Wednesday
Jul122017

Spreading the word

Last night's event in Brussels went pretty well, I think.

A full house enjoyed a free burger, two complimentary bottles of beer and a short talk by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Resesrch and lead author of The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.

Venue was Be Burger, a restaurant close to the European Parliament. We booked the enclosed space (with sliding roof) to the rear of the restaurant, plus the covered smoking area, and invited guests to eat, drink and listen to what Neil had to say.

Credit to Neil, by the way. This is the second Forest event he's addressed this year (the first time was in London in February) because he's as keen as we are to spread the word about his research.

An extremely engaging speaker, he has the ability to convey a serious message in non-highbrow terms and with a sense of humour if not mischief.

The format (drink, supper, speaker) was an experiment. It wasn't perfect but it seemed to work. With a little polishing we may have stumbled upon something that could be rolled out elsewhere.

Inevitably there were some notable absentees because Neil's report hasn't been universally welcomed. "Smoking? A pleasure? You can't say that!"

Frankly I don't give a damn. Forest has never disputed the potential health risks but smoking does give pleasure to a substantial number of people and it shouldn't be taboo to say so.

I'll go further. To deny that smoking is enjoyable (even to some who consider it addictive) suggests a wilfully perverse head-in-the-sand mentality.

At a time when billions are being spent developing safer nicotine products you would think that research that also sought answers to the question 'Why aren't more smokers switching to vaping?' would be compulsory reading.

But no. The truth – that an overwhelming majority of confirmed smokers enjoy their habit and don't want to switch to a less harmful nicotine product – is too much for the prohibitionists to acknowledge.

Instead they resort to almost every conceivable tactic to ignore or bury the evidence. (The stories I could tell you!)

Suffice to say I am immensely proud that Forest funded Neil McKeganey's research and I will do everything I can to ensure it reaches a wide audience.

Next stop - New York!

Update: Just arrived in Ireland where I am visiting another outpost of the Forest empire.

The Burning Issues dinner we organised in Dublin last month (guest speaker: Claire Fox) was a huge success and we're hoping to build on it later in the year.

Details in due course. Watch this space.

Tuesday
Jul112017

Tonight in Brussels: burger, a beer and a smoke

Currently en route to Brussels.

This evening Forest EU is hosting 'Why do smokers smoke?' featuring a short talk by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research and lead author of The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.

For years we've been told that launching Forest in Brussels would be an extremely hard sell and it would be very difficult to attract people to the type of events we organise in London.

It's early days but the launch party on May 31 (World No Tobacco Day) didn't go too badly – 150 registered guests with over a hundred attending on the night.

Tonight's event was planned with the modest ambition of attracting 20 or so people to an upmarket burger restaurant close to the European Parliament.

Be Burger has an annexe (with a part retractable roof) that can be used for private events. Beyond that it also has a comfortable smoking area. Perfect!

This time last week 100 people had registered and we had to close the link to the booking site because the capacity of the annexe - with all guests seated - is 54!

I'm not sure whether it was the prospect of Neil's talk or the promise of a 'burger and a beer' – possibly both – that generated so much interest, but I'm delighted.

Leaving aside the fact that we're determined to promote The Pleasure of Smoking report as widely as possible (you wouldn't believe the shanigans that have gone on behind the scenes – one day I may tell the full story), it's great to know there's a market for Forest events in Brussels, albeit on a relatively small scale.

Update: From today's Politico Pro Health Care newsletter:

Sin city: And for those who want to end the day letting their vices take over, the smokers’ rights campaign group Forest EU will host Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, at the Be Burger restaurant tonight to discuss why smokers smoke. His presentation will be accompanied by a complementary burger and beer for those who have registered, and smoking will be allowed on the terrace.

PS. Vaping allowed too.

Sunday
Jul092017

Happy 80th birthday, David Hockney!

Happy 80th birthday, David Hockney!

Extraordinary, I know, that such a confirmed and unapologetic smoker should reach such a ripe old age, but there we are.

I won't bore readers with yet another account of the time you travelled to Brighton to speak at a Forest event at the 2005 Labour party conference and joined us for dinner afterwards.

Nor will I recount the time you made a surprise appearance at a small private dinner hosted by Forest in the City of London.

Or the time you attended the Forest Annual Awards at the Groucho Club to collect your 'Smokers' Rights Champion of the Year' award.

Or your appearance at a Forest event to mark the first anniversary of the smoking ban.

Or the afternoon you turned up at the House of Commons and addressed guests at a Forest event that marked the fourth anniversary of the ban.

I have written about these occasions many times because they are seared in my memory. That day in Brighton was the best of my working life, bar none, and I shall never forget it, especially the fun and the laughter.

Your defence of smoking, and smokers, has been an inspiration and a comfort.

But what I really admire is your sangfroid, your open-mindedness, your refusal to judge people and your palpable tolerance of the many quirks and eccentricities of human nature.

If only politicians and public health campaigners shared your outlook on life, what a happier and less divisive world it would be.

So congratulations on your birthday. I hope you enjoy many more – and thanks.

Previous posts:
Hockney: Brighton breezy (May 2007)
Life is messy, says Hockney (December 2008)
Up yours, Hockney tells Brown (September 2009)
David Hockney lights up the House of Commons (June 2011)
David Hockney: "Why shouldn’t I smoke?" (February 2017)

Above: David Hockney pictured in front of a portrait of Pablo Picasso. Below: Susie Dean goes in search of Britain's greatest living artist at the House of Commons, June 2011.

Sunday
Jul092017

Totally Wicked, totally shameless

Love Island seems to have changed from when I watched it on ITV twelve years ago.

When it launched in 2005 it was called Celebrity Love Island and was presented by Patrick Kielty and Kelly Brook.

The first series was won by radio and TV presenter Jayne Middlemiss and an Irish nightclub owner called Fran Cosgrave.

The second – equally cheesey – series was won by Bianca Gascoigne and Calum Best. After that the programme was axed.

It returned a couple of years ago on ITV2 with "twelve single celebrities" spending five weeks on an island in Fiji.

I was vaguely aware of the latest incarnation but I haven't watched the programme and had no interest in it at all until it was reported last week that 'Love Island sparks more complaints about contestants' smoking than for sex scenes'.

According to the London Evening Standard:

More Love Island viewers have complained to Ofcom about contestants smoking than about their saucy bedroom antics, it has been revealed.

A spokesperson for the broadcasting regulator confirmed that it has received 24 complaints about the "portrayal of smoking" to 15 complaints "objecting to the promotion of sexual material/promiscuity".

Although the number of complaints is laughably small the story was enough to spur the tobacco control industry into righteous indignation – and action.

The Sun reported that the British Lung Foundation had criticised the show's producers for "irresponsible broadcasting".

Contestants are "killing themselves" and encouraging others to take up the deadly habit, said the BLF.

But wait, what's this?

A batch of e-cigarettes could be the newest recruits to Love Island, as health experts urge the show's producers to intervene.

In a letter to producers ("seen by The Sun Online"), Fraser Cropper, MD of vaping company Totally Wicked, said:

"We're aware of some of the negative headlines around smoking that the programme has attracted.

"I wondered if you would also consider joining forces with us and the BLF in order to help contestants ditch the habit.

"And also to drive home a positive message to viewers."

He added:

"E-cigarettes have a really exciting potential to reduce the harm done by smoking.

"I am sure you'll agree that we should do all we can to prevent young people from being lured into a killer habit.

"I would be delighted to discuss this in further detail.

"It would be great if we could work together to introduce e-cigarettes to the island."

Hats off, Fraser, fantastic promotion for your brand, applause all round.

And totally shameless. Well done!

Full story: Love Island’s smoking stars are encouraging the deadly habit, warn experts who want to ship e-cigarettes to the villa (The Sun).

Saturday
Jul082017

Final, final thoughts on the smoking ban anniversary

Earlier in the week Chris Snowdon posted his final thoughts on the smoking ban. These are my final, final thoughts on the smoking ban anniversary.

It may be small consolation but the best articles by far were scathing about the ban and its consequences.

Pride of place goes to Brendan O'Neil, editor of Spiked, who wrote a coruscating piece for The Spectator online. It's hard to pick out a favourite passage (I urge you to read the whole thing) but here's one:

I hate the smoking ban. I hate what it has done to this nation. It has ripped out its soul. It has sterilised it, sanitised it, turned this country of the raucous public house and yellowed fingers wrapped lovingly around glistening, gold pints into one massive gastro hangout in which everything is clean and child-friendly and boring.

It has made us cruel. I’ve seen incredibly ill people, twisted into wheelchairs, smoking in the cold, purple air of a winter’s night outside King’s College Hospital in London. And now Public Health England wants to ban smoking outside hospitals as well as in them, presumably meaning the sick will have to traipse or crawl across deadly roads for their two minutes of tiny pleasure. What has become of us?

See The smoking ban ripped the soul out of this country (Spectator).

I'm proud to say that Brendan was a speaker at the Forest Freedom Dinner in 2014. This year's speaker, Rod Liddle, also wrote a strongly worded diatribe about the ban that appears in the print edition of the same magazine:

The neurotic and fascistic anti-smokers of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said at the time what they always say: this is as far as we want to go. And, as ever, they were lying. They are now supporting bans on smoking in beer gardens and the outside seating areas of restaurants. They were in favour of banning smoking in cars and ‘public places’. I give it a maximum of ten years before smoking is banned in the home at this organisation’s behest. ‘We do not attack smokers or condemn smoking,’ ASH says on its website — one of the finest pieces of doublethink imaginable.

ASH was also behind the idiotic plain packaging of cigarettes and the even more ludicrous decision to force shops to conceal their tobacco displays so that the poor shop assistant has no idea where a particular brand might be. There is not the slightest proof that either the plain packaging or the concealed displays have reduced smoking in this country, still less the hilarious photographs of very ill and unhappy people which now, by law, must adorn every packet. The man who can’t get it up has replaced the coughing woman as my favourite. He looks cowed and forlorn. I assume he’d been trying to schtup one of the harridans who work at ASH and that was the reason for his erectile dysfunction, nothing to do with smoking.

See Being anti-smoking damages your mental health (Spectator).

In contrast to these titans of journalism, who was beating the drum for tobacco control? Step forward Blaise Tapp (?) whose contribution to the debate was a syndicated column that appeared in both The News (Portsmouth) and the Yorkshire Evening Post.

After initially dismissing [the ban] as a step too far, I have now come to the opinion that people should no longer be allowed to light up in public parks and open spaces such as squares ...

I am a staunch believer in freedom of choice but when those choices impact on others – such as what it costs to treat smoking-related illness – then we need to think of other ways to stub out fags altogether.

'A staunch believer in freedom of choice'? Of course you are, Blaise. Now, where's your medication? (The smoking ban was a great idea – can we take it further?)

That apart, media coverage of the anniversary was inevitably driven by the narrative, promoted by ASH, Cancer Research and Public Health England, that the ban has been an "enormous success", has improved public health and driven down smoking rates (1.9 million fewer smokers since the ban was introduced in 2007).

Forest attempted to disrupt this tendentious argument (or confidence trick) with the publication of 'Road To Ruin? The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice' and the latest Forest/Populus poll that showed that, a decade after the ban, the public is still split on the issue of allowing separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

We issued three press releases:

Report: Decade of the smoking ban has decimated England's pubs (26/6)
Public split on allowing separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs (29/6)
Key to smoking cessation is choice and education, say campaigners (30/6)

The latter was issued in response to an ASH press release that was embargoed until the following day (July 1). Our response read:

"It's disingenuous to suggest the smoking ban has been a significant factor in reducing smoking rates.

"For five years after 2007 smoking rates fell in line with the pre-ban trend. The most substantial fall in smoking rates happened after 2012, a period that coincided with the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

"Attempts to force people to quit are invariably counter-productive. Education and support for less harmful products is the way to go, not prohibition and other restrictive practices."

The report on pub closures generated some coverage. However the poll was largely ignored with the exception of a report in the Morning Advertiser (the pub trade title) and a passing mention in the BBC News report that appeared online on July 1.

The comment above was quoted by a handful of media online but not as many as we'd have liked (see my comments about the Press Association below).

Here's a selection of reports we generated or were quoted in:

Pro-smoking group calls for review 10 years after ban (Morning Advertiser)
Public split over smoking rooms in pubs (Morning Advertiser)
‘We don't need to go back to the days of stinking like a rancid ashtray’: Your reactions to pro-smoking group’s call to review smoking ban (Morning Advertiser)
Cigarette ban killing off British pubs: 11,000 lost in 10 years (Daily Star)
End of the smoking ban? Urgent calls for major law change 10 years on (Daily Star)
10 years on, health campaigners celebrate 'enormous success' of the smoking ban (ITV News)
Anniversary of UK smoking ban 'marks a decade of success' (Sky News)
Smoking ban: Number of UK smokers falls by nearly two million in 10 years (Independent)
A decade after UK smoking ban introduced, how has the law affected Bristol? (Bristol Post)
The smoking ban came in TEN years ago - so has it worked? (Liverpool Echo)
The smoking ban came into effect 10 years ago, but has it worked? (Cornwall Live)
Smoking ban saw a huge shift in our pub culture (Lancashire Evening Post)
'Sledgehammer' smoking ban ruling played part in pub and club decline in Bolton (Bolton News)
Decade of smoke-free laws celebrated with smoking rates at lowest level ever (News & Star)
Smoking rebel says ban has ‘destroyed our pubs’ (Blackpool Gazette)
The smoking ban ten years on: Do you agree with the law? (Daily Echo)

Our poll/pub closures report also got passing mentions here:

Pub smoking ban: 10 charts that show the impact (BBC News)
The smoking ban turns ten. What did it really achieve? (Spectator)

One or two local newspaper columnists mentioned Forest. Two examples: Jayne Dowle: Clearing the air a decade on from the smoking ban (Yorkshire Post) and the aforementioned Blaise Tapp: The smoking ban was a great idea – can we take it further? (The News and Yorkshire Post).

Rob Lyons, author of our 'Road To Ruin?' report, wrote articles for Spiked online and Conservative Home (where he took a bit of a kicking for suggesting the Conservatives might readdress the issue of smoking in pubs):

How the smoking ban killed off the local boozer (Spiked)
Ten years on from the smoking ban, the Tories could gain by rolling it back (ConHome)

Forest was also quoted in reports that followed an interview with Nick Hogan in the Manchester Evening News. Nick was the publican jailed for failing to pay fines after he allowed customers to smoke on his premises on 1st July 2007. (For those who don't know, I was at Salford Jail on the day he was released. It was one of the more surreal days I've had in this job – see Nick Hogan: behind the scenes.)

The only man ever jailed over the smoking ban has given up cigarettes... but he's not given up speaking his mind (Manchester Evening News)
Only person to ever be jailed over smoking ban doesn't regret a thing - but he has quit cigarettes (Daily Mirror)

It's worth noting that dozens of reports appeared online last weekend credited to the Press Association. The report the PA filed and sent to all media focussed on reports/polls published by Cancer Research UK and ASH and featured quotes from CRUK, ASH and Public Health England without, it seemed, a single opposing comment.

I complained in the strongest possible terms. In response they said they did include a quote from Forest (but only, it seems, after I had rung the news desk). At no stage did the PA contact Forest (or anyone else with an opposing view) for a comment, which speaks volumes.

In the event our quote was omitted from all but a handful of the many reports published online by dozens of local titles and a handful of national publications. Go figure.

As for broadcast interviews, a pre-arranged interview for Channel 5 News was cancelled as I was in sight of the studio having got up at 4.00am to drive 90 miles to London. C'est la vie.

I did however do interviews for Five Live, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Sussex, Bristol, Kent, Manchester, Newcastle, Three Counties and LBC.

Final, final thought: if I hear one more person applaud the smoking ban on the grounds that they no longer have to endure a smoky pub or wash their clothes to remove the "stench of tobacco" I may not be responsible for my actions.

I don't doubt that back in the day (the Fifties and Sixties) pubs were indeed very smoky environments. Having said that I wasn't there so don't take my word for it. Come the late Seventies and Eighties, when I spent a lot of time in pubs, I genuinely don't remember it being a problem.

Indeed, as a non-smoker and a regular pub goer from my late teens to my mid thirties I can honestly remember only one occasion when I entered a pub and it was so smoky that my eyes watered. (It was also heaving with people and unbearably hot which was not the fault of the smokers.)

Many pubs, in England especially, introduced air filtration systems so smoky environments, in my experience at least, were increasingly rare. At the very least people had a choice, with some pubs being better than others, and they voted with their feet.

To suggest, as many people have, that before the ban pubs and bars were invariably smoke-filled is a myth that has been allowed to develop almost without challenge.

It may be true of the traditional back street boozer but it certainly wasn't true of the many new bars that opened up in the Eighties and Nineties, like the Pitcher & Piano chain that had a bar very close to the office where I worked in south Clapham.

The point is, people were able to choose the environment in which they ate and drank, and the market changed in accordance with public demand.

As for having to wash your clothes after returning from the pub, did no-one wash their clothes before the smoking ban? Did no-one ever sweat or get their clothes dirty in other ways? Was it the norm, before the smoking ban, to wear the same shirt several days' running?

I never, ever recall this being a problem until a handful of anti-smokers began to make an issue of "having to wash our clothes after visiting the pub".

If it was that bad the public would surely have supported, by an overwhelming majority, a ban on smoking in pubs and bars.

Instead, according to the Office for National Statistics, in 2005 - the year before MPs voted for the ban - only 30 per cent wanted a comprehensive ban, and you can be sure that figure includes many who were not regular pub goers and were never going to become regular pub goers.

Anyway we are where we are and if the past fortnight has taught me anything it's this.

You can argue all you like about the pros and cons of the smoking ban, but one thing is clear. The ban gave the green light to a level of intolerance that has been shocking to behold.

Note too how easily people have been persuaded that even the briefest exposure to 'secondhand' smoke is a serious health risk.

This has been achieved by a combination of zealots and fanatics working hand-in-hand with a well-funded public health industry that believes the end (a smoke and nicotine-free world) justifies the means.

The smoking ban was the moment propaganda became more important than truth and education, and choice and personal responsibility were replaced by bigotry and discrimination.

In the words of Brendan O'Neil:

It speaks to a dramatic backward shift in politics. A shift from a politics concerned with improving people’s living conditions to a politics obsessed with policing people’s behaviour. ‘The politics of behaviour’, as New Labour scarily but aptly called it. It speaks most strikingly to a redefinition of what it means to be left or progressive.

Once, that meant ensuring the less well-off had more opportunities, more comfort, more pleasure. Now, as made clear by the mad leftist cheering of the ban and other nanny-state initiatives, it means saving people from themselves. It means depriving people of pleasure for their own good. It means using the law to socially re-engineer the masses so that they’re more like ‘us’: fitter, slimmer, smokefree.

Sadly, as the response to Rob Lyons' article for ConservativeHome shows, this attack on pleasure can be found right across the political spectrum.

Health fascists are no longer limited to a tiny minority. They're all around us and unless we fight back things will only get worse.

Friday
Jul072017

Will tobacco control's relentless nagging reap its unjust reward?

I've been meaning to endorse a post Dick Puddlecote wrote on Monday.

Commenting on the report ASH published last Saturday to mark the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban, DP described it as "probably the longest begging letter in history".

How true.

You see, the smoking ban was never going to be the end of the war on tobacco. Flushed with the success of their self-confessed "confidence trick", the legislation simply encouraged ASH to campaign for more anti-tobacco laws.

Display ban, prohibition of tobacco vending machines, ban on smoking in cars carrying children, plain packaging ... none of these had anything to do with the European Union. They were driven by Britain's well-funded anti-smoking industry with the support of compliant ministers, some of whom reversed their previous opposition to measures such as the display ban.

The tobacco control industry – much of it heavily subsidised by public funds – is desperate for the government to have a tobacco control plan because a significant part of their income depends on being able to promote and deliver that programme.

The constant hectoring about the need for a new strategy (the previous one came to an end in 2015) has one simple aim – to keep the anti-smoking industry in business. Without a government-approved plan on the table there's no reason for ASH to receive taxpayers' money - and well they know it.

At present public funds account for about 25 per cent of ASH's annual income so losing it won't put them out of business. Nevertheless I know from experience how a substantial loss of income can affect groups such as ASH (and Forest).

Staffing is the first to suffer. You may have to move to a cheaper and less accessible office. Campaign budgets have to be cut. Overall it has quite a destabilising effect.

Smokefree South West and Tobacco Free Futures weren't immune to a loss of public funding and were forced to close. The fact that there was no tobacco control plan in place during the period they hit the buffers may not be coincidental.

ASH faces a similar problem. After all, in an age when many smokers are switching voluntarily to products like e-cigarettes ministers must surely be asking themselves, "What is ASH for?" and "Why is the taxpayer expected to pay for their activities?" much of which involves nagging (or lobbying) government to introduce a tobacco control plan that helps oil their wheels.

Calls for the government to announce a new plan began in June 2015 with the publication of ASH's Smoking Still Kills report. A key recommendation was the introduction of a new tobacco control strategy to replace the one that ran until the end of 2015.

Ignoring the fact that the number of people using Stop Smoking Services had declined by 51 per cent since 2010, proposals included a new annual levy on tobacco companies to fund these increasingly irrelevant services.

Other proposals included an increase in the tobacco tax escalator (up from two to five per cent above inflation) and the creation of a licensing system for tobacco retailers.

While the country was consumed with far more important matters, the anti-smoking industry embarked on a systematic campaign to nag government to act. Some examples:

On October 13, 2016, ASH announced:

Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health will today be calling on the Government to publish its promised new Tobacco Control Plan without further delay.

The press release quoted two MPs – Bob Blackman (Conservative), chairman of the APPG, and Alex Cunningham (Labour). What it failed to mention was that ASH runs this faux parliamentary body with the help of public funds!

On January 4, 2017, the Guardian reported that:

More than 1,000 doctors, healthcare professionals and public health experts, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions, are calling on the prime minister to publish the latest tobacco control plan without delay.

On January 30 Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, insisted:

"The Government must publish the new Tobacco Control Strategy for England without further delay and find a sustainable funding solution for tobacco control."

On February 23 ASH's CEO Deborah Arnott declared:

"A new tobacco control plan for England has now been promised repeatedly, but we are still waiting, fifteen months after the last one expired. Each day without a plan hundreds more children take up smoking, starting out on a path leading to smoking-related disease and premature death.

"We need an ambitious new plan now to set targets for continued action to drive down smoking rates, across the population generally and among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in particular."

On March 3 the British Medical Association added its weight to the campaign:

The government must introduce a new tobacco control strategy, without delay, to replace the outdated tobacco control plan, ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: a tobacco control plan for England’.

On April 28, prior to the election, CRUK urged all parties to "commit to a new Tobacco Control Plan".

On June 15 Francine Bates, co-chair of the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group and chief executive of the Lullaby Trust, said:

The government must urgently publish the now long promised Tobacco Control Plan to not only address smoking in pregnancy but ensure that fewer women are smoking when they become pregnant."

Last week CRUK marked the smoking ban anniversary by joining ASH in calling on government to publish its tobacco control plan for England "without further delay, with targeted action to support smokers in the most deprived areas to stop."

And so it went on:

The government should publish its new Tobacco Control Plan as “an urgent priority,” the chair of the British Thoracic Society’s (BTS) Lung Group has said.

I could quote many more examples of this incessant nagging, bordering on hectoring or even bullying, but would it take me all evening and I do have a life.

Needless to say there has also been a cabal of MPs who have asked repeated questions about the tobacco control plan. Many of the questions have been very similar and sometimes identical. (I wonder who drafted them?)

One question, from Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, submitted on February 25, 2016, read:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, with reference to the report of the independent cancer taskforce, Achieving world class cancer outcomes: A strategy for England 2015-2020, published in July 2015, what progress has been made in developing a new tobacco control strategy.

Three months later Gwynne submitted another question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what plans his Department has to publish a new tobacco control strategy in the next two months.

The full list of MPs and peers who have asked a variation of that question in 2016/17 is:

Andrew Gwynne MP (Labour)
Lord Young of Cookham (Conservative)
Bob Blackman MP (Conservative)
Julian Knight MP (Conservative)
Bob Blackman MP (Conservative)
David T.C. Davies MP (Conservative)
Dr Andrew Murrison MP (Conservative)
Mary Glindon MP (Labour)
Neil Coyle MP (Labour)
Will Quince MP (Conservative)
Lord Rennard (Lib Dem)
Alex Cunningham MP (Labour)
Norman Lamb MP (Lib Dem)
Sharon Hodgson MP (Labour)
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (Independent)
Sandy Martin MP (Labour)

Here's a selection. Spot the difference, if you can:

In July 2016 Lord Young of Cookham pitched in with:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what date they plan to publish the Tobacco Control Plan for England.

On November 15 Bob Blackman, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health submitted this question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what progress his Department has made on developing a tobacco control strategy.

Dr Andrew Murrison MP, Conservative (January 11, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when his Department plans to publish the next Tobacco Control Plan for England.

Mary Glindon, Labour (January 13, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when the Government plans to publish a new Tobacco Control Plan for England.

Dr Andrew Murrison MP, Conservative (January 17, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when he plans for the Tobacco Control Strategy to be published.

Neil Coyle MP, Labour (January 24, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when the Tobacco Control Plan will be replaced.

Will Quince MP, Conservative (February 3, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when his Department will publish the new Tobacco Control Plan.

Amusingly, a little impatience then began to creep in.

Lord Rennard, Liberal Demoncrats (February 23, 2017):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will maintain their commitment to reducing smoking prevalence by publishing the latest Tobacco Control Plan for England without delay.

Alex Cunningham MP, Labour (March 1, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, for what reasons his Department has not yet set a date for publication of the Tobacco Control Plan.

Last week, in the run-up to the smoking ban anniversary, came another flurry of questions.

Sharon Hodgson, Labour (June 26, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when his Department plans to publish the updated Tobacco Control Plan; and if he will make a statement.

Alex Cunningham MP, Labour (June 26, 2017):

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when the Government will publish the Tobacco Control Plan.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Independent Crossbencher (June 26, 2017):

Her Majesty's Government when they intend to publish the next Tobacco Control Plan for England; and whether that plan will include recommendations for the NHS as well as for local government.

And finally, Sandy Martin, Labour (June 28, 2017) asked:

When the Government plans to publish a tobacco control plan.

Despite Brexit, despite the Election and its chaotic outcome, the pressure on ministers to continue the war on tobacco has been unrelenting. No statement or press release appeared complete without the government being urged to publish the new plan "without delay".

Incredibly, we don't know what impact plain packaging, larger health warnings and restrictions on packaging will have yet the tobacco control industry wants the government to steam ahead and introduce more measures regardless.

Unfortunately, for a combination of reasons – including the weakness of the current government – this relentless pressure appears to be having some effect because on the eve of the smoking ban anniversary Steve Brine, the new public health minister, issued this statement:

"As a nation we can be extremely proud of the progress we have made on smoking rates, which are at their lowest ever levels. We truly are world leaders in this area, through our smoke-free legislation, plain packaging laws and ban on smoking in cars with children," he said.

"However, we know that smoking remains our biggest preventable killer and the job is by no means done. We will soon be releasing a new Tobacco Control Plan, to map our path toward a smoke-free generation."

Brine's comment was issued relatively late hence it appeared to go under the radar. I may be wrong but I suspect it was released only in response to ASH's own press release in which they claimed:

The evidence of the last decade is that tobacco control policies are popular and effective, when they are part of a comprehensive strategy and are properly funded. ASH is calling on the Government to publish the new Tobacco Control Plan with tough new targets and a commitment to reducing inequalities without further delay.

ASH Chief Executive Deborah Arnott said: "On 1 July 2007 it will be the 10th anniversary of the implementation of smokefree legislation in England – a worthy date for publication of the next Tobacco Control Plan, with a commitment to delivering a smokefree future for our children.

A week later word has it the government's new tobacco control plan will be published by the end of this month.

After 18 months of almost incessant nagging the public health industry has finally got its way.

The new tobacco control plan will tell us a lot about the current government and its attitude to regulation, freedom of choice and, most important, ordinary people.

Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts on the matter, I suggest you write to Steve Brine "without delay" and tell him what you think.

Update: Oral answers to questions on health with Steve Brine, July 4, 2017 (TheyWorkForYou).

Wednesday
Jul052017

Vapers! Appeasement doesn't work and here's the evidence

H/T to Twitter (and Tom Gleeson aka @Rathmacan) for bringing this to my attention.

A discussion paper published on April 28 by the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation asks, 'Should e-cigarette use be included in indoor smoking bans?'

It is of course increasingly common for vaping to be prohibited in places where smoking is banned and some countries have even gone so far as to legislate on the issue.

The UK isn't one of them (yet) so I read the paper with interest. It sets out the arguments for allowing vaping in public places, and not allowing it.

The authors cite just two reasons for permitting vaping:

First, allowing vaping in indoor public places may encourage smokers to switch to vaping, by making it relatively more attractive ...

Second, allowing vaping in indoor public places where smoking is not permitted could minimize any discomfort that e-cigarette users may experience from nicotine withdrawal when being in such settings. However, evidence suggests that this discomfort is fairly modest.

In other words, in the authors' opinion this argument isn't very strong and can probably be dismissed.

In contrast they provide no fewer than five arguments for banning vaping in public places. I'll sum them up as follows:

  • At a distance, smoking and vaping may look similar to some people.
  • Close exposure to vaping among people who have recently quit smoking or vaping might trigger them to relapse to smoking.
  • Passive exposure to e-cigarette vapour might lead to adverse health effects.
  • Regardless of the potential health risks, some people find second-hand aerosols from nearby vaping to be a nuisance, since the e-cigarettes can include strong flavours and leave pungent odours.
  • Exemptions that permit vaping in some indoor smoke-free settings (eg certain workplaces, restaurants or pubs) but not others, may risk generating confusion ... so ban vaping everywhere.

Having addressed the issues, for and against, the authors don't mince their words:

Considering the above arguments collectively, we believe that, from a public health perspective, central and local governments should adopt regulations that effectively determine that all designated indoor smoke-free areas are also vape-free areas.

But that's not why I'm highlighting this paper. There's another more pertinent reason.

Justifying the claim that "some people find second-hand aerosols from nearby vaping to be a nuisance" the authors add:

While such nuisance concerns do not appear to have been quantified in surveys, we note that the 2016 vaper-friendly Global Forum on Nicotine conference, actually banned participants from vaping in certain indoor areas due to the nuisance that aerosol clouds caused.

Klaxon alert!!!!

Readers may recall that in May last year, while considering going to GFN16, I chanced upon their vaping policy:

GFN is a vaper friendly conference, actively encouraging participation by consumers and advocates. For various reasons this year we have had to introduce a vaping policy, which we hope will accommodate everyone's needs. The main reasons for this are:

- that some non-vaping delegates last year felt that they were 'trapped' with the vapour, which they found unpleasant and distracting, particularly in the plenary and parallel sessions where there are a lot of people packed into a relatively small space;

- that the Polish government are pushing for indoor usage restrictions - there may be regulators present and we would like them to leave with a positive view of vaping and vapers, and indeed of the conference;

- that since last year the majority of experienced vapers have switched to high powered devices and sub-ohming, which is fine for vape meets but not so good in the conference venue where it tends to create a rather disconcerting fog bank for those who are not used to it.

At the time I commented:

How on earth are vapers going to argue that vaping should be allowed in pubs and other indoor public places when a conference organised and attended by advocates of e-cigarettes voluntarily imposes its own prohibitive policies because of the "rather disconcerting fog bank for those who are not used to it"?

I'm sure the organisers are doing their best to be socially responsible but by imposing this policy on delegates the implication is that vapers cannot be trusted to be discreet and considerate without a formal "policy".

See Vaper-friendly conference restricts and even prohibits vaping to appease "non-vaping delegates".

Within a year a paper on the WHO website is not only recommending that "designated indoor smoke-free areas are also vape-free areas", it actually cites the policy introduced by the "vaper-friendly Global Forum on Nicotine conference" as evidence to support its conclusion.

Doh!

When will people ever learn? Appeasement doesn't work. As Tom Gleeson commented on Twitter, "Give an inch and they use it against you!" Absolutely right.

To repeat: one of the reasons conference organisers gave for the policy was, "There may be regulators present and we would like them to leave with a positive view of vaping and vapers."

How did that go? Well, shortly after GFN16 the Polish government introduced a law banning vaping everywhere that smoking is banned.

It would have been more positive, surely, for regulators to see how little inconvenience there is to anyone when people are quietly stealth vaping indoors.

I searched long and hard to find the vaping policy for GFN17 but couldn't find it anywhere. I wonder why?

I know, there probably wasn't one because since GFN16 the Polish state has intervened and imposed its own vaping policy – on GFN and the entire country.

And it all happened without a whimper. (Did any speaker at GFN condemn the new anti-vaping restrictions? Did they?)

Meanwhile on my Twitter timeline there is a series of tweets from one of the co-founders of GFN urging his followers to watch "some brilliant #GFN17 videos". "If you were there," he adds, "relive it. If not there, see what you missed!"

I don't doubt there were some excellent presentations. But I wouldn't be quite so triumphant because here's the rub. By relenting to pressure from what I believe was a single delegate and appeasing their complaint, the vaping policy adopted by the Global Forum on Nicotine has now been cited as a reason to ban vaping in enclosed public places.

You couldn't make it up.

PS. It has been alleged that it was Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, who complained about delegates vaping. I understand it was someone else so, on this occasion, give Deborah some slack.

Btw, it's been mentioned many times in the past week that smoking bans are welcomed by smokers who want to quit, and even by some who don't.

The WHO's discussion paper 'Should e-cigarette use be included in indoor smoking bans?' uses the same argument in relation to vapers:

Evidence suggests that many smokers support smoke-free areas, because this helps encourage them to quit. It seems plausible that this reasoning would also apply to e-cigarette users, who wish to either constrain the level of their vaping or to quit vaping and may therefore favour indoor areas being vape-free.

With a few honorable exceptions, vaping advocates have been remarkably quiet this past week while tobacco control has been celebrating the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban.

I've no doubt many think the ban is irrelevant, ancient history, doesn't affect them etc.

Then there's the public health campaigners who support e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. Without doubt every single one of them is an enthusiastic supporter of the smoking ban and every piece of anti-smoking legislation that followed in the subsequent decade.

The problem is, once you've kick started a tsunami of laws on lifestyle issues it's very difficult to put the regulation genie back in the box, as pro-vaping public health activists are now discovering.

Likewise, once you willingly submit to a voluntary vaping ban at your own "vaper-friendly" conference, you give your opponents all the ammunition they need.

Well done, GFN!

PPS. Just to be clear, the vaping policy at the Forest Freedom Dinner last week was:

Vaping allowed everywhere, even in the restaurant during dinner because we knew our vaping guests would act responsibly and with consideration for others.

Unless the law is changed our policy will remain the same. Vaping allowed!

Tuesday
Jul042017

Changed times

When I left university I did what lots of undergraduates did before joining the workforce.

I went Interrailing on a student ticket.

The total cost of travelling around Europe for four weeks in 1980 was around £200 including food and accommodation.

We started in London and ended up in Athens after travelling through France, Italy and Yugoslavia.

To be honest, I remember remarkably little about it.

I was travelling with a friend who later joined the Foreign Office and was a guest at our boat party the other week.

We spent a couple of days in Paris, I think. We definitely had a day or two in Venice.

We had no itinerary and a mix-up with trains meant we raced past Rome and were well on the way to Naples before we realised we were on the wrong one.

Travelling through Yugoslavia and down into Greece was fairly hellish because we hadn't booked seats and the train was so crowded we had to sit in the corridor with our sleeping bags and rucksacks for 36 hours.

The further south we went it got increasingly hot. We'd stand by the open windows gasping for air while the smell from the onboard toilets seeped into the corridor.

Athens was bakingly hot but we found a hostel and one of my favourites memories is sleeping on the roof under the stars with other travellers.

A day or two later we left Athens on a local train that took us to a village by the sea. I don't remember a station. We liked the look of the place and jumped off when the train came to a halt.

To this day I have no idea where we where. What I do remember is it was early afternoon and nothing was open, not even an ice-cream kiosk.

We had to wait for several hours before a beach-side cafe opened up so we could get a drink and directions to a guest house.

Come evening the place was thronging with people and we sat outside a restaurant thinking things couldn't get much better.

The return journey was less of an endurance test because we weren't jumping on and off trains and exploring blind alleyways.

Back in Paris I had my first ever McDonald's burger. I must have been starving - or sick of salads - because it was delicious.

Back home my father was so impressed I'd kept within my budget of £200 (it was all I could afford) he gave me the money.

I didn't like to tell him that if I'd had it in advance I might have enjoyed the experience rather more because I wouldn't have had to slum it so much!

It has however given me a lifelong appreciation of clean sheets, air conditioning and five star hotels.

The reason I mention all this is that yesterday, at 6.00am, I dropped my daughter, who has just finished her second year at university, at Heathrow (Terminal 3).

Today I got a text to say that she and her college friend had arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, via Dubai and Bangkok.

Later in the week they'll travel to the capital, Phnom Pengh, before moving on to Vietnam, returning early next month.

Far from being alone in a foreign country, two other students they knew were on the same flight. In a couple of weeks the daughter of a friend will make the same journey.

Cambodia and Vietnam are, it seems, the destination du jour for today's students travelling on a budget.

How times have changed.

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