Police and criminals

The official launch of Forest EU in Brussels tonight has ruffled a few feathers already.

Commenting on Twitter, one Belgian politician described us as "Les criminels des lobbys du tabac".

Another (a "chief family officer" and "visiting lecturer") added, "It isn't the cigarette that kills but the man who manipulates #NRAstyle."

Others have highlighted the fact that Forest is supported by tobacco companies, as if this is a great revelation.

They ignore the fact that – unlike the tobacco control lobby – we couldn't be more transparent about our funding. The Forest EU website even gives the exact figure our Brussels operation is getting from JTI in 2017.

Meanwhile Politico EU reports that:

Smokers’ campaigners sponsored by Japan Tobacco International will throw a pro-smoking party tonight in the European neighborhood at Staff 42. A live jazz band has been booked for the 200 expected guests and smoking will be allowed on the terrace.

Ignoring the "pro-smoking" bon mot, I've no idea where they got the 200 figure from. Not from us.

Capacity at Staff 42 is 120 (the number of people who have registered, coincidentally) but if we get 70 or 80 (including one or two journalists) I'll be very happy.

Btw, speakers tonight include Dick Engel, a former policeman from the Netherlands.

I first met Dick in 1999. We were at a conference in Seville and he was representing the Dutch smokers' rights group Stichting Rokersbelangen.

Forest and Stichting Rokersbelangen were members of a loose coalition of groups called Smokepeace that was founded in 1992 and disbanded in 2001 when funding stopped.

Only three of the twelve or so groups that were affiliated to Smokepeace still exist – Forest, Stichting Rokersbelangen and Club Fumadores in Spain.

While Dick is an ex-policeman (vice squad, to be exact) tonight's guests also include a current police detective (and smoker) who works in Brussels.

The question is, by fraternising with Forest, does that make them criminals too?


Plus ça change 

Travelling to Brussels today (although I am currently struggling to get to London because of "signalling problems").

Tomorrow we're hosting a small drinks party to mark the official launch of Forest EU.

Venue is The Staff 42, a smart bar restaurant just yards from the European Parliament.

By coincidence May 31 is also World No Tobacco Day and to mark the occasion the Brussels-based Smoke Free Partnership - whose members include ASH and Cancer Research UK - is organising its own event in the European Parliament.

Entitled 'Tobacco: A Threat to Development' it's a lunch reception and 'policy debate' hosted by Linda McAvan MEP, chairman of the European Parliament Development Committee.

Join us with high level speakers including Health Commissioner Andriukaitis and representatives of the WHO, the World Bank and international tobacco control advocates to discuss the importance of tobacco control to sustainable development.

However, unlike the Forest party, which has an open door policy, the Smoke Free Partnership 'debate' is far less welcoming.

Please note: the tobacco industry and those representing tobacco industry interests are not invited, in accordance with the Article 5.3 FCTC. All registrations will be screened.

Inevitably perhaps this is the response Forest EU director Guillaume Perigois got after he applied to attend the event:

We regret to inform you that we are unable to confirm your registration to World No Tobacco Day 2017 Policy debate. Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.

Naturally Guillaume replied (as suggested) in order get a more detailed explanation for his exclusion - and five days later he's still waiting for a response.

So instead of lunch with Linda McAvan and her chums Guillaume will have to settle for drinks with like-minded supporters of individual freedom (and a handful of curious observers), which is some consolation I suppose.

It does however demonstrate what we're up against - a wilful refusal by tobacco control advocates and their allies in government to engage with anyone who doesn't cling to the current anti-tobacco orthodoxy

This is nothing new, of course. Older readers may recall a meeting I attended in Brussels in March 2008. Hosted by DG Sanco (now DG Sante) it was described as a meeting of "EU experts, civil society and social partners to support the Commission's Impact Assessment on the forthcoming initiative on smoke-free environments".

There were approximately 20 people present including representatives of tobacco control and Big Pharma and it kicked off soon as the meeting began.

One of the leading anti-smoking activists present immediately singled me out and said that unless I was removed from the meeting she would leave. Others nodded their heads in agreement.

The most shameful thing though was not the behaviour of the tobacco control zealots (which I half expected) but the response of every other person around the table who looked sheepish and said nothing to support me.

Rarely have I witnessed anything so spineless or self-interested and the experience (which I actually quite enjoyed) has driven me on ever since.

You can read the full account here.


Evolution not revolution

Scientists say so-called 'light' cigarettes with ventilated filters may have made smokers more vulnerable to what is now the most common form of lung cancer.

Research has found a ‘clear relationship’ between rising rates of adenocarcinoma and greater demand for ‘light’ cigarettes.

On the back of that report a local newspaper asked Forest to contribute 220 words for a feature that asked, 'Is it time to ban cigarettes completely?'

This is what I submitted:

There are many things that are potentially bad for us – alcohol, sugary drinks, fast food, cigarettes. The government’s role is not to prohibit popular products but to educate consumers about the health risks and allow adults to make informed choices.

Governments also have to be pragmatic. Smokers contribute £12 billion a year in tobacco duties and tax, revenue that far exceeds the alleged cost of treating smoking-related diseases.

That aside, banning cigarettes won’t stop people smoking. Instead it would drive the product underground and into the hands of criminal gangs, which is what happened following the prohibition of alcohol in America in the 1920s.

Today smokers are a minority group but there are still nine million smokers in the UK, many of whom enjoy smoking and don’t want to quit despite the well-publicised health risks.

According to recent research 95 per cent of confirmed smokers say they smoke because they enjoy it. Whatever the ‘official’ view of smoking, cigarettes are undoubtedly a source of comfort and pleasure to millions of people.

That won’t change until something better comes along that meets consumer demand. E-cigarettes are a step in that direction and should be supported, but you can’t force smokers to quit or switch to a safer alternative by banning combustible cigarettes. Change has to be based on evolution not revolution.

I'll link to the feature if and when it appears online.


Bravo, Equity!

Members of the actors' union Equity have rejected a motion acknowledging that smoking on stage is a health risk.

According to The Stage:

A motion at the union’s Annual Representative Conference in London called for Equity to condemn the health risk of smoking during performances.

However the motion was rejected, with actor and Equity vice president Maureen Beattie branding it “draconian”.

She said: “I really, really want you to oppose this motion, I think it is draconian.

“We should not, as a union, be making blanket statements about what is good for you and bad for you, that’s for other bodies to do.

“We talk all the time about representing the real world and people smoke in the real world.”

Also opposing the motion, Equity stage management councillor Adam Burns argued that current policy allows performers to make an informed decision to smoke on stage, respecting their artistic freedom of choice.

See Members thwart stage smoking health risk motion.

Smoking is currently prohibited on film and stage sets in Scotland and Wales but not in England.

A UK-wide poll conducted for Forest in June 2015 found opinion divided evenly on whether actors should or should not be allowed to smoke on stage when smoking is integral to the plot or storyline, with 50 per cent saying they should and 50 per cent saying they shouldn't.

However a poll in Scotland in March 2016 found that 52 per cent thought it should be allowed against 39 per cent who thought it shouldn't.

This result was echoed by a poll in Wales in March this year which found that 51 percent thought smoking should be allowed on stage with 38 per cent against the idea.

According to The Stage the motion was brought to 'officially' acknowledge that 'smoking on stage is unhealthy for performers and audience'.

If this refers to non-smokers on stage and in the auditorium, I'd love to see the evidence that supports this claim. To the best of my knowledge it doesn't exist.

However the proposer also claimed that the motion 'came from a stage manager who had to buy cigarettes for actors, at least one of whom he claimed was an ex-smoker who had returned to the habit after being asked to smoke onstage.'

On such feeble anecdotal evidence are smoking bans frequently introduced. On this occasion however members of Equity have put common sense - and artistic freedom - ahead of petty anti-smoking dogma.



Nominations wanted for Voices of Freedom Awards 2017

Last year we presented the inaugural Voices of Freedom Awards at The Freedom Dinner.

In no particular order awards went to Rod Liddle (The Spectator), Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas), Chris Snowdon )IEA), John Mallon (Forest Ireland) and mental health campaigner Barry Curtis.

You can read the citations here.

Nominations are now invited for the 2017 Awards that will be presented at this year's dinner on Tuesday June 27.

I have one nominee in mind – a well-known breakfast TV presenter – but we'd welcome your ideas too.

Add your suggestion/s to the comments or email


Tumultuous TV

Until this morning the funniest thing I had seen on television this year was the 'monkey' episode of Peter Kay's Car Share.

But that was before I watched Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan, Susanna Reid, a man from the National Obesity Forum, and Chris Snowdon.

But first, a declaration of interest.

On Saturday afternoon I got a call from Five Live Breakfast. The researcher asked whether our Free Society campaign was still active because they wanted someone to comment on calls for a ban on eating junk food on buses and trains.

By coincidence I had literally just read the story in the Daily Mail but I had to confess that (a) The Free Society has been in hibernation for several years, and (b) I wasn't an expert on obesity but, if I had to, I could say a few words on the subject.

Anyway it was clear my knowledge about the subject was limited so I suggested they contact my erstwhile colleague Rob Lyons (Action on Consumer Choice and author of Panic On A Plate) or Chris Snowdon, head of the IEA's Lifestyle Economics Unit.

A hour or so later I got an email to say they were going to use Chris on Sunday morning.

I didn't hear that interview but when I saw Chris tweet that he was going to be discussing the same issue on Good Morning Britain today I had to watch.

It didn't disappoint.

Chris's fellow guest was Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum and, well, you just have to watch the whole thing.

It certainly brightened up my morning.

To watch the full 'debate' click on the image above or the link in the tweet below.

See also Good Morning Britain catapulted into meltdown after 'ridiculous' fast food debate (Daily Star).

Funnily enough I sat next to Tam Fry on The Big Questions (BBC1) a few weeks ago. We had a brief chat in the Green Room and he seemed pleasant enough, albeit a little pompous.

I'd love to know what happened after the on-air 'debate', when the two guests returned to the Green Room. Perhaps Chris will tell us.

Update: On second viewing it takes longer to warm up than I remember. In fact it's a fairly straightforward debate until, unexpectedly, the comedy kicks in. Worth waiting for, though.


Well, I mean, so ...

One of my pet hates at the moment is people starting a sentence with the word "So".

I don't know where it's come from (it's a relatively recent phenomenon) but listen to the radio and I guarantee that, when asked a question, there's a high probability the person will begin their response by saying, "So ..."

It's particularly prevalent amongst broadcast journalists but it's catching on like wildfire and it's really annoying because the word is almost always completely superfluous.

That said, I'm guilty of a few verbal tics myself. A few weeks ago I read a transcript of a radio interview I'd done.

Not only did I unwittingly begin numerous sentences with the words, "I mean", I repeatedly responded to questions by saying, "Well, ..."


Anyway, I think I've got "I mean" under control but reading the transcript of the interview I did about vaping last week I'm finding it harder to stop my compulsion to begin replies to questions with the word "Well".

In my defence it's not as bad as saying "er" or "um" over and over again yet that's what many broadcast journalists do all the time.

Honestly, listen to them. How do they keep their jobs? If you can't speak without umming and erring all the time you shouldn't be in broadcasting.

I just wanted to get that off my chest.


It's a mystery 

There was a demo in Whitehall last week.

According to the Observer:

On Friday the New Nicotine Alliance, led by Professor Gerry Stimson, a public health expert, protested against the new measures outside the Department of Health. “Vaping has helped 1.5 million give up smoking,” Stimson said. “This extraordinary success is put at risk by rules that make vaping less attractive to Britain’s 9 million current smokers.”

I was aware of the planned protest because I'd seen several references to it online. One read:

There'll be a last minute protest against the TPD, with manufacturers and vapers, outside the Department of Health in Whitehall in London at 9.30am on Friday. The protest is supported by ECITA, Flavour Vapours, NNA and others.

Another said the demo was being filmed by ITN.

The plan, I understand, was for independent vape companies to dump their now illegal stock outside the DH for a photo opp.

As PR stunts go it was a pretty good idea although you'd need a small mountain of the stuff to truly make the point.

(The French are particularly good at this sort of thing. In July 2015, for example, French tobacconists dumped four tonnes of carrots on the street in protest against the introduction of plain packaging.)

Anyway I looked forward to reading more and seeing photos of the event on the day but hard though I looked I couldn't find anything online.

I checked the ECITA, Flavour Vapours and NNA Twitter accounts. Zero.

I visited their websites. Zip.

I checked on Facebook. Zilch.

I checked the Twitter accounts of people I thought might be there. Nada.

I'm not being critical. I wish all these groups and companies well. But why no tweets, photos or posts about the protest as it was happening, or after?

I'm genuinely curious because it's a mystery.

If there are any photos or reports of Friday's demo that I've missed please let me know and I'll be happy to link to them.

PS. Had to laugh. On Thursday the NNA tweeted:

Time to Brexit the TPD! Join the protest at 0930 tomorrow at Department of Health, Whitehall.

Gerry Stimson, who chairs the NNA, is a fervent Remainer but if it wasn't for Brexit the UK wouldn't have the option of repealing some of the TPD regulations.

Perhaps it's time for Gerry to change his tune on Brexit?

Just saying!!

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 252 Next 8 Entries »