Sunday
Apr092017

Another one bites the dust

Can't believe I missed this.

Healthier Futures, formerly Tobacco Free Futures and before that Smokefree North West, has bitten the dust.

In the words of Monty Python it has kicked the bucket, it has ceased to be.

"Rejoice!" as someone once said.

In my defence there has been nothing about the closure of Healthier Futures in the national or local media (or nothing I'm aware of), unlike the demise of Smokefree South West which was a top story on the local BBC and ITV news.

Both broadcasters even reported Forest's reaction which was sympathetic, as you can imagine:

"Taxpayers already pay for NHS smoking cessation services and national anti-smoking campaigns.

"When budgets are so tight, and other services are being cut, it's difficult to justify the use of public money to support yet another tobacco control group.

"The health risks of smoking are very well known and widely publicised by other bodies including Public Health England which has a regional office in Bristol.

"In terms of public health, the impact of Smokefree South West closing will be negligible."

In contrast the only reference I've seen about the closure of Healthier Futures appeared in the British Medical Journal in a feature headlined 'Is the government still serious about reducing smoking?'.

Journalist Sophie Arie didn't even mention the name of the organisation. Instead she wrote:

An effective collaboration of 12 local authorities in north east England is threatened because its almost £1.2m contract is up for renewal on 31 March. A similar collaboration in the north west will end on 31 March, as did its equivalent in the south west last year because of lack of funding.

According to the Healthier Futures website (which is now little more than a holding page), Fresh NE (formerly Smokefree North East), whose future is also said to be "threatened", will "now hold the IP and associated assets" of the defunct organisation.

Sounds like a poisoned chalice to me!

Btw, I've just re-read what I wrote after Tobacco Free Futures rebranded as Healthier Futures last year:

According to chief executive Andrew Crossfield, it marks the "start of the next chapter in our story". She added:

"In addition to tackling tobacco – which is still a vital part of our work – we are excited to now be taking on responsibility to tackle a range of health issues. Our new mission is to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives."

Readers will recall that a last minute re-launch couldn't save Smokefree South West.

In February, just three months after it became Public Health Action (adding alcohol to its portfolio), SFSW aka PHA was forced to announce its imminent closure.

Does the same fate await Smokefree North West aka Tobacco Free Futures aka Healthier Futures?

And what about Smokefree North East aka Fresh?

See Tobacco Free Futures to rebrand as Healthier Futures.

Sunday
Apr092017

Obrigado

Just back from Lisbon and I can't speak highly enough of the place, even though I learnt only one word, 'obrigado'.

According to the tram tour commentary the city enjoys more than 260 days of sunshine a year.

The temperature this week (26oC) was slightly higher than the seasonal norm and it was very pleasant indeed.

We didn't do very much, apart from eat and drink. Fish and meat dominate the menus but several restaurants offered a fusion of Portuguese and African cuisine.

I also developed a liking for vinho verde, the national wine, and Branca, a local beer that came served in a glass within a glass, which helped keep it cool.

Our hotel was in a tourist hot spot, next to the castle, but with only 14 rooms and a private terrace it provided the perfect oasis from the crowds.

It was also very quiet, most of the time. There were some noisy neighbours – a pair of peacocks, both male, who strutted around displaying their plumage whilst squawking very loudly.

The hotel – like the castle – was at the top of a series of steep and increasingly narrow cobbled streets.

There are lots of hills in Lisbon so the best way to see the city was by tram – not the modern, bendy-bus style tram but the tiny old-fashioned sort that managed to squeeze through the tightest of spaces.

This was the first time I'd been to Portugal since 1971 when my family spent a two-week holiday in the Algarve.

(Ironically, given this week's news, my sister and I were taken out of school for the full two weeks!)

Anyway it won't be the last time I go there. The flight from Stansted was two and a half hours. The journey from airport to hotel was another 25 minutes but given the temperate climate and relaxed atmosphere I can't think of many better places to spend a short holiday or long weekend.

Warmly recommended.

PS. Just catching up with a few things, notably the fallout from the Royal Society of Public Health 'investigation' into the sale of e-cigarettes to non-smokers by vape shops.

As several bloggers have commented, neither the RSPH nor the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) come out of this very well.

If I can be bothered I may add my own tuppence ha'penny worth later.

Tuesday
Apr042017

Pole to Pole

An old schoolfriend, who now lives in Ireland, set off for the North Pole today.

I've written about Bill before. As I explained only yesterday I spent part of my honeymoon with him in the Cayman Islands.

In 2011 (as reported by the BBC) he climbed ten unchartered peaks in Greenland.

The previous year he climbed the Eiger. Before that it was Mt Blanc and before that it was Mts Kenya and Kilimanjaro.

There was also the little matter of reaching the South Pole, on foot.

A few years ago I also posted a picture of the pair of us, with two other friends, taken in the Lake District in 1975.

As I noted then, that experience clearly inspired his subsequent exploits. (I was joking.)

The North Pole Last Degree expedition is described by the Norwegian guides as follows:

This is the real way to the North Pole. In about 10 days you will experience everything the Polar Sea has in it’s armour: The cold, the pressure ridges, the leads, the drifting ice, the stunning light, the team spirit, how to survive and conquer the harshest environment on earth!

To reach the 90° North will fill you with both pride and immense happiness – this is a world and an experience for the very few.

Anyway, you can follow their progress on this dedicated blog.

Bill writes:

Please follow along and enjoy the journey. We have been training hard for several months and it should prove to be a big challenge at minus 35°C and approximately 120km (60 nautical miles). There may even be pictures depending on the satellite.

As it happens my wife Clare and I are joining up with Bill and his wife Patty (a keen walker) in August.

Together we're going to New York on the Queen Mary. No walking, no climbing, no exercise, nothing strenuous except regular visits to the many restaurants and bars located throughout the ship.

Now that's my idea of an expedition.

Monday
Apr032017

25

It's our 25th wedding anniversary today.

To celebrate the occasion my wife and I are flying to Lisbon for a few days.

I met Clare in 1990 at a party in Edinburgh. I was living in London at the time and she lived in Glasgow so for two years we spent most of our weekends flying back and forth.

We got married on April 3, 1992, at 11.00am in a small Catholic church in Eaglesham, Scotland's first conservation village, just south of Glasgow.

After the service we led everyone across the common to a small tea room where guests were served cakes, champagne and tea.

Two hours later, with our eyes firmly on the clock, we set forth by car for the Isle of Skye where we were joined by 18 friends and relatives.

In unseasonably bright sunshine the journey took five hours but no-one got lost and everyone arrived in good time for dinner.

Hotel Eileen Iarmain overlooking the Sound of Sleat wasn't our discovery. Our friends John and Susie had stayed there a few years years earlier and shortly after Clare and I met we stayed there too.

It seemed the obvious place for our wedding dinner and for our guests it was a bit of an adventure.

Two days later we returned to Glasgow before driving south to Heathrow where we caught a flight to Miami. Discovering that we were newly married BA even upgraded us, which is a bit of a cliche, but we weren't complaining.

For the first week of our honeymoon Madsen Pirie had very kindly offered us the use of his holiday house in the Florida Keys.

He even threw in the use of his car that was conveniently parked at the local airport when we arrived on a small plane from Miami.

We loved it there but our return flight to Miami was the worst I've ever experienced.

Our small plane reacted like a bucking bronco when the pilot - who we could see grappling with the controls - tried to navigate around a thunderstorm.

It was probably only 30 seconds but it felt like several minutes. An abiding memory was Clare furiously counting her Rosary beads in prayer!

For week two we flew from Miami to the Cayman Islands where we were guests of an old schoolfriend who had only recently got married himself.

Bill was working there as a corporate lawyer. Today he and Patty live in Ireland with their three children.

Clare and I have two children of our own who were both born in Edinburgh.

Forest brought me back to London for work and we've lived in Cambridgeshire ever since.

My one regret is ... in all that time we've never been back to Skye!

PS. I still see Bill when I'm in Dublin and tomorrow, a few weeks after his own silver wedding anniversary, he sets off for the North Pole.

When I get a moment I'll post a link to the expedition blog.

Monday
Apr032017

Feeding tobacco control's addiction to public money

The Welsh Government has just announced plans to cut smoking prevalence in Wales to 16 per cent by 2020.

That's a three per cent drop from the most recently reported rate of 19 per cent (2015).

It has also announced funding of over £400,000 over three years to reduce the number of smokers.

No prizes for guessing where that money will go. Last night, when I drafted this post, I didn't have the full details so I wrote, 'Some of it will undoubtedly go to ASH Wales, a lobby group that probably wouldn't exist without annual handouts of public money.'

This morning the BBC reported that every penny will go to "campaign charity ASH Cymru". See £400k to cut smoking in Wales, Welsh Government announces (BBC News Wales).

Chief executive of ASH Cymru Suzanne Cass, said the funding would help them support the remaining 19% still addicted to tobacco to choose smoke-free and lead "healthier, happier lives".

It will certainly make Suzanne's life happier. In fact I imagine she'll be doing a little dance in her office.

After all, her salary is paid for by the Welsh Government which means her contract has effectively been extended by three years at the public's expense. Nice work.

There's nothing new in this, of course. Public funding of anti-smoking lobby groups been going on for years.

In October 2010 Forest published a report, Government lobbying government: the case of the UK tobacco control industry.

I wrote about it here (Forest: cut public spending on tobacco control groups) and on ConservativeHome (The state should stop giving anti-smoking groups public money to lobby the Government).

The report highlighted the public money given to tobacco control 'charities' such as ASH.

ASH UK, for example, received a direct grant of £142,000 from the Department of Health in 2009 (£191,000 in 2008 and £210,400 in 2007) plus £110,000 from the Welsh Assembly Government in 2007.

In 2008-09 ASH Scotland received £921,837 from the Scottish Government followed, in December 2009, by a £500,000 grant from the Big Lottery to fund a major three-year research project into smoke-free homes in Scotland.

ASH Wales meanwhile received £115,800 from the Welsh Assembly Government in 2008-09 and £113,000 in 2007-08.

In comparison with Britain's national debt these sums may seem relatively trivial – hence they don't get the attention they deserve – but year after year they add up to tens of millions of pounds, much of it used to lobby ministers and other politicians to introduce further tobacco control measures.

Interestingly, last month's Populus poll (commissioned by Forest) asked respondents the following question:

Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Do you think that taxpayers' money should or should not be used to lobby the Government?

The response was:

Should be used – 12%
Should not be used – 63%
Don't know – 24%

The poll also invited respondents to rank a list of national and local issues in terms of importance. Asked about NHS priorities:

Respondents rated investing in new doctors and nurses as the top priority among the Government priorities listed – giving it an average rating of 9.06 out of 10 on a scale of importance.

Addressing response times at A&E was the second highest ranked priority overall, rated on average 8.76 out of 10 in terms of importance.

Addressing care for the elderly was ranked third, with an average score of 8.70 out of 10.

Among the ten issues listed, tackling smoking came out as the lowest priority, at an average of 6.38 out of 10.

Asked about local government priorities:

Respondents rated refuse collection, street cleaning and other environmental issues as the top local government priority, giving it an average rating of 8.22 out of 10.

Maintenance of roads, bridges and pavements was the second highest ranked priority overall, rated on average 8.04 out of 10 in terms of importance.

Housing strategy, including the provision of social housing was ranked third, with an average score of 7.50 out of 10. Women rated this priority higher than men (7.68 vs. 7.32 out of 10).

Among the ten issues listed tackling smoking came out as the lowest priority, at an average of 5.84 out of 10.

Naturally we'll be sending this information to the Welsh Government and members of the Welsh Assembly. Unfortunately I don't think they're listening.

Meanwhile governments throughout the UK continue to feed tobacco control's addiction to taxpayers' money.

Demands for the Westminster Government to set out plans to fund a multi-million pound anti-smoking programme have reached fever pitch in recent weeks.

Responding to recent figures showing the number of smokers in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1974, Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, said:

"The government can’t leave it to individual smokers to try to quit on their own. If the downward trend is to continue, we urgently need a new tobacco control plan for England, and proper funding for public health and for mass media campaigns."

One way tobacco control wants to raise the money to fund all this is to impose a levy on tobacco companies.

To date this has been rejected because it's fairly clear that the cost would be passed on to the consumer, many of them from poorer backgrounds, but the public health industry isn't worried about penalising smokers financially if it forces them to give up.

The lack of empathy for people who are less well off never ceases to amaze, but it's hardly surprising. Many tobacco control executives and researchers enjoy good salaries, often funded by the taxpayer.

Today's announcement by the Welsh Government will no doubt be celebrated by ASH Wales because it keeps them in business for another three years at least.

The day of reckoning is fast approaching however when every anti-smoking group or stop smoking service will have to justify every penny of taxpayers' money.

It's already happening.

Last year Smokefree South West hit the buffers, denied further handouts by local councillors who realised that tackling smoking is not a priority for local government.

Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smokefree North West) has reinvented itself as Healthier Futures, tackling obesity and alcohol as well as smoking, a clear admission that smoking is no longer a unique priority.

Fresh (Smokefree North East) should face similar questions.

Stop smoking services are also struggling to justify their existence, and no wonder. The number of smokers using them to help them quit fell by 51 per cent from 2010-2015.

Some are now promoting e-cigarettes in an attempt to maintain some relevance to the quit smoking landscape.

But the success of e-cigarettes has nothing to do with stop smoking services. Vaping is a victory for the free market, not taxpayer-funded smoking cessation services.

In fact, if tobacco control succeeds in promoting e-cigarettes as a quit smoking aid rather than an enjoyable recreational product in its own right, there's every chance it will damage rather than enhance the attraction of the product.

PS. BBC News Wales reports:

Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, said any further anti-smoking measures would be "fiercely resisted" as adults were entitled to smoke without "unreasonable restrictions on their habit".

"Instead of punishing smokers the Welsh Government should engage with consumers," he said.

"A carrot is far better than a stick and the best way to reduce smoking rates is to embrace choice and encourage smokers to switch to alternative nicotine products such as e-cigarettes."

Sunday
Apr022017

Smoking rates may have fallen but what about the health of bar workers?

Ten years ago, on April 2, 2007, I was in Cardiff to comment on the introduction of the smoking ban in Wales.

I arrived the night before and checked into my hotel (the same hotel I stayed in last week).

Receptionist: "Good evening, sir. Are you here on business?"

Me: "Yes, I'm here for the smoking ban."

Pregnant pause.

Receptionist: "Are you a tobacco control officer?"

Seriously, that really happened.

The next day, as I described here, I was interviewed on BBC Radio Wales, BBC News 24, Wales Today (BBC1) and Channel 4 News.

Since then we've struggled to engage with the Welsh media which seems to prefer local, anti-smoking voices.

Last weekend, as I reported here, we released the results of a Populus poll that found that 58% of adults in Wales would allow well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

The poll was reported by Wales on Sunday, Wales Online and the South Wales Evening Post (all owned by Trinity Mirror).

It was also discussed on BBC Radio Wales where I went head-to-head with Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales.

In the light of our struggles with the Welsh media that wasn't a bad return. I was disappointed though that BBC News Wales and ITV News Wales both overlooked the poll, despite several calls to the respective newsdesks.

Today, on the direct anniversary of the ban, ASH Wales hit back with their own angle on the smoking ban.

Since the introduction of the ban, we're told, smoking rates have fallen from 24 to 19 per cent and there are 94,000 fewer smokers in Wales.

Conveniently it implies that the smoking ban is directly responsible, ignoring the fact that other anti-smoking measures have been introduced in that time, not to mention that the decline in the number of people smoking only accelerated after 2012 when the Chancellor reintroduced the tobacco tax escalator and an increasing number of smokers began switching to e-cigarettes.

Also, unlike our poll which was conducted only last month, the decline in smoking rates is hardly news. ASH Wales is quoting 2015 figures that have been in circulation for some time.

They've also trotted out 'research' that found that "81% of people in Wales supported the ban - including three quarters of smokers themselves".

I'm guessing this is based on a YouGov/ASH poll, and not a particularly recent one either.

What you can be sure of is that YouGov (whose president is on the ASH Board of Trustees) did not give respondents the choice of allowing well-ventilated designated smoking rooms when they asked them if they supported the ban.

Despite this ASH Wales' spin on the smoking ban has been reported by Wales on Sunday/Wales on Sunday, BBC News Wales and ITV News News.

The good news is that BBC News Wales has finally given the Populus/Forest poll a mention, unlike ITV News Wales which has published - not for the first time - a report that is so one-sided it's actually laughable.

(It's just past ten o'clock on Sunday morning and I've already been on the phone to complain!)

More interesting, perhaps, ASH Wales' spin on the 'success' of the smoking ban focuses largely on the number of people who smoke.

They argue that "hundreds of thousands of people are no longer subjected to the deadly [sic] effects of passive smoking" but there are no actual facts that prove the smoking ban has improved public health.

In particular there's no suggestion that the health of bar workers has benefitted from the ban.

Mention of bar workers is of course problematic for tobacco control for two reasons.

One, there's no evidence their health has benefitted (it's pure conjecture).

Two, as a result of the smoking ban hundreds of pubs in Wales closed and thousands of bar workers lost their jobs.

So the smoking ban was never about the health of bar workers, as we were told. It was designed, quite simply, to force people to quit smoking.

In other words, ASH Wales has just confirmed what we've known all along.

Update: Following a second call to ITV News Wales this morning (and a couple of derogatory tweets) they have now updated their report to include a quote from Forest and a reference to our poll.

It shouldn't have to be like this!!

Saturday
Apr012017

Ten years of Taking Liberties

Monday was the tenth anniversary of this blog.

I was going to mention this mini milestone earlier in the week but I've been otherwise engaged.

I started the week in Glasgow, drove 400 miles to Cardiff, and after that the days got busier and busier so there's been no time to wallow in nostalgia.

I'll let you into a little secret, though. Back in January I was planning to publish a heavily edited version of this blog as a book and call it Taking Liberties: A Decade of Hell or similar.

I began the compilation process but after spending the best part of two days trawling through the first six months I gave up.

First and foremost, the narcissistic nature of the project began to dawn on me.

Also, while I was quite pleased with one or two posts, in the cold light of day I don't think enough of them stood the test of time.

A lot of posts were, how shall I say, of their time. Taken out of their immediate context, others didn't make any sense at all.

They only worked in relation to other posts. As soon as I started omitting posts the whole thing began to unravel because the narrative thread was lost.

Maintaining that narrative meant including far more posts than I wanted to and the final result would have been longer than War and Peace.

An edited version of Taking Liberties would have been a nice record – for me – of ten years' hard labour but I suspect it would be of little value to anyone else so I binned the idea in a file marked 'Vanity Project'.

I can't let the moment pass without some comment, though, so here goes.

The model for Taking Liberties was Iain Dale's Diary. I enjoyed Iain's fluent, easy-to-read style and became an avid reader.

What I particularly liked was the fact that he combined political commentary with posts about his personal life and observations about things that had little to do with either, including his taste in music (Cliff Richard and Roxette, since you ask).

I've tried, with far less success, to achieve a similar balance between work-related posts and other things that interest me because I didn't want this to become a single-issue 'Forest' blog.

Iain's post about the day of his civil partnership to his long-term partner John (Our Perfect Day) was particularly touching and uplifting.

It didn't change my mind about civil partnerships because I wasn't against them, but reading it put me firmly in the pro camp.

Iain had (and has) a lot of political contacts so he often got news and gossip first. No wonder then that Iain Dale's Diary competed with Guido Fawkes for the title of Britain's top political blog.

It couldn't last because at one stage Iain was posting several times a day and with all his other commitments it became too much.

Iain still blogs, under iaindale.com, but posts are intermittent and it's not the same.

I don't blame him. I've never achieved his level of output but even writing this blog puts a strain on me, time-wise.

I do it because I enjoy it and because I think I can justify it as time well spent, although it eats into a lot of my evenings and weekends.

It's certainly gratifying to know that even though the number of visitors is paltry compared to Iain Dale's Diary, and smaller than many libertarian blogs, Taking Liberties is monitored by tobacco control and others. That fact alone keeps me going.

Quality not quantity is how someone described the readership of Taking Liberties. I couldn't possibly comment but feedback suggests that if I write about a person or organisation it often gets back to them via one source or other.

If they don't comment here directly their reaction is soon fed back to me and it's often a joy.

Anyway, the last ten years have witnessed a remarkable programme of anti-smoking measures and this blog has covered the lot – the introduction of the smoking ban in Wales, followed by England and Northern Ireland; the ban on tobacco vending machines; the display ban; punitive taxation; the Tobacco Products Directive; and plain packaging.

Our campaign against standardised packaging was, I think, a good example of how blogs like this can play an important role in generating support and momentum.

Allied to our street petition, they helped drive opponents of plain packaging to an online petition with the result that over 250,000 people signed the Hands Off Our Packs petition and a further 53,000 people signed a letter to the prime minister.

In short, blogs have a vital role to play in active campaigning, as I hope is evident from Hand Off Our Packs: Diary of a Political Campaign, a selection of posts from this very blog that you can download here.

At the very least Taking Liberties, like Dick Puddlecote and Chris Snowdon's blogs, provide information and commentary that is rarely available in the mainstream media.

Together we act as a rallying point for those with similar views. Unfortunately we are so few in number now I can count them on the fingers of one hand.

Truth is, blogs such as this have probably passed their peak. When I began posting in 2007 it wasn't uncommon to attract 100+ comments in response to a single post.

On one occasion, when I drew attention to the role of Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams in the launch of the Plain Packs Protect campaign in January 2012 and invited readers of Taking Liberties to make their views known to him, over 1,400 comments were posted on Williams' blog.

I imagine the declining number of comments and visitors is due in part to the subject matter because people understandably grow weary of reading about the same thing over and over again.

Back in 2007 a lot of people were reacting to the imposition of the smoking ban. Subsequent measures (the display ban, for example) didn't resonate with consumers in the same way.

Reading those early posts it's noticeable that hardly anyone who was commenting then is doing so in 2017.

Instead there appears to be a hard core of commenters who have been following this blog for several years but are relative latecomers.

If Taking Liberties is still going in another five or ten years, and if I haven't killed myself first, it will be interesting to see how many of you are still here.

Btw, my first post about vaping (Wanted: comments on e-cigarettes) was in January 2010. It attracted 111 comments and a lot of heated debate.

A few months later I wrote another post on the subject (A touch of the vapers) where I commented:

What amazed me was the remarkably heated debate, bordering on open warfare, that the subject provoked.

There seem to be three distinct groups. On one side are smokers who regard e-cigs as an abomination designed to wean them off tobacco. If anyone so much as touches an e-cig they are accused of "selling out" and succumbing to the Devil.

One the other side are ex-smokers who have become evangelists for vaping and consider their former fellow smokers to be stupid or dinosaurs or both.

In the middle (and my sympathies lie firmly with this group) are those for whom e-cigs offer a useful alternative in places where smoking tobacco is prohibited.

Since then I've commented on vaping many times and I hope I've made my position clear. I support alternative nicotine products because I support tobacco harm reduction but, more important, I believe people should be allowed to make informed choices and if that choice is to smoke it should be respected and defended.

This blog will always defend smokers (and smoking) because I believe the issue is a litmus test for anyone who claims to have a liberal or libertarian outlook on life.

I know I've annoyed some people with what are perceived to be persistent digs at (some) vaping advocates and organisations, but there's nothing more nauseous than seeing evangelical ex-smokers getting into bed with tobacco controllers whose long-term goal is the eradication of recreational nicotine in all its forms.

Likewise I know I risk being seen as a dinosaur defending the indefensible (something I'm quite comfortable with actually) but I believe – passionately – in choice and personal responsibility and as long as there are people who wish to smoke I will support them. If that means fewer visitors to this blog, so be it.

One final comment – on moderation.

There's no doubt that by moderating comments a few years back I shot myself in the foot in terms of the number of people posting comments.

Blog-wise, however, it's the best thing I ever did.

I don't mind criticism, personal or otherwise, but I'm an old-fashioned sort of journalist and apart from keeping some real nutters at bay, moderation has enabled me to weed out the most verbose, repetitive or inarticulate comments.

I also take the view - rightly as it happens - that because bloggers are subject to the same laws of libel and defamation as anyone else the idea that people can post whatever they like regardless of the consequences is dangerous nonsense.

As a result some commenters have left in a huff and I say, "Good riddance!"

To those who are still here I say, "You're very welcome." But I won't change my policy on moderation because, for me, it works.

Talking Liberties was launched on March 26, 2007. The early years can be found here.

In January 2011 the site was redesigned and relocated to its present URL. There was a reason we couldn't transfer all the earlier stuff to the new platform but I've no idea what it was.

Another thing I can't remember is how I stumbled upon Squarespace, the blogging platform I use.

I do know I wanted something that was very easy for a technophobe like me to use, and Squarespace hasn't disappointed.

The company was founded by a college student in 2003 and is headquartered in New York. On the rare occasion I've had a problem the customer helpline has been friendly and prompt in its response.

By coincidence there have been a number of articles about Squarespace in the Irish media in the last few days owing to the fact that the company has opened a new, larger office in Dublin as it looks to expand globally.

The Forest websites are currently migrating towards WordPress (on the advice of the various website designers we use) but I have to say I find Squarespace easier and more intuitive.

Anyway, if you've followed this blog since the early days, a sincere thanks. If you're a relative newcomer you're no less welcome.

Here's a selection of posts (or the handful I can remember writing):

David Hockney: Brighton breezy (May 2007)
Revolt in style: match report (June 2007)
Smoke-free England? (June 2008)
Kerry McCarthy - an update (July 2008)
Things we want to do before we die (May 2009)
End of an era (June 2009)
Brighton 2005 - Forest's greatest hit? (September 2009)
George Miller-Kurakin - a celebration (January 2010)
Welcome to Bangalore (October 2010)
Cut public spending on tobacco control groups (October 2010)
GTNF 2012 – the highs and lows (June 2012)
Wanted: a consumer champion for e-cigarettes who is not anti-smoking (February 2013)
Your man in Havana: notes from a Caribbean island (March 2013)
Official: Forest underestimated success of Hands Off Our Packs campaign (July 2013)
Where is the empathy for smokers who don't want to quit? (January 2014)
My father's funeral (June 2014)
Welcome to the good ole USA! (October 2014)
How to get a standing ovation at a tobacco industry convention (January 2015)
Why I'm not attending today's E-Cigarette Summit (November 2015)
Are vapers in denial about tobacco control? (March 2016)

There may be better posts (I hope there are) but I don't have time to look and my memory is not what it was!

Thursday
Mar302017

Brand management

A lot of money is spent (and wasted) on corporate branding.

I discovered this when I started working in public relations 37 years ago. In those days, if a PR agency acquired a new client, it was not uncommon to suggest, as a first step, that they change their entire brand identity.

It was sold to them as a way of moving on from the past (modernising!) with the added benefit that it might generate some publicity. What we didn't say was that, for the PR company, it was a great way to hit the ground running and stamp your mark – literally – on the client.

It was a nice little earner too because in those days every expense – concept, design, materials (everything from letterheads to signage) – was marked up by 15 or 20 per cent. And that was on top of the consultancy fee.

In terms of making a bold personal statement publishers and editors do much the same thing, often commissioning a new masthead or ordering the redesign of an entire publication within weeks of their appointment.

I know this because I've been there and done it, in PR and publishing. I also did it when I joined Forest. Within weeks I'd jettisoned Forest's existing logo and commissioned a brand new one (no pun intended).

The 'new' logo, designed by Patrick O'Callaghan, a graphic designer I'd worked with since the Eighties when we both worked at the Barley Mow Workspace in Chiswick, has done Forest proud for 18 years and I had no plans to change it.

However, when we were discussing the launch of Forest EU, we agreed we needed a strong brand identity to help make an immediate impact in Brussels.

That was when I thought it might be time to replace the existing logo with a new one that could be adopted by all three Forest campaigns – UK, Ireland and EU.

So we commissioned Dan Donovan – who we've worked with since 2007 – to come up with a new design, using different colours to identify the various groups.

Twelve weeks ago we met for coffee at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge and talked it through. Last week, shortly before we unveiled the new branding, I asked Dan to explain the concept.

He writes:

I set about the design of a new logo for Forest after we discussed and re-established Forest's brand characteristics, values and aspirations.

The existing logo was designed way before web and social media graphics became such an important platform for brand and it was felt that now was the time for a new logo.

With the forthcoming launch of Forest EU (to add to Forest and Forest Ireland) we wanted something fresh with an international flavour serving all three organisations – a common logo with an individual twist.

We started with a clean, legible, open-faced font that suggests Forest is friendly and approachable. The use of lower case was an important dynamic in communicating this important characteristic.

Looking at the old logo we felt the dominant 'O' – which was originally meant to suggest a smoke ring – was confusing as a graphic. By removing it we wanted to have an icon that suggested 'smoking' in a manner that more people could understand.

With two simple waving lines coming from the glowing orange 'o' in the word 'Forest' an icon developed that could even stand alone. In particular I wanted an image that countered the all too common 'No Smoking' graphic with all the negativity that smokers like me find offensive.

The colour coding for the three organisations have an obvious generic feel – blue for EU, green for Ireland, and a continuation of the established UK brand using red.

However we wanted to achieve a strong, confident, approachable brand and chose bright but mature colours. Moving away from the conservative, formal tone that was used previously, the new Forest red is brighter and more direct.

The orange 'o' – that features in all three logo variations – is an important feature because it represents a burning cigarette which, if you look closely, glows orange not red.

Given that Forest's extended family of supporters now includes smokers and vapers (dual users especially) the two wavy lines might also be said to represent both smoking and vaping. (Well, that's my interpretation. No emails or letters, please!)

Design is highly subjective, of course, but I'm very happy with the new branding. After 18 years I think it was time for a change.

Photo: Dan Donovan

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