Plain Packaging? No, Prime Minister!

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Thursday
Jun192014

Holy smoke! The curse of Forest strikes again

I don't like to see anyone lose their job.

I'm finding it hard though to shed too many tears for journalist Damian Thompson who left the Daily Telegraph yesterday.

A few months ago the paper's (former) blog editor was involved in a heated exchange of tweets with Chris Snowdon.

It began with Thompson expressing support for a post summarised by the headline:

Taxing sugar probably will work, and it's not an attack on our 'freedom'.

When Snowdon took issue with this he was taunted by Thompson who dismissed his argument by tweeting:

You sound like those Forest people.

Back came Snowdon:

Those Forest people have long warned that there was a slippery slope leading to exactly this kind of nonsense. They were mocked.

To which Thompson replied:

Countless people now living would be dead from smoking if Forest had had its way.

How crass and sanctimonious is that?

Now he's left, his departure marked by this tweet:

Announcement: I've left the Telegraph in an entirely amicable parting of the ways. That's all for now, but watch this space, dudes :)

Dudes? The man is 52.

PS. To read the full Thompson-Snowdon exchange on Twitter click here.

Tuesday
Jun172014

Smoke and samba

Enjoying the World Cup?

Well, the music at Forest's Smoke On The Water event next week will be provided by the Soul Fiesta Carnival Collective (above).

According to the blurb:

The Soul Fiesta Carnival Collective performs Brazilian, Salsa, Cuban, Samba and Latin pop classics that’ll turn your event into the ultimate Rio Carnival!

The Collective is made up of some of London’s finest and most authentic South American musicians hailing from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero.

Smoke On The Water follows the England-Costa Rica match which kicks off at 5.00pm. Come and celebrate England qualifying for the next round (ahem) or drown your sorrows as we cruise down the Thames to a samba beat.

The event is fully booked but we may be able to squeeze one or two more in. Email events@forestonline.org.

Monday
Jun162014

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Following Forest's 'ad blitz' last week, Cancer Research has followed suit.

Online ads supporting plain packaging have just appeared on Guido Fawkes, ConservativeHome, Labour List and other websites.

Well, you know what they say – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Last week Labour List asked the ad agency MessageSpace to take down Forest's 'No, Prime Minister' ads. They're perfectly entitled to do that but I'm not sure what it says about Labour activists and open, democratic debate.

Update: Convenience Store reports that "The introduction of plain packaging in the UK appears to have stalled for the time being". I'm not sure that is true but judge for yourself:

Government runs out of time on plain packaging (Convenience Store)

Monday
Jun162014

"Marxist proletarian firebrand" to speak at Forest's Freedom Dinner

Forest is delighted to announce that Brendan O'Neill, editor of the online magazine Spiked, is to speak at The Freedom Dinner on Tuesday July 15.

Telegraph blogger and columnist for The Big Issue and The Australian, O'Neill has also written for The Spectator, City AM, Reason and the Daily Beast.

Described by the Guardian as a "Marxist proletarian firebrand" he is a fierce opponent of "bossy, intolerant and censorious government".

O'Neill has described plain packaging as an "infringement of free speech" while proposals to ban smoking in cars "expose the new authoritarians' casual disregard for the notion of privacy, so that even our privately owned vehicles come to be seen as fair game for petty laws to curb and control what was once perfectly legal behaviour".

Also speaking at next month's event is Alex Deane. Head of public affairs at Weber Shandwick and an elected Common Councilman in the City of London, Alex was the founding director of Big Brother Watch and David Cameron’s first Chief of Staff.

Author of Big Brother Watch: The State of Civil Liberties in Modern Britain, Alex currently advises some of the biggest companies in the UK.

This year's Freedom Dinner is hosted by Forest and supported by the Institute of Economic Affairs, The Free Society and Liberty League.

Venue is Boisdale of Canary Wharf and tickets cost £95 (single) or £850 for a table of ten. To book online please click here.

Sunday
Jun152014

Pragmatism versus prohibition: the future of public health

Last week Scotland on Sunday published a report about NHS Scotland's new guidelines on smoking cessation.

There was positive news for advocates of e-cigarettes (Health experts back e-cigarettes to quit smoking). But there was also a warning.

I was genuinely curious to hear from another tobacco control campaigner so we tweeted e-cig advocate and former director of ASH Clive Bates and asked:

NHS Scotland says the "ultimate aim" is to "remove reliance on nicotine entirely". Where do you stand?

He replied:

Totally disagree with that view. Aim is not elimination of caffeine or alcohol either. It's harm not moralising that matters.

Clive then updated a post on his blog, Arguing about e-cigarettes: a Q&A, adding a new section that lists four objections to the complete cessation of nicotine use.

You can read them here.

He also added this interesting point:

If publicly funded ‘public health’ wants to become a temperance movement it needs to show that abstinence leads to harm reduction that provides value for money consistent with norms for public spending. If it is drawing on charitable funds (eg from cancer or heart charities) it needs to ensure that abstinence – rather than harm through cancer or heart disease – is consistent with the relevant charitable objectives.

The first thing to be said is, hats off to Clive for giving a straight answer to a straight question. But where does it leave us?

I agree that public health is in a danger of becoming a temperance movement, a moral crusade that has little to do with harm reduction.

I agree too that if total abstinence rather than evidence of harm is the goal then the 'charitable' objectives of many tobacco control groups – not to mention their funding – will have to be re-examined.

Where Clive and I differ is that I support harm reduction in relation to tobacco (or alcohol or sugar) as long as it doesn't involve prohibition or coercion.

Like many people I don't believe the state should force adults to give up or reduce their consumption of any legal substance, whether it be tobacco, alcohol or sugary drinks. They may be advised to do so but whether they heed that advice is their choice.

Clive however supports the comprehensive smoking ban. He backs it, I imagine, because of concerns about 'passive smoking', though how he can accept the 'science' on secondhand smoke having witnessed the lengths to which some 'experts' will go to demonise e-cigarettes is beyond me.

I am guessing though that Clive also supports the smoking ban because it forces smokers to cut down or even quit.

My worry is that harm reduction (a noble idea) is being used to justify all manner of prohibitionist policies ranging from a ban on tobacco vending machines to the removal of branding and everything in between.

Whilst I embrace the concept (who doesn't?) adults must be able to purchase and consume a full range of tobacco products (for example) without being demonised or ostracised for doing so.

That said, we are not a million miles apart, Clive and I. In fact, it seems to me that the traditional two party debate (loosely if incorrectly described as anti and pro tobacco) is now a three party system.

Imagine a line with Forest at one end and ASH at the other. Somewhere in between are people like Clive Bates.

Like the Lib Dems (circa 2010) Clive's group - anti-tobacco but not anti-nicotine - probably hold the balance of power. The question is, do they form a coalition with the pragmatists (Forest) or the prohibitionists (ASH and NHS Scotland)?

The answer to that question could determine public health policy for the next 25 years.

Sunday
Jun152014

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt?

Plain cigarette packets 'blocked by Cameron', admits health minister.

Well, that's the headline in today's Mail on Sunday.

'Hints' might be more accurate than 'admits' and the word 'blocked' is misleading too.

It's true (we believe) that Cameron has had second, third or even fourth thoughts about plain packaging. Intelligence however suggests that an announcement about regulations and a final six-week consultation is imminent so the process is still ongoing.

What's probably happening is the PM is weighing up the pros and cons of plain packaging on party unity and the prospects of a Conservative majority in next year's general election. (Think of all those votes that could be lost to Ukip.)

This makes it more important than ever that opponents of plain packaging (and excessive regulation in general) write to Number Ten to express their opinion.

If you haven't already done so, please visit our No, Prime Minister website. It features a letter you can send today.

Meanwhile here's our new campaign t-shirt.

Saturday
Jun142014

Don't miss the boat: join Forest and Liberty League on 24th June

Delighted to report that Forest has a new partner for Smoke On The Water, our annual boat party.

This year we've joined forces with Liberty League, organisers of the Freedom Forum, the UK's largest gathering of pro-liberty students and young professionals.

It's not too late to book tickets (they're free) but register now because there are only a few left. Email events@forestonline.org or telephone Nicky on 01223 370156. Click here for further details.

Liberty League is also backing The Freedom Dinner, joining The Free Society, the Institute of Economic Affairs and Boisdale as an official supporter of this annual Forest event.

For further details about Liberty League click here.

Update: Over 250 people have registered to attend this year's Smoke On The Water. Technically that's over capacity but we always allow for some non arrivals. If you want to join us however RSVP asap because numbers are strictly limited by 'elf 'n' safety!

PS. Smoking is permitted on the covered walkways and rear (open) deck. Vaping is allowed inside.

Friday
Jun132014

Laid bare: the ignorance and intolerance of (some) young people today

The sale of e-cigarettes must be banned in shops and retailers. Instead they must be regulated and distributed for medicinal purposes only.

That's the recommendation of a "pioneering" Youth Commission set up by the Scottish Government.

Other proposals include:

– A 50m smoking ban around public places including schools and hospitals
– A social enterprise should be established, run for and by young people, with the purpose of designing and delivering age appropriate smoking prevention events and support materials
– A call on the Scottish Government to support the proposed Member’s Bill around a ban on smoking in cars
– An increase in the age limit for those wishing to purchase tobacco products to 21 years old
– In 2031, a ban introduced on selling tobacco to anyone born after 2013
– A ban on the sale of all e-cigarettes in shops and retailers and must be regulated and distributed for medicinal purposes only, with a ban on all commercial sale

Dig a little deeper and you'll find the Youth Commission consists of 17 students chosen God knows how to "explore young peoples’ perspectives on how a smoke free generation might be achieved by 2034".

The Scotsman has a report here: Call to ban e-cigarette sales near hospitals.

It includes comments from Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland, and me:

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland Chief Executive Sheila Duffy said: “I strongly welcome the active involvement of young people in exploring smoking prevention measures.

“They have clearly put a lot of energy and thought into this process and have launched some exciting suggestions which we will consider seriously.

“As a society we need to shift the way we view tobacco, a lethal addiction that is mainly started in childhood.

“These young people are challenging us to view tobacco and the tobacco industry differently, and I look forward to discussing their recommendations further.”

But Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “The Youth Commission’s recommendations demonstrate a level of ignorance and intolerance that doesn’t bode well for future generations.

“It’s fine to be concerned about the health risks of tobacco and educate people accordingly, but these proposals go way beyond that. They represent a serious attack on personal choice and individual liberty.

“There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are harmful or provide a gateway to tobacco. Banning their sale to adults for recreational use would deter millions of smokers from switching to an alternative nicotine delivery system.

“Other ideas are either unenforceable or would require a ridiculous amount of legislation and a small army of tobacco control officers to police people’s behaviour.

“From being a nanny state Scotland would become a bully state. What next? Alcohol, junk food, sugary drinks?”

PS. The other story I responded to yesterday hasn't appeared yet. I'll keep you posted.

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