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Wednesday
Aug292018

Tips to help you stop smoking

This caught my eye yesterday.

The NHS website has a page that features ‘10 self-help tips to stop smoking’. Here’s a taste:

Consider your diet
Is your after-dinner cigarette your favourite? A US study revealed that some foods, including meat, make cigarettes more satisfying. Others, including cheese, fruit and vegetables, make cigarettes taste terrible. So swap your usual steak or burger for a veggie pizza instead.

Or, better still:

Make non-smoking friends
When you're at a party, stick with the non-smokers. "When you look at the smokers, don't envy them," says Louise, 52, an ex-smoker. "Think of what they're doing as a bit strange – lighting a small white tube and breathing in smoke."

Who writes this stuff?!

Monday
Aug272018

Quit smoking today, say Philip Morris and the UKVIA

A few weeks ago the Independent published an interview with Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK.

You probably missed it because the anti-smoking signals coming from Philip Morris are so frequent it’s not surprising if one occasionally fails to ignite.

Indeed, I suspect the law of diminishing returns has already begun to apply. Nevertheless, here’s a flavour of the Independent piece:

He [Nixon] is genuinely concerned about existing smokers. There are still seven and half million smokers in England alone. Half of them will die prematurely. “The goal is for us to get them to stop,” he says (and switch to IQOS).

Nixon is almost evangelical in his conviction and sense of purpose. He speaks of “converting” people, but he wanted to tone that down to “helping people to switch”.

So far so predictable. But this little nugget caught my eye:

Among his 400 employees in London, apparently, there is one hold-out who still smokes. “I’m working on him though.”

Think about that for a minute. Philip Morris, one of the two largest tobacco companies in the world, employs 400 people in London and according to the MD (who may have been joking, it’s difficult to tell) only one of them is a smoker.

If it’s true, is it still possible to get a job with Philip Morris if you smoke? After all, in the words of Peter Nixon:

“There is no reason for anyone to smoke any more."

You can read the full interview here (A View from the Top: Philip Morris managing director Peter Nixon on taking the smoke out of smoking).

Meanwhile the UK Vaping Industry Association - a body Philip Morris supports - sponsored a ‘Speakers’ Corner’ at the London Vape Show at the weekend.

Pictured below are some of the speakers alongside banners that feature a message the UKVIA is obviously keen to promote.

The only thing in doubt is whether ‘Quit smoking today’ is advice. Or an order.

If that’s the direction the vaping industry wants to go, good luck, but if the aim is to sell vaping to adults who enjoy smoking, adopting the language of the tobacco control industry is not, in my opinion, the best way to do it.

Yes, I know there are restrictions on how (and to whom) vaping can be promoted, but if you want smokers to switch I can think of messages that are more positive and less bossy than ‘Quit smoking today’ which sounds like a pharmaceutical company trying to flog NRT.

PS. Also worth reading, Tobacco giant Philip Morris wants to be a ‘disruptive insider’ as it targets the smoke-free market (Marketing Week, August 22).

Update: UK Marlboro boss wishes he could stop selling cigarettes tomorrow (Mail on Sunday, August 26).

Monday
Aug272018

Yorkshire post

I’ve been on holiday this past week.

Or was it a break? Probably the latter.

We spent two nights in Harrogate, followed by two nights in Glasgow, then another night in Harrogate. (See what we did there?)

I’ve decided that when I retire I may move to North Yorkshire - not for the weather, obviously, but I do like the countryside, and the tea rooms.

In Harrogate my favourite tea room is not the famous Bettys, a rather kitsch reminder of a bygone age, but Weetons which describes itself - rather ambitiously, in my view - as a ‘cafe, restaurant and food hall’.

Cafe, certainly, but ‘restaurant’ and ‘food hall’? Delicatessen might be a more apt description. Nevertheless, it’s very nice and we return to it time after time.

Likewise the Everyman cinema.

I’d never heard of the Everyman until a previous visit to Harrogate last year. I’ve now seen four films there - The Party, The Death of Stalin, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and Incredibles 2.

Situated in a modern building in the centre of town, there are five supremely comfortable auditoriums that offer sofa-style seating with enormous leg room, enough for someone like me to stretch out until I am almost horizontal.

Hot food is brought to you in the auditorium by amiable staff who also show you to your seat, so none of that fumbling and stumbling in the dark.

Another nice touch comes at the start of each film when the head usherette steps forward and provides a brief introduction.

Aside from the five small to medium sized auditoriums there is a large cafe/bar with comfortable seating - including armchairs and sofas, floor to ceiling windows and an outside terrace/balcony with tables and chairs.

There are Everyman cinemas in several towns and cities with more opening soon. Highly recommended.

Also recommended is a Turkish restaurant in Harrogate called, appropriately, Istanbul.

Inspired by this (not really) we are spending a week in Turkey in October. Not my idea but I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, enjoy the bank holiday.

Tuesday
Aug212018

Filth, squalor and violence but at least smoking is banned

I like and admire Rory Stewart.

Writer, diplomat, politician, few MPs have a CV like his.

What an asset he would be as a senior minister in the Foreign Office. Or so you would have thought.

Instead he’s currently in charge of England’s prisons, overseeing a system in which incidents of self-harm and violent assaults are at record levels.

Meanwhile the chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke has just written a damning report on HMP Birmingham which he describes as the worst prison he has ever been to.

According to the BBC:

Inspectors found blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor, sleeping staff, cockroaches and an overpowering smell of drugs.

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today "surely somebody must have been asleep at the wheel".

"Squalor, filth, the air hanging heavy with the smell of drugs, a dilapidated physical environment, a sense of great instability of feeling that of any time violence could break out.

“This is the only jail, and I've visited many jails now, where I personally was forced to leave a wing because of the effect the drugs were having on me," he said.

On Friday, before these revelations, Rory Stewart hit the headlines by saying he would resign ‘if he hasn't managed to reduce drugs and violence levels in 10 target jails in England’ (BBC News).

If only more minsters took responsibility like this.

My respect for him is qualified however because, in June, Rory Stewart sat before a Commons committee and later tweeted that he was “Delighted to confirm that we have just achieved one hundred per cent smoke free prisons.”

Addressing the committee he announced that this was one of two major achievements (“2,500 extra prison officers” being the other) his department had achieved in the last year.

Bizarrely, he also boasted that “We were ahead of the Scots and we’ve done it.”

Now, I honestly don’t know whether the smoking ban has exacerbated problems with drugs and violence in England’s prisons.

According to Stewart, in a letter to Bob Neil, chairman of the Justice Select Committee:

During implementation, there have been some incidents of low level disorder; and a small number of more serious incidents involving groups rather than a single prisoner. But the occasions when Gold Command has been opened to manage an incident when smoke free was initially sighted as a contributing factor have been in single figures. All other incidents have been successfully managed within the establishment and good order and control has been resumed. All serious incidents are fully investigated and so far it appears the ban is if anything, only a minor contributory factor.

That may be so but I still think it’s a scandal that, at a time when the use of illegal drugs and incidents of violent crime are so high, and the chief inspector of prisons talks of “squalor”, “filth” and a sense that “violence could break out” at any time in one of England’s largest jails, the prisons minister considers it a major achievement to have prohibited smoking, a rather lesser evil in the overall scheme of things.

For the record, here’s Forest’s reaction to Rory Stewart’s announcement on Friday:

Forest has urged the government to tackle the problem of drugs and violent assaults in England's prisons by amending the prison smoking ban and allowing designated smoking areas.

The call follows the announcement by prisons minister Rory Stewart that he will resign if the use of drugs and assaults do not fall in ten problem jails.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said:

"Incidents of self-harm and assaults in prisons are at record levels and the use of illegal drugs is rife, yet the government insists on banning tobacco, a legal product.

"Allowing prisoners to smoke might actually help address the far more serious problems Rory Stewart is trying to solve."

Challenging the prisons minister – who in June tweeted, 'Delighted to confirm that we have just achieved one hundred per cent smoke free prisons' – to amend the ban on smoking in prisons, Clark said:

"By offering to resign if his programme of reforms doesn't succeed, Rory Stewart has shown himself to be an honourable politician.

"But he also needs to be pragmatic and in the real world a substantial number of prisoners enjoy smoking.

"No-one should be surprised that if you take away one of their few pleasures there will be negative consequences.

"We challenge Mr Stewart to test the theory by allowing designated smoking areas in half of the ten problem prisons he has chosen to target.

"He can then compare one set of prisons against the other to see if permitting smoking makes any difference to the problem of drugs and violent assaults."

See: Prisons minister urged to amend prison smoking ban

Monday
Aug202018

Home thoughts

I was on the Stephen Nolan Show on Five Live last night.

I was invited, with several others, to discuss a new study that claims that 'Non-smoking adults have a higher risk of dying from serious lung disease if they grew up with parents who smoked'.

According to BBC News:

The researchers said childhood passive smoking was "likely to add seven deaths to every 100,000 non-smoking adults dying annually".

Now, I'm no mathematician, scientist or epidemiologist, but those figures suggest to me a very small increased risk (a point I didn't have to make - although I did it anyway - because Stephen Nolan did it for me).

The study certainly doesn’t justify calls to ban smoking in the home yet that is exactly how the results of the study have been interpreted.

Here are a few headlines:

Ban smoking in the home, say scientists (The Times)
Call for smoke ban in the home to protect children (Daily Express)
Cancer scientists say smoking should be banned in the home (Irish Sun)

As it happens, one of the report’s authors, Dr Ryan Diver, speaking to Nolan last night, said he didn't think smoking should be banned in the home.

He did however think that homes should be "smoke-free" which, you could argue, is the same thing.

Anyway the 'debate', as it often does, quickly descended into the usual bunfight that characterises Nolan's late night programmes.

And so, instead of Ryan Diver, who sounded quite reasonable, I found myself going head-to-head with someone called Vicki. Her name, voice and opinions sounded familiar. And then it clicked.

Two years ago we had a similar set to on Good Morning Britain. On that occasion we were discussing a proposal to ban on smoking in children's play areas and then extend the ban to public parks, zoos and theme parks.

According to her Twitter profile Vicki is a "multi-award winning blogger/vlogger and filmmaker" who goes under the name of 'Honest Mum'.

Vicki/Honest Mum not only thinks smoking should be banned in the home. In her opinion smoking should be prohibited everywhere.

By the time she came out with that we were already talking over one another so Nolan called time on our spat in order to bring in listeners.

I had intended to keep calm and not rise to any bait but, not for the first time, I came away from the programme feeling slightly dirty.

There’s a serious discussion to be had about smoking in the home but that wasn’t it.

Wednesday
Aug152018

Listen as ASH advocates NRT but not vaping (which will be banned)

Further to my previous post, here is ASH's response to the news that the NHS trust that runs Bristol Royal Infirmary is to ban smoking – and vaping – on all its sites.

BBC Radio Bristol presenter: Now we’re talking smoking on the show this morning. The NHS trust that runs the Bristol Royal Infirmary is getting tough on smokers. From the first of January 2019 smoking a cigarette or e-cigarette on any of its sites, including the grounds, will be completely banned. That means, if you do need to light up, you’ll have to make sure you’re beyond the painted white line on the ground outside the hospital, rather than hanging around the entrance, which is what happens at the moment. Vicky Salt is from the anti-smoking charity ASH. She’s pleased with the decision.

Vicky Salt, ASH: “[It's] part of the Government’s new strategy and it’s also something that [NHS] trusts have been moving towards themselves. The Royal College of Physicians published a report in June recommending that hospital sites go smoke free with smokers being supported to quit, so it’s less about the actual white line where you can smoke on one side and not the other and it’s really about making, as I say, the hospital site smoke free so when someone is admitted to hospital their doctor will say ‘You’re not able to smoke whilst you’re on site, whilst you’re receiving treatment, but we have other options and those other options are nicotine replacement therapies and doctors will be advising smokers of the support they can offer to help them quit or abstain whilst in hospital.”

How bizarre that a spokesman for ASH, which has reinvented itself as an advocacy for e-cigarettes to help smokers quit, should (a) support a policy that includes a ban on vaping, and (b) recommend “options" to smoking such as "nicotine replacement therapies" without mentioning e-cigarettes.

You can hear the full item – including an interview with me – here.

A very similar report – also featuring Vicky Salt and me – was broadcast on BBC Radio Wiltshire this evening. Click here.

Wednesday
Aug152018

Vaping and the several faces of ASH

'Vaping is less harmful than smoking but we shouldn't assume it is safe, study warns'.

That was the headline on a report in the Huffington Post yesterday and as statements go I don't think it's particularly controversial.

After all, e-cigarettes are still in their infancy and it's far too soon to leap to any definitive conclusions. That said, based on current evidence, the risks of vaping, such as they are, do seem very small compared to smoking.

Nevertheless headlines speak a thousand words and the coverage of a 'small experimental study' published online in the journal Thorax this week hasn't done e-cigarettes any favours.

Vaping 'can damage vital immune system cells', reported the BBC.

Other headlines included 'Vaping may damage immune system and lead to lung disease, study suggests' (Telegraph), and 'Vaping can cause SERIOUS lung damage and should be treated with caution, scientists warn' (Mirror).

The study was covered in much the same way overseas. 'Vaping study shows e-cigarettes more harmful than thought' declared ABC in Australia, while the Irish Times reported, 'Vaping may not be as safe as previously thought, study finds'.

Crucially, what most if not all these reports failed to mention was the sample size. Indeed, from what I've read, only a follow-up piece in the Irish Times (Study linking e-cigarettes to lung function adds to concerns over vaping) admitted that:

With just eight human subjects, the research cannot be considered definitive. For e-cigarettes to be classified as producing the same effects as long-term smoking would require longer and bigger clinical trials.

That's right. These and many more headlines around the world were based on a study of just eight people. I'm not saying that makes the research null and void but until more studies are conducted we should probably treat it with a great deal more caution than we're being advised to treat e-cigarettes.

My colleague John Mallon has been on the radio in Ireland this morning making exactly that point. He was also invited to take part in a discussion on Cork's 96FM with two other guests but, having agreed, he was dropped without anyone telling him.

John describes the broadcast 'debate' as follows:

John Sodeau [Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at University College Cork] said smoking was like putting coal in your mouth and setting it alight, whereas vaping was like sneezing toxic droplets at other people. He spoke about third hand smoke and then compared smoking to vaping as a choice between losing an arm versus only losing a hand.

I was itching to get on and tackle him. Instead they brought on Jonathan Keane from Cork who called the whole thing scaremongering. He said he vaped because smoking left him with long term injuries. He added that everyone knew vaping was bad and nobody should try it. He then wanted to talk about tattoos. As he did so time ran out and I never got the call.

While we're on the subject of vaping it's worth noting a comment by the chairman of ASH Ireland, Dr Patrick Doorley, in the Irish edition of the Sun today. Urging smokers hoping to quit "not to use e-cigarettes", Doorley said:

“There are options that are safer and have a good long-term track record, like the drug varenicline, along with nicotine replacement therapy.”

To be fair, ASH Ireland has never hidden its lukewarm attitude to vaping. In September 2016 Doorley said:

"We acknowledge that many people are now turning to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking. It is important that these smokers are aware that even those authorities who recommend e-cigarettes acknowledge that they may cause harm and that nicotine replacement products available in pharmacies have been shown to be effective and safe."

A few months later he went further and specifically advised that smokers wanting to quit "should not vape":

"Nicotine replacements will not give you the same hit but they can get you through cravings, especially for people who are highly addicted, for example those people who need a cigarette first thing in the morning.

"We would recommend those rather than e-cigarettes because they are proven to be effective and have proven to be safe. There is no such thing as a medicine or a pill with zero risk but they're very safe."

So, full marks for consistency.

Anyway, I was on the radio myself this morning. BBC Radio Bristol asked me to discuss a report that all NHS hospital sites in the city will be 'smoke-free' from January 1, 2019.

The policy goes further than that however because it includes a similar ban on vaping, which I also criticised.

In contrast Vicky Salt, senior policy and campaigns officer at ASH (London), welcomed the ban and said nothing at all about vaping.

To be fair her response was included only as an edited soundbite but it would be entirely consistent with ASH's general acquiescence on the subject of vaping bans.

The reality, as I've said many times, is that most advocates of e-cigarettes within the tobacco control industry are and will always be fairweather friends of vapers.

Their goal is not to accommodate vaping long-term but to use e-cigarettes as a tool to wean smokers off combustible cigarettes before tackling any use of nicotine as a recreational drug.

If others can't see this they're being wilfully blind for short-term gain.

Update: Following a gently worded email to the producer, John tells me he will now be on 96FM tomorrow. You can listen online.

Update: Listen as ASH advocates NRT but not vaping (which is banned)

Wednesday
Aug082018

Too silly even for the silly season

I took a call from a local radio station yesterday.

"Hi Simon, hope you have ten minutes in the morning for a radio interview.

"We've been contacted by a listener who's upset about someone smoking outside a shop."

It was a toy shop, apparently, and the smoker was a member of staff.

Oh, and he/she was smoking not in the doorway but “seven yards” from the entrance.

The producer wanted me and someone from ASH to “discuss” this for ten minutes.

A few hours later they called back. The item was being dropped in favour of some “breaking news”.

Goodness, what could beat the story of a someone smoking outside a shop?

Nurse!

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