I got a call yesterday from BBC Breakfast.
They wanted Forest's response to a report by the British Thoracic Society. Bizarrely however they wouldn't forward the press release because "it's embargoed".
They did however email the opening paragraph which gave the gist of the thing:
According to a major new report launched on Wednesday 7th December, NHS hospitals across UK are falling ‘woefully short’ of national standards on helping patients who smoke to quit and enforcing smoke-free premises.
As I understood it, the BTS want to"help" all patients who smoke to quit, not just those who are in hospital with a so-called smoking-related disease.
So I responded as follows:
"It's quite wrong to put smokers under pressure to quit while they are in hospital, especially if the reason they are there is not smoking-related.
"Being in hospital can be extremely stressful and having a cigarette is a source of comfort to many smokers.
"Enforcing smoke-free premises is a cruel and unfair way to treat patients who smoke.
"Nagging them to quit when they are at their most vulnerable also demonstrates a worrying lack of empathy.
"This is the opposite of health care. In the name of public health compassion is being replaced by zealotry and intolerance."
In the event I heard nothing more. Whether BBC Breakfast dropped the story I don't know. I watched the programme for a bit this morning but there was no mention of it.
Incidentally, it's perfectly normal to share embargoed press releases in advance, especially if you want comments from third parties.
The simple unwritten agreement is that you don't break the embargo, which I have never knowingly done. It's part of the media management game and I have no problem playing along with it.
The other rule concerns exclusivity. If the story is an 'exclusive' the journalist won't want you to release your response to all and sundry because that is also breaking the exclusivity, even if you embargo your response!
Yesterday the BBC told me the story wasn't an 'exclusive' so I emailed our reaction to the Press Association and every health editor and correspondent on the national dailies.
So far I can find only two reports.
The PA picked it up (Hospitals 'woefully failing' to crack down on smoking), and included a quote from Forest, but with the exception of Sky News the story seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Nevertheless, coming a couple of weeks after Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, called for an outright ban on smoking on hospital grounds, there is clearly a concerted effort to see it implemented as part of the government's new Tobacco Control Plan.
Let's hope the Department of Health takes heed of Theresa May's bid to "restore fairness" in Britain. As I wrote on ConservativeHome in October:
If the Prime Minister really wants to stand up for millions of ordinary people who are sick and tired of being patronised by politicians and the professional classes, she must stop her government introducing further policies that will discriminate against the UK's seven million smokers. Enough is enough. It's time to stop this spiteful war on ordinary people who choose to smoke.
Update: I missed this earlier but the Mail Online also ran the PA story about the BTS report. See Hospitals 'woefully failing' to crack down on smoking. Includes my quote.