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Monday
Feb182019

Welcome to Harrogate

Currently on a short break in Harrogate.

Yesterday we had lunch at the Coach and Horses, an award-winning pub a few yards from our hotel.

The pub (above) has a very clear identity. No music, no televised sport, no games machines and no kids:

We are a traditional pub for adults ... We don’t cater for children and therefore do not allow them in the pub at any time.

I can also recommend the Sunday roasts.

Photo: Welcome to Yorkshire

Wednesday
Feb132019

Shaming smokers doesn't work, say researchers

Interesting report on the BBC News website yesterday:

Mothers-to-be who smoke or drink could be hiding their habits in private - because of negative reactions, a study has found.

You think so?

The study claimed women who smoke or drank during pregnancy said they had "awkward" relationships with their midwives and would receive health advice in a "judgemental tone", making them less likely to seek support.

Dr Aimee Grant, from Cardiff University's Centre for Trials Research, said:

“Moral judgements are commonly directed towards mothers through reference to health behaviour in pregnancy, and working-class mothers are particularly subject to this criticism, ignoring the challenges of living on a low income.

“Our study shows that these looks and comments - including by members of the public - irritate and alienate pregnant women, making them less likely to seek help. No one wants to be judged and shamed."

Dr Dunla Gallagher, also from the study team, said smoking is a "coping strategy" for some low-income, expectant mothers.

She said: "Rather than stigma, women need empathy and a recognition of the challenges that pregnancy can bring in terms of women's independent choices."

Empathy for smokers, pregnant or otherwise, has of course been in short supply for years.

In 2004 the Labour health minister John Reid argued that for a young single mother living on a sink estate, a cigarette might be one of the few pleasures she had.

According to the Guardian:

Mr Reid said that the middle classes were obsessed with giving instruction to people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and that smoking was not one of the worst problems facing poorer people.

“I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but it is an obsession of the learned middle class," he said. "What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette."

A former heavy smoker who was member of parliament for one of the poorest constituencies in the country, Reid almost certainly knew what he was talking about, but it didn’t stop the middle class puritans in public health venting their fury at his heretical statement.

Since then successive governments, egged on by those same joyless campaigners, have embarked on a relentless campaign to denormalise not just smoking but smokers as well.

They have shown not a jot of empathy or compassion for people who choose to smoke, not even those for whom smoking offers a brief moment of respite from life’s daily challenges.

Every increase in tobacco duty, for example, is applauded despite the fact that it's designed to make life harder for the less well off in the hope that it will force them to quit.

If they continue to smoke anti-smoking campaigners then have the nerve to argue that smoking is forcing people further into poverty, washing their hands of any responsibility for this shameful state of affairs.

Current targets include pregnant women and hospital patients who smoke. The aim is to stigmatise both groups until they too succumb to the pressure to quit.

I’m pleased therefore that the Cardiff study highlights not only the lack of empathy for mothers-to-be who smoke but also notes that the 'negative feedback' from midwives and anti-smoking partners doesn't seem to have much impact apart from irritating and alienating them.

There’s a reason for this and it’s called human nature. People don’t like being nagged or bullied and the natural inclination is to rebel, in this instance quietly and in private.

Of course, driven by their innate sense of superiority, anti-smoking zealots are unlikely to change their strategy any time soon.

Meanwhile another report currently doing the rounds blames budget cuts for eroding ‘the support (sic) pregnant women need to stop smoking’.

Recent headlines include ‘The shocking number of pregnant women smoking in Liverpool’, ‘Thousands of pregnant Brummie women are STILL smoking’ and ‘A sixth of women in North East still smoke when they give birth’.

The aim of this campaign is, I imagine, two-fold:

One, it maintains the pressure on pregnant women to stop smoking; two, it politicises the issue by turning it into a debate about money.

According to Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser for the National Childbirth Trust:

“Smoking cessation support is now being funded under local authorities as opposed to public health.

“We know that local authority budgets cuts have eroded the support that women need and that’s why we’re seeing little progress.”

There's a simple reason why councils are cutting budgets for stop smoking services and it's this.

Since 2010 the number of smokers using smoking cessation services to help them quit has dropped by over 50 per cent.

This is partly because there are fewer smokers who want to quit, and partly because many of those that do are doing it for themselves – by switching to vaping, for example.

Instead of bemoaning the reduction in funding, tobacco control campaigners should look closer to home and stop demonising smokers because it's clearly counter-productive.

Better still they should show some empathy and allow adults to make their own choices without fear of stigmatisation or worse.

Sunday
Feb102019

Smoking: pathetic addiction or lifestyle choice?

The cover of the current edition of The Oldie features Lionel Blair.

The well-known dancer, choreographer and broadcaster turned 90 in December and last month he was awarded the title Oldie of the Year.

Many years ago I had a chance encounter with Blair (Lionel not Tony) when we shared a table while waiting for a train at Kings Cross.

Clutching a cup of coffee, he caught my eye and asked, very politely, if he could smoke. “Of course,” I said.

A number of things went through my head but I didn't want to invade his privacy so I kept quiet, finished my drink and eventually stood up to leave.

Before I hurried away however I thrust my business card into his hand. It read: 'Simon Clark, director, Forest, voice and friend of the smoker'.

The following day I contacted his agent, explained what had happened, and asked if we might interview him for the Forest magazine Free Choice. (I had the headline already: 'Blair's Britain'.)

“Sorry,” I was told. “Lionel feels guilty about smoking. He doesn't like to talk about it.”

That was 19 years ago. In 2017, discussing his health, he told the Daily Mail, “I know that I shouldn’t [smoke]” so he clearly hadn’t given up.

However, apart from being treated (successfully) for prostate cancer a decade ago, he’s remained in good health. The key to his longevity, he told the Mail, was a balanced diet.

“I eat very little red meat and I’m strict about having my five a day.”

He keeps fit by using a power plate and walking daily.

A keen tap dancer, his only niggle is that he has a weak back but admits he is fortunate not to have had a knee or hip replacement.

“My doctor has said that my spine is a bit weak because of all the dancing that I have done. But I love dancing still.”

Smoking, then, may be Lionel’s 'big vice' but it hasn't stopped him staying fit and living to a grand old age.

Sadly he's not the only smoker who feels guilty about his habit.

I first met journalist Tom Utley at a soiree sponsored by Forest and organised by Auberon Waugh at the Academy Club in Soho.

That was in 2001. Since then Tom has attended a number of Forest events and written several must read articles on the subject of the smoking ban and the supposed threat of passive smoking, which he rightly describes as 'a lie'.

See, for example, ‘I resolve not to be a shameful smoker' (2004) and 'Why my smoking habit proves you can't believe a word the b******s tell you' (2007).

On Friday, in the Daily Mail, he took aim at the proposal by Democrat politician Dr Richard Creagan to eventually prohibit the sale of tobacco in Hawaii to anyone under the age of 100.

However, as with most of Tom’s articles about smoking, it came with a caveat, the sort of self-loathing I can only put down to decades of relentless anti-smoking propaganda:

Before I end, I must make clear that if I had my time again, I would never have smoked that first cigarette five decades ago, which set me on the path to the pathetic addiction I’ve suffered ever since.

It’s a disgusting habit and there’s not a shadow of doubt that it’s very bad for us indeed (and I don’t just mean for our wallets). Though there will be no diseases in heaven’s imaginary pub, smoking causes plenty here on Earth.

So I strongly advise non-smokers to resist any temptation to take it up. But as for those of us who are hooked already, I just pray our legislators won’t pick up any ideas from Dr Creagan in Hawaii. All I can say is that if they do raise the legal smoking age to 100 any time soon, I’ll be first in the queue for fake ID.

In contrast, in the Mirror today, we got a rather different take on smoking that didn’t involve phrases like ‘disgusting habit’ or ‘pathetic addiction’:

Life coach Paul McKenna has told how close pal Simon Cowell has given up on hypnotism as a way to quit smoking – so he helps him unwind by playing Twister instead.

X Factor boss Simon, 59, has tried hypnotherapy more than once but admitted he failed hands-down.

And Paul, who has sold millions of self-help books, says he knows the music mogul too well to even try persuading him to kick the habit – because he does not really want to quit.

Paul, 55, said: “Simon will do what he wants to do and I haven’t given him any hypnotherapy to stop.

“My take on smoking is, if someone wants to smoke then it’s a lifestyle choice – the last thing I want to do is to lecture people on these things.

“Simon hasn’t asked for my help to quit, I think he’s quite happy as he is.”

Bravo!

As it happens, I bumped into McKenna once, several years ago, while we were waiting to be interviewed on Radio 2.

We weren’t on together because he was there to promote a new book about something else but we nevertheless had a short chat outside the studio.

Knowing he helped people stop smoking I expected a negative reaction when I told him what I did for a living but his response was consistent with what he told the Mirror.

In fact, he was extremely personable and I liked him immediately. His latest comments make me like him even more.

Friday
Feb082019

Happy birthday, Boisdale!

Further to my previous post, Boisdale is celebrating its own anniversary this year.

London’s leading Scottish-themed bar restaurant was founded by Ranald Macdonald in 1989 (not 1988 as I had always thought).

When it opened the Belgravia restaurant was half its current size. It expanded when Ranald bought the property next door and a conservatory and snug bar were added.

In 2007, to accommodate patrons who wanted to smoke after the introduction of the indoor smoking ban, Ranald spent £40,000 on a covered, heated terrace on what was previously a section of the roof.

By then a second restaurant, Boisdale of Bishopsgate, had opened. Canary Wharf - with its large smoking terrace overlooking Cabot Square - was launched in 2011, and a few years later a much smaller restaurant opened in Mayfair.

To call Boisdale a restaurant probably understates its appeal. You can pop in for a drink at the bar, for example, or spend an afternoon on the terrace without being compelled to eat.

There’s also live music - mostly jazz - at all four venues with the larger stage at Canary Wharf attracting some well-known names.

The Forest office in Palace Street, Victoria, wasn’t far from the Belgravia restaurant but I’m not sure I was aware of it until I read a comment by Ranald in the Evening Standard (circa 2004) complaining about the prospect of a smoking ban.

I wrote to him, he didn’t reply, so I rang him and we arranged to meet. I liked him immediately, although we are very different. A successful businessman with a laidback almost bohemian air, he calls me “Mr Grumpy” - with some justification, it must be said.

He’s also the son of a clan chief but aside from a shared dislike of excessive regulation we do have something else in common - we both studied in St Andrews. I went to school there and a decade later he was at the university.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, Ranald quickly became one of Forest’s leading supporters, playing a starring role in one of our most successful events (Bournemouth, 2006) as well as facilitating a series of dinners, receptions and parties at Boisdale (Belgravia and Canary Wharf).

Best of all, perhaps, he was the person without whom we could not have pulled off our most ambitious event ever - a gala dinner for 400 people at the Savoy Hotel shortly before the introduction of the smoking ban.

He even persuaded broadcaster Andrew Neil - a member of the Boisdale Jazz and Cigar Club - to be the principal guest speaker.

A few years ago Ranald invited me to join the club’s annual jaunt to the Havana Cigar Festival in Cuba. It was an experience I’ll never forget. If you’re interested you can read about it here.

More recently he was a contestant in our 2017 Balloon Debate (‘The most pleasurable nicotine delivery device in the world’) when he advocated the cigar. Not for the first time he supplied the wine for that event at cost price, a substantial saving.

He has also been generous with his time and I’m delighted that this year we are working together on two events - Forest’s 40th anniversary dinner in June and a smaller, more intimate event later in the year when we will pay tribute to those who have supported or made a notable contribution to Forest during the past four decades.

In the meantime, happy birthday, Boisdale!

Below: Ranald Macdonald

Thursday
Feb072019

Date for your diary

Pleased to report that we will be marking Forest's 40th anniversary with a gala dinner in London on Tuesday June 25, 2019.

Venue is Boisdale of Canary Wharf and our host is Boisdale MD Ranald Macdonald whose has been a member of our Supporters’ Council for 15 years.

Full details, including how to book tickets, in due course. Watch this space!

Wednesday
Feb062019

Making sense of statistics

According to a survey of 2,219 UK adults by analysts Mintel, ‘one in five Britons vape, up from 17 per cent in 2016.’

One in five? I’m confused.

According to the most recent ONS figures:

In 2017, 5.5% of people reported that they currently used an e-cigarette (vaped): this equates to approximately 2.8 million vapers in the population of Great Britain.

More recently still a YouGov survey of over 12,000 adults for ASH estimated that 3.2 million adults in Britain (approximately 8%) are using e-cigarettes.

Mintel also found that ‘almost one in three 18-24 year olds’ now vape. If it's true that ‘only one per cent of non-smokers vape’ it means that almost one in three 18-24 year olds must have been smokers before they started vaping.

According to the ONS, however, only 17.8 per cent of 18-24 year olds were smokers in 2017 (down from 25.7 per cent in 2011).

The conundrum is, who to believe? An 'award-winning provider of market research', a government agency or a lobby group?

Help!

See ‘Vaping seen as increasingly "fashionable" as one in three millennials take up smoking substitute’ (Telegraph).

Tuesday
Feb052019

Smoking or vaping, it's your choice

Catherine Noone wants e-cigarettes to be used as a tool to help people quit smoking in Ireland.

The Fine Gael Senator (above), who was awarded the title 'Nanny-in-Chief' by Forest in 2017, told the Irish Independent:

“We are currently on track to miss our smoke-free deadlines in Ireland and I believe that we can correct this course by potentially incorporating e-cigarettes in our policies.

“In an ideal world none of these products would be necessary. However we must recognise the challenges in front of us and do everything we can to tackle smoking."

Responding to her comments my colleague John Mallon said:

“We welcome Senator Noone's support for e-cigarettes which evidence suggests are a helpful and safer option for smokers who wish to quit.

“It is wrong however to set deadlines for a smoke-free Ireland and to promote vaping as a tool to achieve an unrealistic and artificial target.

“Tobacco is a legal product and if adults choose to smoke in full knowledge of the health risks that is a matter for them not government or nanny state loving politicians."

Like most vaping advocates in the political and public health arenas Catherine Noone would like e-cigarettes to be a short-term smoking cessation tool.

We, on the other hand, also see them as a long-term recreational product.

Catherine supports vaping but only as part of the government's anti-smoking strategy.

We, on the other hand, embrace e-cigarettes because we believe in consumer choice – which means respecting the decision of any adult who chooses to vape ... or smoke tobacco.

Anyway, John and Catherine have been booked to discuss the issue on Newstalk, Ireland's leading independent talk radio station, at 10.40 this morning.

Tune in!

Thursday
Jan312019

Bercow blasts “irreverent” House on first reading of Brabin bill

Update to Tuesday’s post about Tracy Brabin’s attempt ‘to prohibit smoking on National Health Service premises’.

Standing up to present the first reading of the Smoking Prohibition (National Health Service Premises) Bill, the former Coronation Street actress, now Labour MP for Batley and Spen, began by saying, tongue-in-cheek:

It is fabulous to have a full House, Mr Speaker. How marvellous.

More seriously, she continued:

This is a Bill that I hope is simple in its terms, can forge the support of as much of this House as possible and can bring us in line with the intentions of the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments - a Bill that would give our NHS trusts the legal back-up to ban smoking on their grounds, which I believe would be to the benefit of patients, visitors, staff, trusts and society more widely.

During my contribution I will try to convince Members of its benefits, but I am not naïve. I am aware that some Members, indeed some commentators too, will have already written this off as some sort of attempted nanny state intervention that will only seek to cruelly deny unwell people the so-called pleasure of smoking a cigarette. I know I have my work cut out for me, so let us start at the beginning.

Although there was indeed a full house - a result of the Brexit debate that was to follow - it seems not everyone was giving the Ten Minute Rule Motion their full attention. At one point Speaker John Bercow was even forced to intervene:

Order. The hon. Lady is a distinguished actress and has a voice that projects, but it seems to me that the House is rather irreverent. What she is saying on this matter should be heard.

You can read Brabin’s full speech here.

The second reading of the bill will take place on Friday March 15. According to one MP I’ve been in contact with:

This Bill isn’t going anywhere so I wouldn’t worry too much. It is the government doing something about it that you need to worry about.

Indeed.

See also: Tracy’s law (Taking Liberties)

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