Tuesday
Mar292016

Tobacco Free Futures to re-brand as Healthier Futures

Fancy that.

Five months after Smokefree South West became Public Health Action, Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West) is changing its identity again.

From Thursday (March 31) TFF will be known as Healthier Futures.

According to chief executive Andrew Crossfield, it marks the "start of the next chapter in our story":

In addition to tackling tobacco – which is still a vital part of our work – we are excited to now be taking on responsibility to tackle a range of health issues. Our new mission is to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

Readers will recall that a last minute re-launch couldn't save Smokefree South West.

In February, just three months after it became Public Health Action (adding alcohol to its portfolio), SFSW aka PHA was forced to announce its imminent closure.

Does the same fate await Smokefree North West aka Tobacco Free Futures aka Healthier Futures?

And what about Smokefree North East aka Fresh?

More important, why are they doing it? The simple answer has to be – money.

Local authorities appear to be growing wise to the fact that dedicated tobacco control groups offer poor value for money.

Most of the time they are merely parroting the same messages as bodies such as ASH, Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the British Lung Foundation and Public Health England.

Therefore, to justify their funding and keep themselves in business, groups like Tobacco Free Futures have decided to diversify into alcohol and obesity.

Re-branding came too late to save Smokefree South West. Can it save Tobacco Free Futures?

What is clear is that after many years sucking eagerly on the public teet, dedicated stop smoking services and lobby groups are coming to the end of the line.

According to a recent report, the use of stop smoking services is down 51 per cent since 2010.

As for lobby groups like Healthier Futures, without public funding they wouldn't exist because there's no demand for them.

Do we really need another campaign group advising us about the dangers of smoking or alcohol?

What makes me laugh is the fact that people like Andrew Crossman and, before her, Fiona Andrews at Smokefree South West, are arrogant enough to think they can switch overnight from being 'experts' on tobacco to become 'experts' on obesity and alcohol as well.

But when did expertise ever come into it? Tobacco control campaigners are rarely experts on health. Their real strength is hectoring or bullying people to change their lifestyle.

For more information on Healthier Futures, TFF have kindly provided an information sheet. Click here to download.

Monday
Mar282016

And there's more

From The Times (Scotland) today.

Scots favour smoking rooms in pubs, according to a poll released as separate research suggested that the smoking ban had saved Scots from breathing in more than half a tonne of toxins in a decade.

Ten years after the smoking ban in enclosed public areas came into force, health campaigners and researchers have released data showing the effect of the policy. However, a smokers’ lobby group has also released polling showing support for lighting up in certain well-ventilated rooms.

I wish I could also post the hour-long phone-in broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland this morning. Prompted by the Forest poll, the subject was "Is it time to bring smokers in from the cold?"

Unfortunately, given the length of the programme, the file is too big to upload so you'll just have to believe me when I say there were some very interesting contributions.

Tony from Dundee was my favourite but Colin from Bathgate and Jamie from Aberdeen ran him close.

PS. To make sense this post should be read in conjunction with the previous one, How Forest shot ASH Scotland's Easter rabbit.

Monday
Mar282016

How Forest shot ASH Scotland's Easter rabbit

As readers of this blog may have noticed, Saturday was the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in Scotland.

I've been banging on about it because I felt it was really important not to let this milestone pass without a strong response from those of us who oppose smoking bans.

In that respect we've been rather successful.

In fact it could be argued that not only did we set the agenda, we also shot the rabbit ASH Scotland produced as they tried to wrestle some positive pro-ban headlines from the Scottish media.

Eight days ago the Scottish Mail on Sunday gave prominence to a Populus poll, commissioned by Forest, that found that 54 per cent of adults living in Scotland would allow well-ventilated designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs, with 40 per percent opposed to the idea.

The poll was mentioned on Scotland Tonight (STV) and reported in the Dundee Courier in a feature headlined 'Ten years on has Scotland's smoking ban been a success?'.

According to the paper:

A Populus survey of more than 1,000 adults living in Scotland found that 54% of the public would allow smoking rooms, with 40% opposed.

This is in contrast to the Scottish Government which is confident that most people are in favour of the 2006 move.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest that commissioned the poll said: “Politicians like to claim the smoking ban has been a huge popular success. This poll suggests they are out of touch with many ordinary people.”

Add to that a further quote in the Scottish Sun (Smoking ban in bars: Breath of fresh air...or just a smokescreen?) and we were feeling quite pleased.

We waited to see what the tobacco control lobby had up its sleeve (beyond a recycled report from 2005) and the answer was … not very much.

The smoking ban which came into force 10 years ago has saved Scots from breathing in more than half a tonne of toxic material, a study has suggested.

Desperate stuff.

Naturally the Press Association fell for it and their report – without a single dissenting voice – was duly picked up by the BBC, Sunday Post and Scotsman:

Campaigners and researchers looked at what impact a decade of smoke-free pubs, restaurants and other public places had on the adult population.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland worked with academics at the University of Aberdeen. They said second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds.

At least 250 of those compounds are known to be toxic or to cause cancer.

According to the researchers who looked at the health impact, of particular concern are the smallest particles, called PM2.5, which are invisible to the human eye but can linger in the air for hours and travel deep into the lungs.

Detailed measurements before and after the smoke-free legislation showed these levels inside pubs decreased by 86% when smoking was moved outside.

The team said that using existing knowledge of how much air adults breathe and how much time they spend in a pub, this means the change in the amount of PM2.5 breathed in can be totalled over the decade.

The researchers said that taken as a whole, the adult Scottish population has inhaled at least 600kg less of these tiny toxic particles because of smoke-free pubs.

As I wrote on Saturday however we at least managed to get the BBC to add some of our comments to their report.

Meanwhile, in an online report also published on Saturday, STV News asked 'Ten years on from the smoking ban: Was it the right decision?'.

Four people were featured: 'the non-smoker' (former football commentator Archie Macpherson), 'the health campaigner' (ASH Scotland's Sheila Duffy), the drinker (CAMRA's Ray Turpie) and 'the smoking lobbyist' (me).

My quote was:

"Over 1200 pubs have closed since the smoking ban was introduced. Inner city and community pubs have suffered most, along with working men's clubs.

"Thousands of jobs have been lost and countless social lives have been ruined on the altar of tobacco control.

"With a small amendment that would allow designated smoking rooms, pubs and clubs could accommodate adults who choose to smoke without inconveniencing non-smokers."

I thought that would be it but yesterday the Sunday Times Scotland covered both the ASH Scotland study and the Forest poll in one report.

The headline however read 'Poll shows pub smoking rooms big draw for Scots' and the report led with the news that:

Most Scots would support the creation of smoking rooms in pubs and clubs, according to a poll published on the 10th anniversary of the ban on lighting up in public places.

According to the paper:

A Populus poll of more than 1,000 adults for smokers’ group Forest found 54% would allow designated “well-ventilated” smoking rooms in pubs and clubs, while 40% opposed the idea.

The Sunday Times used the same quote I had given STV News. ("Over 1200 pubs have closed … Thousands of jobs have been lost … a small amendment would …" etc etc).

And this morning, on BBC Radio Scotland, the Forest poll was the catalyst for an hour long phone-in about the smoking ban.

Finally I must credit Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licenced Trade Association (STLA). Paul has never wavered in his opposition to the smoking ban and no amount of political leaning will dissuade him from the view that the ban has been disastrous for many of his members.

Paul never shies from making his views known and this week he has once again stood up to be counted. If there were more people like him in the pub industry it might not be facing terminal decline.

Thanks to our twin response, even the pro-ban Herald newspaper was forced to acknowledge our line of argument when it wrote, in a leader:

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association believes the ban has been a "disaster" from a business point of view, while the Campaign for Real Ale says 1,200 Scottish pubs have shut as a result of the smoking ban. Surely, however, other substantial forces, not least stricter drink-driving levels, and heavily-discounted alcohol on sale in shops and supermarkets, have also impacted on pub culture?

It's not hard to understand why there are now calls for some relaxation of the ban in pubs, but such a concession would not be in keeping with the Scottish Government's hope of creating a smoke-free generation by 2034. The ban has cleared the air.

Talking of the Herald, the paper also published a piece by local government correspondent Gerry Braiden, How Scotland's pub experience was revolutionised after the smoking ban.

It's worth reading, if you can stomach the pro-ban spin, but what interested me was Braiden's comment on Twitter after we mentioned that he hadn't referenced our poll. His response?

"It [the poll] was already old hat by time I was writing."

Old hat? The Sunday Times didn't think so. Nor did The Times (Scots support smoking rooms in pubs, poll says).

Nor did the BBC which devoted an entire phone-in to the subject on Radio Scotland this morning.



Saturday
Mar262016

Message to BBC Scotland 

To the BBC Scotland online newsdesk:

I have just read your report 'Benefits of smoking ban hailed 10 years on' which is currently the lead story on the BBC News (Scotland) page.

It includes not a single dissenting voice – no mention, for example, of the 1200 pubs that have closed since the ban was introduced, the jobs lost, the many social lives ruined etc.

Nor is there any mention of a recent poll that found that 54% of adults living in Scotland would allow designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs. (40% were opposed to the idea.)

Forest has sent two press releases to the BBC Scotland online newsdesk in the past week:

Poll: Majority of adults in Scotland would allow smoking rooms in pubs and clubs

Allow smoking rooms in Scotland's pubs and clubs, say campaigners

STV News took the trouble to interview us for their evening news programme Scotland Tonight and STV News online today featured our comments alongside those of ASH Scotland, the real ale group CAMRA and the anti-smoking commentator Archie Macpherson:

Ten years on from the smoking ban: Was it the right decision?

The Populus poll mentioned above was featured by the Scottish Mail on Sunday (with quotes from Forest). We have also been quoted by the Scottish Sun and the Dundee Courier.

Why does BBC Scotland think it's acceptable to ignore opposing views and publish what is nothing more than propaganda on behalf of the tobacco control industry?

Update: I received this response at 9:17.

Thank you for your feedback.

The story currently on the BBC website is the first version which went up overnight but will be added to today. I take your point that we should include both sides of the argument and will endeavour to have info and quotes from Forest added asap.

We have also gathered an interview with Paul Watterson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and his quotes are being added to the story now.

All well and good. What a pity whoever wrote the original report (posted eight hours ago) didn't think to include our quotes in the first place.

Friday
Mar252016

BBC John, the Mighty Atom (1937-2016)

I attended a funeral in Southend on Wednesday.

It was a sad occasion because the death was unexpected and followed what I understand was a relatively short illness.

On the other hand, like many funerals, it was also a celebration of a life well lived.

I had known John Hosken for more than 20 years. I was editing the monthly Mensa magazine (he was a member, I was merely a hired hand) and he rang to tell me, in his characteristically urbane way, that a clue to one of the puzzles contained an error.

I couldn't have been less interested, to be honest, because puzzles weren't my thing but John loved to talk and so we chatted and I quickly discovered he was a broadcaster and writer who had enjoyed a long and successful career at the BBC.

He agreed to be interviewed and that led to our first meeting, at the old BBC Club at Broadcasting House in London.

I discovered he was a proud Cornishman whose first job in journalism was with the West Briton newspaper. Thereafter he moved to Manchester and joined the BBC.

John may not have been a household name – although he did sit in for Jimmy Young on Radio 2 on several occasions and presented his own programme, Late Night Friday, for a few years – but he was a distinguished industrial correspondent, well thought of by unions and bosses alike.

He later moved to air and then transport but one of his proudest achievements career wise was being asked to commentate on state occasions including the State Opening of Parliament, royal weddings and the Remembrance Day Service at the Cenotaph when his knowledge and attention to detail were a winning combination. Unlike many of today's broadcasters, he didn't dumb down or regard his audience as simpletons.

John officially left the BBC in 1988 but continued making programmes for the corporation as a freelance broadcaster. Many were broadcast on the World Service and one or two concerned his beloved Cornwall.

In 2011, in recognition of his "promotion of Cornwall through the media", John was made a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh, an organisation that exists "to maintain the national Celtic spirit of Cornwall".

That same year, aged 73, he also published Sophie Storme, a children's book that was set, naturally, in Cornwall.

At his funeral on Wednesday the tribute was given by a schoolfriend who had known John since they were five years old. Even though life took them in different directions they remained close friends.

I was aware of John's nickname, The Mighty Atom (in recognition of his long distance running ability). I didn't know he was known locally in Essex, where he lived for many years, as "BBC John".

After the tribute we heard some clips from John's broadcasting career. As his mellifluous Cornish voice filled the chapel, the contrast with today's more excitable style of broadcasting was clear to all.

Long after I met and interviewed him, John and I kept in touch. When I was a journalist I commissioned him to write a number of articles on issues that interested him (Concorde and the first jet aircraft are two that spring to mind).

It was an annual treat to get a Christmas card from the Hoskens because John was a keen photographer who made his own cards using a print of one of his own photographs, seasonal or not!

One or twice we met for a drink. His wife Gillian, who also worked for the BBC as a producer, would join us. John was an irrepressible raconteur and mimic and I always enjoyed their company.

Together they attended several Forest events – our annual boat party, Smoke On The Water, and one or two events at Boisdale.

If I have a regret it's that I was often too busy on these occasions to have more than a cursory chat.

RIP, John. Thanks for your support and friendship.

Thursday
Mar242016

Smoking ban on Scotland Tonight

Here's the clip I said I'd post earlier.

It's a report about the tenth anniversary of the Scotland smoking ban and was broadcast on Scotland Tonight (ITV) last night.

It features an interview with former first minister Jack (now Lord) McConnell whose Labour government introduced the ban.

There's also a short soundbite from me.

For those who like to know these things (not many, I grant you), I was filmed in the car park outside the ITV studio in Great Shelford near Cambridge.

Well, it was either that or travel to Aberdeen for my ten seconds of fame.

Thursday
Mar242016

Broadcaster can't contain his "visceral hatred of anybody who smokes"

I grew up with Archie Macpherson.

He was a BBC Scotland football commentator – a good one at that – when I lived in Fife and later Aberdeen.

In 1987 he was the commentator when my team Dundee United beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp, winning a Uefa Cup quarter-final 3-1 on aggregate.

Macpherson's joy when United scored twice in the final minutes to win the tie is one of my favourite football moments.

How sad then that younger generations will only know him for what he calls a "visceral hatred of anybody who smokes".

Not just smoking, note, but "anybody who smokes". That's a hell of a lot of people – one million in Scotland alone.

I don't suppose he likes people who defend smokers either.

According to a report on STV last night Macpherson was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2013 "as a direct result of breathing in other people's smoke".

I have sympathy for anyone suffering from cancer but these comments take anti-smoking propaganda to a new low.

According to Cancer Research UK, "Doctors and scientists don't know exactly what causes kidney cancer but some things do increase the risk."

One of those things, says CRUK, is smoking but other factors include high blood pressure and "faulty genes and inherited conditions". Passive smoking isn't mentioned although I suppose some would argue that smoking and passive smoking are the same thing. (It's not.)

Meanwhile here's another Macpherson quote, from 2013:

“There is no doubt that the smoking ban is the greatest piece of public legislation that’s been passed anywhere in the world.

“The ban on smoking in public places must go on and we must find some other ways, even in this era of human rights legislation and whatever, of terrorising smokers.”

How appropriate is that?

Yesterday STV News tweeted a short interview with Macpherson (see below).

Curiously they haven't tweeted or posted last night's news report that included a (very) brief soundbite from me concerning the public's support for separate smoking rooms.

I'll post it later when we've uploaded the clip on to YouTube.

Wednesday
Mar232016

Wake up Scotland! Tobacco control wants to "stamp out" smoking for good

It's the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in Scotland on Saturday.

Three days ago, as I wrote here, the Scottish Mail on Sunday reported:

The majority of Scots believe smoking should be reintroduced to pubs and clubs – a decade after a ban made it illegal.

A new poll shows more than half of respondents thought venue owners should be allowed to offer a separate room for anyone who wants to light up on a night out.

On Monday the Scottish Daily Express revealed that:

New statistics released by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) show that there were 5,794 licensed premises in Scotland at the end of 2005.

Just months later, on March 26, 2006, the smoking ban was introduced amid health concerns releated to passive smoking.

The legislation had a detrimental impact on pubs across Scotland, with a significant decline in the numbers choosing to drink at their local.

Today, just 4,558 pubs remain open - a drop of 1,236 - and industry chiefs have warned the trend is threatening community life.

Today in the Scottish Parliament Stewart Maxwell MSP will host an ASH Scotland event to celebrate the anniversary.

Pub closures, job losses and the negative impact on tens of thousands of people's social lives will be ignored.

Instead Maxwell will probably read a letter from the World Health Organisation to health secretary Shona Robison praising the Scottish Government's "bold vision" and its "excellent example of global public health leadership".

I say 'probably' because Maxwell has already issued this self-serving and no doubt coordinated response:

"This is a welcome commendation from the World Health Organisation – demonstrating how Scotland has so often led the way in when it comes to smoke-free legislation.

"I’m also glad to see the WHO recognise my contribution and the contribution of many parliamentarians over the years – particularly the late Tom McCabe – who have worked so hard to make Scotland a world leader in tackling the impact of tobacco use.

"But we are determined to go even further – and the WHO are right to highlight the Scottish Government’s ‘bold vision’ to halve the number of children exposed to tobacco smoke by 2020 and to reduce smoking amongst adults to five per cent by 2034.

"It’s this type of leadership people in Scotland have a right to expect from their government – and this is leadership which will continue as we seek to stamp out smoking in Scotland for good.”

Meanwhile ASH Scotland has posted on its website "supporting information".

Again, it doesn't mention pub closures, the loss of thousands jobs in the hospitality industry or the problem of loneliness that, it could be argued, has worsened as a result of the ban.

Instead it includes a 2005 ASH Scotland report that "exposes the tactics used by the tobacco industry and its associates to oppose smoke-free legislation in Scotland".

The title – The Unwelcome Guest: how Scotland invited the tobacco industry to smoke outside) – is revealing because it demonstrates how tobacco control campaigners are obsessed by the impact anti-smoking laws have on the tobacco industry when the people who are most affected are not tobacco industry executives (most of whom don't smoke) but ordinary consumers, many of them from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and small businesses (pubs, convenience stores etc) that are often located in poorer, working-class areas.

I don't remember seeing it before which is remiss of me because Forest is mentioned several times. Reading it last night brought back a lot of memories.

Here are a few excerpts:

One of the key players seeking to undermine smoke-free public places in Scotland has been the smokers' rights group Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco).

In the 1980s Forest commissioned work to establish the extent of public and proprietor support for smoke-free restaurants in Scotland … Forest reported that most owners were "opposed to government legislation". At this point in time the issue of smoke-free restaurants in Scotland was "not seen to be a problem" …

In June 2000 Forest opened a Scottish branch in Edinburgh. MSPs were invited to a "Smoker friendly fry up and reception" at Edinburgh's Oxygen Bar (one of Scotland's first dedicated oxygen bars, which had then been told by the fire brigade to choose between selling oxygen or permitting smoking on its premises. The bar opted to permit smoking.)

The launch, attended by Brian Monteith MSP (Conservative, Mid Scotland and Fife and former Forest spokesman), was branded "distasteful" for undermining work to improve Scotland's health. In addition, the Herald declared: 'The message about smoking must be getting across, even in Scotland, why else would they be opening an office here?'

Actually, there were two events that day to mark the launch of Scottish Forest – a "Smoker friendly fry up" in a Glasgow pub (broadcast live on BBC Radio Scotland) and a reception at the Oxygen Bar in Edinburgh.

In addition to Monteith there were six or seven other MSPs at the reception. If I remember it was a pretty well-attended event after which I had to drive back to Glasgow for an appearance on Newsnight Scotland – but that's another story. (I made it with 30 seconds to spare.)

According to ASH Scotland's report:

The main opposition voices in the Scottish media at that time were Forest, Brain (sic) Monteith MSP and the SLTA. Simon Clark (Forest) argued that the [Scottish] parliament had to be careful not introduce a law that went against public wishes.

Forest claimed there was proper evidence on risks of passive smoking calling it "the greatest myth of the 20th century … Passive smoking is a hoax by the anti-smoking lobby."

In their submissions to the Health Committee, the TMA, Imperial Tobacco, the SLTA and Forest all contested the scientific evidence on SHS exposure …

In oral evidence to the Health Committee the TMA and Forest were the only organisations to dispute that exposure to SHS is associated with significant health risks. Forest's written evidence to the Health Committee clearly states, "Forest does NOT accept that passive smoking is a serious risk to the health of the non-smoker."

In the same oral evidence sessions, when asked whether people have a right to breathe clean air, Simon Clark (Forest) replied: "People do not have a right to breathe clean air … We live in an urban, industrial society. We are surrounded by car fumes, we are surrounded by chemicals from furnishings, carpets, wallpaper and paintwork … In a perfect world and a utopian society, of course we would all like to breathe clean air, but that is not how the world is."

The winners write the history books but what makes me laugh, reading ASH Scotland's account, is the 'David and Goliath' angle.

Bizarrely the tobacco control lobby with all its public money (millions of pounds in the case of ASH Scotland) likes to sees itself as David, with the opposition playing Goliath. In reality the battle against the smoking ban was fought by three groups – Forest, the Tobacco Manufacturers Association and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) – and one MSP (Brian Monteith).

The SLTA also joined forces with the Scottish Beer and Pub Association (SBPA), the Scottish Wholesalers Association (SWA) and "several multiple pub groups" under the umbrella Against an Outright Ban (AOB) but it was too little too late.

The campaign against the smoking ban was under-staffed and under-funded.

Lined up against us were the usual suspects plus a coalition of groups led by ASH Scotland. Scotland CAN! (Cleaner Air Now) included over "60 businesses, trade unions, football clubs, medical and children's charities".

In hindsight I suspect Scotland CAN! was no more than a list of names but the idea that tobacco control was 'David' against 'Goliath' is laughable.

A seminar about smoking in pubs hosted by the SLTA at the Macdonald Hotel (a few hundred yards from the Scottish Parliament) attracted just one MSP - Brian Monteith.

Although they were invited, the event was effectively boycotted by Scotland's parliamentarians. This refusal to engage with one side of a democratic debate was one of the most disgraceful features of the campaign.

So here we are a decade later. Over 1200 pubs - over 20 per cent of Scotland's pub estate in 2006 - have closed. Inner city and community pubs have suffered most, along with bingo halls and working men's clubs.

A majority of the public, according to the latest poll, would allow designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

Despite that MSPs like Stewart Maxwell want to "go even further" in order to "stamp out smoking in Scotland for good".

Isn't it wonderful that Scotland's future is in such liberal hands? Carry on!

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