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Plain packaging on non-tobacco products? We did warn you!

Sky News, among others, has reported that:

Sweets, crisps and sugary drinks should be in plain wrappers, like cigarettes, to help combat preventable diseases.

That is one of the proposals in a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a left-leaning think tank, which says the plain packaging would put unhealthy snacks on "a level playing field" with fruit and vegetables.

Is anyone surprised? Probably. In my experience the general public rarely wakes up to this sort of thing until it actually happens.

We did try to warn people, though.

In February 2012, a week before the launch of the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, our researcher Amul Pandya wrote:

There is ... a significant danger that once the precedent has been set with plain packaging, similar legislation will be extended to other areas.

For instance, Dr Simon Chapman, the chief proponent and figurehead of plain packaging in Australia, has publicly stated he would like to see graphic health warnings on alcohol products.

In August that year Angela Harbutt, who also worked on the HOOPs campaign, noted:

“People aren’t stupid. They know that if tobacco is sold in dull, drab packs then alcohol, fast food and fizzy drinks will also be targeted."

In March 2013 I was quoted saying:

“Plain packaging is designed to denormalise a legal product and millions of adult consumers. What next? Alcohol, fizzy drinks and fast food?"

And in May 2016, responding to the news that tobacco companies had lost a high court battle over plain packaging, I made a similar point:

“If you don’t smoke but enjoy alcohol, sugary drinks and convenience food you should be concerned by this judgment because the health police are coming for you too.”

The IEA's Chris Snowdon was another who warned repeatedly of a "slippery slope". Tobacco companies also made the point that other products would be at risk once public health got a taste for plain packaging.

Time after time our argument was pooh-poohed by public health campaigners. According to the US-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids:

A key argument used in the tobacco industry media campaigns in many countries is that if plain packaging for tobacco is introduced, it sets a precedent for other consumer products, such as soft drinks, alcohol, or fatty foods. The argument is that plain packaging is a step too far towards a “nanny state” and will lead to reduced product innovation across all sectors. In this way, the tobacco industry tries to get support from the other industries in opposing the policy generally.

This argument is often put forward in campaigns and media articles by third-party organizations, posing as independent voices but which receive funding from the tobacco industry.

For instance, in the UK, the 'Hands Off Our Packs' campaign, run by Forest, strongly pushed this argument forward. The Institute for Economic Affairs, a libertarian think tank, hosted events and published papers opposing plain packaging, using the slippery slope argument. It was an issue regularly cited in media articles about those that oppose plain packaging.

Imperial Tobacco UK also deployed the slippery slope argument in an anti-plain packaging YouTube video advert in Britain — 2020 Vision (above).

The advert misleadingly suggests that by 2020 all products perceived to be unhealthy will be sold in plain packaging. The advert was promoted through the distribution of leaflets on petrol forecourts.

Hilariously this is part of a page that attempts 'to counter' (ie dismiss) these arguments.

As for the Institute for Public Policy Research, what can I say? As long ago as April 2007 I wrote:

Writing in the latest issue of Public Policy Research, the IPPR magazine, Observer columnist Jasper Gerrard says that Britain should consider raising the legal drinking age to 21. Failing that, he suggests making 18-year-olds carry smart cards "which record how much they have drunk each night and making it an offence to serve more alcohol to anyone under-21 who had already consumed more than three units". (Full report here.)

Can Gerrard be serious? Sadly, I think he is. Nor is he alone. His proposal is similar to one put forward by a doctor in Scotland who last year suggested that people should be limited to three units of alcohol when they go to the pub. The idea was dismissed as ludicrous and impractical but, thanks to Gerrard, the idea has resurfaced but with one significant 'improvement' - the smart card. Of course the idea is still ridiculous - and worryingly authoritarian - but others will no doubt repeat it in the hope that it gets taken up by campaigners and politicians who are either on a mission to 'protect' us from ourselves or will do anything to justify their existence.

I finished by urging readers to 'keep an eye on the IPPR':

Earlier this month Simon Retallack, the organisation's head of climate change, called for tobacco style health warnings to be displayed on holiday ads, warning people about the possible damage that flights and cars will do to the environment. What next? A ban on short-haul flights? Weekend breaks abroad? Or perhaps we'll be issued with a smart card that monitors how far we've travelled by car or plane and prevents us from going any further once we've reached our 'limit'.

See The IPPR's brave new world (Taking Liberties, April 2007).

Two years later, in March 2009, the IPPR published a report entitled 'Pubs and Places: the social value of community pubs'. I wrote about it here:

Supported by the likes of CAMRA and Alcohol Concern, the report found that the main factors contributing to the rise in pub closures include:

  • Competition from shops and supermarkets where alcohol is much cheaper, which has led to more people drinking at home
  • The current recession which has reduced pub incomes
  • Increases in tax on beer
  • The prices that some pub tenants have to pay the large pub companies for their beer
  • A fall in beer drinking and a growth in wine drinking
  • Increased regulation which small community pubs find the hardest to deal with

Remarkably, with over 50 pubs closing each week, the IPPR couldn't bring itself to mention the smoking ban which had been introduced less than two years earlier and was having a devastating impact on landlocked inner city pubs in particular (Smoking gun: is the smoking ban a major cause of the decline of the pub in Britain and Ireland?)

That, I think, tells you all you need to know about the IPPR. Now, ten years on, they're gunning for sweets, crisps and sugary drinks.

Fancy that.


Happy birthday, Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter, who I saw play Birmingham Symphony Hall six weeks ago, is 80 today.

Born in 1939, he was already 35 when he appeared on German TV with Mott the Hoople in 1974 (above).

The song is Mott’s most successful single, sales wise, but watch the audience's reaction. It's priceless.

The irony is that before the band achieved commercial success with 'All The Young Dudes' in 1972 they were best known for the exuberance of their boisterous fans:

Recently-discovered letters have revealed that Mott the Hoople were one of the bands responsible for the Royal Albert Hall’s infamous ban on rock and pop concerts in 1972.

The behaviour of their fans at their concert on 8 July 1971, their first and only at the venue, was so enthusiastic that thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused to the venue.

Writing to Mott's record company ahead of the concert, an already nervous Marion Herrod, secretary and lettings agent for the Royal Albert Hall, commented:

I was rather alarmed to hear on the radio this morning a description of the group ‘Mott the Hoople’ ... as being one at whose concerts the audience habitually participate and one which often causes a ‘riot’.

In response, John Glover of Islands Records, wrote:

... the report you heard on the radio about the group was greatly exaggerated. ‘Mott the Hoople’ usually get a very good reception at all their concerts [but] as far as we know there have never been any riots or damage caused to any of the places where they have appeared.

Following the concert, Herrod wrote again to Glover:

I am sorry but in spite of your assurances that there would be no trouble at last night’s ‘Mott the Hoople’ concert, some members of the audience in Second Tier boxes became so enthusiastic and jumped and stamped around so much that the ceilings in two boxes in the Grand Tier below fell in. It is for reasons like this that we here do not like concerts at which the audience stamps and dances.

See: 8 July 1971: Mott the Hoople, and the Royal Albert Hall's rock and roll ban.

I also recommend an interview with Hunter that appeared in the Guardian last year. It includes a typically laconic anecdote plus some sage advice:

“I don’t have a stereo. People are horrified. They come to stay and they expect a stereo. When I was in London I went to Johnny Depp’s house and he’s got a complete wall. Massive speakers and a huge screen and it’s going on 24 hours a day. And I said, ‘Can you turn it down a bit?’

And the advice?

“If you’re lucky enough to have a passion – most people aren’t – grab it. And that’s what you do for the rest of your life. It might take a while and it might not be easy. But grab it and you’ll be happy. Fuck the money. That’ll come or it won’t. But you’ll be doing what you want to do and that’s what life is supposed to be.”

See Ian Hunter, rock's great underdog: 'Bowie thought I was the head of a motorcycle gang'.


Journalist gets no platformed? Spare me the outrage and hypocrisy

There are lots of ways you can be no platformed.

In 2014 ‪I had an invitation to speak at a public health seminar in Wales withdrawn after complaints from other speakers. ‬

‪I don’t know if he was one of the people who objected to my presence, but one of the speakers was Mark Drakeford, the new first minister of Wales, who has since proposed that smoking should be banned in every town and city centre in the country.

‪Anyway, ‪having invited her to appear on a panel at their annual conference, the Royal College of GPs has likewise withdrawn its invitation to broadcaster and journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer.

‪As well as presenting the breakfast show on TalkRADIO, Hartley-Brewer appears regularly on Question Time, Any Questions and other political programmes.‬

‪She has forthright opinions, many of which I agree with, but while I think the RCGP’s action is pathetic, I’m struggling to feel sympathy for someone who once wrote an article suggesting that smoking in a car with children is tantamount to child abuse.‬

‪She’s entitled to her views, of course, and far from censoring them I would happily challenge her on this or any other smoking-related issue. ‬

‪Sadly, since TalkRADIO launched in 2016 we have been invited to appear on her daily programme just once, three years ago.‬

‪I can’t say she’s ‘no platformed’ Forest but since then she’s shown zero interest in having us on her programme, despite the fact there have been a number of smoking-related issues in the news in the intervening period. ‬

‪For example:‬

‪Proposed ban on smoking in social housing ‬
‪Ban on smoking in cars with children‬
The EU’s Tobacco Products Directive
‪Hospital smoking bans‬
‪Council smoking bans‬
‪Plain packaging‬

‪So while I’m disappointed the RCGP has given in to the mob (in this case a mob of GPs!) it’s worth noting that when I was barred from addressing the Policy Forum for Wales no journalist was in the least bit interested.

I imagine there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of ‘no platform’ cases that never get reported - thousands if you include all those conferences and conventions that deliberately deny delegates a balanced debate for fear of exposing them to anything that takes them outside their comfort zone.

‪Truth is, journalists, broadcasters and conference organisers are ‘no platforming’ speakers whose opinions they don’t share all the time. The difference is, they’re usually a bit more subtle about it because they don’t invite you in the first place!


In conversation

Two weeks ago, to mark Forest's 40th anniversary, the Institute of Economic Affairs hosted an In Conversation event with me and IEA director-general Mark Littlewood.

The video doesn't include the Q&As that followed but it's probably just as well because we had already over-run our allotted time by 20 minutes.

If you have a moment do watch – and don't forget to change the settings to improve the quality of the picture!


Brexit and the politics of contempt 

Great result for the Brexit party in the European elections.

If I’m biased it’s not just because I know several of the party’s candidates including Claire Fox (above).

The parallels between the treatment of smokers over the past two decades and the contempt shown for those who voted to leave the European Union are pretty obvious when you look at it.

In the same way that tobacco companies are accused of conning people to take up smoking, Brexit voters - it was said - were manipulated by slogans on the side of a bus.

Smokers, it is often implied, are too stupid - or addicted - to fully understand the health risks of smoking. Likewise it’s been a mantra since the referendum that many Brexiteers were too stupid to know what they were voting for.

Yet if people choose to smoke knowing the health risks, that too is anathema for tobacco control campaigners, just as the fact that millions of people voted to leave the EU despite the well-publicised uncertainty is incomprehensible to Remainers.

Either way there’s an expectancy that government should step in to ‘save’ us, whether that’s by banning/regulating tobacco almost to extinction, or by stopping/neutering Brexit to the point where it exists in name only.

Consider too the way the UK government ignored the outcome of its own public consultation on plain packaging.

Over 450,000 people signed petitions opposing the measure. Half that number supported the policy. Two years later the government went ahead with it anyway.

Plain packaging was Brexit in reverse except the result was even more decisive. The point is the same, though. Why hold a consultation or referendum if you’re going to ignore the result?

As it happens, I’ve long been struck by how few Brexiteers there are in tobacco control and public health.

To judge from social media, public health campaigners are invariably anti-Brexit. Significantly, several of the leading vaping advocates are hardline Remainers too.

It’s quite revealing to read some of their anti-Brexit tweets - the insults, the condescending ‘I know better than you’ attitude and the strident refusal to respect other people’s genuinely held views.

Anyway, huge congratulations to Claire Fox, elected as the number one Brexit party candidate in the North West of England.

Claire, pictured above speaking at a Forest EU event in Brussels (yes, I’m aware of the irony), did more than anyone to give the Brexit party broader appeal across the political spectrum.

Left or right, this was about upholding democracy, she said, and she was right.

Her energy, resilience and refusal to bow to some pretty nasty personal attacks was a masterclass in how to fight an election.

I understand she was advised by many people not to stand but I’m so glad she did. In 2012, commenting on the Battle of Ideas, the annual event Claire founded more than a decade ago, I wrote:

The Battle of Ideas is a fantastic event and a huge achievement. To organise a festival like that would make me very proud.

If I have a (small) criticism it's this. Politically speaking it remains a talking shop far removed from the realities of day-to-day politics.

By standing as a candidate at huge personal risk to her reputation, Claire took the sort of direct action one can only admire because it’s extremely rare among the commentariat.

Imagine Owen Jones, David Aaronovitch or Polly Toynbee actually standing for election rather than sniping from the sidelines.

I’m no fan (quite the opposite) but at least Gavin Esler, the former BBC correspondent, had the courage, like Claire, to put his convictions to the electorate.

Congratulations too to Brian Monteith (pictured below after speaking at a Forest event at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last year).

Brian was another successful Brexit party candidate. Twelve years after he stood down as a member of the Scottish Parliament, Brian is now an MEP for the North East of England.

Not bad for a former Forest spokesman and an occasional pipe and cigar smoker!


Tangerine and Blu

Let no-one say I don’t put my job first.

On Thursday night I should have been in Dundee for the first leg of the Scottish Premiership play-off between Dundee United and St Mirren.

My original plan was to spend four or five days in Scotland and go to both matches including the second leg in Paisley today.

However, tickets for visiting supporters at today’s game quickly sold out to season ticket holders and although I could have got a ticket for Thursday’s game the match clashed with a work-related event.

Therefore, instead of cheering on United’s latest promotion attempt, I found myself at a drinks reception in London celebrating the tenth anniversary of the launch of Blu, the e-cigarette brand now owned by Imperial Brands.

Hosted by Imperial CEO Alison Cooper, the event took place in the Radio Rooftop Bar at the ME London Hotel, a swanky five-star hotel just a few yards from Bush House, former home of the BBC World Service.

With panoramic views over London, it was an impressive and very modern location for this milestone event.

Hard to believe though that Blu was launched ten years ago. In 2009 I knew almost nothing about e-cigarettes. Indeed it wasn't until January 2010 that I even mentioned the device on this blog.

At that point I just wanted some feedback and I got some interesting replies – see Wanted: comments on e-cigarettes.

Since then I have frequently defended e-cigarettes in interviews and in print to the point that Forest has sometimes been alone in opposing vaping bans ('Pro-vaping' advocates silent on vaping bans).

Recently, in response to yet another study about vaping, I told the Guardian:

“The study shows there is nothing to fear from the growth of vaping. The results support our view that government should ease restrictions on e-cigarette advertising.

It’s time too for local authorities to lead by example and lift restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace and other public areas.

Last month I responded to a request from a journalist who asked me whether vaping is a comparable substitute for smoking by saying:

"E-cigarettes have helped 1.5 million smokers quit smoking completely and for many of them vaping is a more than adequate substitute for smoking. Some actually prefer vaping to smoking.

"The problem is that for many smokers e-cigarettes may be safer but they are not as pleasurable as traditional cigarettes. That is the challenge the vaping companies have to address and to their credit they are working hard to do so.

"Ultimately it's a question of choice. It's great that less harmful products are available to smokers but if adults make an informed decision to smoke instead of vaping that choice must be respected by government and the vaping industry."

On Thursday night it was noticeable that neither speaker - Imperial CEO Alison Cooper and the founder of Blu (an Australian whose name I didn’t catch) - belittled smoking or, by implication, smokers.

No-one said "The goal is for us to get [smokers] to stop" or “There is no reason for anyone to smoke any more" (Philip Morris managing director Peter Nixon on taking the smoke out of smoking). Instead they spoke of offering smokers “alternatives” which is perfectly reasonable.

Unlike Philip Morris, which is relentlessly (and offensively) anti-smoking to the point where the company’s social media campaigns are becoming a bit of a joke, Imperial, British American Tobacco and JTI seem to understand that insulting their core customers - the very people they want to switch to their alternative products - is not going to win awards for Most Intelligent Marketing Strategy.

Anyway, I was happy to be invited to mark Blu's tenth anniversary because if Forest has a future it's essential that we evolve and represent consumers of all nicotine products, not just smokers.

Our USP however is that we will never abandon those who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit or switch to alternative products. I hope that's clear!

Meanwhile, back in Dundee, Thursday's match finished 0-0 in front of United’s largest crowd for many years. The second leg awaits.

Update: The second leg finished 1-1 after extra time. St Mirren won 2-0 on penalties after United missed the FOUR penalties they took.

And while that was happening United’s Twitter account was hacked and deleted. (Later restored.)


Smokers thrown under the bus by ‘vaping specialists’

In conversation with Mark Littlewood at the IEA last week I had a pop at vapers and vaping advocates who “throw smokers under the bus”.

In particular I raged about vapers who claim it’s unfair to ban vaping in the workplace because that will force them to stand outside with the smokers, breathing in all that terrible secondhand smoke (sic).

Anyway, H/T to Rob Lyons who was sent a press release today that includes the following claims plus a quote by Charles Bloom, owner of ‘vaping specialists’ Vapourcore:

The loss of productivity due to smoking, costs local businesses in England £8.4bn a year.

On top of this, smoking breaks cost businesses in local economies an extra annual £3.6bn.

The county whose businesses lose the most money from a lack of productivity due to smoking is Greater Manchester - £450m has been lost.

The county in which local businesses lose the least amount of money due to smoking-related issues is Dorset – the annual loss is £45m.

How did Vapourcore calculate the ‘annual potential wealth’ lost due to smoking? Why, they used ASH’s ‘Ready Reckoner’ tool. (Of course they did!)

According to Bloom:

“The risks of smoking have always been highlighted from a health point of view, but rarely from the perspective of business and opportunity.

“The numbers revealed in this study prove that smoking remains a countrywide issue. However, instead of redistributing wealth into the local economy and improving the experiences of consumers, companies are having to spend their excess on facilitating employees’ smoking habits.”

Laughably the poorly written press release ends with the following plea:

If you use this press release, please credit with a clickable link.

How embarrassing. This isn’t a news story, it’s a marketing ploy. And a pathetic one at that.

More fool any journalist who falls for it.


Sleepwalking to prohibition

Twelve months today menthol cigarettes will be banned throughout the European Union.

Regardless of whether we have left by then (I have my doubts), menthols will be banned in the UK too.

The policy was introduced as part of the EU’s revised Tobacco Products Directive that was implemented on May 20, 2016.

Member states were given a year to introduce a range of measures including larger health warnings plus bans on ten packs and smaller pouches of rolling tobacco.

The ban on menthol-flavoured tobacco was overlooked by most people, including consumers, because it was given a three-year stay of execution.

I imagine that stocks will decline gradually in the new year before consumers wake up on May 20, 2020, and find that their local store no longer sells any brand of menthol cigarette, a product they may have purchased regularly for years if not decades.

The reason for the ban is the disputed claim that because menthols are allegedly ‘smoother’ than regular cigarettes they appeal more to teenage smokers and therefore encourage more children to smoke.

It’s said too that the minty flavour masks the taste of tobacco, which again makes them more appealing to children. Allegedly.

Consumers in Britain will notice the absence of menthol cigarettes more than in other European countries because according to Euromonitor 18 per cent of all cigarettes sold in the UK are menthol-flavoured.

In Ireland the figure is just three per cent.

Consumers will take it on the chin, as we always do, but the seriousness of the situation can’t be ignored.

We’re not talking about a display ban that ‘hides’ the product from customers, or ‘plain’ packaging that removes all branding and replaces it with the ‘ugliest’ colour in the world.

Those policies may ultimately reduce the number of brands available to consumers but they didn’t stop adults purchasing cigarettes, flavoured and non-flavoured.

Even the sexist ban on slim packs (which implied that women are influenced more by looks and length!) made no fundamental difference to people’s ability to smoke.

The ban on menthol cigarettes is different. Suddenly we are faced with the prohibition of an entire class of product that was first developed in the States in the 1920s.

After May 20 next year over one million consumers will have the following choices:

1. Switch to non-flavoured cigarettes
2. Quit smoking and switch to (menthol) vapes
3. Quit all nicotine products
4. Buy illicit menthol cigarettes on the black market

Almost one in five cigarettes sold in Britain are menthol. What next? A ban on all cigarettes, not to mention any product that is considered ‘attractive’ to young people - sweets and sugary drinks, for example.

We really are sleepwalking to prohibition and few people are either aware or willing to do anything about it.

WAKE UP!!!!!

See ‘UK "sleepwalking to prohibition" says Forest’ and ‘The EU’s mental ban on menthol‘ (Spiked).

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