Wednesday
Dec072016

The slow death of compassion in Britain's hospitals

I got a call yesterday from BBC Breakfast.

They wanted Forest's response to a report by the British Thoracic Society. Bizarrely however they wouldn't forward the press release because "it's embargoed".

They did however email the opening paragraph which gave the gist of the thing:

According to a major new report launched on Wednesday 7th December, NHS hospitals across UK are falling ‘woefully short’ of national standards on helping patients who smoke to quit and enforcing smoke-free premises.

As I understood it, the BTS want to"help" all patients who smoke to quit, not just those who are in hospital with a so-called smoking-related disease.

So I responded as follows:

"It's quite wrong to put smokers under pressure to quit while they are in hospital, especially if the reason they are there is not smoking-related.

"Being in hospital can be extremely stressful and having a cigarette is a source of comfort to many smokers.

"Enforcing smoke-free premises is a cruel and unfair way to treat patients who smoke.

"Nagging them to quit when they are at their most vulnerable also demonstrates a worrying lack of empathy.

"This is the opposite of health care. In the name of public health compassion is being replaced by zealotry and intolerance."

In the event I heard nothing more. Whether BBC Breakfast dropped the story I don't know. I watched the programme for a bit this morning but there was no mention of it.

Incidentally, it's perfectly normal to share embargoed press releases in advance, especially if you want comments from third parties.

The simple unwritten agreement is that you don't break the embargo, which I have never knowingly done. It's part of the media management game and I have no problem playing along with it.

The other rule concerns exclusivity. If the story is an 'exclusive' the journalist won't want you to release your response to all and sundry because that is also breaking the exclusivity, even if you embargo your response!

Yesterday the BBC told me the story wasn't an 'exclusive' so I emailed our reaction to the Press Association and every health editor and correspondent on the national dailies.

So far I can find only two reports.

The PA picked it up (Hospitals 'woefully failing' to crack down on smoking), and included a quote from Forest, but with the exception of Sky News the story seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Nevertheless, coming a couple of weeks after Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, called for an outright ban on smoking on hospital grounds, there is clearly a concerted effort to see it implemented as part of the government's new Tobacco Control Plan.

Let's hope the Department of Health takes heed of Theresa May's bid to "restore fairness" in Britain. As I wrote on ConservativeHome in October:

If the Prime Minister really wants to stand up for millions of ordinary people who are sick and tired of being patronised by politicians and the professional classes, she must stop her government introducing further policies that will discriminate against the UK's seven million smokers. Enough is enough. It's time to stop this spiteful war on ordinary people who choose to smoke.

Update: I missed this earlier but the Mail Online also ran the PA story about the BTS report. See Hospitals 'woefully failing' to crack down on smoking. Includes my quote.

Wednesday
Dec072016

Defending the indefensible?


I've spent a fair bit of time over the last few days defending the indefensible.

Well, that's what it felt like.

Scotland has just caught up with England and banned smoking in cars with children. Someone had to put the case for the opposition and once again it fell to Forest.

I was quoted in most Scottish newspapers (Sundays and dailies) and I also did several TV and radio interviews.

The most uncomfortable moment was on BBC Radio Scotland when I went head-to-head with Jim Hume, the former Lib Dem MSP whose bill led to the new law.

We had a bit of a barny that finished with an awkward silence. After what felt like several seconds of dead air presenter John Beattie, the former Scottish rugby union international, stepped in and said, somewhat frostily, "I think we've taken that as far as we can."

I enjoy an argument but Hume's attitude genuinely pissed me off. He had every right to feel pleased with himself (if banning things turns you on) but every time I spoke I could hear him laughing, sighing or chuntering in the background.

I didn't say anything but I thought, "What a prick."

He even tried to suggest that I'm in favour of smoking in cars with children when I've made it clear many times that Forest doesn't condone it. We're simply against excessive regulations.

Later Beattie asked if I accepted that children were at risk if exposed to tobacco smoke in a car.

Fair question.

The gist of my answer was that the dose is the poison, to which I added that few if any children are exposed day after day, year after year, to smoke in someone's car.

At that point Hume started tut-tutting as if I'd said something incomprehensibly stupid or wicked. I was glad, frankly, when the 'discussion' came to an end.

Before that I took part in a phone-in, also on Radio Scotland. One by one a number of dour, crabby Scots came on the line to support the ban. One or two urged the authorities to go further and ban smoking in all vehicles.

As regular readers know, I grew up in Scotland. I went to university in Aberdeen. My wife is Scottish. We spent our wedding night on Skye. My children were born in Edinburgh. I support a Scottish football team.

I've visited every corner of Scotland from Stranraer to John O'Groats. I've been to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. I go to Scotland as often as I can. (I'm going next week, as it happens.)

However I no longer recognise the country I grew up in. Paternalism runs deep in Scottish society (think lairds and crofters) but in the Sixties and Seventies it was largely benign. Those with prohibitionist or puritannical tendencies (like the Free Church of Scotland aka the "Wee Frees") were at the margins and a source of humour not fear.

There were restrictions (you couldn't take your drink outside the pub, for example) but nothing that made drinkers (or smokers) feel like second or third class citizens.

Devolution has helped change that. Politically and culturally Scotland is now run by an authoritarian, sanctimonious elite that seeks to exercise every power they have to force people to change their ways.

The media has bought in to this (the relationship between government ministers and political journalists in Scotland is nauseatingly sycophantic) and it's encouraged a puritanical minority to speak out.

Those of a more moderate persuasion have gone to ground and in the last few days Forest has been a lone voice opposing what we believe are "unnecessary and patronising" regulations.

In fairness to the media they haven't baulked at publishing or broadcasting our views so I've no complaints on that score.

What disappointed me was the complete silence from so-called libertarian groups and campaigners who have clearly decided that this issue (smoking in cars with children) is too hot to touch so they've kept quiet.

The same, btw, is true of smoking in children's play areas. We don't condone it but we don't condemn it either. What we're against are excessive regulations instructing people how behave in public and private spaces.

Some people seem to think you can pick and choose the battles you fight. It doesn't work like that. By staying mute you are effectively endorsing the regulations and by doing that you are inadvertently giving the green light to further legislation.

Talking of which, on Monday the Scotsman's front page led with the BMA's demand for a ban on smoking in ALL private vehicles to protect "vulnerable adults".

The BMA has been calling for a complete ban on smoking in cars since 2011 but I can't remember hearing that phrase in this context before. It's always been about "vulnerable children".

It shows how tobacco control loves to move on even before the impact of new legislation can be reviewed and analysed.

Again, Forest was the only voice of protest although one or two editorials did imply it might be a step too far.

Hopefully there will be more voices opposing an outright ban. I wouldn't bet on it, though, especially in Scotland. 

Sunday
Dec042016

Think of the children (and more BBC bias)

Tomorrow smoking in cars carrying children will be banned in Scotland.

It's pretty much identical to the legislation that was introduced in England last year.

Yesterday I recorded interviews for Radio Clyde, Global Radio and Sky Radio.

Tomorrow I'll be on BBC Radio Scotland.

Today I'm quoted by Scotland on Sunday, the Scottish Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times Scotland.

Several people have queried why Forest bothers to fight such legislation. The reason is simple - it's unnecessary and wrong.

It's also a stepping stone to far more intrusive regulations - a ban on smoking in all private vehicles and, eventually, a ban on smoking in the home.

If smoking in cars was a significant risk to children's health it would have been prohibited a long time ago, years before smoking was banned in well-ventilated adult friendly pubs and clubs,

Or so you would have thought. Instead we're now led to believe it's on a par with child abuse, or worse.

At the very least seven million people are branded as ignorant, selfish and inconsiderate when, by and large, the opposite is true.

The overwhelming majority of smokers don't smoke in a car with children because they know that it's inconsiderate at best.

Nor do the overwhelming majority light up in children's play areas or by the school gates.

Health isn't the issue - they're outside, for heaven's sake. The principal reason is that, without legislation, most smokers have decided that it's probably inappropriate and and have changed their behaviour voluntarily.

(Personally, I think common sense should come into play and smoking in play areas should be governed by circumstances, a bit like driving fast on a clear open road or one that is heavily congested.)

Anyway governments and local authorities seem determined to brand every smoker as a potential threat to the nation's children.

Children, we are led to believe, are so vulnerable that even the sight of someone smoking will lead to a lifelong addiction.

This is not unlike the Scotland I grew up in, except the 'curse' was alcohol. In those days every pub in Scotland has frosted glass so children couldn't see adults drinking.

For the same reason customers weren't allowed to drink outside.

We've moved on from that. Now it's smoking that's cast as the morally degenerate behaviour we must save our children from.

Update: BBC News (Scotland) has a report about the car smoking ban (Ban on smoking in cars with children to come into force).

Interestingly, even though we sent the Scottish newsdesk our response on Friday, the BBC has ignored it.

Consequently at 6.30 this morning I was on the phone to the BBC in Glasgow and have just sent this email:

Smoking in cars with children: concerned at the shockingly one-sided nature of your report on this story despite the fact that we sent you our response on Friday.

Forest has been quoted by the Press Association and several newspapers including the Scotsman, Scottish Mail on Sunday and, I believe, the Sunday Times Scotland.

Your report quotes not one but FOUR supporters of the legislation and not a single opposing voice. Great journalistic standards. Well done.

The online newsdesk team get in at 9.00am, apparently. Let's see if they update their report.

Here's the Press Association report (with a quote from Forest): Ban on smoking in cars with children present to come into force.

Ditto the Mail Online: Ban on smoking in cars with children present to come into force.

The Sunday Mail and The People have also quoted Forest while the Dundee Courier reports, 'Law to protect youngsters branded "pointless" by smokers' group'.

The BBC? Nothing.

Update: My phone call to the BBC has resulted in their report being updated but why didn't they include an opposing voice in the first place, and why should I have to call them at 6.30 on a Sunday morning to make that point?

Thursday
Dec012016

Fancy that!

Thursday
Dec012016

Tobacco talk (on the Big Yorkshire Phone-in)

Here's a transcript of my contribution to a BBC Radio Leeds phone-in yesterday.

I've edited it very slightly where the recording was slightly inaudible or the meaning wasn't 100 per cent clear, but it's an accurate record of the conversation.

Presenter Andrew Edwards introduced me following some comments about iQOS, the heat not burn device that was launched in the UK yesterday by Philip Morris (PMI).

Andrew Edwards, presenter, BBC Radio Leeds:
Listening to that is Simon Clark. He is from the pro-smoking group Forest which describes itself as the voice and friend of the smoker and he is on the Big Yorkshire Phone-in. Good afternoon, Simon.

Simon Clark, director, Forest:
Hello, Andrew. Actually pro-choice rather than pro-smoking.

Andrew Edwards:
Right pro-choice. Good distinction. Shouldn't we just though ban tobacco altogether rather than saying we have invented this which is less harmful?

Simon Clark:
Well, no, because prohibition doesn't work. I think everybody knows the example of America where they tried to prohibit alcohol and they had to give up that experiment after 12 years because it was a terrible failure because the people who took over the market were the criminal gangs and the bootleggers.

So from that experience I think the tobacco control lobby has understood that prohibition never works and over the last few decades in the UK, and globally, we've seen an attempt to wean people off tobacco, trying to get them to give up completely, and again that hasn't worked as well as the tobacco control lobby would have liked because, simply, there are millions of people who enjoy smoking.

I think the health message has got across to most people and in many cases that has discouraged people from taking up smoking in the first place. It has also encouraged some people to give up, but many people are prepared to take the risk because they enjoy smoking and because they enjoy it they're not going to give it up until a product comes along that gives them the same pleasure that smoking tobacco does.

Andrew Edwards:
Which is where I think today's conversation is an interesting one. We understand other big manufacturers are quite close to releasing similar products to this one here [PMI's iQOS device]. Now as I understand it the difference from an e-cigarette here is that with traditional e-cigarettes the conversion rate to e-cigs of smokers is about 20 per cent, whereas the boss of PMI, who have developed this new one, says shareholders are enthusiastic about the new product as well and part of it is that it gets round the basic weakness of it not being, for a smoker, something that gives them that 'hit'. Do you take that point? Does that seem to make sense to you?

Simon Clark:
Yes, I mean we are excited by all these emerging products from e-cigarettes to heat-not-burn products. I think it's true that there is a small market of people who have switched to e-cigarettes and they swear by them. They say that these are absolutely marvellous, but it's [also] true that the majority of smokers are not switching,even though the majority of smokers have tried e-cigarettes. The majority aren’t switching because e-cigarettes don't give them, as you say, the hit or the taste they're looking for.

So those people, if they are looking to cut down or quit cigarettes completely, they want something else and what seems to be exciting about heat-not-burn is that they sort of stay true to the concept of consuming tobacco, because of course e-cigarettes shouldn’t even be called a tobacco product because they don't have any tobacco in them. So what the consumer should be offered is a range of products. Now, if you think of combustible cigarettes at one end of the line ...

Andrew Edwards:
By that you mean a traditional cigarette, a combustible cigarette?

Simon Clark:
Yes, that's right, a traditional cigarette where you have to light it and the tobacco is being burnt rather than heated. The thing is, what we need to do is offer the consumer as wide a range of choice as possible, so at one end you've got the traditional cigarette, at the other you've got the e-cigarette, but for a lot of smokers that's quite a big jump from a combustible cigarette to an electronic cigarette.

Andrew Edwards:
But aren’t we dancing around the issue that we all understand which is that smoking is very bad for you, it kills an awful lot of people, and we've known that forever, and shouldn’t we just be saying rather, 'Here's something that is less harmful,' we should just be saying, 'Look, let's get rid of it altogether.' And I take your point that you are pro-choice and you think it's a legal product, nobody is denying that. Shouldn’t we though just be saying, for the sake of the health of the generations to come, our children, our children's children, 'Look, let’s just get rid of it.' Like that texter Jonathan said to me, you know, people will look back on it like some of the madnesses, as they now see it, of taking what turned out to be poisonous things to try and cure our ailments.

Simon Clark:
Well, the problem is there are lots of things in life that are potentially not good for us. Now smoking may come quite high up that bar but drinking too much alcohol, drinking too many sugary drinks, eating too much fatty food and dairy products, there are lots and lots of things that are potentially bad for our health and we can't go around banning all these things.

The exciting thing about these emerging products is that they give control back to the consumer. I mean we have got to put this in perspective. Smoking rates in the UK have fallen dramatically over the last 30 or 40 years and if you go back to the Fifties half of the adult population smoked. Now the figure is about 16 per cent. So that’s been a pretty dramatic drop but of course the really dramatic drop actually happened between the mid Seventies and the early Nineties when there were very few restrictions on smoking and most people absorbed the health messages and they chose either not to start smoking or they decided they're going to quit.

What's happened in the last ten to 15 years is that we got down to a core group of the population who enjoyed smoking and weren’t going to quit and the government, in order to force the smoking rates down to the current level, has had to introduce a raft of very repressive, very restrictive regulations ...

Andrew Edwards:
... and things like plain packaging, advertising, and the rest. We will come back, Simon. I'm glad you are here. I am just going to remind people how to give us a call. You are with BBC Radio Leeds. This is Simon Clark from the pro-choice group – 'We are not pro-smoking, we are pro-choice' was his distinction – which describes itself as the voice and the friend of the smoker. He is live on BBC Radio Leeds. This is the Big Yorkshire Phone-in.

I'm Andrew Edwards and we're talking about the product which has been launched today by one of the world's biggest tobacco companies, Philip Morris ... and it's been described as a new less harmful cigarette. It's been launched [in the UK] and it is, as you heard Simon mention, a heat-not-burn product. So it heats tobacco but it does use real tobacco and the company claims that [although] it's not been independently scientifically verified smokers get the same nicotine hit but 90 per cent less of the nasty toxins that come with cigarette smoke. They're not pushing that end of the finding. They are just simply saying at the moment that the new product is likely to cause less harm and they are inviting scientists to test it, but I'm asking, 'Aren't we dancing around here? Isn’t the point that we should just ban smoking tobacco altogether?'

Simon, just before I open this up to our callers, I'm interested to see what you make of the chief exec, and you heard a little quotation from him there, André Calantzopoulos, who said that he would like to work with governments towards the phasing out of conventional cigarettes. He said that the company knows its products harm their consumers and that the only correct response is to, quote, “find and commercialise ones that are less harmful”, which is presumably where a product like the one you and I are talking about today fits in?

Simon Clark:
Yes, I completely understand why Philip Morris are moving in that direction and working with government seems to be a very sensible route to go, but I do think it's a bit of a kick in the teeth for their consumers who enjoy their products, their cigarettes, and I do think a company like Philip Morris should be prepared to defend the rights of its existing consumers a bit more than they appear to do. 

I mean, it's marvellous that they are working on these new products because, as I say, we embrace the concept of choice – and the more choice there is for consumers the better – and if that allows people to switch of their own volition to a so-called safer product that has to be a very good thing. But, as I say, I do think to say we are working to essentially get rid of combustible cigarettes, the traditional cigarette, I do think that is a kick in the teeth for consumers who enjoy that product.

Andrew Edwards:
But probably it’s a bit like you, Simon, taking issue with me at the beginning where, and I take your point that you described yourself as a pro-choice group rather than a pro-smoking group, but perhaps in this modern era, very heedful of the health messages, knowing about the younger generation, having shareholders, this is obviously a big private company, that they've got to walk that very delicate line between saying 'Yes, we know people like to smoke, we will try and make it as safe as possible' but, you know you can see where I'm coming to. It's a difficult, difficult line while we've got something that is legal, brings in huge tax revenues and yet is a killer.

Simon Clark:
It is [a difficult line] but one thing we keep saying to legislators, politicians and anti-smoking campaigners is, don't forget that millions of people enjoy smoking tobacco. I mean it's almost taboo these days to actually say that because smokers are routinely talked about as if they have a dirty disgusting habit and are hopelessly addicted to nicotine and all the rest of it.

And yes, there are people who are addicted to nicotine and there are smokers who want to give up, but there are many who don't want to give up because they enjoy it and I think it's up to a tobacco company such as Philip Morris to actually acknowledge that and say 'Look, we are trying to work towards a safer product because there's no doubt a lot of consumers do want that as the endgame, and we want to work with government', and again they're quite right to say that because it's absolute nonsense that government will not sit down and talk to tobacco companies because they quote World Health Organisation regulations saying they're not allowed to talk to tobacco companies. That's completely ridiculous. The companies and governmet have to sit down, with public health, and talk about these issues. 

Andrew Edwards:
Simon, I am going to leave it there. I am really glad we could talk. I am going to open this up to our callers, texters and tweetters but it's very good to talk to you. Thanks for your time.

Simon Clark:
Thank you.

Andrew Edwards:
Appreciate it. Simon Clark from the pro-choice group Forest, which describes itself as the voice and friend of the smoker.

Wednesday
Nov302016

Is this the beginning of the end for conventional cigarettes?

I have a clock radio that bursts into life at 6.10 every morning.

It's tuned to Radio 4 so at weekends I lie there, half awake, listening to Farming Today or Clare Balding rambling on (literally) as she "joins notable and interesting people for a walk through the countryside".

During the week it's the Today programme that wakes me up and today the first voice I heard was that of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH.

I only caught a bit of it but she was talking about PMI's new heat not burn product which is being launched in the UK today. According to this report:

Philip Morris has launched a new, less harmful cigarette in the UK which it says could mean halting sales of its conventional tobacco products.

The so called Iqos product heats tobacco rather than burning it.

The tobacco giant claims this means smokers get the same nicotine hit, but 90% less of the nasty toxins that come with cigarette smoke.

It says trials - not yet externally verified - found the new cigarette had the same impact as quitting smoking.

The firm is not pushing that finding, saying only that the new product is likely to cause less harm.

See Philip Morris could stop making conventional cigarettes (BBC News).

Shortly after seven there was an interview with André Calantzopoulos, PMI's chief executive, who confirmed the company would like to work with governments towards the "phase-out" of conventional cigarettes.

Interestingly I've been invited by BBC Radio Leeds to discuss whether combustible cigarettes should now be prohibited.

The argument seems to be that, with the availability of 'safer' non-combustible nicotine products, perhaps it's time to ban the sale of traditional cigarettes altogether.

I've said many times that Forest welcomes all alternative nicotine delivery devices and heat not burn products are of particular interest because of the link with tobacco.

Nevertheless the idea that a tobacco company wants to "phase-out" conventional cigarettes does stick in the throat somewhat.

PMI is entitled to have that conversation with government or anyone else, but they're not entitled to speak for other tobacco companies or the millions of consumers who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit, even for a 'safer' product.

Update: I've just discussed this subject on BBC Radio Leeds. Prompted by André Calantzopoulos's comments this morning, the theme of their phone-in was 'Should tobacco be banned?'

Well done, PMI, you've got people talking openly about the prohibition!

For the record I said that Forest is "pro-choice not pro-smoking" and we are excited by all emerging nicotine products including e-cigarettes and heat not burn devices.

I supported PMI's efforts to speak to government (I said that government, the tobacco companies and public health should get together to discuss these issues) but I also said that talk of phasing out traditional cigarettes was a "kick in the teeth" for consumers who enjoy smoking.

If I can get a clip I'll post it here later.

Tuesday
Nov292016

Sign language

A non-smoking self-employed workman has been fined for not displaying a 'No Smoking' sign in his own van.

Trevor Emery, who runs a domestic appliance business, had to pay £150 which is £100 more than he would have been fined had he actually smoked in the vehicle.

According to Trevor he was unaware of the law, which is no defence of course, but the curious thing is that it took Kent's eagled-eyed wardens almost ten years to spot the 'offence'.

The story first appeared here but went national via The Sun, Daily Mail and others.

BBC South East News also ran the story last night. They wanted to know what our reaction was so I responded as follows:

"This case demonstrates how harsh the law is. Enforcing it in such a heavy-handed way is inappropriate and ridiculous.

"Common sense suggests that a gentle warning and a reminder to Mr Emery to put a no smoking sign in his van would have been sufficient.

"It's almost ten years since the smoking ban was introduced. Compliance is very high which indicates there are very few people who aren't aware that smoking is forbidden in workplaces, including work vehicles.

"Do we really need 'No Smoking signs everywhere? Instead of punishing people like Mr Emery for this most trivial of offences, the authorities should amend the regulations because the vast majority of 'No Smoking' signs are increasingly redundant."

In the event they didn't use any of it but the issue of signs that are essentially redundant is something I may come back to.

After all, do we really 'No Smoking' signs on every shop window, for example? Who, in this day and age, would walk into a store and light up?

Truth is, 'No Smoking' signs rarely if ever have anything to do with health.

In terms of advising people they can't smoke in shops or work vans (or churches!) they tell us nothing we don't already know.

In many cases their primary purpose is no longer to inform but to create a culture in which smoking is widely perceived as a forbidden, even criminal, activity.

This less than subtle tactic is part of a general strategy to denormalise smoking and, by association, smokers.

Trevor Emery could have been let off with a word in his ear. But no, he had to be made an example of, a warning to anyone else who dares to overlook one of the most important symbols of modern life – the ubiquitous 'No Smoking' sign.

Friday
Nov252016

Sheffield smokers steel themselves for further harassment 

Sheffield City Council has announced proposals to reduce smoking. They're out for consultation, deadline January 2, 2017.

The Sheffield Star has the story on its front page today, with the full report (including Forest's response) on page 4. It reads:

Smoking could be banned outside public buildings in Sheffield and at events like the city's half marathon and Christmas lights switch-on.

Lighting up in the vicinity of hospitals, universities, council offices and leisure centres would be outlawed under proposals from council chiefs.

According to the council, in a press release issued earlier this week:

The vision for the Tobacco Control Strategy, which will run from 2017 to 2022, is to create a smoke-free city where people live longer and healthier lives, where children think smoking is unusual, and where young people don’t take up smoking in the first place ...

The World Health Organisation recommends that a comprehensive programme of tobacco control is adopted in order to effectively reduce the number of smokers. This includes supporting smokers to quit, preventing children from starting to smoke in the first place, increasing the awareness of the dangers of smoking, removing cheap and illicit tobacco from our communities and extending smoke-free environments to protect people from the harm caused by second-hand smoke.

Interestingly:

In Sheffield the budget for tobacco control is £1.1m and, currently, 60 per cent of this budget funds stop smoking services and 40 per cent funds wider tobacco control work.

The city council is proposing to move £220,000 from stop smoking services into prevention work. This would involve working with all secondary schools in the city as well as some primary schools, increasing the number of outdoor smoke-free sites and events, and increasing the investment in communication and media campaigns targeting those who find it the most difficult to quit.

So stop smoking services would lose approximately a third of their budget but instead of spending the money on more important issues (maintaining roads and pavements or tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, for example) the council intends to use some of the money to increase "the number of outdoor smoke-free sites and events".

The real issue is why councils are spending public money on tackling smoking when there are national campaigns and events including Stoptober and No Smoking Day plus numerous lobby groups and "charities" spewing out anti-smoking propaganda every day of the year.

I would be more impressed if Sheffield City Council announced that it was to cut its "tobacco control" budget, not just reassign part of it to other anti-smoking initiatives that could further punish those who don't want to quit.

Anyway here's Forest's response:

"Banning smoking outside public buildings, even hospitals, is rather pathetic. Tobacco is a legal product. As long as they are considerate smokers should be allowed to light up outside.

"Smoking in the open air doesn't put anyone else's health at risk so there's no justification for extending the smoking ban to any outdoor area, even children's play areas. People should be allowed to use their common sense, and most do.

"We would support a cut in funding for stop smoking services because the numbers using them have dropped dramatically in recent years, but there are better things to spend public money on than other anti-smoking initiatives.

"In a nationwide poll this year only 14 per cent of the public believed that tackling smoking is a very important priority for local government. The issue came second bottom in a list of ten priorities.

"Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour was the highest priority. Other issues that were rated more important than tackling smoking included investing in roads and pavements, investing in street cleanliness, and improving facilities for young people.

"The council needs to get its priorities right. Tackling smoking and harassing smokers should not be one of them."

The council is asking for people's views. To have your say visit the online consultation hub.

I'll remind you again nearer the closing date. Something to do over the Christmas break, perhaps!

In the meantime I'll link to the full report in the Sheffield Star when it's posted online later today.

Plan to ban smoking from outside public buildings in Sheffield (Sheffield Star)

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