Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Weather conditions allied to smoking may pose additional risk to non-smokers says director of public health

Further to my previous post about a proposed consultation on extending the smoking ban to Brighton's parks and beaches.

The Telegraph quotes Brighton and Hove director of public health Tom Scanlon:

"Tobacco smoke typically contains more than 170 toxins including carcinogens and air pollutants. Outdoor tobacco smoke dissipates more quickly than indoor smoke but in certain concentrations and weather conditions it still poses an additional health risk to non-smokers."


I would love to know what "concentrations" and "weather conditions" are needed for smoking in the open air to be a threat to the health of non-smokers.

The way he's talking you'd think we were in London before the Clear Air Act put an end to the famous smogs of the 1950s.

Perhaps, if the consultation in Brighton goes ahead, Mr Scanlon will produce scientific evidence that proves non-smokers are at risk from people lighting up on the beach or in great big open parks.

Or perhaps he won't.

I predict the latter but that won't stop the scaremongering.

PS. Out of interest, what qualifications do you need to be 'director of public health'? Just asking.


Extending smoking ban to include parks and beaches unwarranted and illiberal

Do local councils really have nothing better to do?

According to Brighton and Hove News:

Brighton and Hove could become one of the first places in the UK to ban smoking in its parks and on its beaches.

Councillors are being asked to approve a public consultation to extend the voluntary ban in playgrounds to other public spaces in the city.

See Move to ban smoking in Brighton and Hove parks and beaches.

Here's our response:

The smokers' group Forest has urged Brighton and Hove City Council to reject calls to extend smoke free zones to include beaches and parks.

Responding to news that the Council may hold a consultation on the issue, Simon Clark, director of Forest, said:

"Extending the smoking ban to parks and beaches is an unwarranted attack on people's personal freedom.

"There's no evidence that smoking in the open air is a risk to the health of anyone other than the smoker.

"Nor is there evidence that the sight of a stranger lighting up encourages children to smoke.

"Tobacco is legal product. Smokers pay over £10 billion annually in tobacco taxation, a sum that far exceeds the alleged cost of treating smoking-related diseases. This persistent attack on their habit must stop.

"Smokers should smoke responsibly, with consideration for others around them, but extending the smoking ban, even on a voluntary basis, to outdoor spaces is petty and illiberal."

The proposal for a consultation will go to committee later this month.

Update: The Brighton Argus has the story plus a very short quote from me here – Potential smoking ban for Brighton and Hove beaches and parks.

Ditto the Telegraph – Seaside resort proposes banning smoking on beaches – which uses the same quote.


From zero to heroes? The uncomfortable truth about some e-cig advocates

I've resisted writing about this subject for several months but the temptation finally proved too great.

Two things pushed me over the edge.

First, discussing e-cigarettes, someone said to me, "ASH is a more credible advocate than Forest."

His point was, if an anti-smoking group is prepared to defend and even advocate the use of e-cigs that has to be good, right?

Forest, on the other hand, will forever be associated with tobacco and all its ills.

I understand the argument but I'm not sure I agree with it. Does a proud and consistent commitment to freedom of choice, personal responsibility and fact-based evidence count for nothing these days?

Contrast that with the woeful record of ASH and many other tobacco control groups.

Yes, I welcome the fact that some public health campaigners are embracing e-cigs. I'm happy too that the tobacco control industry is increasingly split on the issue and some now see their colleagues (or former colleagues) in a new light.

Suddenly though we're supposed to forget that the same public health campaigners who currently defend e-cigarettes are often the same people who for years fought tobacco using the same dodgy research and twisted rhetoric they now accuse others of in relation to vaping.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

The smoking ban, let us never forget, was introduced in Britain on the back of the absurd and unfounded claim that 11,000 non-smokers were dying every year from 'passive' smoking.

There was never a hint of hard evidence to support this extremely damaging allegation. Of the four or five cases that went to court, no employee ever convinced a judge they were victims of environmental tobacco smoke.

When the definitive Enstrom Kabat study was published in 2003 (verdict: the link between ETS and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed, although a small effect cannot be ruled out), anti-smoking lobbyists like ASH pounced on the researchers who were vilified horribly for their dedicated, diligent work.

More recently it was suggested by ASH and others that smoking costs society £13 billion a year. I think that's the figure. It hardly matters. It bears little or no relation to reality but it's important to anti-smoking campaigners because it exceeds the £10 billion that smokers pay the Treasury each year in tobacco taxation and it allows anti-tobacco groups to argue that smokers are a net cost to society when the opposite is true.

Someone should write a book on the subject of smoking and manufactured evidence but in the absence of a definitive account I recommend Joe Jackson's illuminating essay Truth, Lies and the Nanny State (2007).

Clive Bates, the former director of ASH who is now a leading advocate of e-cigarettes, was at the forefront of the war on tobacco in Britain for several years. Having encouraged what I believe were unwarranted fears about passive smoking, Clive is now a hero of the vaping community thanks to his eloquent and powerful advocacy of electronic cigarettes which is driven, I believe, by the experience of his brother, a former smoker who used e-cigs to quit.

Professor Linda Bauld, another prominent anti-tobacco campaigner, was the author of an astonishingly blinkered review of the impact of the smoking ban. Her highly selective report was brilliantly critiqued in The Bauld Truth which should have won a Plain English Campaign award. Despite that, Linda is also a darling of the e-cig movement which has embraced her as one of their own.

The most recent anti-smoking campaigner to be put on a pedestal is Deborah Arnott, the current CEO of ASH. Arnott has made it her mission to reduce smokers to a rump – five per cent – of the population within 20 years. As we know, the only way that can be achieved is by denormalising the current 20 per cent, pricing tobacco out of many people's reach, and restricting areas where smokers can light up to a handful of public or private spaces.

She too became a favourite of the e-cig brigade following this recent outburst:

"There are people in the public health community who are obsessed by e-cigarettes. This idea that it renormalizes smoking is absolute bullshit. There is no evidence so far that it is a gateway into smoking for young people."

Overnight a woman who looks like she swallowed a wasp while sucking on a lemon (even when she's happy) went from zero to hero. You've got to laugh but there's a serious point to all this.

Few if any of these public health campaigners turned e-cig advocates believe in choice. Some have a genuine commitment to harm reduction which I respect. What I don't respect is their determination, by whatever means, to stop people smoking.

Their philosophy is that people must be 'encouraged', one way or another, to quit. In their world few people smoke because they want to and most want to quit so society must 'help' them. E-cigarettes are tolerated not as a pleasure in their own right but as a means to an end – the end of smoking.

The likes of ASH criticise, quite rightly, some of the more dubious studies about e-cigarettes, pointing out the flaws in methodology, sample size etc etc.

Likewise they are happy to go to war when the results of a fairly innocuous study will be twisted out of all recognition in an attempt to scaremonger the public about the alleged risks of vaping.

But it never seems to occur to them that many smoking-related studies suffer from exactly the same issues. Or if it does they're keeping very quiet about it.

I suspect one or two know but they're reluctant to address this inconvenient truth. Here for example is a recent exchange between Clive Bates and nisakiman (an occasional commenter here) on Clive's blog, The Counterfactual:

I don’t know why you express surprise or exasperation at the refusal of the medical profession to admit to the facts [about e-cigarettes], Clive. This isn’t about health, it’s about ideology, and has been since the ‘Godber Blueprint’ took shape.

After all, you yourself took part in leading the charge regarding the completely unsubstantiated myth of ‘Second-Hand Smoke’, which has had a devastating effect on the lives of millions of decent people and the businesses which catered to them. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs and businesses in UK alone, and for absolutely no health gain.

And as for the social costs, they have been horrendous. A wedge has been driven into the heart of communities; bigotry and discrimination are officially sanctioned and hatred and contempt are encouraged; children are being used as political tools to divide families and ever more restrictive and illiberal laws are being passed.

We are now told that the greatest health problem the elderly face is loneliness – a direct consequence of driving out of business the majority of social venues like bingo halls, working men’s clubs, pubs etc etc where the elderly would go to socialise. And all to further the warped ideological agenda of a small coterie of zealots.

I shudder to think what damage this falsehood of the ‘dangers’ of SHS has done to the economy worldwide, with the bans and restrictions that have been enacted as a result of the FCTC’s rulings. And you were part of it, Clive, so spare us the crocodile tears for the trials and tribulations that e-cigs are suffering at the hands of Tobacco Control now. You helped create this monster, this poisonous ideology. Now you must learn to live with it.

In response Clive wrote:

Hi – grumpy rejoinders always welcome here! But sadly I’ve no time to spend on arguing about these issues – though I’m sympathetic to some of what you say. I’d rather focus on what little I can do in the limited time I have – in my case that means promoting low-risk alternatives to smoking as an option for smokers, or what some call 'tobacco harm reduction' as a public health strategy.

"Public health" is not one thing and never has been. There are many different perspectives in the people who work in this area and they change over time – sometimes in response to evidence.

So Clive is "sympathetic" but has "no time to spend on arguing about these issues". How wonderfully convenient!

Truth is, any sympathy Clive might have is worthless because he fully supports the comprehensive smoking ban and, I am sure, every single piece of anti-smoking legislation that has been introduced over the past 15 years.

The same, with nobs on, applies to every anti-smoking lobbyist turned e-cig advocate – Linda Bauld, Professor Robert West ... Lovely people, some of them, but every single one shares responsibility for the intolerant anti-tobacco environment that has been manufactured in this country.

Yes, manufactured. There was no strong public demand for a comprehensive smoking ban. Even now a majority of adults would happily allow designated smoking rooms in pubs and private members' clubs.

Inevitably, because so few non-smokers are now exposed to tobacco smoke in public or in private, the issue for many is no longer about health, it's about smell. Incredibly smokers must be driven even further into the shadows because in today's sanitised world some people can't tolerate even the briefest exposure to the smell of tobacco smoke.

Alternatively we're told that the mere sight of a stranger smoking in a public park could encourage a toddler or teenager to take up smoking. It could, I suppose, but where's the evidence that it does?

Significantly I have yet to hear a single anti-tobacco crusader turned e-cig advocate argue against a ban on smoking in outdoor public areas despite the fact that vaping is equally vulnerable to further restrictions on 'smoking' in public.

It suggests to me that the greater goal is still to stop people smoking and if vapers get caught in the crossfire so be it.

The final straw – which prompted me to revise and publish this post – was an article by smoking cessation worker Louise Ross.

What does 'ecig-friendly' really mean? asked Ross who proudly describes herself as "anti-tobacco" on her Twitter profile. Writing on Clive Bates' blog, she explained:

For me, it is welcoming people who want to stop smoking, and who might want to use an ecig to do that. They may have lots of questions, and we shouldn’t pretend to know anything that we really don’t, so being ecig-friendly can mean admitting your limits and signposting people to other sources of information, like vaping groups, sympathetic retailers who want to help, or the New Nicotine Alliance, a charity that educates and advocates for vapers.

It’s also being prepared to seek help ourselves, and educating ourselves, with a sense of diligent enquiry, about issues that are at times incredibly complex and confusing, but being prepared to put some work in and remain open-minded.

It means having the courage to take some risks, to stand up for the rights of people to be heard and to have their experiences accepted as valid, despite the crushing weight of disapproval from a hostile sector of ‘experts’.

It means developing a team of people who chat to vapers in social settings, always keen to learn more about choices, flavours, health changes, problem-solving.

It means remembering that as stop smoking teams, we have heaps of experience helping people to stop smoking – we know how to make it more likely they will succeed, by changing routines, by building motivation, and by showing that we really care about the outcome. We’ve made this same journey with so many diverse people who aspire to no longer smoke, and we often know many more choices than people are aware of, such as different ways of using nicotine replacement therapy, which appears to work rather well with ecigs.

Recently I’ve thought of the advisor/service user relationship more like a coach with a sportsman or woman in training – the coach is there to help set goals, to improve performance, to urge on, to get the person back on track when they despair. Mostly though, a coach can see the desire for success in their trainee’s eyes, and they don’t deter them or send them away saying they can’t help them.

An ecig-friendly stop smoking team will welcome anyone who wants to stop smoking, and they will work with them, listen to them, encourage them, and respect them. It’s the way of the future.

It's pretty clear, reading Ross' post, that 'e-cig friendly' and 'stop smoking' are one and the same thing whereas to me 'e-cig friendly' means being tolerant of those who want to vape, in the same way I'm tolerant of those who choose to smoke.

Sadly tolerance and choice have long since disappeared from the anti-smokers' vocabulary and if Clive, Linda and Louise have one thing in common it's this – they're all fully paid up members of the tobacco control industry.

As for standing up for the rights of people to be heard and to have their experiences accepted as valid, despite the crushing weight of disapproval from a hostile sector of 'experts', that's precisely what Forest has been doing for 36 years.

And at the forefront of that hostile sector of 'experts'? Why, tobacco control campaigners like Clive Bates, Linda Bauld and, er, Louise Ross!

Update: Smoke Free North East (Fresh) has just tweeted:

To which Clive has replied:

We need to see others like @FreshSmokeFree grasping the health opportunities of #vaping - so glad they speaking up.

 Hugs all round! x


To hell with the BMA, the spirit of Corona lives on

When I was a small boy, growing up in Maidenhead in the Sixties, fizzy drinks were a rare treat.

If we were thirsty we drank orange squash or Robinson's lemon barley water. Very occasionally my mother would buy a bottle of 'pop' from the Corona van that sold door-to-door.

The very name brings back incredibly vivid memories of my early childhood in Berkshire – playing in the nearby woods or on the green across the road from our house that was so typical of its era it even had a carport.

According to Wikipedia:

Corona was a brand of carbonated beverage available in the United Kingdom produced by Thomas & Evans Ltd. The firm was created by grocers William Thomas and William Evans when they saw a market for soft drinks caused by the growing influence of the temperance movement in South Wales.

The company's first factory was based in Porth, Rhondda, and eventually the company had 87 depots and factories. Corona was sold to The Beecham Group in the 1950s and subsequently to Britvic Soft Drinks, but stopped trading as a brand in the late 1990s.

For years Corona was as close as I came to Coca-Cola and other fizzy drinks. Now of course I drink Diet Coke and (Waitrose) lemonade as if it's tap water.

There are three reasons for this:

One, I like the taste.

Two, I can afford it.

Three, a friend of mine who spends half his life climbing the world's highest peaks (and is therefore very fit) drinks nothing else, apart from alcohol.

If it's good enough for him it's good enough for me.

I mention this because the British Medical Association now wants a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks.

Ironic, isn't it, that a product first considered a more healthy option to liquor now finds itself under attack, especially in an era when drivers going to the pub are in desperate need of a non-alcoholic alternative.

Is there no end to the BMA's interfering nanny state agenda?

Thankfully, while the newspaper reports have been desperately one-sided, there are signs of opposition.

A sugar tax would hit the poor the hardest (IEA)
A sugar tax would send us down a slippery slope (TPA)

We've been doing our bit too. Rob Lyons, campaigns manager for Action on Consumer Choice, has been on BBC Five Live and BBC Radio Wales.

Here's his full response:

Tax on sugary drinks "regressive" and "illiberal" say campaigners

Campaigners say proposals for a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks are "regressive" and "illiberal" and will have little impact on the nation's health.

The British Medical Association is calling for the measure "to subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables and help tackle the increasing level of obesity and diet-related health problems in the UK".

Rob Lyons, campaigns manager for the consumer group Action on Consumer Choice, said:

"Sugar taxes, health warnings and other proposals to curb our sugar consumption will have little impact on people's health because sugary foods only make up a small proportion of our diet.

"The proposals are regressive because their impact is based entirely on consumption, not the means to pay, so they will have a disproportionate impact on those on lower incomes.

"They are also illiberal because government has no business dictating what or how much consumers should eat and drink.

"Once again taxation is being used as a form of social engineering. It's a blunt instrument designed to force rather than educate people to change their behaviour."

The full Action on Consumer Choice website will go live later this month.

In the meantime, the spirit of Corona lives on:

In 1950 the firm launched Tango, one of its more enduring line of drinks which would continue to be manufactured after Corona ceased as a company.

Below: Corona – Every Bubble's Passed It's Fizzical


Notes from The Freedom Dinner 2015

Great to see so many new and familiar faces at The Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Tuesday.

In total there were 156 guests across 15 tables. The Institute of Economic Affairs had a table; as did the Adam Smith Institute, Conservatives for Liberty and Women In Tobacco.

The TaxPayers Alliance was represented along with the Institute of Ideas, Manifesto Club and Liberal Vision.

There were journalists from The Times, Telegraph, Wall Street Journal and Daily Mail.

We had six MPs (I won't name them, although Ian Paisley Jr features in one of the photographs below!) and several parliamentary researchers.

The evening began on the covered terrace which has recently been re-named the Cuban Garden, hence the Havana Rum mojitos.

Smokers are always welcome at Boisdale and the space proved as popular as ever, before and after dinner. As an added bonus we hired a professional cellist, Ivan McCready.

Dinner was served in the main restaurant and then it was time for the after dinner entertainment – speeches and live music.

I said a few words before introducing Rob Lyons who spoke briefly about Action on Consumer Choice.

Next on stage were Juliette Tworsey and Jules Shapiro, our guests from New Orleans where smoking was banned in bars and casinos earlier this year.

Finally it was time for our principal speaker, Bafta award-winning film producer Stephen Evans, who veered off in various directions referencing Shakespeare, Churchill and George Best before finishing with the rallying cry, "Enough is enough!"

Anyway, here's the draft of my introductory 'speech' and introductions. What I actually said may have differed slightly but that's what happens when you drink several mojitos before taking the microphone:

The Freedom Dinner is not just a Forest event but one that highlights the extent of opposition to the almost daily attacks on lifestyle freedoms such as eating, drinking and smoking.

Thanks to the IEA, ASI, Conservatives for Liberty and Women In Tobacco for taking tables. Delighted too to welcome guests from the TaxPayers Alliance, Institute of Ideas and the Manifesto Club.

Thanks to cellist Ivan McCready who played on the terrace before dinner. Ivan has a classical music background but he’s also played with Blur, The Pretenders and Jessie J, among others.

I’d also like to thank a group that rarely gets any thanks … the tobacco companies, in particular JTI, BAT and Imperial.

Last year we marked Forest’s 35th anniversary with a party at Boisdale of Belgravia and it’s fair to say that without the support of the companies Forest would probably not exist or, if it did, it would consist of a handful of smokers ranting incoherently on the Internet.

I personally think it’s very important tobacco companies are seen to support their customers, especially when smokers are being given such a hard time and increasingly marginalised.

I also think consumers of other potentially unhealthy products – alcohol, sugar, convenience food – should get rather more support from those businesses too.

Health is important. But Forest believes freedom of choice and personal responsibility are important too and I don’t hear many corporations making that case often enough. Where are their media spokesmen?

And that brings me to our new project, Action on Consumer Choice. Our tag line is EAT. DRINK. SMOKE. VAPE. IT’S YOUR CHOICE. and I’d like to introduce you to Rob Lyons, our new campaigns manager, who is going to say a few words on the subject.

[Cue short speech by Rob Lyons]

Now, before I introduce our guest speaker tonight, we’re going to have a little change of pace because I want to introduce you to two special guests who have flown all the way from New Orleans to be with us tonight.

A few months ago New Orleans banned smoking and vaping in all enclosed public places. It was a shock to many of us because New Orleans was always seen as different, more bohemian and laid back than many American cities.

In his wonderful BBC2 series, Songs of the South, comedian Reginald D Hunter commented on what made New Orleans different from other American cities:

"Another thing about New Orleans. It is one of the remaining cities left - maybe the only one - that still has its own character and has room for characters. It hasn't been homogenised to death."

Hunter wasn’t taking about the smoking ban but I think it’s fair to say to say the ban is another step towards the homogenisation of another American city.

Thankfully you can’t homogenise every individual. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to welcome, from New Orleans, Juliette Tworsey and her partner Jules Shapiro.

[Cue short Q&A]

Now, to our guest speaker. He may not be a household name but you will undoubtedly have heard of many of the films he’s produced since giving up a lucrative job in the City to make films.

Working with Kenneth Branagh he enjoyed almost immediate success as the producer of Henry V, Peter's Friends and Much Ado About Nothing.

He won a Bafta for The Madness of King George and also produced Twelfth Night, The Wings of a Dove and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind among others.

More recently his CV includes First Night and Seve, a 2014 biopic about Seve Ballasteros. And he's currently working on a film about George Best.

He describes cigars and whisky as his "guilty pleasures" but says he feels a lot less guilty when he’s at Boisdale and in the company of "like-minded people" such as yourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to welcome our principal guest speaker, Stephen Evans.

And that was it, apart from a couple more hours on the terrace as the light faded. (A few stray guests eventually found their way out of the building in the early hours of the morning.)

Thanks to everyone who came. Sorry if I didn't stop by and say hello. It was impossible to speak to everyone or visit every table, but I should have done better.

I've included a few images in this post but if you want to see the full gallery click here. See also Morning after the night before.


ASH's demand for tobacco levy goes up in smoke

For some time tobacco control campaigners have been calling for a tobacco levy to reduce smoking rates.

The policy was supported by Labour (naturally), prompting me to write:

If the party is elected back into government Labour has vowed to introduce a tobacco levy that will almost certainly be passed on to the consumer. Tobacco will become even more expensive and it doesn’t take a genius to predict the outcome – a flourishing black market driven by price.

See Message from our director (Forest).

Despite Labour's general election defeat anti-smoking campaigners were confident they could persuade the new Tory government to introduce the policy.

Last month, in response to a further demand by ASH at the launch of its latest report, Forest issued this press release:

Simon Clark, director of Forest, the smokers’ lobby group, said a tobacco levy would almost certainly be passed on to consumers and would hit those who can least afford a further increase in the price of tobacco.

He said, “A tobacco levy would probably lead to tobacco becoming even more expensive and would have the same result as raising the duty on tobacco.

“It will hit the elderly, the low paid and the unemployed hardest, and it will encourage criminals to flood the black market with cheap and sometimes counterfeit tobacco.

“That in turn will hit small convenience stores who will lose vital business.”

See also Tobacco levy, ASH and Forest's response (Taking Liberties).

Yesterday George Osborne rejected the idea of a levy. According to Reuters:

The British government said on Wednesday it would not introduce a levy on tobacco manufacturers and importers as a consultation had shown the cost would simply be passed on to consumers.

Last December, the government said it was considering introducing a levy, which would have been based on market share, and launched a consultation to gather views on the idea.

"Analysis of the responses shows that the impact of a tobacco levy on the tobacco market would be similar to a duty rise, with tobacco manufacturers and importers passing the levy onto consumer prices," the government said in its budget.

"As tobacco duties have already increased this year and will continue to increase by more than inflation each year in this parliament, the government has decided not to introduce a levy on manufacturers and importers."

So fair play to George Osborne and the Treasury. Nice to see a little victory for common sense and consumer rights.

UK says will not introduce levy on tobacco manufacturers and importers (Reuters).


Morning after the night before

I'll post something about last night's Freedom Dinner when I get a moment.

In the meantime big thanks to Dan Donovan who travelled home to Lincolnshire and worked through the night to create this gallery of photos.

Here are three of my favourite images. Do you think there's a theme emerging?

Update: Rob Lyons (Action on Consumer Choice) writes:

I'm fragile like bone china, but it was a cracking night. Was blethering away with Sarah Jakes till late, then we found ourselves locked in the building.

Eventually found someone to let us out on to the street, walked round the corner and found Sam Bowman [Adam Smith Institute] and company wandering around, still inside the building. So we weren't the worst offenders!

I left Boisdale shortly after 12.30am so I'm guessing this was 1.00pm or later. Canary Wharf is a very difficult place to escape from, especially after a few drinks ...


From Revolt In Style to The Freedom Dinner

Looking forward to The Freedom Dinner tonight.

This is our fourth annual dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf.

The first was a stab in the dark, if I'm honest. It was a sequel, of sorts, to Revolt In Style, the hugely successful event Forest and Boisdale hosted at The Savoy in June 2007, five days before the smoking ban came in.

That dinner attracted almost 400 people paying £80 a ticket. Guest speakers were Andrew Neil, Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas) and Antony Worrall Thompson.

There were camera crews from twelve countries including Russia, France, Germany and Greece. Newsnight was there too.

Five years later we thought it would be good to revive the concept of a lifestyle freedom-themed dinner. However, without the incentive of attending an historic occasion, I wasn't sure how attractive it would be.

There were around 120 guests for the first one and since then the number has risen to 150 or so. We could squeeze more people in but it would be uncomfortable.

This year's dinner is supported by, among others, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and Conservatives for Liberty, who all have tables.

There will also be guests from the TaxPayers' Alliance, Institute of Ideas, the Manifesto Club and other groups.

Half a dozen MPs are expected to attend, together with a number of journalists and bloggers.

Guest speaker is film producer Stephen Evans whose credits include Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, The Madness of King George, Peter's Friends and many more.

Another special guest is New Orleans-based musician and campaigner Juliette Tworsey. When smoking was banned in NOLA bars and casinos earlier this year Juliette was on the frontline, arguing against prohibition.

Although she quit smoking some time ago and now vapes, I was hugely impressed that she spoke up for both camps. In the current climate that marked her out as someone a bit special and I'm delighted she's joining us tonight with her partner Jules.

Performing on the smoking terrace before dinner will be cellist Ivan McCready who has played with Blur, The Pretenders, John Cale, Jessie J – even Pete Doherty.

So, fingers crossed, it should be a good night.

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