Old kids on the block unite for one performance only

This looks fun.

Next month, for one performance only, ageing off-their-rockers Simon Chapman, Deborah Arnott, Martin McKee, Anna Gilmore and Gabriel Scally will perform their long-awaited concept album, 'Winning the end-game against tobacco'.

Hosted by the Royal College of Medicine, this special event takes place on Friday 16 September.

Early booking advised. Full details here.


Smoking out 'bad' habits in sport

Nice quote from the new Watford manager on the eve of the Premier League season.

Invited to comment on allegations he had smoked in the club's dressing room at half-time during a friendly against Queens Park Rangers, former Italian international Walter Mazzarri said:

"First of all, I want to say it’s not true that I was smoking inside the dressing room.

"This was pure invention. Yes, nobody is perfect and I do smoke but I want to say that I always have respect for the person that is next to me and if they tells me not to then I won’t.

"But because of the job I do and I think in life sometimes there are moments where small things make you feel better and one of them for me is smoking."

Naturally, having dismissed Watford as near certainties for relegation this season, I now want them to stay up if only because Mazzarri sounds like a decent, well-balanced chap.

I'm no fan of Liverpool but I shall secretly cheer on Jurgen Klopp as well.

Klopp had barely arrived on Merseyside last year when he was photographed having a beer and a cigarette on a night out with his family.

More recently he was pictured smoking at the club's training ground and it has also been reported that he and his assistant Peter Krawietz must be allocated smoking rooms when the team stays overnight in a hotel.

The pressure on managers and coaches to conform to the current no smoking orthodoxy must be enormous. Credit to Klopp and Mazzarri for staying unapologetically true to themselves.

Elsewhere it's time for Arsenal's Jack Wilshere to demonstrate that being an occasional social smoker is no hindrance to having a successful football career (or recovering from an endless series of non-smoking related injuries).

Thankfully he's not our only standard bearer. According to this February 2015 report - Footballers (and their managers) who smoke - Carlo Ancelotti and Gianluca Vialli both smoke while Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney are also known to "like the odd cigarette".

In a cut-throat business Ancelotti and Vialli ooze charm and bonhomie. By all accounts they are among the most likeable people in professional sport.

As player and manager Ancelotti is also one of the most successful. Whether he smokes is irrelevant. It doesn't define him, Mazzarri, Vialli or Klopp. It's the work that matters, and whether they are nice people.

The same should be true for anyone who smokes yet increasingly people are being judged not on normal criteria but on choices and habits that have nothing to do with anyone apart, perhaps, from a person's immediate family.

Vapers meanwhile have their own role model. Paul Pogba, now with Manchester United, was recently spotted using an e-cigarette while on holiday in Miami.

I've no idea if Pogba was a smoker but if it's true that, by and large, only smokers and ex-smokers vape, it's not done the world's most expensive footballer too much harm, football-wise.

Finally the Guardian this week highlighted the handful of football clubs that have had cigarette brands as their shirt sponsor.

None of them were British so what I found more interesting was a passing reference to the fact that in the 1985/86 season West Bromwich Albion wore a 'No Smoking' symbol on their shirts.

I checked what happened to West Brom that season and my suspicion was confirmed.

They got relegated.


Memories of Fleet Street

I was sorry to read that "the last two journalists working in Fleet Street" are leaving.

According to the BBC:

Reporters Gavin Sherriff and Darryl Smith worked for the Dundee-based Sunday Post, which closes its London office on Friday.

Mr Smith, 43, worked as a feature writer for the Sunday Post and was based in the street for 25 years.

Mr Sherriff, 54, has worked on Fleet Street for 32 years, and rose to become the Post's London chief reporter. He says on his first ever day he walked into a smoke-filled newsroom to the sound of typewriters being bashed about.

His memories of the street in its heyday are of "watching lorries with large rolls of paper struggling to get down side-streets to printing presses and lots of pubs, filled with journalists and printers".

"Now it's an endless number of sandwich bars out there. Unthinkable 30 years ago."

As I mentioned last week, it had been my ambition since the age of nine or ten to be a journalist.

Gavin Sherriff is only three years younger than me and as I grew up near Dundee the Sunday Post is a paper I could – perhaps should – have applied to join instead of going to university.

The Holy Grail was of course Fleet Street but after leaving Aberdeen in 1980 I impetuously accepted a job in public relations.

I did it partly because I was offered the instant gratification of working in an office in Fleet Lane which, as the name suggests, was just around the corner from Fleet Street.

The temptation of working within walking distance of some of my heroes was impossible to resist. I might even meet them.

And so it was that on my first day in my new job I chose to have lunch in a busy Fleet Street pub awash with subs and reporters, many of whom worked at the iconic Daily Express Building a few doors up.

The next day I went to another pub. This time most of the journalists seemed to work for the Telegraph.

And so it went on. It was exciting (at the start) but I didn't know anyone and I felt a bit out of place.

In fact I quickly realised that while journalists had no time for PR execs (especially junior ones), my new colleagues were equally indifferent to smoke-filled Fleet Street boozers and had no intention of joining me.

Lunch for them was a wine bar on Ludgate Hill or a restaurant in Covent Garden.

What journalists and PR types did share was a fondness for long liquid lunches. The work still got done, though. We just stayed later, leaving the office at seven or eight o'clock.

What I didn't know was that everything was about to change. Although Fleet Street was still the centre of the national newspaper industry its days were numbered.

The print unions were rightly coming under pressure to abandon the outrageous working practices that had become the norm.

Hot metal was being replaced by new computer-driven technology but it was more than that – the whole culture of Fleet Street was changing.

El Vino, the establishment that wouldn't allow women to stand or be served at the bar, was one of the first to feel the wind of change.

As it happens I wasn't a fan of the place but not because of that. The reason I didn't enjoy going there was because of another rule that decreed men should keep their jackets on at all times.

The first time I went to El Vino I was unaware of the policy. It was a hot sunny day so as soon as I sat down I took off my jacket. Within seconds I was being asked, politely, to put it back on.

I sat there sweltering but didn't object. Why would you? As a private business it was the proprietor's right to set whatever rules he liked.

There were plenty of pubs and bars that had less restrictive policies so why grumble? If you didn't like it you could go somewhere else.

But grumble people did and in 1982 El Vino was forced by a judge to abandon its most famous policy – that of refusing to allow women to stand at the bar. As the Guardian explained in 2012, 30 years later:

For years, women journalists knew their place at El Vino: banished to a back room away from the bar, where they waited patiently for table service. By way of defence, El Vino claimed that they were doing their female customers a favour by upholding "old-fashioned ideas of chivalry." Any woman who dared to question the house rules risked being bawled at by the famously fierce bar manager and even barred.

All this changed in November 1982, when solicitor Tess Gill and journalist Anna Coote struck a blow for equality by winning their case against El Vino in the Court of Appeal. One of the judges, Lord Justice Griffiths, said that El Vino's popularity amongst journalists made it one of the famous "gossip shops of Fleet Street," and confining women reporters to the tables put them at a special disadvantage in "picking up gossip of the day." Several days after the verdict, El Vino lifted the lifetime ban it had imposed on the two women.

I stopped working in EC4 in 1983 and the really big changes took place after that as, one by one, the larger newspaper groups left the area in search of modern offices and state of the art printing facilities.

Abiding memories however include the sight of all those lorries parked nose to tail waiting to collect the first editions and deliver them nationwide via road and rail.

I saw them quite a lot because I'd often walk up Fleet Street in order to catch a bus home following an after work drink in the Old King Lud.

Built in 1870 on the corner of Ludgate Circus at the bottom of Fleet Street, this elegant Victorian pub sat directly beneath Holborn Viaduct, which meant it shook slightly whenever a train rumbled overhead.

Memorable evenings in the Old King Lud included meeting a runner who took part in the very first London Marathon in 1981. It was three days after the inaugural event on March 29 and he was still holding his medal and nursing enormous blisters.

I was hugely impressed but not enough to want to do it myself.

(By way of comparison, over 20,000 people applied to run the first London Marathon in 1981 and over 6,500 took part. This year 247,069 people applied and almost 40,000 took part.)

Twelve months and one week later we were in the Old King Lud when the first ships left Portsmouth for the Falklands.

The atmosphere that night was extraordinary. Everyone, it seemed, supported the decision to send the task force. I've never experienced a more patriotic occasion.

If the excitement in the pub was intense, goodness knows what it was like in the newsrooms just up the road.

The pub closed in 2005. Today the building is part bank, part cafe. The Victorian viaduct has been demolished so there are no trains running overhead either.

Thirty-five years ago EC4 really was another world. Hats off to the Sunday Post for being the last newspaper and to Gavin Sherriff and Darryl Smith for being the very last journalists to leave.


Great minds think alike

In March 2014, as part of our campaign against plain packaging, Forest commissioned a PR company to come up with some creative ideas.

The proposal I liked best was a spoof 'pop up' shop. After some fine tuning we described it as follows:

Plain packaging pop up shop
Spoof convenience store with a window directly on to a busy shopping area. Shop will stock a range of plain packaged products, not just cigarettes, with large warnings/shocking images.

To show people what could happen if the slippery slope of plain packaging and graphic warnings were to be imposed on other consumer products. The shop will be a “window to the future”, very visual and easy way for people to get the message. The ‘shop’ would be used to drive debate; deliver a news photo story in the national press and other target media; a venue for a campaign lobbying event; a place for invited journalists to ‘pop-in’; a base to canvass for signatures from members of the public; and a ready-made film set to create a campaign video.

The first pop-up shop could be set up in central London. If the idea is successful it could be copied in other cities worldwide. Props and shop fittings could be stored and transported for this purpose.

Hire shop unit in central London, commission interior/exterior fitting, design signage and products, hire staff for media event, organise photocall etc.

Additional ideas included:

Staff the shop with VERY cheesy ‘have a nice day’ style assistants giving gruesome info about the various products. For example: “Hello! Did you know that buying sugary cereal for your children will make them obese? Ultimately obese children die younger. You’re welcome!”

Sadly, despite repeated efforts, the idea never got off the ground in the UK.

I'm delighted however that something very similar is about to be launched in Canada where the government is currently holding a consultation on plain packaging.

Dubbed the 'Nanny State Corner Shop' it will open in Toronto next week.

What a brilliant idea (if I say so myself).


Anger management

I was on BBC WM this morning talking about this:

You can listen to the (short) clip here.

I mentioned how angry some Forest supporters are at the proposal to ban smoking in nearby streets, pointing out there's no health risk to anyone else.

I also said it was outrageous that the hospital should be trying to dictate people's behaviour off site.

What I didn't say, because the interview was shorter than expected, is that having a child in hospital can be an extremely stressful experience for parents who often spend long periods in the ward.

Sometimes (as I did) they even have to sleep on the floor next to their child's bed.

Threatening parents who smoke with "security patrols" if they light up on nearby roads is not only unjustified, it's morally wrong because it's tantamount to bullying people when they are at their most vulnerable - shocking behaviour for a National 'Health' Service.

I will however include the comment in my response to the online consultation.

Please complete the form too. It only takes a moment.


Who's laughing now?

Here's that Manifesto Club call to action I mentioned yesterday.

Campaigners are holding a weekend of protest to sound the alarm about a new wave of council bans in public spaces.

'Public Spaces Protection Orders' (PSPOs) are powers that allow councils to ban activities if they believe these to have a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life'.

Back in February, a report by the Manifesto Club found that 79 councils had passed 130 PSPOs.

A new briefing by the club highlights the 20 worst new PSPOs of the past five months, including:

Gravesham Council has banned lying down/sleeping in any public place, including in a car or caravan

Blaby Council has banned 10- to 17-year olds from standing in groups of four or more

Worthing Council has banned begging, sitting or loitering for an 'unreasonable time', and remaining overnight in any vehicle

Forest of Dean Council is planning to criminalise those who allow their sheep to enter the village of Bream in Gloucestershire. This would prohibit sheep grazing practices that have been established for centuries

Bassetlaw has brought through PSPOs in Retford and Worksop town centres banning shouting, swearing, and groups of under-16s standing in groups of three or more

Colchester Council is proposing a ban on people being in possession of roller skates, skateboards or scooters

The briefing was reported by the Telegraph, The Times (which both lead with the sheep story!) and Conservative Home.

The Manifesto Club add that they're holding a weekend of protest (this weekend) "to sound the alarm about these new waves of council bans".

Actions on August 6 and 7 include:

  • Cambridge street theatre performers performing a sketch mocking their council's ban on punt touting in the city centre
  • Members of the Forest of Dean sheep Commoners Association delivering a petition against the council's plan to ban sheep
  • People standing in pairs in Hillingdon to protest against the council's ban on "standing in groups of two or more unless waiting at a designated bus stop"
  • Students lying down in sleeping bags in Woking town centre in opposition to Woking Council's ban on begging

Last but not least there will be a protest festival in Hackney – where the council was forced to withdraw a ban on rough sleeping and loitering – including speeches, public art and music. Details here.

Btw, that list of new PSPOs (above) reminded me of the famous Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch when Constable Savage was accused of inventing a series of ridiculous charges against a coloured man.

'Offences' included:

  • "Loitering with intent to use a pedestrian crossing."
  • "Urinating in a public convenience."
  • "Coughing without due care and attention."
  • "Walking on the cracks on the pavement."
  • 'Walking in a loud shirt in a built up area."
  • "Looking at me in a funny way."

In the words of his boss (the Rowan Atkinson character), "Savage, I think you're being a little ... over-zealous."

That was in the Seventies. In a similar sketch written today Constable Savage would be a local councillor and the target could be almost anyone.

Alternatively, to narrow it down, Constable Savage would be the chief executive of the local NHS trust and the 'offender' would be a smoker.

Charges could include:

  • "Loitering with intent to light up."
  • "Smoking with intent to inhale."
  • "Rolling a cigarette in skinny jeans and a Hawiian shirt."
  • "Holding a cigarette in a way that makes smoking look cool."

Last but not least:

Who's laughing now?


Action alert – hospital wants to extend smoking ban to nearby streets

Last year we successfully campaigned against proposals to extend the smoking ban to Brighton's beaches, parks and squares.

See Bid to ban smoking on beaches and parks in Brighton and Hove to be dropped and Brighton – common sense prevails.

Now we need your help to fight plans to extend a hospital smoking ban to neighbouring roads.

The BBC ran the story yesterday:

A hospital plans to make the streets around it a smoke-free zone - asking people not to light up in nearby roads.

The Birmingham Children's Hospital site has been smoke-free since 2005, but the trust now hopes to deter smoking on Steelhouse Lane and Whittle Street ...

Plans were put together by the hospital working with the city council, the trust said.

It said it was in a bid to address concerns from children and visitors that smoking in public spaces around the site, particularly close to the main entrance, was making the environment "unhealthy".

Wearing my Forest hat, here's my reaction:

"I can understand why they don't want people smoking close to the main entrance but restricting smoking in neighbouring streets is ridiculous.

"The trust is looking for a problem that doesn't exist. There's no evidence that smoking outside is harmful to anyone other than the smoker.

"When you walk past someone smoking in the street your exposure to tobacco smoke is minimal. You may not like the fleeting smell but that's no reason to ban it.

"Erecting signs and employing people to patrol the area to stop people smoking is an appalling waste of taxpayers' money.

"The NHS deserves better than to be run by faceless bureaucrats who waste their time and our money coming up with petty schemes like this."

See Hospital's 'smoke free' streets plan condemned by Forest.

The press release includes some of the comments that have been posted on our Facebook page. And this is where you come in ...

The trust's plans are subject to a six-week consultation. Submissions only take a minute or two to complete so please make your views known.

Now might also be a good moment to read (or re-read) last year's report, Smoked Out: The Hyper-Regulation of Smoking in Outdoor Public Places that we published in conjunction with the Manifesto Club.

You can download it here.

By coincidence the Manifesto Club has today announced that it is organising a "weekend of protest" (on August 6 and 7) against powers "that allow councils to ban activities if they believe these to have a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life'."

Further information to follow.

Update: Discussing the hospital story on BBC WM tomorrow (Friday).


The impact of TPD on consumer choice

As a non-smoker I may have been a little blasé about the TPD regulation that says cigarette packs must contain at least 20 cigarettes and roll your own (hand rolled) tobacco packs must weigh at least 30 grams.

I've made all the right noises – stressing the impact on low paid smokers who don't have enough money in their pocket for a packet of 20, or the effect it will have on those who are trying to reduce their consumption.

But I hadn't really grasped the size of the problem (no pun intended). Until yesterday.

Our village shop offers a choice of twelve packs of cigarettes. There are a number of brands in various pack sizes.

There's also a choice of rolling tobacco in three sizes (seven pouches in total).

Each pack and pouch is listed, with the price, on the sliding door behind the counter.

What struck me, when I looked at the list yesterday, is that only one of the packs contained 20 cigarettes. The rest had 10, 14, 18 or 19.

Only one of the seven pouches of rolling tobacco was in excess of 30 grams.

In other words, after the new regulation has been fully implemented by May 20 next year all but two of those 19 packs and pouches will be outlawed.

Cigarettes and hand rolled tobacco will still be on sale but consumer choice, based (I assume) on customer demand, will have taken a hell of a beating.

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