Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Tobacco taxation: survey highlights effect of government policy

The following won't come as a surprise to readers of this blog but it's interesting nonetheless.

According to the Tobacco Manufacturers Association:

A survey of over 12,000 adult smokers released today reveals how consumers avoid paying the excessive taxation on tobacco products in the United Kingdom.

It found almost one third (29 per cent) of smokers are now buying tobacco products from ‘non-shop sources’ due to the excessive costs in the UK. The term ‘non-shop sources’ refers to purchases from abroad, online, from friends of family, in pubs, in the street, at car boot sales, in vans, at work and in ‘fag houses’ (private houses selling tobacco).

This surge in ‘non-shop’ sources has caused the Treasury to lose an estimated £2.1 billion of tax revenue every year because of the shift to non-UK duty paid products. A further £500 million is lost to cross border shopping each year. Collectively, this is the second largest loss to the Treasury after VAT avoidance and could have funded more than 110,000 additional police officers.

The survey found that the primary reason smokers were buying non-UK duty paid products was due to the high prices in the UK – the highest of all 28 EU member states.

Almost one in five smokers (17 per cent) now regularly buys their tobacco from abroad to avoid paying UK duty and eight in ten (78 per cent) smokers said they had no objections to buying non-UK duty paid tobacco as long as it was from a legal source.

Eight in ten (80 per cent) of respondents suggested the reason they bought ‘non-shop’ products was related to the high cost of tobacco products in the UK.

Stock piling large amounts of tobacco bought on holiday was not an issue for 68 per cent of smokers.

The survey also highlighted a significant rise in the trend of buying online, which increased by 70 per cent in just one year. When buying from a ‘non shop source’, smokers were found to buy large quantities, with a quarter (23 per cent) buying at least 200 cigarettes every time.

The cost of cigarettes in the UK is up to sixteen times more expensive than in other European countries. In Belgium smokers pay £4, in Spain £3.80 and in Moldova just 57 pence for a packet of 20 cigarettes.

More here: Smokers use holidays to dodge soaring UK cigarette prices (Forest Online).


Vapefest – a breath of fresh air

What did you do during the war on tobacco, Grandad?"

Momentary pause.

"I went to Vapefest. I was only there for an afternoon but I really enjoyed it."

The weather helped. I was advised to bring wellies (I don't have any) and an umbrella but they weren't needed because it was a warm sunny day in Shropshire.

Vapefest began in 2010, the same year I toyed with the idea of an event called Smoke In The Park.

Sadly it never got off the ground. Vapefest however has gone from strength to strength.

This year's event took place in a showground on the edge of Shrewsbury. Participants camped in an adjoining field or booked in to local hotels and b&bs.

I arrived at one o'clock. The first thing I noticed was the sweet, slightly sickly smell that tickled my nostrils every time someone walked past vaping.

It wasn't unpleasant – we were outside, for goodness sake – and it quickly passed, but it was noticeable.

The second thing was the number of people – predominantly male – who were wearing black t-shirts with slogans like 'Keep Calm, Kill A Zombie'.

After 30 minutes I tweeted: 'Vapefest is what I imagine it might be like holed up in a candy floss factory with fans of Black Sabbath.'

In the outer area were the commercial tents selling every conceivable flavour of e-liquid from apple pie and custard to citrus dew, Boston cream doughnut, grandma's lemonade and RY-whore.

I counted three mobile bars plus vans selling hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, fish and chips and "succulent pulled pork".

Within the inner paddock there were marquees occupied by Planet of the Vapes ('the UK's leading vaping community') and UK Vaperz ('the Ohm of vaping'), and a much smaller tent occupied by Vapers in Power.

VIP's Liam Byran stood for parliament at the general election and it was he who invited me, Dick Puddlecote and several others to give a series of short talks.

Dick and I decided in advance to join forces and do a joint session on why smokers and vapers should stick together and why vapers should be wary of all tobacco control campaigners.

We sat on garden chairs and a small but friendly audience sat on the grass in front of us. We had to compete with what sounded like a sound check for the evening's entertainment, an AC/DC tribute band, but it added to the fun.

I'd written some notes but didn't need them. Perhaps it was all that vapour going to my head but I felt unusually relaxed.

The unexpected bonus is that I met some really nice people. Dick's was the most familar face but I also chatted to Simon Thurlow whose Save E-Cigs campaign has been extremely active in Wales; ECITA's Katherine Devlin; Lorien Jollye and Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance; and Russell Ord, another e-cig campaigner and an occasional commenter on this blog.

In terms of its friendly atmosphere, Vapefest reminded me, a little bit, of an event that took place in Seville in 1999.

'Smokepeace' was billed as a meeting of European smokers' rights activists and to say I wasn't looking forward to it is an understatement.

I expected to be met by hard core libertarians exhaling huge plumes of smoke. Instead I met ordinary men and women from all over Europe – kind, courteous smokers who just wanted to be left alone to enjoy their habit.

Unlike Vapefest 'Smokepeace' featured a programme of speeches and policy making but it was the social events that really impressed me.

Smoking, eating and drinking in the bars and restaurants of Seville was hugely convivial. There was no fuss or drama. Why would there be? This wasn't politics, it was life.

Vapefest had a similar feel but without the political agenda. In some ways I applaud that because it created an extremely relaxed environment.

People sat on the grass, at tables or on bales of hay, talking and vaping. They wandered around, checking out the vendors.

But I sense that most vapers, like the majority of smokers before the smoking ban, are in denial. Are they aware that vaping could soon be banned in many public places? Do they know that some of the products or devices they take for granted could be outlawed or severely restricted?

I'm told the New Nicotine Alliance wasn't allowed to share a tent with Vapers In Power because the organisers felt one advocacy group was enough.

I can understand why they don't want Vapefest to become a 'political' event but vapers must be mobilised, if at all possible, and fast.

Online forums aren't enough. The vaping community must learn, quickly, from the mistakes smokers have made. But it's difficult when the consumer is largely ignorant of current affairs.

It's not easy to motivate people to get involved in 'political' campaigns. I know too how hard it is to bring everyone together under one banner in one movement, but if the vaping community doesn't do that vaping will go the same way as smoking.

Vapers In Power had the smallest tent in the entire show ground and when Dick Puddlecote and I spoke you could have counted the audience on the fingers of our four hands.

But I loved the informality and what I really liked was the positive feeling that we really are in this together and everyone present shared the same aspirations.

I will continue to take a pop at vapers and e-cig advocates who denigrate smoking and, by extension, smokers for their "dirty, smelly" habit.

However, having rubbed shoulders with some of the leading e-cig advocates at Vapefest, I'm more convinced than ever that what smokers, vapers and tolerant non-smokers have in common is far greater than our differences.

Vapefest was a breath of fresh air. Thanks to Liam Bryan for the invitation.

Below: your humble scribe with Lorien Jollye (left) and Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance


Coming soon

New website launching next week.


Consequences of banning smoking in hospital grounds

So, did you respond to the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Bill consultation survey?

The deadline was yesterday.

The Bill will introduce restrictions on the sale of nicotine vapour products (NVPs) such as e-cigarettes and shisha pipes. These restrictions will include; a minimum purchase age of 18, prohibiting the sale of NVPs via vending machines, requiring NVP retailers to register on the tobacco retailer register, prohibit ‘proxy-purchasing’ for under 18s, restrict domestic advertising and promotions, implement an age verification policy for the sale of NVPs and ban staff under the age of 18 from selling tobacco and NVPs. The Bill would also make it an offence to smoke in parts of hospital grounds.

On behalf of Forest, I submitted a seven-page letter. Here's a taste:

The NHS has a duty of care to protect people’s health but that doesn’t include the right to nag, cajole or bully smokers to quit. Many smokers are in hospital for reasons that have nothing to do with smoking. Why should they be told they cannot go outside and have a cigarette in the open air?

It’s heartless to ban patients or staff from smoking anywhere on hospital grounds. Tobacco is a legal product and many people smoke to relieve stress. A cigarette break at work or while they are in hospital is something many people look forward to. For some patients may be one of the few pleasures they have while in hospital.

Driving the proposal to make smoking in hospital grounds an offence is a degree of bullying that is unacceptable in a tolerant society. People are no longer educated about the health risks of smoking. Today they are patronised, insulted, made to feel like lepers or, worse, threatened with prosecution and fines. The public health industry is engaged in a campaign of creeping prohibition. Banning smoking in the open air, even in hospital grounds, is a step too far.

On the potential consequences of banning smoking on NHS sites, I wrote:

In June 2007 the Daily Telegraph reported, 'A trainee accountant obsessed with serial killers has been found guilty of murdering a nurse as she took a cigarette break. Cheryl Moss, 33, was stabbed and slashed 72 times as she stood in parkland at the back of St George's hospital, Hornchurch, Essex, in April, last year.'

Although this was a tragic and isolated incident, can we be sure it will never happen again? Had it not been for a ban on smoking in the grounds of St George’s Hospital, Cheryl Moss would probably be alive today. The NHS has a duty of care to all its patients and staff. Why put anyone at risk unnecessarily by banning smoking across all NHS sites and forcing smokers off the grounds? The risk to patients, visitors and staff may be small but it is a risk nonetheless.

By all means restrict smoking in the area around entrances to hospitals, but making it an offence to smoke on the entire site is unreasonable and excessive. It is the firmly held opinion of Forest that banning smoking on the entire site of any NHS hospital is inhumane and demonstrates a staggering lack of empathy for patients, staff and visitors who take pleasure from smoking or find it a comfort in stressful times.

On the threat to make it an offence to knowingly allow anyone to smoke on hospital grounds, I wrote:

In theory, this part of the legislation could result in a member of staff, with many years of dedicated service behind them, being prosecuted simply because, with the best of intentions, they turned a blind eye to a patient who wanted to smoke outside, a patient whose immediate well-being could be helped by a quiet smoke in the hospital grounds.

Over the years there have been many anecdotal examples of staff taking patients who want to smoke outside so they can light up. How dreadful if this Bill was to lead to the prosecution of a dedicated doctor or nurse, not to mention the catastrophic impact that may have on their career.

I also addressed some of the issues concerning electronic cigarettes. You can download and read the full response here.

Note: I've been sounded out about giving oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee next month. I'll keep you posted.


Another day another 'consultation'

Consultation alert.

The Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee is currently inviting written evidence on the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc, and Care)(Scotland) Bill.

Part 1 of the Bill relates to restrictions on nicotine vapour products (NVPs) and smoking in "parts" of hospital grounds, which will become an offence.

Specifically the Committee wants answers to the questions:

1. Do you support the Bill’s provisions in relation to NVPs?
2. Do you support the proposal to ban smoking in hospital grounds?
3. Is there anything you would add/remove/change in the Bill with regards to NVPs or smoking in hospital grounds?

Deadline for submissions is tomorrow, August 5.

If you're short of time there's an online survey. It takes no more than a few minutes to complete and it's anonymous. Click here.

See also: Hospital smoking ban "inhumane" and "impossible to enforce" says Forest


Public health: another day, another silly costume

I was on BBC Radio Stoke this morning.

They wanted to talk about the local council's new tobacco control strategy that includes six "strategic priorities":

1. Helping tobacco users to quit
2. Helping young people to be tobacco free
3. Establishing ‘smokefree’ as the norm
4. Tackling cheap and illicit tobacco
5. Effective communications for tobacco control
6. Influencing change through advocacy

Specifically "one of the most important strategies in reducing the uptake of youth smoking is to reduce the rates of adult smoking in the city".

To achieve that children will be encouraged to ask (nag?) their parents to quit. In addition 'voluntary' smoking bans will be implemented in children's play areas and other public spaces.

Now that local authorities have been given the power to tackle 'public' health issues many more councils will undoubtedly follow suit.

Some already have. On Wednesday it was reported that:

The Take Seven Steps Out initiative has been launched by Norfolk County Council in a bid to reduce the risks of second-hand smoke to youngsters.

Bizarrely the campaign featured a man dressed as a giant kangaroo but that's par for the course.

Writing in today's Guardian, public health consultant Dr Lisa McNally admitted:

My team always tries to ensure that our campaigns involve me dressing up in something silly. Recently, my work outfits have included everything from an orange wig (anaphylaxis campaign) to a full length cigarette suit (Stoptober).

Is it just me or are most public health campaigns an extension of children's TV, frequently patronising and more than a little infantile?

More interesting perhaps was the confirmation that 'public' health is now firmly in the grip of local politicians and all the baggage that brings.

According to McNally:

Evenings will often see me in the council chamber. Since public health moved from the NHS into local government, I now work for politicians, and I’ll go along and face the scrutiny of my elected members.

Naturally, she finished her article with an ill-disguised plea for more funding:

There’s more we could be doing to improve people’s health, if only we had the time and resources. There is more that could be achieved through public health work and I constantly feel that we’re only scratching at the surface of that potential. Still, there’s always tomorrow. Another day – and another silly costume.

If 'public' health campaigners are "only scratching at the surface" of what can be achieved to change our lifestyles that's quite a terrifying, Orwellian thought.

The good news is that instead of a '1984' Big Brother type figure, Big Government will in future be disguised as an oversized cuddly toy or puppet.

That's the way to do it.

PS. McNally also wrote:

While this ‘big P’ politics part of my job can be scary, it’s not half as bad as the small ‘p’ politics. Public health operates today within the context of the nanny state debate, which at times can get fierce and personal. Once, after writing an article in a national newspaper about protecting people using mental health services from second-hand tobacco smoke I received a tide of hate mail. One chap called me a ‘left-wing, do-gooder, fascist bitch!’.

As readers know I don't condone such language but who created this climate of intolerance and abuse? 'Public' health campaigners have a lot to answer for.


Look who's behind poll that says majority favour smoking ban on Brighton beach

And so it begins, the tyranny of the majority I wrote about last week in relation to the proposed smoking ban on Brighton beach.

According to the Press Association:

The majority of people are in favour of a smoking ban on Brighton beach and think the plans should be considered for other British resorts.

See 'Majority in favour' of Brighton beach smoking ban.

The press release (sorry, report) continues:

Many of those questioned (48%) said they thought stopping people lighting up would make traditional seaside towns more attractive places to visit and one in five (19%) said they would even travel further to visit a no-smoking beach.

Just under a third (31%) of the 2,000 adults polled said they feel Brighton and Hove City Council's proposals are a step too far. One in 10 (9%) said a smoking ban would speed the decline of seaside towns by putting smokers off.

While 57% said they would like it to happen on more of Britain's beaches, even more (60%) said they think smoking should be banned in playgrounds, 45% said they did not want to see it in outdoor restaurants and more than a third (36%) are in favour of a ban in parks.

Curiously the PA report didn't reveal the name of the polling company, or how the poll was conducted (online or by phone, random or self-selecting) so I can only assume the information wasn't included in the press release sent out by the commissioning organisation.

And who did commission the poll? Why, a company called Pharmacy2U, "the UK's leading NHS approved online pharmacy".

If the name is vaguely familiar it might be due to an investigation that was reported in April:

As part of a wider investigation into data handling, the Daily Mail looked into data selling practices at Pharmacy2U and claims that the company has sold information about thousands of patients without proper consent being obtained. Data passed to Alchemy Direct Media, whose clients include Pfizer, reportedly include patients’ names, addresses, dates of birth and the dates of their last prescription.

The company denied any wrongdoing but I'll let you be the judge (Pharmacy2U under fire over data selling practices).

Meanwhile, back to that poll. I can't see any reference to it on he Pharmacy2U website so I'm none the wiser about who carried it out.

I am however pleased to report that Pharmacy2U medical director Dr Nitin Shori did have the grace to admit that while "There does appear to be public support for smoking bans on Britain's beaches … more people say they are concerned about sunburn, litter, rowdy behaviour and how they look on the beach, than breathing in second-hand cigarette smoke."

Fancy that!


2004: ASH "surprised more countries don't ban smoking on beaches"

Another day another proposal for restricting smoking outside.

According to the Echo:

A non-smoking area on Bournemouth beach has been proposed at a town council meeting.

Following news that Brighton and Hove Council is considering introducing a ban on smoking on its beaches and in public parks, Boscombe West councillor Philip Stanley-Watts proposed a designated non-smoking area for Bournemouth beach.

Thankfully there was a voice of reason at the meeting:

Lawrence Williams, cabinet member for tourism and leisure, said the move was not deemed necessary ...

Cllr Williams said the council's policy was to ensure everyone on the beach could "enjoy their own personal space".

"The national trend has seen fewer and fewer people smoking, we are working to increase the health offer on the beach rather than attempting to ban smoking," he said.

Full report: Should there be a non-smoking area on Bournemouth beach?

Oddly enough, I thought there already was a no smoking area on Bournemouth beach. In May 2004 our old friend Jamie Doward (The Observer) reported:

So far only Bournemouth beach has introduced a smoking ban in the UK. The ban, introduced in 1997, is in force either side of the town's pier and is designed to encourage a family-friendly atmosphere.

'It works well,' said Beverly Ware, PR manager for Bournemouth Tourism. 'It can't be enforced, and there are no bylaws preventing smoking, but the seafront staff play an active role in reminding people, and there are signs telling them not to smoke on those parts of the beach.'

ASH needless to say leapt at the opportunity to support not just a 'no smoking' area but a complete ban:

'Smoking bans on beaches seem a sensible policy,' said Amanda Sandford, spokeswoman for the health organisation (sic), ASH. 'You can sweep butts up in the street but you can't on a beach - they get buried in the sand. It's harmful for children if they put them in their mouths. I'm surprised more countries don't ban smoking on beaches.'

Just a thought, Amanda, but I'm guessing more countries don't ban smoking on beaches because it's such a stupid, unenforceable idea.

See Beach smoking ban plea to protect sea life (Observer).

Update: The Bournemouth Echo has posted a poll on its website – Should there be a non-smoking area on Bournemouth beach?.

A non-smoking area is not the same as a total ban but it's a slippery slope nonetheless. (Remember non-smoking areas in pubs and clubs?).

Leave adults to smoke responsibly and with consideration for others and, by and large, they will.

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