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Make intolerance of smoking history

Further to yesterday's post, I urge every reader to complete the survey that seeks to 'make smoking history' in Manchester.

Granted, it's targeted at local residents ('Greater Manchester. It’s our home, our history and our future. So we’ve all got a stake in making things right. Right?') but that shouldn't deter others from submitting their views too.

After all, those behind the campaign make no bones about the fact that 'Greater Manchester is leading the way by involving all of its people in a massive conversation to make smoking history for our next generation of children.'

In other words, if this campaign results in more smoke free areas in Manchester, expect more cities and conurbations to follow suit.

Moreover, I don't see why visitors shouldn't express an opinion too.

I completed the survey this morning and the first thing to note is that entering a postcode outside Greater Manchester does not block submissions, although non-resident submissions will no doubt be singled out for comment in the final analysis.

It doesn't take long so please take a couple of minutes to respond. Respondents are asked to agree/disagree etc with a handful of questions including the following:

I want smoking to be made history in Greater Manchester

Extending smoke-free public places is a good idea

Films, television programmes, computer games, music videos and other media without 18 age rating or pre-watershed, should not show people smoking on screen

Businesses in Manchester should have a valid licence to sell tobacco

These questions raise so many issues I don't know where to start so I'll limit myself to one.

Inviting response to 'smoking on screen' raises the interesting prospect of the council imposing a unilateral ban on smoking on film or TV sets in Manchester, adopting similar regulations to those in Scotland and Wales where the practise is prohibited.

Whether that's possible I don't know but I sense the hand of Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, behind this and the licensing question. It may not be feasible for Manchester to go it alone but by putting these issues up for debate it helps set the national agenda.

Respondents to the survey are also invited to submit 'additional feedback'. I wrote:

I strongly oppose this campaign which is designed to reduce the number of smokers by further denormalising a legal product enjoyed by millions or ordinary people who pay a huge sum in tax (tobacco duty & VAT) that far outweighs the cost of treating smoking-related diseases on the NHS.

It is no business of local authorities (or the Mayor of Greater Manchester) if adults choose to smoke. Stop wasting public money that could be better sent tackling crime, housing and transport (to name a few).

Interestingly there seems to be an assumption that most respondents will support the campaign because the survey concludes by saying:

If you would like to take a bigger role in this initiative and stand up and be counted as someone who genuinely wants to help create a positive change, then we’d invite you to become an advocate.

Sign up below and we can begin to make a lasting impact on the future of Greater Manchester and the health of 2.8 million people who live here.

I'm not sure when the closing date is so please submit your response now. Click here.

And if you live in Greater Manchester do please get in touch.

WATCH: Andy Burnham wants smoke-free Manchester in TEN years (Granada Reports).

Update: I shall be discussing this on BBC Radio Manchester in the morning.


Butt out, Burnham!

I was interviewed by Granada Reports (ITV) yesterday.

It was in response to the launch of a new campaign to 'Make Smoking History in Greater Manchester'. According to

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, is setting out plans to cut smoking rates across the region by a third. Mr Burnham is launching a public consultation with NHS leaders which he hopes will be the largest ever public engagement about tobacco harm.

People are being asked for their views about plans to cut the number of smokers in Greater Manchester by 115,000 over the next three years. Proposals will include extending smoke-free areas and licensing of tobacco retailers.

According to another report:

People from across Greater Manchester are being asked to become a part of history in a bid to end smoking in the region within a decade ...

Greater Manchester plans to go further than anywhere in Europe and cut smoking rates by a third. That would mean 115,000 fewer smokers across the region in only three years.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, along with health and care leaders, wants to encourage the biggest ever response to a campaign about tobacco harm.

“There will come a time when people look back and say: why did smoking ever happen?” said Mr Burnham. “I want to bring that date forward and have Greater Manchester at the forefront of the charge."

The new campaign was launched at a conference that proclaimed grandly:

The Greater Manchester tobacco control strategy sets out a vision to reduce smoking prevalence at a pace and scale greater than in any other global conurbation.

Speakers included Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, Pauline Dekker, 'pioneer of the Dutch criminal case against the tobacco industry', and Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, but it was Burnham who stole the headlines, just as he did last year with a very similar declaration (Mayor backs radical smokefree plan to save Greater Manchester lives and NHS millions):

Plans by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership to drastically cut smoking rates in Greater Manchester ‘faster and further than achieved anywhere else in the world have been endorsed by Mayor Andy Burnham on the eve of the 10th anniversary of groundbreaking smokefree laws.

Truth is, Burnham has been waiting years for the opportunity to condemn smokers to further purgatory. In February 2010, with Labour still in government, it was reported that:

Smokers could be forced to light up away from the entrances to public buildings under government moves aimed at ensuring that no more than one in 10 Britons smoke cigarettes.

The health secretary, Andy Burnham, now favours extending the 2007 landmark law which banned smoking in pubs, workplaces and other enclosed places, to prevent non-smokers having to walk through clouds of secondhand smoke.

The move comes as part of a wider attempt by Burnham to set out the case for state intervention to improve public health, insisting it does not amount to a nanny state.

Burnham will also "carefully consider" the case for forcing all cigarettes to be stripped of their distinctive wrapping and sold instead in plain brown packets, in order to reduce their appeal. There will also be renewed action against black market tobacco, a ban on tobacco vending machines and extra NHS support for those who want to quit.

According to ASH, "This new strategy is a solid foundation for the future." Not everyone was so enamoured though. Writing for the Guardian, Sholto Byrnes, assistant editor of the New Statesman and formerly a journalist with the Telegraph, commented:

Under new government plans, those of us who have already been banished to office doorways could find ourselves searching even further for a place in which to light up. But that is not the limit to Burnham's ambitions. "One day," he said, "we'll look back and find it hard to remember why anyone ever smoked in the first place."

I have no desire to impose my habit on others; but that is not enough for those of Burnham's ilk. They wish to force me to "improve" myself. And how swiftly this new puritanism has carried all before it ...

Now, even images of Isambard Kingdom Brunel are required to appear minus his trademark cigar, and if Burnham gets his way future generations will need to consult the reference books to understand the term "the cigarette afterwards", while the double entendre in another Stuyvesant ad line – "for after-action satisfaction" – will pass them by entirely.

I'm guessing the studio-based interview with me (which was recorded in the afternoon) was broadcast following this report on the local evening news.

Neither the interview nor Forest's response is online but this is the statement we issued:

"The war on smoking has gone far enough. Adults know the health risks and if they choose to smoke that decision must be respected.

"Tobacco is a legal product and adults have every right to smoke without being vilified, treated like children or targeted with unfair regulations.

"There's no evidence that smoking outside is a threat to other people's health and introducing a licensing system will make tobacco even more expensive because the cost will be passed on to the consumer.

"This creeping prohibition has to stop. Instead of coercing smokers to quit, local government should promote harm reduction products like e-cigarettes.

"The key to smoking cessation is choice and education, not measures designed to hurt or humiliate ordinary, decent people."

My next post will take a closer look at the History Makers (sic) Survey, which I hope you will complete.

In the meantime here's another, very similar, initiative – Campaign for a Smokefree Sheffield launched.

Do you see a pattern emerging?

Update: In 2010 it was reported that while the Labour government would encourage cars and homes to remain smoke-free, 'Burnham will stress that the state does not have a right to intervene in a private space, even to protect children.'

Odd then that he should endorse the new Greater Manchester Tobacco Plan whose ideas include 'Working with social housing providers to explore smokefree tenancies and homes.'

Has he changed his mind about private spaces?

Update: My interview has now been added to the ITV report here.


Notes from the smoking lounge 

That was a rare treat.

Last night - following in the footsteps of Jacob Rees Mogg who spoke to members of the Cambridge University Conservative Association on Thursday night - I addressed a rather more intimate gathering of CUCA members.

It was billed as ‘Cigars and Whisky with Forest’ and I’d been asked to give a short informal talk about our work.

The invitation wasn’t universally welcomed and two weeks ago the Student Union’s Ethical Affairs Officer issued a statement denouncing “this association between CUCA and Forest”.

“While there is nothing we can do to prevent this association between CUCA and Forest,” he sniffed, “we are surprised to hear of its existence.

“The arguments for tobacco control are coherent, powerful and backed up intensely by research, encouraging CUSU to be in support of it.

“For the environmental, social and moral good of the society our students live in, we condemn Forest’s work, making us thoroughly disappointed by this event.”

One reason they couldn’t do anything about it was the inspired choice of venue - Robert Graham Whisky and Cigar Emporium.

Outside it was a wet and miserable night but in the comforting embrace of Robert Graham’s smoking lounge it was warm and extremely snug.

Cigar shops, I need hardly remind you, were given an exemption from the smoking ban as long as consumption is for sampling purposes only.

Last night guests were each given a complimentary cigar together with a selection of whiskies.

I spoke for 15 minutes, then answered a few questions. Afterwards we continued chatting for the best part of an hour before the manager closed the shop’s doors and we were ushered out into the cold, dark street.

All in all, a very enjoyable evening. (My only disappointment was the lack of protestors.)

Thanks to CUCA for inviting me.

PS. Another guest last night was my old friend Madsen Pirie, president and co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute, who lives in Cambridge.

Well, it turns out Madsen has a cigar named after him - the Regius Lord Madsen.

He’s also the first person I know who owns a Tesla electric car. I only found out because we were talking about the launch of Tesla founder Elon Musk’s space rocket. (Space travel is another of Madsen’s interests.)

I think Madsen has the Model S but I’ll find out soon enough because he suggested we go for a spin sometime so I can experience what has been described as its “sport’s car performance”.

Not sure I want to die in an electric car, Madsen, but offer accepted.


Dear, oh dear, Cecilia, what have you done?

It's not just smokers who have reason to be aggrieved with 'public health campaigner' Cecilia Farren.

Following my previous post a reader has brought to my attention a story that appeared recently in The Times, Daily Mail and Bristol Post, which broke the story.

According to the Post:

Residents of a street in Bristol are being investigated after they hired a tree surgeon and chopped down dozens of trees along a railway line to improve the view from the backs of their house.

Network Rail said the residents of Cromwell Road did not have permission to send the tree surgeon company onto the embankment next to Montpelier station, and said the incident was serious enough for a full-blown investigation to be launched.

Furious residents living nearby have been left shocked after discovering their neighbours had clubbed together to hire a tree surgeon company, and sent them onto Network Rail land on Wednesday and Thursday last week to start cutting down a large swathe of woodland.

The work was done, neighbours claim, to improve the views from the backs of the homes on Cromwell Road, and to allow more light into their rear gardens.

The work was organised by local resident Jonty Cutting. And who helped with the tree felling? Step forward Cecilia Farren who told the Post:

"I've been trying to grow vegetables here for 20 years but the trees block the lighting coming through so nothing can thrive.

"I've been on to Network Rail for 20 years about it. When I moved here there was not a single sycamore tree and we could grow vegetables. Nothing has ever grown properly and we are sick of it.

"The felling was a joint effort by neighbours and six households were involved.

"We paid for four trees to be cut down and other neighbours paid to have trees chopped which were blocking their garden.

"We paid for four trees to be cut down and received authorisation to do this in a letter from Network Rail.

"The only thing is that Network Rail didn't send us a list of approved tree surgeons as they said they would so we arranged our own.

"I know it looks a mess now but the area will grow into a massive green in two months and look great."

So that's all right then. Except it's not because other residents are furious. And whatever Farren might say about the work being authorised, Network Rail isn't happy either. According to The Times:

Network Rail claims that the work along the Severn Beach line between Montpelier and Stapleton Road stations was carried out without permission and that removing the trees could result in landslips and the loss of habitat for bats and badgers.

One resident (a former councillor) told the Post he had been in contact with Network Rail.

“They said they are going to have to send a work team out to clear up, as there are logs threatening to roll onto the track,” he said.

“They will have to remove stumps that won’t grow back and they said they would be seeking to recover the costs from the Cromwell Road residents – which are estimated to be between £25,000 and £30,000.

“The sound cushion the trees provided is now gone, and the integrity of the slope is compromised. Wildlife is displaced, not to mention the exposure to the houses opposite on St Andrew’s Road from Cromwell Road,” he added.

Dear, oh dear, Cecilia. What have you done?

Update: Farren’s reaction when asked about the tree felling is quite interesting.

The action, she said, was justified because "they were only sycamore trees".

“Who loves sycamore trees? They are a weed, a pest,” she said.

As a self-confessed “anti-smoker” she probably has a similar view of smokers.


The ugly face of tobacco control

According to ASH:

Tobacco companies are notorious for the damage they cause to the environment through deforestation, pollution, and littering. Wood fires are needed for the process of drying tobacco leaves, leading to the loss of one tree for every 300 cigarettes. Greenhouse gases are released into the air when cigarettes are smoked, and heavy metals and toxic chemicals end up in the water supply from littered cigarette butts.

To highlight these claims the taxpayer-funded lobby group has launched what it calls its 'Polluter Pays Spring Campaign':

This spring ASH is running a campaign to coincide with the annual shareholders meetings of three of the largest tobacco companies in the world: Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, and Philip Morris International. In line with the 'Polluter Pays Principle' we’re calling on governments to make Big Tobacco pay for the damage it does. Help us share this message over the next few months. We must #MakeThemPay.

Truth it, it won't be Big Tobacco that pays for any additional levies that are imposed on tobacco companies. As ASH knows full well, the stakeholder that will ultimately pay is the consumer. (Cue crocodile tears from tobacco control campaigners bemoaning the fact that more smokers are being pushed into poverty.)

Anyway, the first of the three shareholders' meetings ASH is targeting took place yesterday in Bristol, home of Imperial Brands. The trade press and business media have had plenty to say on the subject, mostly along the lines of 'Imperial Brands says on track to meet forecasts' (Reuters), but I've seen no mention of ASH's 'Polluter Pays' campaign.

What I did spot, late last night, was a series of tweets from anti-smoking campaigner Cecilia Farren who attended the meeting. Two in particular stood out.

The first read:

Attended Imperial Brands AGM. Imps staff + board outnumbered the 27 shareholders inc 2 anti-smokers!

Now, how many times have we been told that tobacco control activists are anti-smoking not anti-smoker? (They're on your side, remember, helping you quit the evil, addictive weed.)

Well, in what I can only describe as a Freudian slip, Warren has openly admitted that she is "anti-smoker".

But the comment that really demonstrated the ugly face of tobacco control was the catty tweet about the CEO of Imperial Brands:

I was shocked by how much older and more stressed Imperial Brands CEO, Alison Cooper, looked today at the Imps AGM. Must be the guilt wearing her down.


I can't say I'm surprised though. In December 2010 Farren appeared on the Today programme and accused the tobacco industry of conducting a "terror campaign".

In September 2007 she attempted to 'name and shame' me at a tobacco control conference in Edinburgh:

During the Q&A session in the main auditorium, Cecilia Farren, founder of GASP, a self-styled "smoke-free action website", got hold of the roving mike and asked that anyone associated with Big Tobacco should be invited to stand up for all to see. For some reason, she felt the need to name me personally, implying that I had somehow sneaked in to the conference and was lying low. In her words, "I have never known Simon Clark to be so quiet."

The paranoia of some anti-smoking campaigners never ceases to amaze. Needless to say I was more than happy to jump up and introduce myself to the 400 delegates (who were looking a bit bemused). I just wish they had asked me to address the conference from the stage!

I bumped into Cecilia later and thanked her for the "free publicity". She wasn't happy.

Three years later, after hearing her performance on the Today programme, I wrote:

She embarrassed fellow tobacco control campaigners that day and listening to her now I'm sure she's embarrassed a few more.

Leopards don't change their spots. Nor, it seems, does Cecilia Farren.


Outdoor smoking bans: Tories in turmoil over creeping prohibition

This is interesting.

According to a report published yesterday:

Bexley could become the first London Borough to have a smokefree pedestrian zone if the council carries out its proposals.

The council say the proposal is to "protect young people from the influence of visible smoking and second-hand smoke".

A Bexley Council statement read: "The proposed voluntary zone would initially run as a pilot for six months and cover the main pedestrianised areas in the town centre, including around Bexleyheath Clock Tower."

If plans are acted upon - Bexleyheath Town Centre would be a smokefree zone and electronic cigarette devices would also be banned.

Before I comment on that, let's rewind the clock.

In April 2017 it was reported that smoking could be banned in pub beer gardens and al-fresco dining areas if proposals by Labour-run Haringey Council were implemented.

However it was also reported that the idea had been blocked by the Government 'after ministers warned they would infringe on people's freedom and lead to pub closures'.

According to the Telegraph:

The proposals to extend the ban to outdoor areas were have been included in a list of demands by councils and health authorities in London which has been supported by Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London.

However the Government has rejected the plans and condemned "labour's municipal killjoys" for making the proposal.

Marcus Jones, a minister for local government, said: “We already knew that Labour councils charge higher council taxes and levy more red tape.

"Now Labour’s municipal killjoys have been caught with a smoking gun, trying to ban adults enjoying their local pub garden. If implemented, these ill-founded proposals would lead to massive pub closures.

"Conservatives in Government will be vetoing these Labour Party plans. Ahead of May’s local elections, local voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Labour councillors."

What's interesting is that the council that is now proposing to introduce a 'smoke free' zone in the London Borough of Bexley is – wait for it – Conservative-controlled, and the man responsible for the six-week consultation that began yesterday is a Conservative councillor, Peter Craske.

Now some may argue that introducing a 'smoke free' pedestrian zone in Bexleyheath town centre is not the same as banning smoking in beer gardens and al fresco dining areas.

But what about town centre cafes with outdoor seating areas out front? Ditto pubs and restaurants. What Bexley Council is proposing will surely affect them just as much.

But regardless of that, why should anyone be barred from lighting up in any outdoor area when the harm it causes other people is not just negligible, it's zero?

Truth is, when it comes to nanny state policies and unwarranted interventions in other people's lives, there's little to choose between any of the main political parties at local or national level.

The Conservatives may not have the control-freak mentality of some Labour politicians but there's a long history of paternalism in the Tory party and it's a long time since I looked to a Conservative government for a sympathetic ear on this and other lifestyle issues.

All we can do is make our voices heard as loudly as possible. To paraphrase a (former) minister for local government, ahead of May's local elections voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Conservative councillors.

There may be restrictions on who can contribute to the consultation but if you want to have your say on whether Bexleyheath town centre should become a smoke-free zone, click here.

PS. It's worth noting that the proposals for Bexleyheath town centre include a ban on "electronic cigarette devices". I wonder what ASH and Public Health England will have to say about that?

See also: The perils of devolution in public health (Taking Liberties).

Update: Dundee City Council has announced proposals to ban smoking in parks and playgrounds. The Courier and Herald have the story here and here.

Both reports include these comments by me:

"Smoking in the open air poses no risk to anyone else's health, including children, so there is no reason to ban it in playgrounds or any other outdoor space.

"We would urge smokers to be considerate to those in their immediate vicinity but the overwhelming majority don't need to be told how to behave around children. Like most people they use their common sense.

"The last thing we need are yet more regulations designed to tell ordinary people how to behave in public."

I'm also being interviewed by STV News.


Why PHE's pro-vaping crusade is the enemy of choice

I've heard it all now.

According to the Telegraph (and most other national newspapers):

Hospitals have been told to start selling e-cigarettes and letting patients vape indoors - and even in bed - under controversial new health advice.

Public Health England (PHE) said every smoker struggling to quit, including pregnant women, should be encouraged to take up e-cigarettes.

Officials urged hospitals to replace smoking shelters with vaping lounges, and said patients should even be allowed to vape in their beds, if they had single rooms.

Let me be clear. I've no problem with vaping being allowed in hospitals or anywhere else (I welcome it), but does anyone else feel ever so slightly queasy witnessing this evangelical crusade by a body that, let us not forget, is well known for its high-handed interventions in people's lives, whether it be smoking, eating or drinking.

PHE also want e-cigarettes to be 'given out by GPs on prescription, to encourage wider takeup'. The idea that the taxpayer should pay for smokers to quit (or switch from one nicotine device to another) has always struck me as a pretty poor use of public money.

As Chris Snowdon wrote in 2015, 'If you can afford to smoke then you can afford to vape'.

But there's another issue here.

What we are seeing is a public body trying to take ownership of a product that, until now, has succeeded without government intervention.

This is PHE’s manifesto:

Smokers – anyone who has struggled to quit should try switching to an e-cigarette and get professional help. The greatest quit success is among those who combine using an e-cigarette with support from a local stop smoking service.

Local stop smoking services and healthcare professionals – should provide behavioural support to those smokers wanting to quit with the help of an e-cigarette. A new training course on e-cigarettes for healthcare professionals by the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training is now live.

MHRA – continue their work in regulating and licensing e-cigarette products and support manufacturers to expedite the licensing of e-cigarettes as medicinal quit aids. PHE believes there is compelling evidence that e-cigarettes be made available to NHS patients.

NHS Trusts – to become truly smokefree Trusts should ensure: e-cigarettes, alongside nicotine replacement therapies are available for sale in hospital shops; vaping policies support smokers to quit and stay smokefree; smoking shelters be removed; and frontline staff take every opportunity to encourage and support patients to quit.

The issue I have with this approach is that e-cigarettes will eventually be seen as little more than a smoking cessation aid alongside patches and gum.

Worse, PHE's pro-vaping crusade ignores one vital element – choice.

If you smoke and don't want to quit PHE wants to make your life even more uncomfortable by removing outdoor smoking shelters and banning smoking on all NHS sites.

Some people will no doubt applaud unconditionally PHE's support for e-cigarettes. Personally I think it comes at a price – and that price is tolerance and choice.

Anyway, here's Forest's response:

"We welcome PHE's support for e-cigarettes but further attempts to remove smoking shelters or ban smoking on NHS sites will be fiercely resisted.

"E-cigarettes are great for some smokers who want to quit but you can't force smokers to switch if they don't want to. The key issue is choice.

"Regardless of the health risks, many people smoke because they enjoy it. Give them the choice of vaping but denying smokers the comfort of a cigarette when they may be at their most vulnerable is inhumane.

"Vaping is a consumer driven success story. The problem with PHE's approach is that e-cigarettes could become just another smoking cessation aid alongside other nicotine replacement therapies.

"If that happens they will almost certainly lose their appeal to independent-minded smokers who don't want the state dictating their behaviour."

Btw, having been critical of Philip Morris in my previous post (PMI's 2030 vision), I was pleased to read comments by David O'Reilly, group scientific director at British American Tobacco, in yesterday's Daily Mail.

According to the Mail:

Plans to prescribe e-cigarettes on the NHS have collapsed following the abandonment of the only product licensed for medical use.

The eVoke device received approval two years ago amid hopes it could help thousands of smokers to quit.

But British American Tobacco, which holds the medical licence, says the product is unlikely to ‘see the light of day’ because of production difficulties.

In response O'Reilly said:

"We were never really interested in prescription products. At that time, the medicinal route was the only route to market, but smokers do not see themselves as patients.

"Now there are additional routes to market, and we are devoting significant time and resources to extending consumer choice and delivering ever better next-generation tobacco and nicotine products."

In my experience, having listened to him at several conferences, no-one is as committed to harm reduction as David O'Reilly (nor as enthusiastic about next generation products including e-cigarettes).

Note however the use of the phrase 'extending consumer choice', in sharp contrast to PMI's clear declaration of war on smoking.

I'm delighted too to read the unambiguous comment that "Smokers do not see themselves as patients" (or victims, come to that).

The contrast with tobacco control, including Public Health England, could not be clearer. As far as PHE is concerned smokers are patients and part of their treatment is to be offered e-cigarettes alongside other nicotine replacement therapies.

As for 'extending consumer choice', forget it. PHE wants to bludgeon smokers into submission, removing outdoor shelters and prohibiting smoking wherever they can.

In the meantime you may be allowed, at their discretion and under their rules, to vape indoors.

In those circumstances some smokers may indeed elect to switch but I imagine many more will feel resentful that tobacco control has, once again, dictated how you live your life.

According to reports, the number of people vaping in the UK has flatlined at just under three million. I'm not suggesting this is the only reason, but could the fact that e-cigarettes are increasingly being adopted as a tool of the tobacco control industry have something to do with that?


PMI’s 2030 vision

Philip Morris is in the news again.

It's 14 months since chief executive Andre Calantzopoulos told the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) that PMI could stop making conventional cigarettes.

The announcement made headlines around the world.

In June last year the company's UK and Ireland MD Peter Nixon told the same programme, "We are absolutely serious – one day we want to stop selling cigarettes."

In October PMI attracted more attention by announcing it was going to support a new initiative, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, by giving it $1 billion over twelve years.

Four weeks ago the company placed advertisements in UK newspapers that declared, 'Our New Year's Resolution. We're trying to give up cigarettes'.

At the same time PMI launched a shiny new website, Smoke-Free Future. Visit it for yourself but here's a taste:

Cigarette smoking causes serious disease and is addictive. Without question, the best decision any smoker can make is to quit smoking. And many people do. In the UK, the number of smokers has halved over the last 20 years.

Many people quit without professional help. Others quit with the support of family, counselling services or cessation aids.

Under 'More information on the benefits of quitting' the site adds, 'Whatever the method, what matters most is quitting.'

Behind all this activity is iQOS, PMI's new heated tobacco device. Launched in Japan, where it has proved immensely popular with many smokers, iQOS is now available in more than 25 countries including the UK but not America (which I'll come to in a minute).

But first I must stress how much I support the concept of heated tobacco. Two years ago I wrote:

The reason I'm interested in heat-not-burn products is because, wearing my Forest hat, anything that offers a safer method of consuming tobacco ought to interest smokers, especially if it mimics the act of smoking and still involves tobacco.

Of course there are enormous hurdles for emerging tobacco products to overcome, including opposition from politicians, public health campaigners and even some vapers whose reluctance to embrace HNB alongside e-cigarettes is rather sad.

Even if the benefits aren't as significant as using e-cigs I welcome the additional choice they could provide. The fact that HNB devices are genuine tobacco products, unlike e-cigarettes, counts in their favour.

Since then research conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research has confirmed that while a substantial number of committed smokers have tried vaping, e-cigarettes often fall short when it comes to customer satisfaction.

That's why I was rooting for PMI when the company gave evidence last week to a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel in America. According to Reuters (US health advisors weigh risks of novel Philip Morris tobacco device):

The committee is charged with reviewing and evaluating tobacco products and will make a recommendation to FDA on whether to approve the company’s application to market the [heated tobacco] product as “lower-risk.”

FDA has to first decide whether to grant or deny Philip Morris’s application to sell iQOS in the US.

If approved, the products will be marketed and sold by Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, via a commercial agreement between the two companies.

The outcome was mixed - FDA panel gives qualified support to claims for ‘safer’ smoking device - but my guess is that the FDA will grant PMI’s application to sell iQOS in America. In the absence of any further evidence, however, I imagine officials will adopt the precautionary principle and prohibit claims about reduced risk.

So, yes, I applaud the development of products like iQOS, but what saddens me is the way PMI has jumped on the anti-smoking bandwagon with its other initiatives. I understand the strategy but it doesn't make it right. You can advocate harm reduction without undermining and abandoning those who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

Anyway I've been aching for an opportunity to respond directly to PMI and an unexpected source – the Daily Star Online – finally gave me the chance when Forest was asked last week to react to comments by a PMI executive reported here:

The END of smoking: Tobacco firm to STOP selling Marlboro and B&H cigarettes in the UK.

Ignore the assertive yet inaccurate headline. (Marlboro is a PMI brand, B&H isn't, and while the company may aspire to stop selling cigarettes, there's no guarantee it will.) The article however is quite informative:

Mark MacGregor, PMI’s director of corporate affairs for the UK and Ireland, said the company is looking to a future when “cigarettes will no longer be on the market”.

“If we stopped selling them tomorrow, somebody else would sell them cigarettes,” he said. “It wouldn’t produce any benefit for those smokers.

“That’s why we’re focused on trying to persuade our smokers to quit altogether or switch to alternatives which, even according to the government, are significantly less harmful.”

According to MacGregor, “2030 feels like a realistic timeframe” to stop selling cigarettes in the UK because Britain could be completely 'smoke-free' by then.

Forest's response, published in full, read:

“We welcome the new generation of harm reduction products but it's delusional to think that everyone will have stopped smoking by 2030.

"Millions of people smoke not because they're addicted but because they enjoy it. That fundamental fact isn't going to change over the next twelve years.

"The key to this is choice. Give consumers a choice of combustible and non-combustible products and as the technology improves an increasing number will choose the less harmful option.

"But if adults choose to smoke in full knowledge of the health risks that decision must be respected. No-one should be forced to quit because of excessive regulations, punitive taxation or prohibition.

"If Philip Morris want to stop selling cigarettes that's up to them but people will still smoke, and if combustible products can't be purchased through legitimate retailers the black market will supply them."

Funnily enough, Mark MacGregor and I go back a long way. We first met over 35 years ago when a mutual friend, Brian Monteith, introduced us.

Brian and Mark were leading members of the Federation of Conservative Students and I edited a student newspaper called Campus.

Later, all three of us worked for a PR company founded by Michael (now Lord) Forsyth, but not at the same time.

Now, decades later, our paths have crossed again. It really is a small world.

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