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Insulting our intelligence

I go away for three days and while I'm away ASH publishes a report about smoking in the home.

According to The Times, which headlined its report 'Plan to stamp out smoking in social housing':

Stop smoking campaigns must target tobacco use in domestic settings, according to Action on Smoking and Health, which found smoking was twice as common among those in social housing than other tenures.

It also said housing associations should consider designating new-builds as non-smoking areas.

My response, written in haste moments after landing at Dublin airport on Monday (ASH's press release was embargoed until 00:01hrs on Tuesday), read:

“Reaching into smokers’ homes takes tobacco control in a new and rather sinister direction.

“Focussing on social housing targets those who can’t afford to buy their own homes. That’s discrimination in anyone’s language and many people will find it repellent.

“They say this is not about banning smoking in the home but that’s clearly the long-term goal. It’s prohibition by stealth and a gross intrusion into people’s private lives.”

I was quoted by The Times (in print and online) and a number of regional newspapers (online only) but my soundbite was restricted to the first sentence so the points about discrimination and prohibition got lost.

That's important because – despite the evidence before us – ASH is determined to deny the suggestion that they want to ban smoking in people's homes.

According to TalkRadio:

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health has said it is “unreasonable” to stop people from smoking in their own homes, but more has to be done to reduce smoking in social housing and privately-rented properties.

A report by Action on Smoking and Health and two All Party Parliamentary Groups found that smoking is “highly concentrated” on council estates, with a suggestion that new social housing could be designated smoke-free.

Ms Arnott stressed that this was not suggesting that people should be stopped from smoking in their own homes.

She told TalkRadio’s Matthew Wright: “It makes a good headline but the report does not actually say that people should be stopped from smoking. That would be completely unreasonable.”

“We are not suggesting that people should be stopped from smoking in their own homes,” she added.

“But, when the ban on smoking in public places came in we saw a decline in the number of people smoking in the home.

“Because, if it is dangerous to smoke in front of your workmates, why are going to smoke in front of your family?

“So there is much less smoking in the home than there used to be but it still happens.

“We need to do more to remind people why it is not a good idea. But, we certainly do not want to ban it.”

Deborah's colleague Hazel Cheeseman said much the same thing when we were interviewed together on LBC.

In Hazel's case she emphasised that the aim was to make new developments 'smoke free'. But that's still prohibition, right?

It strikes me that ASH is playing down the idea of stopping people smoking in their own homes because they know how that sounds to most people.

And if they don't know they should read these reactions on the Nottingham Post website:

Dave Jennings, 71, said he had no plans to stop smoking in his council house. “It is not anyone’s business what I do in my house,” he said.

Non-smoker Gary Brown, 66, said people smoking in their homes was no one’s business but their own. He said: “Politicians are always trying to ban this or that. Why can’t they just leave people, paying rent in their own home, alone. These people need to get a grip.”

Non-smoker Karen Lovell, 39 from Bow, east London said: “If you pay your rent, I don’t see why it’s anyone’s business what you do in your home.”

Dawn Tillett, 51, said: “I don’t smoke but people pay enough in rent to be able to smoke in their own home. For me it is nothing to do with the council or the government. People know the risks of smoking - if they do it, it is their choice.”

The reality is, ASH is deliberately obscuring the truth of the situation, as prohibitionists always do.

How often, for example, did we read that ASH didn't want to ban smoking in every pub and restaurant in the country until, one day, they did.

"No-one is seriously talking about a complete ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants," said Clive Bates, director of ASH, in September 1998.

Or what about the ban on smoking in cars carrying children? When we voiced concern about banning smoking in private vehicles the British Lung Foundation responded:

'Smoking in cars results in concentrations of toxins much higher than are normally found elsewhere ... Suggesting that other bans will inevitably follow insults the intelligence of the public ...'

If anyone is insulting our intelligence it's Deborah Arnott and ASH who want to create 'smoke free' housing developments where residents are not allowed to smoke while insisting "we certainly do not want to ban it".

If that's not a real-life example of George Orwell's Newspeak I don't know what is.


Golden Nanny Awards 2018

I’ve been in Dublin this week for the Golden Nanny Awards.

We launched the awards last year in order to highlight Ireland’s burgeoning nanny state and the people and organisations behind it.

I was told that we’d struggle to fill a room let alone a restaurant but in November 2017, with the help of Students for Liberty Ireland and other groups, we attracted 60 guests for dinner followed by the inaugural awards.

To our surprise we were joined by Senator Catherine Noone, winner of our first ‘Nanny-In-Chief’ award, who began her acceptance speech with the words:

“Libertarians, contrarians, barbarians, thank you.”

This year there were almost 80 guests including Senator Noone and two TDs, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Noel Rock.

Ireland’s libertarian community was out in force with Students for Liberty and the Classical Liberal Society at Trinity College Dublin well represented.

The evening began with drinks on the heated smoking terrace. The weather was foul but guests remained warm, dry and immune to the driving rain.

(As it happens, the UK could learn from Ireland's more liberal approach to outdoor smoking areas, many of which are significantly enclosed.)

We sat down for dinner at 7.30 with the after dinner entertainment beginning at 9.15.

Introduced by Forest’s John Mallon, our MC for the evening was Cllr Keith Redmond, a dentist by day and one of Ireland’s more liberal voices.

Guest speaker was the familiar figure of Chris Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs and editor of the Nanny State Index. He didn’t hold back:

“Nannies, killjoys, wowsers, curtain-twitching puritans, fun sponges, po-faced poobahs, puritanical prodnoses, lemon-sucking busybodies, meddlesome ratbags, hatchet-faced prohibitionists, health fascists, pocket dictators, little Hitlers, nicotine Nazis, gambling Gestapo, sugar Stasi, tobacco Taliban, interfering, hateful, miserable, little scumbags whose very existence is a curse on humanity, they suck the light out of the room, the grass withers beneath their feet.

“These are just some of the things people say about the nominees for this award just because they try to stamp out the small pleasures that make life bearable. I think this is unfair. What a lot of people forget is that interfering in other people’s lives is the only pleasure these people get. So in a way, it’s the libertarians who are the killjoys.”

On the challenge of toppling Finland from the top of the Nanny State Index (Ireland is currently third), Chris told guests:

“If anyone can do it, it is the people nominated for this prestigious award this evening. Although we are only trying to honour the biggest nanny statist in Ireland tonight, it’s difficult to imagine the list of nominees looking much different if it was a global award. We are talking creme de la creme.”

Wishing the nominees well, he added:

“It’s going to be tough to pick a winner and in a way it’s a shame there has to be winner. To me, they are all losers.”

Ignoring these barbs, the former minister of state for health promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy accepted her award as ‘Nanny-in-Chief 2018’ in the same spirit as her predecessor Catherine Noone (who presented it).

“Thank you for this amazing award, I feel really honoured.

“I’m going to put it on my mantlepiece and reflect on the outcome of having introduced sugar tax, the alcohol bill and plain packaging.

“I might even have a glass of wine to celebrate.”

Other winners included Trinity College Dublin for introducing a campus wide smoking ban, the Restaurants Association of Ireland for welcoming a possible ban on smoking in outdoor dining areas, and Alcohol Action Ireland for backing the alcohol bill.

Sadly, none of these august bodies were represented at the event so others had to accept the awards on their behalf.

This year, to counterbalance the ‘Nanny’ awards, we introduced a new category.

The Voices of Freedom awards will be familiar to those who attended the Forest Freedom Dinner in London in 2016 and 2017 but this was the first time we’ve taken the concept to Ireland.

The winners of the first Voices of Freedom awards in Ireland were Rob Duffy, coordinator of Students for Liberty Ireland, and journalist Ian O’Doherty (above) whose fearless and always entertaining columns can be found in the Irish Independent and Irish Daily Star.

In a short but typically droll acceptance speech, Ian told guests he won’t have anything to do with journalist awards “on the grounds that I refuse to be judged by my inferiors. This, on the other hand, is a genuine honour.”

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur but thanks to everyone who supported or attended the event - including Catherine Noone and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy whose presence was greatly appreciated.

I know some people feel we shouldn’t be giving our adversaries a platform to ‘celebrate’ their nanny state credentials.

It’s worth noting however that Senator Noone and Deputy Corcoran Kennedy have also been criticised (on Twitter) for consorting with a group (Forest) that receives donations from the tobacco industry.

The accusation is that the Golden Nanny awards and those who accept them are trivialising serious issues whether it be health or freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

I don’t see it that way.

One, you should be able to laugh at almost anything and shared humour brings people closer together.

Two, while I am under no illusion that a small event like this will change our opponents' views (which I’m sure are genuinely held), I hope it will give them some insight into our equally strong convictions.

At the very least, faced with a room full of people opposed to excessive government intervention in our lives, it may provide food for thought.

That aside, the awards allow us to engage directly with those who don't share our views and engage indirectly with many more.

You see, the Nannies haven’t gone unnoticed. Aside from the invitations we sent to other public health campaigners and journalists, the event was featured by The Times, RTE and Newstalk, the country’s leading independent radio station.

Guest speaker Chris Snowdon did two interviews - the first, on RTE1, with Professor Donal O’Shea of the HSE (Ireland’s health service); the second, on Newstalk, with Catherine Noone.

Forest's John Mallon also discussed the theme of the event on several local radio stations.

The report in The Times (Ex-minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy ‘proud’ to accept award for expanding the nanny state) finished with this quote:

John Mallon, a spokesman for Forest Ireland, said he was pleased that the winner stopped by to accept her award.

He said nanny staters strengthen their grip on the nation every year. “For years tobacco was in the firing line and now it’s alcohol and sugar,” he said.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to reassert a live-and-let-live culture that allows adults to make informed choices without being patronised or punished.”

In a largely hostile political and media environment - worse, in many ways, than the UK - I consider that to be a reasonable result.

But do watch the clips below ...

Update: Chris Snowdon has posted his speech in full here. Do read it.


Michael Gove, your country needs you!

Despite everything, a lot of people are crediting Theresa May for her ‘hard work’, ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’.

Pity that hard work didn’t include making proper preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario.

That should have begun even before Article 50 was deployed. The shocking failure to do so removed one of the UK’s strongest bargaining tools and weakened our position with the outcome we see today.

If deliberately undermining the two Secretaries of State she appointed to handle Brexit is evidence of grit and determination, so be it.

As for her resilience, I saw very little on the question of the Irish border. Neither Ireland nor the UK want a hard border. If unelected EU bureaucrats want to impose such restrictions that’s up to them. We should have challenged them to do so and be responsible for the consequences.

Ploughing on when it’s clear you’re not up to the job (the General Election campaign was a clue) is not a show of ‘resilience’, it’s pig-headedness.

The election destroyed her authority and it’s been downhill ever since.

I don’t doubt Theresa May’s sincerity. I do believe she’s doing what she thinks is right. But so did Chamberlain and, like him, her strategy is to kick the problem down the road while waving a piece of paper - or, in her case, a 500-page withdrawal document.

To be fair to Chamberlain, some historians credit him with buying Britain time to prepare for war and that ultimately saved us from invasion, but you get my point.

I don’t want to overplay the Chamberlain analogy (which I appreciate may be a little crass) but if May’s strategy is to play for time so we eventually get the Brexit 17.4 million people voted I’d have a bit more sympathy. But I don’t think it is. For her, this is it, the ‘best’ we can hope for.

Take back control. A clean break with the EU. That’s what the British people voted for in the referendum. And the prime minister, a Remainer, has not delivered.

Then again the Brexiteers have been a shambles, a disunited rabble with no clear vision torn apart by raging egos (David Davis, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, even Jacob Rees Mogg, to name a few).

Today, Michael Gove must resign and coordinate the resistance to this Whitehall/Brussels stitch-up. We need a genuine Brexiteer to mastermind a new agreement (which the EU will resist) or have the courage to walk away.

But Gove can’t do it alone. He needs Boris to stop hiding behind his Telegraph column and return full-time to the political fray.

Yes, I still think Boris is the man for the hour in terms of selling this to the British public with his optimism and quirky eccentricities.

In that regard he could probably do a better job as PM while leaving Gove, his deputy, to handle the details of our withdrawal from the EU.

Gove also needs every other leading Brexiteer to put aside their differences and line up behind him. And he needs to challenge the prime minister to a leadership contest.

What we don’t need, at this juncture, are the ‘sensible’ but dull candidates, the ‘safe pair of hands’ offered by Hunt or Hammond.

Nor is it the moment for the likes of Sajid Javid or Dominic Raab who may be the future but are inexperienced and are no political heavyweights (if such a thing exists in Britain today).

After two years of muddle and misrule we need optimism, a clear vision, and negotiators who believe in Britain, in Brexit, and want to achieve more than damage limitation.

Go, Michael. Your country needs you!

Update: Ten minutes after I posted this, the BBC reported ‘Michael Gove decides not to quit cabinet‘.

Another politician with no cojones. Sad.


A tale of two countries

Last night I had a drink with Guillaume Perigois, director of Forest EU, in a bar on the Place du Luxembourg in Brussels opposite the European Parliament.

Smoking is banned in Belgium's bars and restaurants yet here we were, sitting at a table, ashtrays close to hand, with several people smoking at other tables around us.

Technically we were ‘outside’ but in Belgium there is no ludicrously petty regulation that says smoking areas have to be ‘50 per cent open to the elements’.

Consequently we were sitting in a warm and completely enclosed extension at the front of the bar, not hidden away, out of sight, at the back.

Similar facilities are common in countries such as Belgium and France, although I haven’t been to France for ten years so perhaps someone can update me.

It’s not a fixed structure but it feels as though you are inside. We were warm, under cover and comfortable. And the arrangement seemed to suit everyone, including the bar staff.

There's no reason why we shouldn't have similar smoking areas in the UK. Instead Welsh Labour leadership candidate Mark Drakeford, who will become first minister of Wales if he is elected, wants to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas of cafes and restaurants.

Given the current regulations in Wales, which are a far cry from civilised Belgium, this seems rather spiteful.

Anyway, shortly before Guillaume and I went for our drink I was invited to discuss the issue with Eddie Mair on LBC.

But first he spoke to Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales.

I lost count of the number of times Cass used the word "progressive" to describe Drakeford's proposal. She said it had "strong public support" and was "not persecuting the smoker", a claim that seemed to surprise the former Radio 4 presenter.

She admitted there is "little evidence" of harm caused by 'secondhand’ smoke in the open air but that doesn't matter to tobacco control campaigners. It's all about denormalisation, keeping smoking out of sight of children, and 'helping' smokers to quit.

Smoking, said ex-smoker Cass, is "not a habit of choice". Not for her perhaps but why should regulations be dictated by those who are weak-willed or easily influenced?

In response I reminded Mair why the workplace smoking ban was introduced. It was, or so we were told, to "protect" the health of bar workers working in enclosed spaces. I then repeated what Cass had said about secondhand smoke outside.

I queried the need for a further ban, pointing out that according to a study in Scotland exposure to secondhand smoke has dropped by 97 per cent in the past two decades. I imagine the same is true in Wales and the rest of the UK.

I also challenged the implication of her claim that since the workplace smoking ban there has been a huge drop in the number of people who smoke. The ban, I pointed out, made very little difference to smoking rates which barely changed between 2007 and 2012 when a more significant fall – the result of other factors – began to kick in.

We had a lively exchange when Mair played devil’s advocate and suggested it was unfair that non-smokers couldn’t sit outside on a sunny day without having someone blow smoke over them, or something like that.

It’s an argument, I suppose, but try telling a smoker who has sat outside in all weather, all year round, that he can’t smoke outside because the anti-smoking brigade now wants exclusive use of the outdoor area when it’s sunny and even when it’s cold and wet, although they will all be inside at that point.

Anyway we have a fight on our hands. Responses to the Welsh government consultation on The Smoke-free Premises and Vehicles (Wales) Regulations 2018 are currently being reviewed and I don't hold out much hope that the consultation report, when it's published, will do us any favours.

Tobacco control is almost a nationalised industry in Wales and the Welsh media make little or no effort to provide any sort of balance in their reports.

If you live in other parts of the UK what happens in Wales also tends to go under the radar, which in this instance would be a huge mistake.

If Wales adopts Drakeford’s proposal the policy will almost certainly be considered by the Scottish government. Even in England there will be some local authorities who want to give it a go.

It’s worth noting too that Drakeford’s plan goes beyond al fresco dining areas because it includes high streets and town centres - the very policy that was ridiculed when it was proposed by a lone and somewhat eccentric councillor in a Buckinghamshire town seven years ago.

Times change but the tobacco control industry stays the same. The prohibitionists are always looking for the next logical step.

I support Brexit but there’s a lot to be said for Brussels!


And the nominees are ....

Yesterday we announced the shortlist of nominees for the 2018 Golden Nanny Awards that take place in Dublin next week.

They are minister for health Simon Harris TD; former health minister Senator Dr James Reilly; former minister of state for health promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD; Professor Donal O'Shea, clinical lead for obesity, HSE; Dr Patrick Doorley, chairman, ASH Ireland; Dr Bobby Smyth, board member, Alcohol Action Ireland; and Eunan McKinney, head of communications and advocacy, Alcohol Action Ireland.

Following the introduction of campus smoking bans Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and the University of Limerick have also been shortlisted.

Another nominee, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, has been shortlisted after its chief executive Adrian Cummins gave a "cautious welcome" to a ban on smoking in outdoor dining areas.

Interestingly, in 2014 Cummins also called for a total ban on the use of e-cigarettes in restaurants.

The shortlist reflects two major developments in Ireland this year, the passing of the alcohol bill which aims to reduce alcohol consumption, and proposals to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas.

The alcohol bill includes ‘restrictions on advertising, separation of alcoholic products from retail areas inside shops and the introduction of cancer warning labels on containers.’.

You can read our nominations press release on the Forest website but here’s what John Mallon, spokesman for Forest Ireland, had to say:

“The Golden Nanny Awards celebrate excellence in finger-wagging and an unhealthy desire to intervene in other people's lives.

"This year's shortlist is particularly strong. Choosing the winners will be difficult because every nominee deserves a Nanny.

"The judging panel will examine the evidence very carefully before deciding who should receive one of these coveted awards."


Foundation for a Smoke Free World hosts 'stakeholder meeting' at Tobacco Dock

London is the location for no fewer than three nicotine-related events this week.

On Thursday there's the sixth E-Cigarette Summit. Leading into that (tomorrow and Wednesday) is the fifth annual Next Generation Nicotine Delivery conference, an event I spoke at two years ago.

The Next Gen event is far more industry and product focussed than the E-Cigarette Summit which is dominated by public health/tobacco control campaigners.

Another event taking place tomorrow is a 'stakeholder meeting' hosted by the Foundation for a Smoke Free World:

Please join us November 13th as we review our objectives, and hold an important discussion about our future plans to accelerate research and action to end smoking through better cessation and effective harm reduction. We invite questions and feedback.

Appropriately, or perhaps ironically, the event takes place at Tobacco Dock.

I was tempted to register but I had a prior engagement in Brussels. Tough choice!


Watt’s the story?

I won’t be going to the E-Cigarette Summit on Thursday.

There is however one speaker I shall be sorry to miss: Judith Watt.

The E-Cigarette Summit website describes her as an ‘international tobacco control consultant’:

In her three decades in tobacco control, Judith Watt has been an advocate, strategist and mentor at UK, Australian and global levels. Her career has included communications planning, policy development and advocacy, and pioneering work in supporting advocates in low- and middle-income countries.

Judith’s initial experience came in running national campaigns in the UK and Australia in the 1980s and 1990s, where she lay the groundwork for initiatives that are still widely seen as models internationally, including the “Every cigarette is doing you damage” TV campaign that has been adapted for use in over 40 countries.

I remember her as the head of a long-forgotten campaign called Smoke Free London which was described as an “an alliance of NHS health authorities and other agencies”.

Before that she was the first full-time coordinator of No Smoking Day in the UK.

For a period Judith rivalled Clive Bates (who was director of ASH from 1998-2003) as the go to spokesman for the anti-smoking brigade. Soundbites attributed to her included:

“If you smoke and you're with children, they're smoking too."

“It would be extremely good for London as a tourist destination to be a smoke free city.”

She was a tough opponent with an occasionally sharp tongue but she was never unpleasant and I rather liked her.

On one occasion we were invited to Television Centre in west London to discuss some issue live in the studio. The item got pushed back so we had time to chat while we waited.

I thought we were getting on rather well. As soon as we were on air however we had a pretty fierce argument. I can’t recall what was said, or even what we were talking about, but I do remember that I enjoyed it!

Afterwards we returned to central London together. We were still on speaking terms (neither of us took our disagreement personally) but that was the last time I saw her.

Well before the introduction of the smoking ban Judith returned to Australia with the result that her role in setting the ball rolling has been largely forgotten or ignored by those who chose to take credit for the subsequent legislation.

She’s not been idle however and for some years she’s had a senior role with the Framework Convention Alliance, a body made up of nearly 500 organisations from over 100 countries that works on the development, ratification and implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Given the WHO’s ambiguous attitude to risk reduction products I'll be interested to hear what she has to say on the subject.


Philip Morris responds to accusations of “staggering hypocrisy”

Alison Cooper, chief executive of Imperial Brands, was interviewed on the Today programme on Tuesday.

Interviewer: You talk about making something better and safer for smokers. If you were that concerned about the health of smokers wouldn’t you just stop making cigarettes altogether?

Alison Cooper: I think in terms of the current cigarette smoking population, many of them very much enjoy smoking. We know it’s a controversial product but therefore it’s even more important that responsible companies still continue to deliver that product to smokers, so I see that being a very important part, still, of Imperial’s story, but at the same time we very much want to develop the vaper business, blu and myblu in particular, and really start seeing smokers switch more into those products.

The reference to "responsible companies" was interesting. What she meant, I think, is that only an irresponsible company would abandon smokers to the counterfeiters and criminal gangs who would inevitably step in to meet demand for combustible cigarettes with unregulated products.

I was pleased too to hear a Big Tobacco CEO acknowledge two indisputable facts – one, many smokers “very much enjoy smoking” and, two, cigarettes are still a “very important part” of the business.

It was a welcome change from the tone adopted by Philip Morris whose ambition is to stop selling cigarettes “as soon as possible”.

Talking of which, I was away when Philip Morris launched a new quit smoking campaign a couple of weeks ago so I haven’t written about it until now.

Taking its cue from Stoptober, which challenges smokers to quit smoking for 28 days, the Hold My Light campaign wants smokers to ‘Go smoke-free for 30 days’. Echoing Public Health England, the tobacco company funded website declares:

If you do it for a month, you’re five times more likely to do it for good. It introduces support from the people around you, which could increase your chance of succeeding.

Participants are given four options on how to go ‘smoke free’:

  • Quit smoking cigarettes
  • Quit with cessation products
  • Switch to e-cigarettes
  • Switch to heated tobacco

But here’s the twist. The campaign suggests that smokers should invite friends and family to support their efforts to stop smoking by making ‘commitments to help you stay motivated’.

Ideas include:

  • cooking you dinner every week for a month
  • looking after your pet when you’re on holiday
  • helping to redecorate your living room
  • go speed dating with you


The Hold My Light campaign was launched with a wraparound advertising feature in the Daily Mirror urging smokers to give up cigarettes.

Here are a handful of the many headlines it generated:

  • Tobacco firm campaign up in smoke as critics hit out (Scotsman)
  • Tobacco industry's stunt is unlikely to fool anyone (Daily Express)
  • Philip Morris accused of ‘staggering hypocrisy’ over anti-smoking ad (Irish Times)
  • ‘A staggering hypocrisy’: tobacco company slammed for telling UK smokers to quit (Huffington Post)
  • Marlboro-maker Philip Morris accused of 'PR puff' amid launch of £2m anti-smoking campaign (The Drum)

And here’s how our national broadcasters covered the story:

BBC News
One of the world's biggest tobacco firms, Philip Morris, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over its new UK advert urging smokers to quit.

Sky News
Cigarette giant Philip Morris has drawn criticism after releasing a four-page anti-smoking advert.

Channel 4 News
One of the world's biggest tobacco firms, Philip Morris, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over a new advertising campaign that urges smokers to quit.

BBC Radio Five Live
The tobacco company Philip Morris is defending a new campaign that encourages smokers to give up cigarettes. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman, ASH.

Cigarette giant Philip Morris has been slammed as 'hypocritical' after releasing a four-page anti-smoking advert. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman, ASH.

LBC News
A tobacco firm is being accused of staggering hypocrisy over its campaign urging smokers to quit. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman from ASH.

As for local radio, here’s a summary of one of many reports:

Philip Morris, one of the world's biggest tobacco makers, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over its new ad campaign that urges smokers to quit. Includes interview with Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH.

This week, in what appears to be a damage limitation exercise, the company’s director of corporate affairs in the UK and Ireland has given an interview to Campaign magazine:

Mark MacGregor said he had been “surprised” by attacks from people and organisations that have said big tobacco should have no role in reducing smoking rates.

"It’s very naïve of people to think we’re just going to shut down our business," he said. "And if we’re not going to do that, it feels like the action we’ve taken is proof [of our intentions], whether people want to believe it or not.

"I take the view that large companies make commitments, and if you’ve made a huge one like this, you’ve got to start to deliver on that.

"One of the criticisms we’ve had before is that all we’ve had are words, not actions – well, running a campaign to persuade British smokers to quit feels like an action. I’d say to critics that we’re doing precisely what you’d expect a company with that ambition should do."

Regarding the pledge to stop selling cigarettes, MacGregor said he couldn't give a date when it would happen because it would depend 'not just on the proportion of its own sales that were coming from alternatives, but also the external context':

“Of course we could simply stop doing it tomorrow – but all that would happen is people would buy their cigarettes from someone else. So we’ve chosen a different path, which is in some ways more difficult."

You can read the full article here - Philip Morris exec defends quit-smoking campaign (Campaign).

To be clear, I fully support the efforts of Philip Morris and other tobacco companies to develop and promote reduced risk products.

The problem I have is that in actively pursuing an anti-smoking agenda - instead of a policy that puts choice (including the right to smoke) front and centre - Philip Morris is turning its back on millions of consumers who enjoy smoking and, even today, don’t want to quit.

As investment analyst Rae Maile put it at a fringe event organised by Forest at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last month:

“I am particularly concerned at the approach that Philip Morris has used in trying to open a debate with regulators, with the health lobby, about this desire to move rapidly to a smoke-free future because customers have been, for 40, 50 years, increasingly under the cosh of ever higher taxation, ever more vitriolic messages, from public health about how stupid they are to carry on smoking.

“They have loyally bought the products of these companies and now you've got the largest of them saying, 'Well, actually, we kind of agree and we don't think you should smoke either.' And I think that's wrong ... That disrespect shown to the customer is absolutely wrong in a fast moving consumer goods industry."

I couldn’t agree more. And that’s why we don’t hear the same accusations of hypocrisy thrown at other tobacco companies.

Likewise the industry funded VApril campaign avoided a similar backlash because it too managed to promote vaping without being overtly anti-smoking.

There was one misstep (which I highlighted here) but overall, and to its credit, the campaign seemed to put choice and education above cheap anti-smoking rhetoric.

Finally, if Mark MacGregor’s name seems familiar to you it’s because he was one of four panellists at that Forest event in Birmingham. The subject was 'Should smoking be consigned to history?' and I wrote about it here.

Click on the link and you'll also find a video of Mark's contribution.

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