Plain Packaging? No, Prime Minister!

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Tuesday
Jan272015

PM struggling to shut down plain packaging story

Six days ago, shortly after health minister Jane Ellison announced the Government was going ahead with plain packaging, journalist Iain Martin tweeted:

So, how's that going?

Well, Thursday saw an avalanche of opposition – from Forest, the IEA, the Institute of Ideas and others.

Friday revealed ruffled feathers among leading Conservatives such as LBC presenter Iain Dale and Nigel Evans MP:

Over the weekend the Sun on Sunday exposed more opposition among Tory MPs:

Columnist Tony Parsons also weighed in:

On Monday former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson led the opposition with an excellent article in the Daily Mail:

Quoting extensively from this blog Breitbart reported:

This morning the PM woke up to find Guido Fawkes tweeting:

This afternoon, despite a feeble attempt to play down Guido's story, the bad news kept on coming for the PM.

First there was this tweet by the Spectator:

An hour later the Telegraph's Christopher Hope tweeted:

And shortly after that Telegraph Politics tweeted:

Finally, I did I mention this letter from Forest supporter David Hockney in today's FT?

So, your plan to introduce plain packaging quietly and without fuss is going well, Mr Cameron?

Tuesday
Jan272015

How to get a standing ovation at a tobacco industry convention

Ever wondered how to get a standing ovation at a tobacco industry convention? Then read on …

Readers may recall that I was invited last year to speak at the Global Tobacco Networking Forum in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (See Greetings from The Greenbrier.)

A report on the conference has now been published in the January issue of Tobacco Reporter. You can read it here.

GTNF brings together a wide range of people from inside and outside the tobacco industry. In recent years it has been attended by an increasing number of e-cigarette advocates including Carl Phillips, scientific director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) and Clive Bates, former director of ASH, now an associate of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA).

Previous forums have taken place in Rio, Bangalore, Antwerp and Cape Town. Because it was closer to home, perhaps, the Greenbriers event attracted the CEOs of two prominent American tobacco companies, Susan Cameron of Reynolds American, and Murray Kessler of Lorillard.

Some vapers should look away now because in her speech Cameron called for the strict regulation of open-system vapour products. In her view, they present a "unique risk" because they are "open to tampering".

It's comments like these that have upset a lot of vapers. Personally I'm against strict regulation but credit to her for going public with her position in such a no-nonsense fashion and not hiding behind Chatham House rules.

Murray Kessler said the tobacco industry was committed to harm reduction but said the strategy must include risk modification as well as abstinence. "We need an alternative to the quit or die message." Agreed.

The biggest coup was to get Mitch Zeller, director of the US Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). Reduce harm products presented the CTP with a challenge, he said. They may be less of a risk to the user but their availability might prevent consumers from choosing the healthiest option, complete cessation.

And that, in a nutshell, is what we're up against. Even the more liberal and open-minded public health officials view complete cessation as the long-term goal. Zeller didn't say it but "No safe level of nicotine" is sure to be the mantra for many years to come. Good news for the likes of ASH but bad news for the rest of us (including the taxpayer).

One of the most passionate presentations came from John Cameron, brother of Hollywood director James Cameron. "If I could I'd smoke in my sleep," he declared before announcing tobacco's imminent demise. "It's over," he said.

A vibrant hi-tech business will take its place. "All major brand owners – Harley Davison, Starbucks – will have their own line of e-cigarettes … In the future, when you see an e-cigarette, you will think health, not harm."

In comparison I must have come across as a complete Luddite. The short summary of my presentation reads:

Forest’s Simon Clark … argued that, throughout the debate, one group had been consistently underrepresented — consumers. Established to defend the interest of both smokers and tolerant nonsmokers, Forest celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2014. Clark took the opportunity to look back on some of the organization’s initiatives, and to contemplate the future in a rapidly changing business environment.

Throughout the years, Forest campaigns have had varying levels of success, according to Clark. The organization’s Save our pubs campaign could not prevent a comprehensive public smoking ban in the UK. Its Hands off our packs initiative, against the implementation of plain packaging, has been more successful. Three years after the start of the discussion, the UK government has yet to decide on the issue [Damn, spoke too soon!]. The difference, according to Clark, is funding. Whereas the Save Our Pubs initiative was carried out on a shoestring budget, the Hands Off Our Packs campaigners had more money to work with.

Clark promised Forest would continue stressing consumer choice and attacking excessive regulation in its defense of smokers. But he cautioned that, in their enthusiasm about e-cigarettes, tobacco executives should not forget their traditional customer, the smoker, who still accounts for the vast majority of the business.

Even Cameron, however, would have struggled to compete with Kgosi Letlape, president of the Africa Medical Association:

As the president of the Africa Medical Association, Letlape’s decision to attend a tobacco forum elicited strong criticism from fellow health advocates.

As a pragmatist, however, he believes the goal of public health is better served by engagement than confrontation. Cigarettes, says Letlape, are not about to go away because of various forms of addiction—smokers’ addiction to nicotine, companies’ addiction to profits and government addiction to tobacco tax revenues.

In order to be successful, new products would need to satisfy all these addictions, according to Letlape. “We need to find a way to live with addiction, as opposed to dying from it,” he said.

Letlape sees a role for all stakeholders, including health activists, regulators and industry. “You don’t have to love or even trust each other,” he said. “Just respect each other and be civil.”

Now that's how you get a standing ovation at a tobacco industry convention.

To read the full report on GTNF2014 click here and turn to page 20.

Monday
Jan262015

Another battle for smokers and vapers to fight

Some interesting comments on my previous post.

Joe Jackson takes me to task (as he often does!) for suggesting the common battleground for smokers and vapers is freedom of choice. In Joe's opinion it should be junk science and the scaremongering that accompanies it.

Point taken, Joe, as always. The primary purpose of my post was to stress the need for unity between smokers and vapers. I highlighted freedom of choice as the issue we should fight on but, I agree, exaggerated or baseless health scares is another.

As it happens I addressed this in an earlier post about New Orleans (The elephant in the room) when I criticised (some) vapers for swallowing all the propaganda about smoking and secondhand smoke while accusing the same public health campaigners of "lying" about e-cigarettes.

I wrote:

The claim that 11,000 non-smokers died each year from secondhand smoke in pre-ban Britain was based on 'estimates' and 'calculations'. It had no basis in fact. Reports that smoking bans reduce heart attacks are invariably shown to be false.

The slogan "quit or die" is clearly a lie. Smokers may be playing Russian roulette with their health but a great many live long and healthy lives. Even the genuine risks of smoking (self-evident to most people for decades) have been exaggerated to the point where smokers largely ignore warnings about impotence, blindness, grotesquely rotten teeth and amputations because the number of smokers who experience those outcomes is, mercifully, very small.

What I find curious is this. While many vapers seem happy to believe what tobacco control tells them about the impact of smoking, when it comes to electronic cigarettes the public health industry is suddenly "lying".

Today former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson has written an excellent article in the Daily Mail (Why persecuting smokers will cost us all more in the long run).

Lawson addresses both issues. "Few sympathise with cigarette giants, but there is an issue of liberty and choice," he writes. He also tackles some of the health issues:

The main force behind the recent legislative drive against tobacco is the view that people can die from so-called ‘passive smoking’. When it was thought smokers were damaging only their own lungs, the matter could be genuinely described as one of risks freely undertaken.

But if people are killing their own children with their habit, then of course draconian measures would be justified. And this was the argument which convinced MPs last November to back a (completely unenforceable) law to fine drivers who smoke while children are in their vehicles.

Yet the unfashionable truth is there is no statistical link between adults smoking and increased early mortality rates among their children. Research on ‘passive smoking’ published in 1998 by the World Health Organisation showed that the children of smokers had a lung cancer rate 22 per cent LOWER than children of non-smokers.

I was editor of the Sunday Telegraph at that time, and I ran a story about this under the headline ‘Passive Smoking Doesn’t Cause Cancer: Official’, revealing that the WHO had initially kept back its research into passive smoking in seven countries which had showed not only that there was probably no link between passive smoking and lung cancer, but that it might even have a protective effect.

The anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health took us to the Press Complaints Commission, on grounds of inaccuracy. But after an exhaustive investigation lasting several months, their complaint was rejected.

Ironically the director of ASH at that time would have been Clive Bates, now a leading e-cig campaigner and one of the loudest voices when it comes to criticising public health campaigners for scaremongering about electronic cigarettes!!

Sadly it suits some e-cig advocates to peddle some of the hyperbole and myths about smoking and secondhand smoke. Tactically it's understandable but knowing what they know about some public health 'experts' it's also reprehensible.

PS. Amused to see that Prof John Britton and Prof Robert West, two of the leading e-cig advocates within the public health industry, are also strong advocates of plain packaging.

I quite like Robert West. Nevertheless, after enduring 24 hours of relentless propaganda from the tobacco control industry on Thursday, I found it remarkable he should complain when the Today programme interviewed Axel Gietz of Imperial Tobacco on Friday.

How dare the tobacco companies defend their brands on national radio!

On the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 Britton had his usual pop at me and Forest, suggesting that because Forest accepts donations from tobacco companies I was representing the tobacco industry.

Next time I will point out that as a recipient of public money he must be representing Big Government.

That's the trouble with anti-smoking campaigners. They'll only be happy when all opposition is silenced. Dick Puddlecote has more here.

Sunday
Jan252015

It's the principle, stupid

Is there anything more nauseous than listening to vapers calling for a ban on smoking in public places?

Earlier this week Juliette Tworsey (a vaper herself) described how vapers ruthlessly threw smokers under the bus in their desperate attempt to stop vaping being banned in bars and casinos in New Orleans.

Well, the gamble failed. Instead of joining forces with smokers and others opposed to excessive regulations, the e-cigarette community (including retailers) is now left to rue what happens if you side with tobacco control and thereby split what opposition there is to smoking bans.

Chances are that New Orleans City Council would have banned smoking and vaping anyway but working together smokers and vapers could have made far more noise.

Campaigning on the bigger issue (freedom of choice) might also have won over some non-smokers who don't give a toss about "harm reduction". Why would they? They don't smoke!

Instead self-interest took over and look what happened.

What some vapers don't seem to understand is the principle behind our opposition to smoking bans. The argument is not just about health, it's about politicians and tobacco control campaigners dictating beyond all reasonable measure how we should live our lives.

Unfortunately the vaping community's obsession with harm reduction (a perfectly honourable goal) has clouded their judgement and their choice of allies. They're quite happy to see smokers (which most of them once were) ostracised and excluded as long as they're given a free pass.

Well, it doesn't work like that. When governments worldwide began introducing comprehensive smoking bans it became clear that fairness was no longer part of the equation and appeals for moderation were falling on deaf ears.

As I (and others) keep saying, this is not about health, it's about control.

Meanwhile several people have questioned why we're fighting plain packaging. "You'll still be able to buy cigarettes so why does it matter?"

It matters because plain packaging represents the further denormalisation of smoking and, by association, smokers themselves.

It infantilises the consumer and creates an unhealthy precedent for similar policies in relation to sugary drinks and alcohol (for example).

To paraphrase David Hockney (who was talking about those ubiquitous 'No Smoking' signs), plain packaging represents the "uglification of England".

It also represents the staggering theft by the state of an entire industry's intellectual property. For that to happen in an allegedly free market, capitalist society is remarkable, yet it's happening here and now under our very noses.

The fact that it's being introduced by an allegedly Conservative prime minister makes it even more obscene.

When I commented on Twitter that the PM's decision had made me question whether to vote Conservative in May one person asked, "Is that really a defining issue for you in a General Election?"

Well, yes, as it happens because there's an important principle at stake. If a Tory government is going to abandon the values that I (as a lifelong Conservative voter) thought the party believed in, why should they get my vote now or in the future?

Like those myopic vapers in New Orleans, the PM seems to have abandoned principle for short-term gain. To say it sucks is an understatement.

Update: The following has just been tweeted. It's a letter to rabid anti-smoking campaigner Ruth Malone from a vaper. Worth reading:

Sunday
Jan252015

Plain packaging: Tories are revolting

From Guido Fawkes' column in today's Sun on Sunday:

Nannying Tory health minister Jane Ellison has caused fury amongst her colleagues by agreeing to push through Labour backed plans for plain packaging on cigarettes before the next election.

“Four letter word, starts in S and ends in T” was the ringing endorsement of one colleague. “She is not a conservative” claims another, whilst another simply added “She’s a wrong ‘un’."

Guido hears that Ellison may not have the last laugh. Not only will there be a huge rebellion on the right, plans for a very well funded campaign to unseat her in her marginal south-west London seat of Battersea are already afoot.

On Thursday, following a tweet by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, several newspapers reported that the Cabinet was split on plain packaging.

A Cabinet split has emerged over the government's plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes after the Foreign Secretary suggested it may not work.

Philip Hammond said that the plans, which are being pushed by David Cameron, could lead to a rise in the trade in illicit cigarettes and "deprive us of a lot of revenue".

Mr Hammond said that the issue is "complex" and that the he will have to "look at the evidence" from "experiments" around the World.

See Cabinet split over plain packaging for cigarette packs (Daily Telegraph)

I can now reveal – from a good source – that the announcement by public health minister Jane Ellison surprised even George Osborne who wasn't consulted.

If that's true it's extraordinary, given how much revenue the Government could potentially lose to illicit traders, not to mention the cost of fighting the tobacco companies in court.

Another source reports that the decision to go ahead with plain packaging was taken by the PM who considers it "feel good politics".

If he believes that he should speak to some of his backbenchers. Nigel Evans, a former Conservative whip, had this to say:

Plain packaging for cigarettes is plain bonkers and simply will not work, costing jobs and hampering the smaller newsagents around the country. I am convinced that in an attempt to pander to the politically correct lobby we are shooting ourselves in the foot and going against the core Tory ideals that are at the root of my party and are the reason I joined it 40 years ago.

See Plain packaging for cigarettes is deeply un-Conservative (Breitbart).

And it's not just Conservative MPs who are revolting.

Iain Dale, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate and now a presenter on LBC, wrote:

I’m not really sure how any politician can introduce plain paper packaging on cigarette packets and maintain with a straight face that they are still Conservatives. What’s next? Plain packaging on cans of lager? Mars Bars? Packets of crisps? It’s the nanny state writ large. If cigarettes are so terrible then ban them altogether. That’s the only logical thing to do.

See So you support plain packaging. Call yourself a Conservative? (Conservative Home).

And former Conservative MSP Brian Monteith was so unimpressed he wrote:

I wrote last week about how Labour is taking us down this road of lifestyle socialism where every facet of our life is controlled, and hoped that the Conservatives might not be drinking in the same pub.

This week, with their proposals to abolish the branding of tobacco ­companies – infringing their intellectual property rights – the Tories showed they have been supping in the Last Chance Saloon. And now their chance of my vote is gone.

See Tories have lost my vote (Edinburgh Evening News).

Feel good politics? Yeah, right.

Saturday
Jan242015

Life and death

This time last week I attended a funeral in Scotland.

The father of an old school friend had died. He was 83, I believe. Like my own father he retired in his fifties because of ill health, survived heart surgery but kept active (he was a keen and competitive golfer) for many years.

His funeral was therefore a celebration of a life well lived and although there was some sadness there was little reason to mourn.

I actually think he would have enjoyed his funeral. A Geordie who loved telling jokes, he also liked playing the joker.

One story that was included in the eulogy concerned a dementia test. Invited to recite a series of words backwards, he simply swivelled his chair 180 degrees.

The burial would have tickled him too. It was snowing and the cemetery was at the top of a steep hill. Well, the hearse got stuck and four burly undertakers had to get out and push.

Compare that to another funeral that, unfortunately, I couldn't attend. Two young men in my village were killed in a head-on collision with another vehicle days before Christmas.

It was a tragic thing to happen, made worse (if that is possible) by the random nature of the accident.

Likewise, I was shocked to hear of the death of Christina Annesley this week.

Christina was same age, 23, as the boys in my village. She died in Thailand, two weeks into a four-month tour of south east Asia.

She attended several Forest events including last year's boat party and our 35th anniversary reception in November.

We spoke only briefly but I found her warm, vibrant and funny. She told me she was writing a dystopian fantasy novel and tried (unsuccessfully!) to explain it to me.

Judging from the comments on Facebook and Twitter she was a positive force in many people's lives. I hope that, in due course, that knowledge will provide some small consolation to her parents.

Saturday
Jan242015

Plain packaging: those TV interviews

We've just uploaded clips of two interviews I did on Thursday.

The first (above) was on BBC Breakfast.

The second (below) was on the BBC News Channel. It featured quite a feisty exchange with presenter Simon McCoy which I rather enjoyed.

A clip from the BBC Breakfast interview then made a fleeting appearance on the Daily Politics as part of a discussion about plain packaging featuring Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams and Ukip's Suzanne Evans:

Friday
Jan232015

The longest day: speaking to the media on plain packaging

Well, that was a long day.

I finally got home at 9.00pm having set off from Cambridgeshire at 3.00 in the morning.

The BBC invited me on BBC Breakfast and I volunteered to go to Media City in Salford because experience has taught me it's (a) far better to be interviewed in person than down the line in a remote studio; and (b) it can lead to interviews with other BBC news programmes and radio stations because word gets round that you're there.

A slight complication was the fact that ITV's Good Morning Britain also wanted an interview – at 6.20am – so we came to an arrangement. GMB would send an outside broadcast unit to interview me in a car park in Media City but I had to be there at 6.00.

That meant getting up at 2.30 (I'd only gone to bed at 1.00!) and driving to Salford. En route I had the strange experience of hearing my voice on the hourly news bulletins on Five Live's Up All Night.

When I arrived (with minutes to spare) it was still dark and bitterly cold. Miked up I chatted with the cameraman and sound engineer who were friendly but very anti-smoking. One had worked in a pub and hated people smoking.

A third member of the team, another anti who was in the OB van listening to our conversation, felt so strongly about the issue he left his position and bounded over to take part. Talk about facing a firing squad!

As for the interview (with presenters Ben Shephard and Charlotte Hawkins) it was so cold I found it hard to think let alone speak but I stumbled through.

Anyway, after interviews with BBC Radio London (Penny Smith and Paul Ross) and BBC Radio Wales I found myself on the BBC Breakfast sofa talking to Charlie Stayt and Louise Minchin.

Unusually I was the sole interviewee but it turned out they had talked to a tobacco control campaigner earlier. And credit to the BBC Breakfast presenters, they are always fair and impartial.

After that I was whisked off to the BBC Radio Manchester studio to record an interview with a very down-to-earth Mike Sweeney who I liked a lot. You can listen to the interview here. It begins 11:55 minutes in.

Next up was the BBC News Channel. This time, instead of sitting in a studio, I had to perch on a high stool facing a remote camera with the BBC Manchester news team behind me.

I don't know who the presenter was (I couldn't see him) but he was quite aggressive. I gave as good as I got (I think) and quite enjoyed it! If I can get hold of a clip I'll post it later.

More local radio interviews followed before it was time to speak to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2.

I was now operating from a small dark soundproofed booth in reception. Also on the programme was Professor John Britton, a trustee of ASH and director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies.

The 'discussion' can be heard here. It starts 07:00 minutes in. I like being interviewed by Vine. He gives interviewees a fair crack of the whip. I've no proof but I sense he's also fairly libertarian at heart.

While all this was going on I was missing calls from quite a few local radio stations but the BBC was putting together a schedule and at 1.30, when I was contemplating driving home, I was sent a list:

1500 Nottingham rec
1508 Cumbria rec
1515 Cambridge rec
1522 York rec
1530 Lancashire rec
1538 WM rec
1545 Berkshire live
1552 Hereford & Worcs rec
1600 3 Counties Luton live
1608 Derby live
1615 Gloucestershire rec
1622 Bristol live
1638 Stoke live
1645 Shropshire live
1652 Wiltshire live

Thanks!

In the event two of those interviews didn't happen because a couple over-ran. In total though I think I did 22 radio and two TV interviews.

There was one final interview on the Mark Forrest Show, "bringing you the best of BBC Local Radio across England and the Channel Islands, 7-10pm on weeknights across 39 BBC stations". I did that at 7.15 from a motorway service station on the M6 toll road.

It was good to know that the IEA and Institute of Ideas were out there as well. I know Chris Snowdon did Five Live Breakfast and the Today programme. (You can listen to the latter here. It begins at 01:22:05.)

Good too to hear the tobacco industry speaking out. This morning Imperial Tobacco's Axel Gietz was on the Today programme. More please!

And finally … on Wednesday night I did my first ever interviews on Skype. I don't have the Skype app on any of my computers but my daughter has it on the desktop in her bedroom.

Sky News was the first to suggest using it and so I found myself in my 17-year-old daughter's bedroom hurriedly covering up the fairy lights and scatter cushions on the bed behind me.

Later, at midnight, I was forced to wake her up so I could another interview, this time for Good Morning Britain. In fact she was present throughout the interview, buried under the duvet and under strict instructions not to come out!

I don't know if GMB used any of it but I'm told my Skype interview did appear on Sunrise on Sky News. Goodness knows what it looked like.

Anyway, make that 22 radio interviews, three television appearances, two Skype interviews and several news bulletins.

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