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Monday
Mar242014

Nothing to celebrate as campaigners call for more measures to tackle smoking

Predictably, campaigners are using the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in Ireland to repeat tired old propaganda and demand further action against smoking.

This morning at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland they were lining up to celebrate legislation that has done enormous damage to pubs and bars throughout Ireland.

Michael Martin, the health minister who introduced the ban, was there to bask in the applause.

Current health minister James Reilly, who wants to secure his place in history by introducing plain packaging, was also present.

Luke Clancy, former chairman of ASH Ireland, was there along with Professor John Crown who has supplanted him as Ireland's leading anti-tobacco campaigner.

Meanwhile the publicans who went bust and lost their livelihoods as a result of the ban were conspicuous by their absence.

Smokers would have been absent too had it not been for Forest Eireann's John Mallon standing outside the RCPI talking to RTE News. (They had to interview him outside because the RCPI wouldn't let him in the building.)

To give you an idea of the propaganda that's been doing the rounds these past 48 hours, consider the claims reported – without fear of contradiction – in this BBC report:

The Irish Cancer Society claims there has been a 25% reduction in the number of people smoking since the measure was introduced.

The Irish Heart Foundation says that heart attacks have reduced by over 10% as a result of the ban.

See: Ten years of workplace smoking ban in Republic of Ireland (BBC News)

Or try this report (the headline says it all):

Smoking ban saves 4,000 lives since 2004, says Martin (Irish Times)

Anyway, not content with pumping out these contentious and frankly unbelievable claims, tobacco control campaigners have spent the day calling for more measures to tackle smoking.

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, for example, wants the Irish Government to get a move on and ban smoking in cars carrying children.

They also want a smoking ban across all publicly funded institutions (ie outside all public buildings).

I wouldn't have expected anything less, of course. After all, this is what tobacco control does.

See: Reilly aiming for smoke-free society by 2025 (RTE News)

Update: TheJournal.ie which makes no effort to disguise its anti-smoking bias ran this article today:

Heart attacks fell by more than 10 per cent after the workplace smoking ban

It is also inviting you to vote on this poll:

Has the smoking ban changed your attitude to smoking?

You know what you have to do!

Monday
Mar242014

Forest Eireann barred from Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

This week tobacco control campaigners in Ireland will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the public smoking ban.

Introduced on Saturday March 29, 2004, it was a big day because overnight Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in all enclosed public places.

I'll be writing more on the subject but I just wanted to flag something up.

This morning Ireland’s most-listened to radio show, RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, is broadcasting live from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin where "the RCPI, together with ASH Ireland and the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland, will mark ten years of the workplace smoking ban in Ireland with a symposium featuring a number of international guest speakers".

Between 7.00am and 9.00am Morning Ireland will interview some of the speakers who include Minister for Health Dr James Reilly; Professor Luke Clancy, director general of the TobaccoFree Research Institute (and former chairman of ASH Ireland); Dr Pat Doorley, Faculty of Public Health Medicine in Ireland; and our old friend Professor John Crown.

Having been tipped off about the programme we offered Forest Eireann's John Mallon as a representative of smokers who have been adversely affected by the ban.

There was interest from RTE but there was also a problem. RCPI didn't want John on the premises because he "had been at some event in their place".

It took a moment for the penny to drop. Then we remembered the 'debate' organised by the IEA in Dublin last October. (See Chris Snowdon's report, An Evening in Dublin.)

Not only did Forest have nothing to do with the event, John wasn't even on the panel of speakers. He was simply an interested observer, a position he shared with every other member of the audience, the overwhelming majority of whom were anti-smoking.

The RCPI's reaction demonstrates yet again that the medical profession has no interest in engaging with smokers, the people they keep saying they are trying to help.

Their behaviour smacks of third world dictators who refuse to acknowledge anyone whose views don't match their own. From their ivory tower they merely want to lecture and harass ordinary people until we bend to their will.

Fair play to Morning Ireland, though. John will still be a guest on the programme - at 7.20am - but he will be interviewed at RTE's Dublin studios instead.

Funnily enough, the post I wrote about the IEA event was given the title Tantrums and tobacco: the ugly face of public health.

I could just as easily use the same headline to describe their behaviour now.

Update: John was on Morning Ireland at 7.40. Oddly, they didn't mention him when tweeting a list of interviews.

Update: John is being interviewed by RTE News at 11.00am outside the RCPI. I'm told a press conference is taking place inside but John's not allowed in!

Sunday
Mar232014

Memories of Ravenscourt Park

H/T Al Murray who posted this photo on Twitter earlier today.

It shows Ravenscourt Park in west London which is a minute's walk from where I lived, and worked, for two years (1985-86).

Excuse the self-indulgence but it brings back a lot of memories.

In 1985 I moved from a shared flat in West Kensington and rented a tiny studio flat in a quiet tree-lined road that runs the length of the park.

Although it was very small it was the first time I'd had a place to myself. At university I'd either shared a room or a flat.

When I moved to London from Aberdeen I went from one flat to another, always sharing. Flatmates came and went so when I got the chance to have my own place – size didn't matter – I leapt at it.

I was offered the basement of a terraced house close to Ravenscourt Park, between Hammersmith and Chiswick. It had its own entrance which led into two rooms, a bed sitting room with a tiny galley-style kitchenette at the back, and an equally small bathroom.

The owners lived in the house above with their (three?) daughters. My landlord was an actor who appeared quite regularly on TV; his wife was an actress too but she had given up acting to bring up their children. Instead she wrote articles for magazines.

I wish I could remember their names. The writer Julian Barnes was a friend of theirs so it felt quite bohemian.

To this day I have never forgotten the magical moment I put my key in the lock for the very first time, knowing there was no-one else there.

If I wanted peace and quiet, I could have it. If I wanted the TV on I could watch the programme of my choice.

It was a little claustrophobic at times (there was no garden or patio) but it was cosy and I liked that.

It was also perfectly situated. It was a no through road so there was no passing traffic; it was a few hundred yards to the District line station; Hammersmith and Chiswick (where I later worked in an old converted warehouse) were one and two stops away; the river was within easy walking distance; and there was the park.

I was beginning to think I should move on and buy somewhere when something happened that left me no choice.

Each year I invited a handful of friends to a pre-Christmas lunch at my place, wherever that was.

Although the Ravenscourt Road flat was tiny I could still cater for 6-8 people if they didn't mind rubbing elbows and sitting on each other's laps. (Once seated around the table moving was not an option.)

With the turkey in the oven and the Christmas pudding gently steaming I sent everyone to the pub on the other side of the park.

Five minutes later I joined them and after two or three pints I'd forgotten all about the pudding.

Walking back to the flat an hour later I got an inkling all was not well when I saw smoke pouring from a basement window. My window.

To cut a long story short the water had evaporated, the saucepan had melted (there was a huge hole in the bottom) and every wall and surface was thick with soot.

Miraculously the turkey, which was in the oven, survived the carnage and here's the thing. After the smoke cleared we sat down and ate our lunch as if nothing had happened. Surreal.

One of my guests was Todd Buchholz, a young American economist who later worked in the White House during the Bush administration. I'm still in touch with Todd (we stayed with his family in San Diego last year) and the experience has clearly left a lasting impression. Good or bad, it's hard to say.

Sadly I couldn't hide the damage from my landlords (they weren't that bohemian) and after Christmas I was asked to leave, in the nicest possible way. They wanted, they said, to create a granny flat and the fact that the space had to be redecorated gave them the perfect opportunity.

Well, that's what they told me.

Anyway, when I was in Chiswick last year I took my daughter to where I used to live and pointed out the house. She loved the location as much as I did.

Sadly her chances of living there would appear small. I have just Googled properties in Ravenscourt Road, London W6, and a house identical to the one in whose basement I lived is on the market for £4 million.

That's right, four million pounds.

You'd have to be Al Murray to afford that.

PS. One other memory of Ravenscourt Road.

I once woke up in the middle of the night to find someone trying to climb in to the flat via the sash window.

I heard a noise and saw a figure struggling with the window lock. Perhaps because I was half asleep I felt no fear and didn't think twice.

"Fuck off!" I shouted as loudly as I could.

I assume he had no idea there was someone living in the basement. He probably thought he could climb in and make his way into the main house.

The shock of hearing me scream must have been enormous because it was otherwise so quiet.

All I know is, whoever it was fell off the window ledge, ran up the steps, and off down the road like a scalded cat.

In hindsight, it was quite funny.

Sunday
Mar232014

Pot kettle black - Lib Dem MP calls Forest a "fairly unsavoury organisation"!

H/T Tobacco Tacticss.

I was unaware of this until yesterday so full marks to that inveterate tweeter @TobaccoTacticss for posting this speech by Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow.

For those who don't know, Burstow replaced fellow Lib Dem Paul Williams as chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health (run by ASH) when Williams became a junior minister last year.

Burstow was a minister himself – at the Department of Health – but was sacked in 2012 after reportedly falling out with Nick Clegg over health reforms.

Addressing a Department of Health and World Health Organisation meeting on Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in December, Burstow was in full shit-stirring mode, attacking Lynton Crosby, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and Forest, as well as muddying the waters about the exact nature of Article 5.3.

The bit that tickled me most, of course, was his declaration about Forest. According to Burstow:

The activities of the self-styled "smokers' rights" group Forest are well known. [Why thank you!] If asked directly in a media interview spokespeople for Forest do not deny that it gets most of its money from the tobacco industry.

Perhaps less well known is the secondary campaign group Hands Off Our Packs, set up through Forest and again of course funded through the industry.

Forest is in my view a fairly unsavoury organisation, but its purpose and activities are widely understood. [I'll take that as a compliment.]

I'm not a great fisker of articles (largely because I can't be bothered) but let's address the implication that only if "asked directly" will Forest confess to receiving money from tobacco companies.

Visit the Forest website and on the home page you'll find this statement:

Forest is supported by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Limited and Gallaher Limited (a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies). The views expressed on this or any other Forest-affiliated website are those of Forest alone.

Visit the Forest Eireann website and on the home page it reads:

Forest Éireann is funded by Forest UK which receives donations from tobacco companies in Britain and Ireland. We do NOT represent the tobacco industry. We have a completely independent set of goals that are centred around the right to smoke a legal product without undue harrassment or discrimination.

Visit the Hands Off Our Packs website and you'll find this disclaimer:

This website is owned and managed by Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco). Forest is supported by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Limited and Gallaher Limited (a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies). The tobacco companies are proud to support this campaign. However the views expressed on this or any other Forest-affiliated website are those of Forest alone.

You'll find similar statements on all Forest websites. I can't think of any lobby group that is more transparent than we are. Perhaps it's our honesty that makes us "unsavoury".

Actually, I'd like to explore that "unsavoury" comment a little further. Coming from a politician, and a Lib Dem politician in particular, it's a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Google 'LibDems' and 'dirty tricks' and you'll see what I mean. Here's an example:

Prior to the 2010 General Election political commentator Peter Oborne wrote:

At the core of Nick Clegg’s message is the very powerful claim that his Liberal Democrats represent a new honesty and decency – in stark contrast to the corruption of the two main political parties.

Yet this claim is cynical. The truth is that Clegg is the leader of a profoundly dishonest party that is prepared to lie, cheat and on occasion issue outrageous smears on its opponents in order to win power.

See: Dirty tricks of the REAL nasty party (Daily Mail)

And another:

A senior Liberal Democrat campaigner has been arrested by police for allegedly trying to sabotage the Conservatives’ campaign in a key marginal.

See: Lib Dem arrested in dirty tricks inquiry (Daily Telegraph)

In 2005 Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East and a man I once worked for (see how transparent I am!) wrote:

In the dead of night, a very large quantity of Liberal Democrat posters – many of them embellished with tactical voting stickers urging Labour supporters to vote Liberal – were illegally erected on telegraph poles and along public highway verges, in order to influence people going to vote on their way to work on polling day.

This disgraceful behaviour should finally disprove the myth that the Liberal Democrats are the Holier-than-Thou party where election tactics are concerned.

See: Liberal Democrat dirty tricks (JulianLewis.net)

I could go on and on but you get the picture. All political parties have their cranks and nut jobs but the Lib Dems are notorious for their "dirty tricks". Not for nothing was this website, NastyLibDems.org, created.

And Paul Burstow has the cheek to call Forest a "fairly unsavoury organisation"!

Click here to read his speech but note that it's an edited version.

I'd love to know what he said in the unedited version! We'll try and get a copy, via Freedom of Information if necessary.

Sunday
Mar232014

'Expert' calls for ban on smoking in the home

An environmental health expert wants the Scottish Government to ban smoking in the home.

According to the Sunday Times Scotland:

Ivy Shiue, of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, has urged Scottish ministers to extend the smoking ban that made it an offence to smoke in public places such as offices, restaurants and pubs.

The paper adds that:

In a paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Shiue argues the ban does not go far enough.

"Although the chance of exposure at work has been lessened, the risk effects from own home and other people's households seem to have persisted and affected human health including cardiovascular disease and mental health."

Without directly endorsing a ban on smoking in the home, Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland, said:

"The only way to protect people is to make homes smoke-free."

Ladies and gentlemen, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Update: It won't surprise you to learn that Ivy Shiue got a PhD in medicine at the University of Sydney (Simon Chapman's stamping ground).

Click here to read her paper, Modeling the Effects of Indoor Passive Smoking at Home, Work, or Other Households on Adult Cardiovascular and Mental Health: The Scottish Health Survey, 2008–2011.

Friday
Mar212014

Mallon to Oireachtas Health Committee: "Engage with smokers" and use a "bit of common sense"

The transcript of the final Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children hearing on plain packaging is now online.

The background to the hearing was as follows:

Before Christmas the Irish parliamentary committee invited written submissions on standardised packaging. The closing date was mid January.

Subsequently a number of groups, organisations and companies were invited to give oral statements and answer questions. They included tobacco companies, retailers, medical experts, anti-tobacco NGOs – and Forest Eireann.

I wrote about the hearings here (How impartial is the Oireachtas Health Committee?) and here (Forest Eireann addresses Health and Children Committee in Irish Parliament) and now you can read the transcript of the fourth and final hearing for yourself.

Other witnesses that day were representatives of PJ Carrolls (BAT), John Player (Imperial) and JTI. Each organisation was invited to give a five-minute opening statement. Members of the Committee were then able to ask questions.

Well, that was the theory. In practice Senators on the Committee couldn't resist making a series of vain, grandstanding statements, most of them hostile to the tobacco companies.

One couldn't wait to issue a press release highlighting her anti-tobacco stance. Another talked of plain packaging being "payback time".

Eventually, towards the end of the two-hour session, John had the opportunity to add to his opening statement. It was entirely off the cuff and I reproduce it here because I think it's rather good. It's also as relevant to politicians in Britain as it is to those in Ireland:

Mr. John Mallon:
As usual, smokers are being passed over in this debate, even though we are the ones affected by the proposal. The conversation is going on over my head, so to speak. Like Deputy Catherine Byrne, I am a father - in my case, to two children. I have taken the view with my children that I would treat them as I was treated growing up.

I did not see the point in banning them from smoking or forbidding them to drink alcohol once they turned 18. At that point I gave them a free choice in the matter. I had alcohol and cigarettes at home and I allowed them to make up their own minds, but not before their mother and I talked to them about the dangers of both.

Having no first-hand experience of the illicit drug trade, including the drugs like heroin, cocaine and so on to which reference was made during the meeting, I was unable to advise my children in that regard expect to say that from everything I could see, they were mood-altering, mind-altering and immediately dangerous substances.

On the other hand, smoking takes quite a long time to have an effect. There will be people jumping around and saying even one cigarette is deadly, but the reality is that they take years to impact on health. Tobacco is not a mind-altering or mood-altering substance. Unlike alcohol, people who use tobacco will not miss days of work because they cannot get out bed.

Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
That is not true.

Mr. John Mallon
Let me continue. I am merely giving members the benefit of my experience and of the hundreds of discussions I have had with smokers. Reference was made earlier to the need to engage with smokers. The problem, as I see it, is that all of the restrictions, bans, penalties and impositions that smokers have endured, including high pricing and so on, do not amount to an engagement with smokers. It is always about talking at rather than to smokers. There is a huge chasm between the official line, as reflected in this committee, and the views of the many smokers I have met throughout the country.

A member observed today that it is difficult to be a politician. Perhaps there is a general cynicism about the place but I certainly do not get the impression that smokers feel engaged with by Government. In my view, this lack of engagement is part of the reason that the numbers of smokers are not falling as quickly as members would like.

From a personal perspective, plain packaging makes no difference to me one way or the other. I smoke rolled tobacco, which I keep in a tin. However, this particular proposal is another aspect of the attempt to denormalise smokers, to make an ordinary citizen like me somehow abnormal for doing something which, for all my life, it has been quite normal to do. I had the right to decide to take up smoking and I have the right to quit. I have the freedom to make those decisions, as I do in regard to alcohol and all other lifestyle issues.

There is far too much hysteria and drama around this topic. A bit of common sense is required and an emphasis on education for children. As it turned out, the education my wife and I gave our children was sufficient for both of them to decide against drinking and smoking. Moreover, I have seen no evidence, although I probably would not recognise it if I did, that either of them takes drugs. Applying some degree of common sense and intelligence to the discussion, rather than hysteria and name calling, would be far more beneficial. That is the view from the smokers' side.

Full transcript here.

Next week Ireland 'celebrates' the tenth anniversary of becoming the first country in the world to introduce a comprehensive smoking ban.

I'll have more to say on that over the weekend. As will John!

Thursday
Mar202014

Garbage and spin leave campaigners depressed and exasperated

There are two fascinating 'discussions' taking place online.

On Tuesday Dr Michael Siegel, author of The Rest of the Story blog, published this post, Tobacco control science deteriorating to an all-time low.

Commenting on an article on Liberty Voice (Third-hand smoke poses real dangers), Siegel wrote:

The rest of the story is that this is complete garbage. It is truly depressing to me to watch this - day in and day out.

When the tobacco industry decided - sometime back around 2000 or so - to stop monitoring tobacco control science and to just let us say anything we wanted to - I thought they had made a poor decision. But in retrospect, I think it may have been brilliant. They apparently knew that before long, without the restraints of having to answer to Big Tobacco's public questioning, our science would deteriorate and we would just start saying anything we wanted to. Unrestrained, the tobacco control movement's scientific rigor would fall to such a low level that we would end up discrediting ourselves and undermining our own credibility.

Well, we're there. We're officially there. I'm sure I'll have more to say about this later. But for now, I'm just too damn depressed.

While I welcome Dr Siegel's admission that claims about third-hand smoke are "complete garbage", the revelation that this sort of thing leaves him "depressed" is, frankly, hard to stomach.

But read the comments. He seems to have struck a nerve because the 'dear Doc' (or 'poor Mik') is getting a bit of a roasting.

Meanwhile, over on Clive Bates' blog, there is an equally interesting discussion about e-cigarettes (Cease and desist: making false claims about the gateway effect).

Echoing Siegel, Clive begins, "I am totally exasperated by spin about the so-called gateway effect."

You should read the whole thing but if you haven't got time scroll down to the comments where someone called Stan Shatenstein intervenes (click here).

I've never heard of Shatenstein but Clive seems to know him so I guess he must be some sort of tobacco control campaigner.

The subsequent exchange of views is worth reading, not least for Shatenstein's extraordinary comment that "Taking a stick of anything, a cigarette or a vapestick, is a pathetic, juvenile act ..."

In response Clive wrote:

Can you see how you appear to seethe with contempt for the people who are supposed to be beneficiaries to the work done in public health? This sort of statement betrays a disturbing and intolerant world view. Is it really about health? Or is it a judgemental attitude to bodily purity, authority and control?

My problem with all this is very simple. The war on tobacco has evolved to the stage where two high profile tobacco control campaigners are either "depressed" or "exasperated" by the "garbage" and "spin" that spews forth from the industry for which they once worked.

Using different words, perhaps, Forest and others have been accusing tobacco controllers of garbage and spin for years, but did they listen? Of course not, and even to this day Siegel and Bates support public smoking bans in every workplace, including pubs and bars.

With this in mind, and in response to a tweet by Bates linking to the Siegel post, nisakiman tweeted:

Perhaps you should read the comments, Clive. They apply to you, too.

To which Clive replied:

@nisakiman can you point to something unscientific I have said? I'm not sure what you are referring to ...

Unable to resist, Forest tweeted:

@nisakiman is referring to the fact that you & Siegel helped create the monster that is Tobacco Control and look where we are.

Sadly, it's true. As much as I like Clive (I can't keep saying this!) he and Michael Siegel have to take some responsibility for the situation we're in.

In their day each played a small part in the development of the juggernaut we now call the tobacco control industry.

Three years ago I wrote a post entitled Michael Siegel: friend or foe?. Reading it again, the question still seems relevant.

Wednesday
Mar192014

Budget 2014: tobacco duty

Currently watching the Budget on TV and following it online.

Commentators seem to be agreed that the cost of cigarettes will rise by 28p for a packet of 20.

The good news is that's less than the 50p (or five per cent) increase ASH were seeking.

Should get confirmation shortly.

In the meantime Forest has three responses waiting to hit the media:

One, our reaction to a large (five per cent) increase.
Two, our reaction to the anticipated increase.
Three, our response to a freeze on tobacco duty.

I was going to draft our response to a £1 reduction in tobacco duty (our preferred option!) but what are the odds?

Update: Tobacco duty to rise by two per cent above inflation (ie as predicted).

NEWS RELEASE Wednesday 19 March 2014

Increase in tobacco duty will hit poor and elderly the hardest, say campaigners

Responding to the increase in tobacco duty (two per cent above inflation), Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said:

"Recent history shows that increasing tobacco duty above inflation fuels illicit trade and costs government money.

"The Treasury loses billions of pounds to illicit traders every year. A further increase in duty will merely encourage more people to take advantage of the huge savings available on the black market.

"Law-abiding consumers are being penalised while poor and elderly smokers will be hardest hit."

Update: Budget 2014: Response from Oxfam, CBI, TUC, TaxPayers Alliance and Forest (Politics.co.uk)

The Grocer also quotes Forest: Osborne scraps the alcohol duty escalator.

Update: George Osborne today announced that tobacco duty will continue to rise at two per cent above inflation until the end of the next parliament.

There is no health reason not to, he said.

Brian Monteith disagrees. See Osborne is wrong: there is a health case for abolishing tobacco duty escalator (The Free Society).

Update: Chris Snowdon has written a very good post for the IEA blog, Budget reaction: Drinking, gambling and smoking.

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