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Trouble at market

According to a BBC report yesterday:

Sugary drinks have been barred from sale at Barnsley Council in a bid to make the town a "sugar-free borough".

As well as cutting out full-sugar drinks from sale and removing vending machines from council buildings, the cafe at the council's Westgate Plaza headquarters now gives a calorific value on its sandwiches, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

The council is working with prospective tenants of the new Market Food Hall, which is currently under construction, with the aim of introducing similar labels.

See Barnsley bans sugary drinks in 'sugar-free borough' bid (BBC News).

By coincidence, when the story appeared online I was addressing another Barnsley Council initiative. In November last year the Barnsley Chronicle reported:

Radical measures to stop market traders selling smoking materials are being introduced by the council as it pushes ahead with its plans to eradicate smoking from the town.

It is part of an ambitious plan to make Barnsley home to the first smoke-free market in the country.

Stall holders had previously been told the council wanted to build on the success of voluntary smoke-free zones in other parts of the borough by extending the ‘ban’ to outside areas around the market.

In January the paper reported:

A ban on selling smoking products which has been slapped on market traders will be rolled out across the whole of the [new] £130m Glass Works development.

Councillor Roy Miller told the paper he wanted families and children to enjoy a smoke-free town and market:

"The council supports the market traders and independent retailers who are at the heart of Barnsley’s unique shopping experience.

"We have provided a suitable amount of time for existing traders to phase out their current stock of smoking related products and to adapt their product lines so they can continue to thrive in the town centre.

"We want families, especially children, to be able to enjoy our town and market area without smoking being present. As well as the benefits to health, we also hope to see a reduction in cigarette litter in the area, which looks unpleasant and is costly to clean up."

I've come to this story late but yesterday I spoke to the vice-president of the Barnsley branch of the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF). He confirmed that, for now, the new policy affects only market traders, which smacks of discrimination.

He also told me that for one trader smoking accessories represent her entire business. For others, in Barnsley and outlying areas, they provide regular and useful income. This policy threatens their survival.

I'm told that the party in control of Barnsley Council never changes (it's a Labour stronghold) so protests, including a petition, have been ignored.

The traders won't give up however and Freedom of Information requests have revealed some interesting information.

Watch this space.


VApril and the UKVIA Forum 2018

Yesterday was the last day of VApril, the vaping industry funded campaign designed to encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes.

In the UK there are currently two vaping industry bodies of any substance – the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) and the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA).

The IBVTA is the 'only trade association dedicated to representing the UK's independent vape industry'. Members (to name a few at random) include Totally Wicked, UK Vapour Brands, JAC Vapour, Vapestick and Vlad the Inhaler Ltd.

The UKVIA, which is behind VApril, is the 'country's leading forum for supporting and promoting the circa £1bn vaping industry'. Members include Vape Club, E-Liquid Brands, Madvapes, Vaporized and Vapo.

Significantly, membership of the UKVIA also includes Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Fontem Ventures (a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco) and JTI.

The result is that Steve Brine, minister for public health, is happy to meet representatives of the IBVTA but not the UKVIA.

Yes, I know about the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) but I'm sick of Article 5.3 being misrepresented by tobacco control to stop the tobacco industry meeting government ministers.

In my view health ministers should engage with both bodies (IBVTA and UKVIA) because it's clear to all but the most swivel-eyed fanatics that the tobacco industry has a major role to play in the development of alternative and potentially 'safer' nicotine products.

Anyway, with the calendar already featuring No Smoking Day and Stoptober plus countless smoking cessation events, I was concerned that VApril would be yet another 'bash smoking' exercise. The good news is, it wasn't.

With one exception – Vaporized's poorly judged 'WarOnCigarettes' hashtag – VApril was largely free of anti-smoking rhetoric.

Instead the four-week campaign focussed on the '3 step April Challenge' which encouraged those who want to stop smoking to attend 'masterclasses' in cities across the UK.

By adopting a helpful, non-judgemental tone VApril avoided the nagging anti-smoking narrative that drives most smoking cessation campaigns.

The positive tone was set by the recruitment of Dr Christian Jessen as the face of VApril. Great choice, not least because Jessen comes across as both likeable and genuinely liberal.

He's also not afraid to ruffle a few feathers among his colleagues in the medical profession.

It was a relief too not to be subjected to the parade of ex-smoking 'celebrities' that Stoptober wheels out every year to increasingly little effect.

So far so good.

If I have one issue it's this. Throughout the campaign I followed the VApril hashtag on Twitter.

What I found were numerous tweets by a number of companies (not members of the UKVIA) using the hashtag to flog their products. For example:

Or this:

Hijacked is too strong a word but I did feel that VApril's mission to educate and inform was compromised by some fairly naked commercial activity (none of it the fault of the UKVIA).

How that problem can be solved I don't know. If companies want to use the hashtag #VApril as part of a sales promotion you can't stop them, but it's an issue that needs to be addressed.

Thankfully it wasn't universal and tweets by companies that are members of the UKVIA were far more restrained, in keeping with the ethos of the campaign:

Anyway, I can't write about VApril without mentioning the main event – the inaugural UKVIA Forum that took place at the Kings Fund in London last week.

Like the campaign itself I was pleasantly surprised. I arrived a little sceptical (the list of speakers suggested there was going to be a lot of preaching to the converted) but I left having enjoyed it.

For starters, it was very well-paced. Unlike many conferences I've been to no session overstayed its welcome.

The sessions were well moderated and every panellist had time to make their points. There was even time for Q&As which is essential, I think, if you want the audience to be properly engaged.

Many of the speakers were unfamiliar to me so that was good because I learned something new.

(Note to conference organisers: please, please don't invite the same speakers every year. I don't care how 'expert' they are. It's boring hearing the same people again and again and again.)

Other speakers reinforced what I already knew but that was fine too. Here are some of the messages I took away:

According to a new survey the top three drivers of switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes are:

(1) Smell of smoke – 62%
(2) Cost (of cigarettes) – 60%
(3) Cost of insurance – 50%

Contrary to what we often hear, flavour is not a driver.

Top three reasons why smokers don't start vaping:

(1) Expensive (initially)
(2) Too much choice
(3) Never crossed their minds

The top three reasons people stop vaping and switch back to smoking are:

(1) Not getting the pleasure
(2) Not as convenient as smoking
(3) Plethora of choice (confusing)

I can't remember who said it but one speaker talked of vaping needing an "iPhone moment" – an e-cigarette that "just works" and is simplicity itself.

Could that, perhaps, be Ayr, "vaping reimagined"?

Ayr, we were told, is the "first vaporiser that refills and recharges itself automatically".

"Intuitive and smart", it "shows exactly how much you've vaped during a single session" allowing a clear start and finish to every session.

Nine flavours and three different strengths, there's even a "discreet mode" that allows you to vape unobtrusively.

Like the original iPhone, it really does look beautiful, and different.

But wait.

Ayr can monitor your first and last puff and the information it collects on your vaping behaviour can be provided "to the medical community".

Seriously? To the medical community? What kind of device is this?

When I questioned this (no-one else seemed the least bit bothered) I was assured that all information will be "anonymised" but it strikes me that Ayr may be too clever by half.

It's still a wonderful looking device but I can't see it being a game-changer unless it's licensed to one of the major players.

One or two comments aside (one speaker dismissed smoking as "dumb-arse", another spoke of "our quest to eradicate smoking"), what I enjoyed about the UKVIA Forum is that I didn't feel I was being lectured about the evils of smoking.

If you smoke and don't want to quit you would not have felt out-of-place or uncomfortable, unlike the E-Cigarette Summit that is currently taking place in Washington DC. For example, how's this for the arrogance of (some) vaping advocates:

Message: even if you enjoy smoking and are "unwilling" to quit, you should still switch to e-cigarettes!

They don't get it, do they? Even when research tells them, time and again, that the reason many smokers won't switch to e-cigarettes is because vaping doesn't give them the same pleasure as smoking, some THR advocates continue to shout, "Switch to vaping!"

Are they deaf or simply driven by an evangelical desire that everyone should follow their own righteous path to a smoke free future?

Finally, I've mentioned Twitter several times in this post and with good reason because it seems the success of VApril may be judged largely by its performance on social media.

As of last Monday, we were told, the campaign had achieved 2.1 million Twitter impressions, plus 323k post (?) impressions across social media.

The UKVIA had also acquired 375 new followers and the campaign had engaged with 321 politicians and public health community professionals.

I sense a bit of PR spin there but credit where credit's due. VApril was a well thought out campaign and the first UKVIA Forum was well-organised and well-attended (170 delegates).

I'm disappointed Dr Neil McKeganey wasn't invited to discuss his peer-reviewed paper 'Why Don’t More Smokers Switch to Using E-Cigarettes: The Views of Confirmed Smokers' but maybe that was too much to ask. Next year, perhaps.

Update: The UKVIA has revealed that "nearly 1000 smokers across the UK took the #VAprilChallenge". I'd like to know what the target was but, either way, I'm sure VApril – and the UKVIA Forum – will be back next year.


The consequences of a ban on smoking in outdoor eating areas

A proposal by former health minster James Reilly to extend the smoking ban to outdoor eating areas in Ireland is dividing opinion.

Writing in yesterday's Irish Independent, columnist Ian O'Doherty (above) commented:

The only reason I am reluctant to call Reilly and his ilk a bunch of single-issue fanatics is because he'd probably thank me for the compliment - after all, he has previously described tobacco companies as 'evil' and pompously declared 'war' on smoking.

In true tinpot-tyrant fashion, they are determined to make Ireland 'smoke free' by 2025 - an idea that is ludicrous, totalitarian and, like all their plans, unworkable.

The problem with these ideas is that they want to completely remove the individual autonomy of grown adults and private businesses and concentrate all such decisions in the hands of the State.

If a private bar or restaurant wants to accommodate smokers in their outside areas, that is an issue between the patrons and the management. If people are staying away from their place because of smoking, they won't allow it.

That is entirely their call to make. You see, the market always works things out far better than any politician, even a colossus like James Reilly, ever could.

See Latest smoking proposals are about control, not health.

Meanwhile the Sunday Times Ireland today reports that 'Proposals to ban smoking in outdoor eating areas may make pubs stub out their dining options instead.'

Carol McCann, a restaurant supervisor at the Harbourmaster bar and restaurant in Dublin, points out that, thanks to Ireland’s complete lack of sunny weather -amounting to all of two days in the past eight months - choosing whether to facilitate outdoor smokers or diners is a no-brainer.

“It wouldn’t be that big an issue for us,” said McCann. “For the three sunny days we get in Ireland each year, that is the only time our outdoors areas are used for eating.”

Smokers, on the other hand, use the outdoors areas all year round. “Our whole building is for diners, so I’d leave outside for the smokers.”

Even in warner climates the cost of banning smoking outside has "unintended consequences". Only last week, in Australia, the Herald Sun reported:

Customers are being banned from eating outside so smokers can puff away with impunity at some cafes and restaurants in Victoria. Dozens of eateries in Melbourne's east have transformed outdoor dining areas into smoking safe spaces after new laws banning cigarettes around food came into effect ...

The full report is behind a paywall but you get the gist.

Back in Ireland, the Sunday Times quotes Forest spokesman John Mallon and includes some fascinating information that will interest those of you who supported Forest's well-publicised opposition to proposals to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas in Brighton:

Brighton and Hove city council considered banned smoking on Brighton beach, but surveys indicated insufficient public support for the move.

The council also considered a ban in outdoor dining areas, but settled for a voluntary scheme. Initially many food businesses indicated that they would sign up, but last week the council said just four had done so.

Verity Craig is the owner of Bohemia, a bar and restaurant in Brighton which has two outdoor areas. She never considered signing up to the voluntary scheme to convert weather of them into a non-smoking area.

That is because, in five years in business, she has never received a complaint from diners about smoking.

Fancy that!

What these reports tell me is that, far from being an insignificant minority, smokers still have some clout.

The number of people who want to smoke when they are out socialising is not inconsiderable and the hospitality industry is generally keen to accommodate them, if they can.

Moreover, the objections to smoking outside are coming not from fellow diners (by and large) but from a tiny coterie of professional anti-smokers.

With this in mind I think we have a chance of winning this battle but opposition voices must be much louder and more persistent than they have been.

I understand why many of you are weary of fighting the tobacco control industry and feel the war on smoking is going in only one direction, but that's no reason to throw in the towel.

In Brighton we demonstrated the importance of making our voices heard (see Brighton - common sense prevails) and we need to do so again ... and again.

The consequence of a ban on smoking in outdoor eating areas in Ireland would almost certainly encourage similar action from devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and local authorities in England.

Although some businesses might choose to allow smoking in preference to eating, the likely outcome of that is that tobacco control campaigners will then demand a complete ban on smoking outside pubs, restaurants and cafes, regardless of whether people are eating or merely drinking.

I know that, you know that.

Worse – and unlike Ireland where the authorities regularly turn a blind eye to minor infractions of the law on smoking in enclosed public places – the UK will no doubt enforce any new regulations to the nth degree.

So, still much to play for. I'll keep you posted.


“I don't like the world I am living in and shall have few regrets when I leave it.”

"I am glad that I'm an old person. I don't like the world I am living in and shall have few regrets when I leave it.”

Jenty Burrill, a long-standing supporter of Forest, on Facebook today.

Jenty’s comment was posted on the Friends of Forest page in response to the letter (Smoking in outdoor areas) I mentioned in my previous post.

What a terrible indictment of the tobacco control industry, their acolytes in parliament, and the relentless war on tobacco.

I am struggling to find words that truly describe their shameful crusade to denormalise millions of ordinary people in the name of ‘public health’.

Suggestions welcome.


A pensioner writes

Excellent letter by Richard O'Connor in the Irish Times today:

Sir, – I am a pensioner who likes to sit outside my local coffee shop with my coffee, my dog and a puff of the pipe, where I can socialise with friends, neighbours and strangers.

Now the former minister for health James Reilly continues his vendetta against the smoker in the Seanad and wants me to forgo that little pleasure in order that people don’t have to “suffer” the occasional whiff of my pipe smoke. He talks about the “unintended consequences” of the indoor ban while completely ignoring the consequence of further isolating people from their community (“Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served”, News, April 24th).

I might add that I enjoy my pipe as I find it relaxing, have never suffered any “smoking-related diseases” over the last 50 or so years of smoking and pay exorbitant taxes on my little pleasure.
So much for a tolerant society? – Yours, etc,

Richard (and I hope he won't mind me mentioning this because I think it's fairly well known) is also known as Grandad, under which alias he writes a blog, Head Rambles.

Two days ago Richard/Grandad addressed this same issue is rather more colourful language. I suggest you read and enjoy it yourself. See Yet another twist of the screw on smokers.

Former health minister James Reilly isn't spared – nor should he be. The man is on a personal crusade to harass and persecute smokers until they quit.

He was at it again yesterday. Not content with calling for an extension to the smoking ban, he also wants supermarkets to stop selling cigarettes.

Good news, perhaps, for corner shops and village shops, but why would Reilly stop there? He won't, of course.

This is prohibition (creeping prohibition) in all but name.

Anyway, thanks to Richard for taking the time and trouble to write to a national newspaper. People have a habit of whinging and moaning (or writing blog posts!) without ever engaging directly with politicians or the mainstream media.

You can be passionate and knowledgeable about a subject but few people beyond your immediate circle will hear you.

A letter to a national newspaper, especially The Times, Telegraph or Guardian (UK) or Irish Times (Ireland) will be read by a lot of influential people including decision-makers.

Choose your publication wisely because a concise, well-written 'letter to the editor' can still pack a punch.

Update: Reilly's proposal for the minister for health to amend legislation by extending the ban on smoking to places where food is served outdoors was accepted unanimously 'without a vote' by the Seanad yesterday.


Fake news or confidence trick?

The news seemed pretty conclusive.

'Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served' declared the Irish Times.

Online, similar headlines confirmed the worst:

'Smoking ban to be extended in Ireland' (Irish Post)
'The smoking ban to be extended in Ireland' (TV3)
'The smoking ban is to be extended in Ireland' (
'Ireland's smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food is served' (

Some, to be fair, were a little more circumspect:

'Smoking ban may be extended to outdoor areas' (RTE)
'Smoking ban could be extended to outdoor dining areas' (Today FM)
'Plans could see smoking ban extended to outdoor food areas' (Newstalk)

Overall however it felt like a fait accompli so I was pleasantly surprised when RTE reported last night:

The Cabinet has agreed to look at extending the smoking ban to cover outdoor areas where food is being served.

However, no time scale has been set for when any changes might be introduced.

No time scale? In view of those earlier, more assertive, headlines, that felt like a result.

I don't know whether Forest's response and John Mallon's numerous interviews were noted by government, but we certainly made our voice heard online, in print, on radio and on TV.

The issue will run and run of course because the anti-smoking industry never rests until it gets what it wants.

Today, for example, I believe the private members' motion to extend the ban was being discussed in the Irish Parliament.

Fingers crossed the government won't rubber stamp anything without discussing it with consumers, restaurateurs and publicans.

The Vintners Federation of Ireland, which represents publicans, is said to be against the proposal but the Restaurants Association is in favour.

If and when that debate happens we'll no doubt here a lot about the impact of passive smoking on non-smoking customers.

According to RTE News last night the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland claims that “robust research demonstrates a significant risk from secondhand smoke outside”.

This is nonsense of course and we'll do our very best to challenge it. (I won't go into detail now but it can be debunked quite easily. Whether government will listen is a different matter.)

Our view is that bars, restaurants and cafes should be allowed to choose whether they want their outdoor eating areas to be smoking or non-smoking.

What I don't understand is why restaurateurs (and even publicans) who dislike people smoking on their premises, even outside, don't go ahead and ban it. They're perfectly entitled to, and some do.

Others however whinge and moan and wait for government to make the decision for them.

My guess is that they're worried by the potential loss of business and they're waiting for the law to be changed so there's a 'level playing field' and they won't have to compete with a 'smoker-friendly' establishment nearby.

(This also explains why very few publicans, even the anti-smoking ones, banned smoking indoors before legislation was introduced.)

Meanwhile, back to that unambiguous headline in the Irish Times: 'Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served'.

Does it remind you of anything?

It is essential that campaigners create the impression of inevitable success. Campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick: the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition.

That's right, they’re the oft-repeated words of Deborah Arnott and her ASH sidekick Ian Wilmore writing in the Guardian in July 2007 ('Smoke and mirrors').

The 'confidence trick' (or fake news) is now standard practice for tobacco control so forgive me if I see conspiracies where none exist.

Either way, if there is a stay of execution we need to make the most of it.

Poll: Should smoking be banned in outdoors eating areas? Click to vote.

Update: The Irish Independent has more information.

Smoking is set to be banned in dining areas outside bars and restaurants with a four-metre buffer zone imposed.

New exclusion zones are to be created to stop customers lighting up near diners.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed to support “in principle” the proposal from Fine Gael senators led by former health minister Dr James Reilly.

The paper adds:

The proposals will still allow smoking in beer gardens or outdoor areas where only drink is served.

That all sounds credible enough yet there’s no statement from the current minister for health Simon Harris, and the only people quoted in the report are James Reilly (who is driving the initiative) and Dr Des Cox, a consultant in paediatric medicine who also supports the proposal.

Perhaps I’m grasping at straws, but it still feels like a confidence trick to me.


Ireland targets al fresco smoking areas

I was going to write about the UK Vaping Industry Association Forum that I attended yesterday.

At seven o'clock this morning, however, I read a comment on this blog.

It was posted by Vinny Gracchus and included a link to a report in the Irish Times (Smoking ban to be extended to outdoor areas where food served) that I hadn't yet seen.

Vinny's link set in motion a series of actions including a hastily written press release: Forest Ireland condemns motion to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas.

Within an hour our response had been reported online by several media outlets including the Irish Examiner, Irish Daily Mirror, Today FM, Cork Evening Echo and Wicklow News.

At the same time our spokesman in Ireland, John Mallon, was booked to appear on RTE Radio One, Newstalk and LMFM Radio. Since then he's been invited to be on Ocean FM (this afternoon) and Highland Radio (tomorrow).

RTE Radio One and Newstalk put John head-to-head with Senator James Reilly, the former minister for health who campaigned religiously for plain packaging and is also driving this latest initiative.

According to the Irish Times:

An unintended consequence of the smoking ban has been the prevalence of smokers in the outdoor areas of bars, cafés and restaurants, Mr Reilly said.

“This means that nobody can enjoy a meal outdoors on a sunny day in this country, without having to inhale other people’s smoke.

“Anyone spending their hard-earned money in a restaurant or café should be entitled to enjoy their meal in a smoke-free environment.”

I'm sure I don't need to highlight the irony of the so-called "unintended consequence" but this was Forest's full response:

"The war on smoking has gone far enough. There is no justification for banning smoking outside, even where food is served.

"Smoking in the open air poses no risk to third parties and although it may occasionally be annoying for non-smokers this is a matter for the individual establishment not the government.

"If this proposal is in response to an unintended consequence of the smoking ban, which forced smokers outside, the obvious solution is to allow comfortable, well-ventilated smoking rooms indoors.

"There has been no public debate about this issue and to the best of our knowledge no consultation with the hospitality industry.

"A large number of pubs closed following the smoking ban in 2004. This proposal could have a similar impact on cafes and restaurants because many more smokers could decide to stay at home."

According to the Irish Times the current minister for health Simon Harris will today ask for Cabinet approval to extend the smoking ban to outdoor dining areas.

I'll keep you posted.

Update #1: The Irish Times has published a second report on the subject. This time the headline reads, Smokers group opposes restaurant proposals and it begins:

Restaurant proprietors should be given the option to have smoking and non-smoking outdoor eating areas, according to a smokers advocacy group.

Forest’s John Mallon told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that the market should decide if restaurant owners are willing to make this decision.

However, former Minister for Health James Reilly, who is calling on the Government to extend the ban on smoking where food is served to include outdoor areas, said he was horrified at the suggestion that the market decide health policy.

Horrified? There isn't a shred of reputable evidence to suggest that smoking in the open air endangers anyone nearby – not even a small child.

I can understand that it may be mildly unpleasant for those of a ridiculously sensitive or anti-smoking disposition, but there is no risk at all to their physical health!!

Far more horrifying is this extraordinary thought – Senator Reilly is a qualified GP.

Update #2: I hear the Restaurants Association will support the proposal while the Vintners (VFI) will oppose a ban.

The question is, will there be a public debate (or consultation) or will the Government merely rubber stamp the proposal?

Finally, if you live in the UK and are wondering if this has any relevance to you, cast your mind back to 2004 and the introduction of a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places in Ireland.

Remember what happened after that? Here's a clue:

Scotland – March 2006
Wales – April 2007
Northern Ireland – April 2007
England – July 2007


Hubris before a fall

Philip Morris has been in the news again.

A Daily Telegraph investigation found Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is supplying newsagents across Britain with window posters promoting new iQOS tobacco heaters ...

The iQOS posters are in breach of a strict long-standing ban on advertising tobacco and tobacco-related products, the Department for Health and the National Trading Standards Institute have confirmed.

Leaving aside the legality or otherwise of the posters (which make no health claims and are as plain as plain could be), what's interesting is the reaction of public health minister Steve Brine and Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH.

Brine told the paper:

“It’s completely unacceptable for organisations to be promoting tobacco products – smoking kills, and that’s why we have clear, strict rules in place protecting people from its harmful effects."

Arnott said:

"The legislation is very clear that advertising which has the effect of promoting tobacco products is illegal. That includes iQOS, just as it includes pipes used for smoking tobacco. It’s a barefaced cheek for Philip Morris to argue otherwise.”

Their response was predictable and rather pathetic. For example, although the Committee on Toxicity said in December that heat-not-burn tobacco products were not risk free, it was also reported that:

The advisory panel to the government found that people using heat-not-burn products are exposed to between 50% to 90% fewer "harmful and potentially harmful" compounds compared with conventional cigarettes.

On a scale of risk, heated tobacco clearly lies somewhere between combustible tobacco (high risk) and e-cigarettes (low risk) which makes it, by definition, a reduced risk product.

But Brine and Arnott have no time for nuance. As far as they’re concerned all tobacco products should be treated the same.

A second and far more interesting PMI-related story concerned the company’s latest sales figures. According to Bloomberg:

Shares in the cigarette giant plunged as much as 18 percent after its latest earnings report showed that $4.5 billion spent on four new products are failing to win over new customers. Sales growth of the iQos, a device that heats a tobacco plug without setting it on fire, has been slowing after initial success in Japan.

In a follow-up report published on Friday, Bloomberg added:

The tobacco giant spent $4.5 billion developing devices it says deliver fewer chemicals and potentially more profits. One of them, called the iQos, is big in Japan, with a 16 percent share of the country’s tobacco market. But 40 percent of Japanese adult smokers are age 50 and older, and they’ve been more leisurely about changing habits. Sales growth slowed in the first quarter and company revenue fell shy of estimates. Shares tumbled 15.6 percent.

“Now we’re obviously going to adjust our plans,” Chief Financial Officer Martin King said on a Wednesday call with analysts. “We’re now reaching different socioeconomic strata with more conservative adult smokers who may have slightly slower patterns of adoption.”

Translation: It won’t be easy to wean Grandpa and Grandma from a habit they’ve had for decades in favor of a device that heats a tobacco plug without setting it on fire.

In truth it's not just Grandpa and Grandma who are digging their heels in.

While the concept of heated tobacco is undoubtedly appealing (more so, I think, than e-cigarettes for many smokers), the reality – which I can’t repeat often enough – is that millions of people enjoy smoking and don't want to quit, nor do they want to switch to alternative nicotine products.

How hard is that to understand? Sadly it's a truth many people, and PMI, seem reluctant to acknowledge. Indicative of a rather hubristic corporate culture, the CFO also declared:

“We don't buy the idea that somehow there's a big chunk of consumers that want to continue using combustible cigarettes when offered extremely high-quality, satisfying reduced-risk products. It just doesn't make sense.”

Goodness. In the words of one analyst who emailed me privately, “No arrogance towards the customers there then!”

PMI’s attitude is nothing new. This after all is a company that hopes to stop selling cigarettes in the UK by 2030 following which the goal is a 'smoke free' world.

It’s unlikely but you do wonder whether there may be a tiny connection with the sales figures published last week and PMI consistently belittling its core product and, by association, its customers.

After all, if you declare the future to be ‘smoke-free’ don’t be surprised if many smokers take umbrage and take their business elsewhere. And that includes alternative products. (Other devices are available.)

In recent months we’ve witnessed a very vocal backlash from consumers against drinks’ manufacturers that have slashed sugar content and abandoned popular recipes in favour of 'healthier' alternatives.

It’s too soon to know whether that will be reflected by a decline in sales, but why antagonise your most loyal customers unnecessarily?

In comparison Coca-Cola has played an absolute blinder. The company introduced a range of sugar free products over many years without ever threatening to take the original recipe off the shelves.

Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the company declared its support for a 'sugar free' world or pledged a billion dollars to a foundation of the same name.

Far from it. Here’s a tweet Coca-Cola posted last week:

Tobacco and carbinated drinks are two very different products with different risks and some might say it’s unfair to bracket them together.

The point is, Coca-Cola is treating its customers like adults, defending their right to choose what they buy and consume.

The same cannot be said of some of Coca-Cola's competitors nor indeed PMI whose high-handed attitude is, at best, patronising to those who enjoy smoking. At worst it's downright offensive.

That said, I don’t think PMI’s sales figures are as bad as last week’s headlines suggest. Allowing for the fact that it was always going to be difficult to maintain the early success of iQOS in Japan (where e-cigarettes are banned) sales are actually holding up reasonably well.

As Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, commented at a recent PMI-supported event, the initial popularity of vaping was based on attracting "low-hanging fruit" - smokers who, generally speaking, wanted to cut down or quit and were therefore open to alternative products that gave them as much pleasure as smoking.

That probably explains why 2.9 million smokers in the UK switched fairly quickly to e-cigarettes, 1.6 million of them permanently, and why the rate of growth in Britain appears to have stalled. (Not declined, note, just stalled.)

Rapid growth followed by a levelling off is far from unusual following the launch of an innovative new product so it's far too early to write off products like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco that are still in their infancy and are developing all the time.

I do however think it's a mistake to blithely assume that most smokers, given the option, will switch to a safer non-combustible product.

As readers know, there is clear evidence that a large number of people smoke because they enjoy it. They know the risks but unless they experience a serious health scare (which isn't as common as many would suggest) the pleasure of smoking outweighs the potential harm.

We know too that a significant number of confirmed smokers have tried e-cigarettes but for various reasons vaping doesn't appeal to them. Not yet anyway, and possibly never.

PMI is also taking a risk if it thinks that lobbying for a ‘smoke-free’ world will have no consequences commercially. Did they even consider the reaction of consumers?

In the last few weeks a major retailer of e-liquids in the UK has posted a number of tweets using the hashtag ‘WarOnCigarettes’. One read:

The response included these replies:

“No I won't be joining you, because you've just declared war on me and the tobacco I enjoy. Bring it on.”

“Are you now? Well I won't ever be buying anything off you then. I still enjoy the occasional cigarette and I'm still furious about the smoking ban. The Anti tobacco Industry wants rid of you, too, so don't bother getting pally with it.”

“There’s already more than enough arseholes bashing smokers on a daily basis without this kind of nonsense. Let people decide what they want, it’s all about choice.”

Personally I see very little difference between Vaporized’s ‘war on cigarettes’ (which you can also read as a ‘war on smokers’) and PMI targeting a ‘smoke-free world’.

Compare it with the far less strident approach adopted by other tobacco companies.

British American Tobacco for example talks not of ending the production of cigarettes but of "extending choice" in the form on e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and other devices.

That, it seems to me, is a far better strategy because choice is the key to consumer freedom and there is far less risk of alienating your core customers.

PMI’s anti-smoking grandstanding may have generated headlines throughout the world but I do wonder what impact it will have on the company’s long-term relationship with its customers.

By remaining loyal to those who prefer the company’s ‘classic’ recipe, Coca-Cola sent out a powerful message to its customers. PMI, in contrast, has demonstrated no such commitment.

I am reminded of Gerald Ratner who famously undermined his jewellery chain by joking that one of its products was “total crap” and another “probably wouldn’t last as long” as an M&S prawn sandwich.

After his speech customers rebelled and the value of the Ratner group fell by around £500 million.

Again, two very different products and situations, but the lesson is this. No good can come of undermining your core product because, in the process, you are also passing judgement on the very consumers you hope will keep you in business in the years to come.

To be clear (and I've written about this numerous times), I'm a keen advocate of heat-not-burn products because they contain an important ingredient that e-cigarettes lack - tobacco.

HnB devices therefore strike me as a far more natural alternative to cigarettes. I’m convinced though that even heated tobacco will meet resistance if smokers feel pressured to switch.

Individual choice, as Coca-Cola understands, is paramount. Other companies take note.

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