many people for thousands of years, the idea that it's going to disappear is quite implausible, and there is a very good reason why the cigarette has been fantastically popular for 100 years.

"It's an extremely efficient and pleasurable nicotine delivery device so I don't think it will be consigned to history in our lifetimes but, more importantly, I don't think it should be so long as there's anybody in the world who wants to smoke."

Frankly, a discussion like this would have been better suited to the Global Forum on Nicotine, the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum or even the E-Cigarette Summit.

Sadly the organisers of those and other nicotine-related conferences appear disinterested in having any debate or discussion that questions the current public health orthodoxy that smoking should be eradicated and consigned to history.

Therefore, much as I disagree strongly with PMI targeting a 'smoke free' world, fair play to the company for at least engaging with us when invited to do so. As Claire Fox noted in her closing comments:

"Particular credit to Mark and Philip Morris for actually participating because if you're going to take this bold move then I think you have to be accountable for it and I think he was and he really explained the case very well in terms of what the strategy is, even if I personally don't agree with it."

I'll second that.

PS. I'll post clips of the other speakers later in the week.

Friday
Oct122018

Time to find another nanny 

Delighted to report that the Golden Nanny Awards are returning.

The success of last year’s event in Dublin surprised even me. I thought it was a good idea but you need a bit of luck and what sealed the success of the evening was the presence of Senator Catherine Noone (above).

Unexpectedly, the deputy leader of the Seanad accepted our invitation to collect, in person, her award for being Ireland’s Nanny-in-Chief.

It was a close run thing, though. I didn’t know for sure that she could make it until she appeared after our 60 or so guests had sat down for dinner.

Truth is, she rather stole the show and our challenge this year is to find someone who can fill her charismatic boots.

There is no shortage of potential nominees (Ireland currently ranks third in the Nanny State Index) but finding someone who is prepared to enter into the spirit of the occasion is a different matter.

The 2018 awards will take place in Dublin on Tuesday November 20. Nominees will be announced on November 1.

Watch this space.

Thursday
Oct112018

Friends disunited

I went to the theatre on Tuesday night. The Union Theatre in Southwark, south east London, to be exact.

Built under railway arches (you can hear and feel the vibrations from the trains passing overhead), it's a small, award-winning fringe theatre with around 100 seats that can be booked in advance but are otherwise unreserved.

Instead they are allocated on a first come first served basis with the audience admitted in groups of ten:

Once you have checked in with a member of our staff, you will be given a token, with a number from 1-6, and this number will be the group you’ll go into the theatre (10 number 1’s, 10 number 2’s etc).

Arrive early, as I did with my son Ruari, and you can eat and drink in the theatre cafe or sit outside in the slightly misleadingly named ‘beer garden’.

This month (until October 20) the Union Theatre is hosting 'People Like Us', a play about Brexit by Julie Burchill and Jane Robins. The play, which has attracted a fair bit of publicity, is described thus:

How far would you go to save your closest friendships from being washed away by the tide of history? This is the question the five members of a London book group - pompous Lothario Ralph, judgemental minx Stacey, self-righteous coquette Clemence, thirsty straight-shooter Frances and rosy-spectacled scapegoat Will - must ask themselves when the fight for the future of Europe becomes a domestic battleground of secrets and lies as the personal and the political, the sexual and the sectarian, clash and implode.

In the two years since the UK voted for sovereignty, endless Parliamentary horse-trading has all but eradicated the visceral excitement of Freedom Day. What remains is the violent sundering which has cleaved husband from wife, brother from sister, parent from child - and friend from friend. In this play about sex and Brexit, books and friendship, Julie Burchill and Jane Robins examine the true cost of daring to pop one’s own social bubble and ask the question - can we only ever really be friends with people like us?

The idea came from Robins, a former BBC journalist. She took it to Burchill and together they wrote a play that has united critics because the verdict from the metropolitan reviewers is virtually unanimous – 'People Like Us' is a turkey.

‘Excruciatingly bad, painfully partisan’ (The Stage)
‘Cantankerous Brexit riposte is sour rather than refreshing’ (Evening Standard)
‘Burchill’s clichéd Brexit drama is Friends for bores’ (The Times)
‘People Like Us could have been a play about friendship. Unfortunately, it’s a play about friends who keep yelling at each other about Brexit.’ (Guardian)

Even the Telegraph (‘Julie Burchill's Brexit play offers a close union with boredom’) struggled to find anything positive to say.

Thankfully I was unaware of all this so I approached the evening with an open mind. Having seen it my verdict is, it’s not great but nor is it the car crash suggested by those reviews.

It’s true that ‘People Like Us’ takes a while to warm up. Laughs are initially few and far between and I can’t remember Brexit being mentioned once in the first ten or 15 minutes.

Thereafter however there were some amusing moments and [spoiler alert] the fight that broke out towards the end was well executed and did make me laugh.

Unfortunately, the characters - with one exception - were generally unloveable. Even the pro-Brexit characters (and this is a pro-Brexit play) were shouty and unpleasant.

But perhaps that was deliberate. After all, intolerance breeds intolerance and it can’t be a surprise that those who are intolerant of the referendum result have provoked an equally angry reaction from some who voted to leave.

The friendship issue is something else. My own view, for what it’s worth, is that real friends don’t fall out over politics, not even Brexit.

To be honest the issue hasn’t really arisen for me because most of my friends (and friendly acquaintances) voted, like me, for Brexit.

Of those who voted to remain there are two distinct groups. I can discuss Brexit with the first without having an argument because we respect each other’s opinions even though we disagree.

The same can’t be said of the second group. The point is, each side knows that and so we have an unwritten agreement not to mention it, or not to rise to the bait if the subject does come up.

I’m perfectly comfortable with that and as far as I’m aware I haven’t lost a single friend to Brexit (not that I have many friends to lose!).

In fact, the only ‘friends’ I have lost weren’t friends at all. They were merely people I had met, liked, and then followed on Twitter before their obsessive tweets about Brexit proved a bit too much.

I still like them, I just don’t want to read their increasingly deranged thoughts on a subject on which we will never agree. If I ever see them in person however I will greet them with no less enthusiasm than before.

Anyway, thanks to a mutual friend, I was introduced to Jane Robins, co-writer of ‘People Like Us’, during the interval. The play, she told us, is a “work in progress”.

Would I recommend it? In all honesty, probably not. While it’s refreshing to see a ‘pro-Brexit’ play on stage, I did think that an opportunity for some really biting satire had been lost.

Then again, with a running time of two hours (including interval) it didn’t overstay its welcome and I never felt bored.

What I would recommend without hesitation is the Union Theatre. If you’re ever in the area do pop in, if only for a drink or a bite to eat.

Also available for private hire.

Update: Rod Liddle writes, ‘Critics hated Julie Burchill’s Brexit play. What does that say about them?’ (Spectator).

Friday
Oct052018

Greetings from Geneva

Greetings from Geneva.

Arrived here on Thursday to catch the closing days of the Eighth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

My flight from Luton was delayed by fog but you’ll be pleased to know that the weather is lovely here. Warm, sunny, clear blue skies.

As for COP8, there’s very little to report or comment on - barely a rumour - which is par for the course.

As usual this biannual event is taking place in a shroud of secrecy - amazing, really, when you consider that taxpayers like you and me are paying for it.

The media has been excluded but what really interests me is the lack of dissent from journalists and broadcasters. No-one seems to care.

I suspect it’s partly because, in Geneva at least, conferences like this are ten-a-penny and the boredom factor must be pretty high.

Barred from the main event, the IEA’s Chris Snowdon and I nevertheless wandered up to the Geneva International Conference Centre where the conference is taking place, took a few pictures (as you do), and then watched as one delegate shuffled out and lit a cigarette.

Introducing myself, I gave him my card and asked him how the conference was going and where he came from. Speaking with what sounded like a German accent, he smiled, puffed on his cigarette and replied enigmatically, “I come from many countries.”

He was on the budget committee, apparently, but that’s all he would say.

We then visited the ‘science booth’ (above) set up by Philip Morris International at a chic boutique hotel to promote the company’s alternative nicotine products.

Some devices are not yet on the market. There’s a new generation iQOS, for example, that is so much like a cigarette that you actually ignite the heating element with a proper match.

In my view the more it’s possible to replicate the act and taste of smoking tobacco the greater the chance of persuading a larger numbers of smokers to switch.

The downside is that tobacco control campaigners are so hostile to cigarettes and tobacco generally that any product that more closely resembles a cigarette is likely to face severe opposition and/or restrictions.

If PMI was hoping that delegates from COP8 would pop by to take a look I think they’ll be disappointed, even though some delegates are believed to be staying in the same hotel.

Anyway we haven’t let the lack of information coming out of COP8 spoil the party. Last night we had a very enjoyable dinner with some local contacts that involved cooking our own beef at the table. The practise has a name but I can’t remember what it is.

Today I’ve been catching up with what little news there is from COP8, writing a couple of blog posts, and enjoying the sunshine. (Did I mention the lovely weather?)

Tonight Chris Snowdon has arranged a little soirée at our hotel. It will be attended by, among others, the handful of pro-vaping campaigners who are in Geneva to protest against the WHO’s position on e-cigarettes which falls short of prohibition but doesn’t discourage countries that want to ban the devices.

It will be interesting to see how many people turn up. The only ‘protest’ I’ve seen so far was pretty low key but I’m told this is due to local regulations that make it difficult to demonstrate.

I’m hoping the legendary Aaron Biebert will join us. If that happens it will make the entire trip worthwhile.

Update: Saturday morning and I’m sitting outside our hotel, on a terrace, drinking coffee, waiting to catch a mid afternoon flight home.

I did meet Aaron Biebert and he is very charming, a really nice guy.

After Chris Snowdon’s event, attended by about 20 people, mostly vapers, we went in search of somewhere to eat and I found myself playing pool and ordering pizza in the Elvis Billiards lounge bar.

The tweet below is dripping with sarcasm, obviously.

More seriously, thanks to Chris for inviting me to join him. Excluded from COP8, our two days in Geneva have been far more enjoyable than I anticipated.

See also: The World Health Organisation’s week (Chris Snowdon)

Friday
Oct052018

Forest on the fringe

Earlier this week I was in Birmingham for the Conservative party conference.

This year Forest chose to forego our traditional drinks party in favour of two back-to-back fringe events on Tuesday afternoon.

We did this for two reasons. First, cost. Our legendary (!) hospitality was getting too expensive. The last time we were in Birmingham two years ago 500 guests turned up. That doesn’t come cheap.

Second, it’s hard to communicate a serious message when it’s late and people have been drinking. Even with a high profile speaker most guests are simply not listening.

The sight, last year, of some guests (who shall remain nameless) barely able to find their way back to their hotel rooms - let alone remember why they were there or what was said - suggested it might be time to try something different.

This time therefore we decided to host a panel discussion (‘Should smoking be consigned to history’) followed by a reprise of the balloon debate we hosted at the IEA in February last year (‘The most pleasurable nicotine delivery device in the world’).

We were outside the secure zone at Austin Court, a small conference facility a few minutes’ walk from the International Conference Centre.

We first used Austin Court ten years ago when we joined forces with The Freedom Association to launch the Freedom Zone, a mini two-day event that ran alongside the official conference.

Hard to believe that was an entire decade ago.

Forest’s contribution to the Freedom Zone programme included a chat show style event in the main auditorium presented by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas.

This year she chaired the discussion on the future of smoking.

Panellists were me, the IEA’s Chris Snowdon, Rae Maile (a tobacco industry analyst) and Mark MacGregor of Philip Morris UK which wants England to be ‘smoke free’ by 2030.

I thought it was a pretty good discussion, far livelier than many other better-attended events that took place on the fringe.

The balloon debate was also entertaining with some excellent and amusing contributions from our five speakers.

James Price of the TaxPayers’ Alliance advocated the cigar, the IEA’s Madeline Grant spoke about e-cigarettes, while parliamentary researcher Mark Oates made the case for snus.

Former MSP Brian Monteith was an eloquent proponent of the pipe but it was Claire Fox who won the contest with a spirited defence of the cigarette.

(Our previous balloon debate on the subject was also won by the speaker advocating the cigarette. Campaigners for new nicotine products, take note!)

Would I host such events on the Conservative fringe again? I’m not sure.

Despite spending a fair bit on promotion we struggled to entice delegates to join us outside conference zone.

Even on the fringe smoking is a fringe interest. Vaping has the advantage of being something ‘new’ and as for cannabis ...

That said, it’s important (I think) to have some sort of presence at party conference, especially the party in government.

The exact nature of that presence is open for debate but I expect we’ll be back in 2019. Probably.

Below: Former MSP Brian Monteith

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