Monday
Dec122016

Eat, drink, smoke, vape ... and be merry

Currently on a train south of Dublin so I'll take this opportunity to unveil the 2016 Forest Christmas card.

Theme is 'Eat, Drink, Smoke, Vape – It's Your Choice' and the salutation reads 'Merry Christmas from Forest'.

The card has been sent to 300 people including MPs, journalists and parliamentary researchers.

H/T Dan Donovan for the design.

Sunday
Dec112016

Poisoning people's minds against smokers

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, is a busy man.

Last month the taxpayer-funded bureaucrat said he wanted a "tobacco-free" NHS with a blanket ban on smoking on hospital grounds.

He told Health Service Journal (HSJ): “I would like to see every hospital tobacco-free.

"I don't just mean you can stand at the front door of the hospital, I mean tobacco-free."

See Health boss says hospitals should ban all smoking on their grounds (Telegraph).

Today the Mirror reports:

Hospitals should test all pregnant women for carbon monoxide to check whether they are smokers.

The advice has been given to NHS trust bosses by public health supremo Duncan Selbie as part of a new drive to help England’s seven million smokers quit.

In a letter to all trust chief executives, the head of Public Health England said:

"Smoking during pregnancy is associated with a range of negative outcomes, including miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and neonatal complications."

Mr Selbie wants all hospitals to ban smoking anywhere on their premises and steer patients who smoke towards services to help them stop.

His most controversial recommendation is screening all expectant mums when they book hospital appointments. It implies that simply asking them whether they smoke is not good enough.

“Smoking during pregnancy is associated with a range of negative outcomes, including miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and neonatal complications.”

The suggestion is proving controversial. According to the Mirror:

Users of website Mumsnet reacted furiously, branding it “utter meddlesome nonsense” and “intrusive nannying”.

One wrote: “I think this is outrageous – why aren’t pregnant women being trusted to tell the truth?”

Another commented: “Really terrible idea. Pregnant women are not just baby incubators.”

The Royal College of Midwives described it as “draconian” and pressure group Forest said: “This seems incredibly invasive.”

One mum posting on Mumsnet under the name Kaytee says: “Carbon monoxide testing sounds like nanny state.

“I tell someone I don’t smoke, I expect them to believe me. Smoking isn’t illegal so it is up to the individual whether we agree with it or not.

“I doubt I would decline it but the reason they insist is in case you’re lying, which is a bit insulting as it’s treating women like children.”

Another adds: “It’s like drug-testing criminals. You shouldn’t have to turn your body over to the nanny state the minute you’re pregnant.”

A third writes: “Yes, women lie about smoking. Testing them will only encourage more not to go to their appointments.”

Even the Mirror, which is not known for its sympathy towards smokers, is aghast. In a leading article the paper says:

The seven million smokers who still puff away know full well the risks they are running. Giving up – or better still, never starting – is the best way to avoid an early death.

Women also know, because they have been told often enough, that if they light up while pregnant they increase their chances of ­miscarriage, stillbirth and complications.

That said, we still live in a free country. Smoking is now a restricted activity, but not an illegal one. Those who choose to use tobacco have every right to do so.

And it is that which makes Duncan Selbie’s letter to NHS Trust bosses at best controversial and at worst outrageous.

The chief executive of Public Health England says hospitals should give mums-to-be carbon monoxide tests to check whether they are inhaling the evil weed.

What he means is that their word is not good enough. He does not trust them to tell the truth.

That is to treat patients like prisoners. And it should have no place in the NHS.

Full article: NHS has no right to tell pregnant women not to smoke - they already know the risks (Mirror).

Selbie's proposal is not without support, of course, and there is one very familiar voice backing the initiative:

Deborah Arnott, from Action on Smoking and Health, supports carbon monoxide tests on all pregnant women.

She said: “Women undergo a range of tests when pregnant, and testing for carbon monoxide should be one of them.

“It’s not just about smoking – some women were found to have high levels of carbon monoxide because of faulty heating in their homes.

"Most do quit smoking when they are pregnant but if they are finding it difficult they need help.”

I'm intrigued that Deborah is concerned about faulty heating (Action on Dodgy Heaters?) but it's her usual smoke and mirrors.

Whatever ASH might say, the PHE campaign has nothing to do with heaters or other sources of carbon monoxide.

It's all about smoking and poisoning people's minds against smokers, pregnant or otherwise.

Full report: Hospitals should 'test all pregnant women to find out if they smoke' in a bid to help them quit (Mirror).

Thursday
Dec082016

Tonight's the night

Looking forward to the Public Affairs Awards in London tonight.

As I explained a few weeks ago, Forest has been shortlisted for 'Party Conference Reception of the Year'.

The event was Eat, Drink, Smoke, Vape. We've organised better parties but it attracted 500 guests and word got round.

Vice.com reviewed it as follows:

What it was: Forest and the Tobacco Manufacturers Association – the fags lobby.

Why people might not like them: For pushing cancer sticks.

The image they wanted to portray: If you want to pay to slowly poison your body for little discernible gain, then that's your choice. Also, you can vape now, which is less cool – but if we talk enough about that maybe you'll forget the cancer.

What the party was like: Actually really good. An upper-middle market bar packed to the gills with free booze, mini burgers, pocket ashtrays (a weird plastic wallet thing you can carry around) inscribed with the words "Say no to outdoor smoking bans", and leaflets about how "A once benign nanny state has become a bully state, coercing rather than educating adults to give up tobacco."

Entertainment: It was advertised as 'Eat. Drink. Smoke. Vape.' so like all good parties there were no frills beyond the amount of inebriants you could stuff in your body.

What the entertainment should have been: The same but with the film Breathless projected onto one of the walls, because that's hands down the best advert for smoking ever made.

If I was a politician, would I be convinced by this? Yeah, this was a convincing a case for freedom to chose. Almost as convincing as talking to a doctor about why you shouldn't smoke.

Seriously, that was a good review compared to the same journalist's comments on other receptions:

Heathrow and Gatwick Airports: Heathrow sponsored a party in the "sky bar" of a hotel that I failed to blag my way into, but if previous form is anything to go by, I'm going to assume [it was] "very boring". At both the Labour and Conservative conferences Heathrow erected an airport-style lounge, ie places people hate being, to promote themselves. I also briefly went to a Gatwick reception at the Labour conference, where people were crowding into a stuffy room to hear somebody mumbling quietly about airports. The booze had run out so I didn't stay long.

Association of British Bookmakers: The absolute classic, mate – a room full of people drinking wine and eating canapés. You get to take your picture with some Scottish football trophies, which would maybe be a big deal to some Scottish people.

British Association of Shooting and Conservation: A drab, half empty hotel room where people pawed at tepid goujons and talked about the best type of shotgun with which to murder wildlife.

See We did a bar crawl of the Tory conference's parties (Vice.com).

Venue for tonight's black tie event is the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel in London and the host is Sky News' presenter Kay Burley. If we win it will be a miracle but whatever happens I will keep you posted!

Update: No, Forest didn't win Party Conference Reception of the Year. It won by The Enterprise Forum.

The other disappointment was the absence of Kay Burley. We got one of her lesser known colleagues which rather summed up the event which was enjoyable enough but lacked star quality.

On the plus side I rejoiced in the absence of those bombastic blasts of music organisers of similar events like to play every time someone goes to collect an award.

At the end of it all I'm not sure quite what to make of the Public Affairs Awards. The fact that anyone can nominate themselves for an award on payment of £150 (an offer I declined, btw) seems a bit weird, although I can see it's a good business model.

It's not clear what percentage of paid for nominations made it on to the shortlist and won an award but it must be quite high.

Apart from that, no further questions, m'lud.

Thursday
Dec082016

Another voice

Yesterday I bemoaned the absence of voices criticising the latest anti-smoking measure in Scotland.

Today, writing in the Scottish Daily Express, columnist Keith Aitken declared:

Within hours of Scotland's ban coming into force on smoking in cars that contain children, the anti-smoking lobby was bawling for it to be extended to cover all private vehicles at all times.

Know what this strategy reminds me of? The Bush administration's rationale for waterboarding. Ends justifying any means. It is about tormenting the remaining smokers until they break.

You can – just about – make a sensible case for the new law against smoking with children in car though, personally, I think it unnecessary and probably quite useless.

It's not just that English police find it unenforceable. Only an idiot, given what's now universally known about secondary smoke, would smoke in a car with kids, and laws don't make idiots smart.

But a private car is no different in principle from a private home. The law has no business telling me how to behave there, unless it adversely affects others.

As for the idea that your smoke might harm someone getting a lift, are we really arrogant enough to think that grown-ups can't sort that out for themselves?

I quit smoking 17 years ago, and I'm glad to have done so.

Relentless persecution of adult smokers by the unco guid is the one thing that could make me start up again ... just to spite the creeps.

Note: Unco guid is a Scottish term for those "who are professedly strict in matters of morals and religion".

There are others of course who take a different view and earlier this week I received the following email:

Dear Mr Clark,

I have just heard your comments on the ban on smoking in cars where children are present. I understand that you are biased in favour of smokers but when you say we should rely on smokers using their common sense I would suggest that smokers do not possess common sense in regard to this issue. Experience shows that many, many smokers are prepared to put their children's health at risk by smoking in their presence.

I note from your comments on the Forest website that, in response to a doctor's suggestion that smoking in cars should be banned regardless of whether there are children present, you reckon smoking in cars does no harm to others. I would beg to differ. Many are the occasions when I have been behind a car with a smoker and that foul smoke has penetrated my car.

Your organisation was a loud critic of the ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, hotels, etc. The evidence of the health benefits of the ban is overwhelming, and demonstrates that lackeys for the tobacco industry are so obviously biased and merit no attention.

Yours, appreciating a smoke free environment.

I don't think Forest has ever said smoking in a car "does no harm to others". What we have said is:

  • Smoking in a car is inconsiderate (at best) if children are present and we don't condone it.
  • If only adults are present they can sort it out between themselves. We don't need the state to intervene.
  • Very few people (including children) are exposed hour after hour, day after day, to smoke in a car.
  • The dose is the poison and if people do light up in a car they tend to open the window which reduces the smoke significantly.

Another point I made on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday was this.

The baby boom generation of the Fifties and Sixties was exposed far more to smoking in the home (and the car) than the current generation, yet that earlier generation is living longer than any in human history.

I'm not drawing a correlation, I said, but it suggests that the effects of even long-term exposure to tobacco smoke in childhood has not been as bad as some people would have us believe.

I personally would err on the side of caution where young children and small confined spaces are concerned, but legislation?

No thanks.

Update: If you want to comment on Keith Aitken's article you should write a short letter to scotexpress@express.co.uk. I'm sure he would appreciate some support!

Wednesday
Dec072016

The slow death of compassion in Britain's hospitals

I got a call yesterday from BBC Breakfast.

They wanted Forest's response to a report by the British Thoracic Society. Bizarrely however they wouldn't forward the press release because "it's embargoed".

They did however email the opening paragraph which gave the gist of the thing:

According to a major new report launched on Wednesday 7th December, NHS hospitals across UK are falling ‘woefully short’ of national standards on helping patients who smoke to quit and enforcing smoke-free premises.

As I understood it, the BTS want to"help" all patients who smoke to quit, not just those who are in hospital with a so-called smoking-related disease.

So I responded as follows:

"It's quite wrong to put smokers under pressure to quit while they are in hospital, especially if the reason they are there is not smoking-related.

"Being in hospital can be extremely stressful and having a cigarette is a source of comfort to many smokers.

"Enforcing smoke-free premises is a cruel and unfair way to treat patients who smoke.

"Nagging them to quit when they are at their most vulnerable also demonstrates a worrying lack of empathy.

"This is the opposite of health care. In the name of public health compassion is being replaced by zealotry and intolerance."

In the event I heard nothing more. Whether BBC Breakfast dropped the story I don't know. I watched the programme for a bit this morning but there was no mention of it.

Incidentally, it's perfectly normal to share embargoed press releases in advance, especially if you want comments from third parties.

The simple unwritten agreement is that you don't break the embargo, which I have never knowingly done. It's part of the media management game and I have no problem playing along with it.

The other rule concerns exclusivity. If the story is an 'exclusive' the journalist won't want you to release your response to all and sundry because that is also breaking the exclusivity, even if you embargo your response!

Yesterday the BBC told me the story wasn't an 'exclusive' so I emailed our reaction to the Press Association and every health editor and correspondent on the national dailies.

So far I can find only two reports.

The PA picked it up (Hospitals 'woefully failing' to crack down on smoking), and included a quote from Forest, but with the exception of Sky News the story seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Nevertheless, coming a couple of weeks after Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, called for an outright ban on smoking on hospital grounds, there is clearly a concerted effort to see it implemented as part of the government's new Tobacco Control Plan.

Let's hope the Department of Health takes heed of Theresa May's bid to "restore fairness" in Britain. As I wrote on ConservativeHome in October:

If the Prime Minister really wants to stand up for millions of ordinary people who are sick and tired of being patronised by politicians and the professional classes, she must stop her government introducing further policies that will discriminate against the UK's seven million smokers. Enough is enough. It's time to stop this spiteful war on ordinary people who choose to smoke.

Update: I missed this earlier but the Mail Online also ran the PA story about the BTS report. See Hospitals 'woefully failing' to crack down on smoking. Includes my quote.

Wednesday
Dec072016

Defending the indefensible?


I've spent a fair bit of time over the last few days defending the indefensible.

Well, that's what it felt like.

Scotland has just caught up with England and banned smoking in cars with children. Someone had to put the case for the opposition and once again it fell to Forest.

I was quoted in most Scottish newspapers (Sundays and dailies) and I also did several TV and radio interviews.

The most uncomfortable moment was on BBC Radio Scotland when I went head-to-head with Jim Hume, the former Lib Dem MSP whose bill led to the new law.

We had a bit of a barny that finished with an awkward silence. After what felt like several seconds of dead air presenter John Beattie, the former Scottish rugby union international, stepped in and said, somewhat frostily, "I think we've taken that as far as we can."

I enjoy an argument but Hume's attitude genuinely pissed me off. He had every right to feel pleased with himself (if banning things turns you on) but every time I spoke I could hear him laughing, sighing or chuntering in the background.

I didn't say anything but I thought, "What a prick."

He even tried to suggest that I'm in favour of smoking in cars with children when I've made it clear many times that Forest doesn't condone it. We're simply against excessive regulations.

Later Beattie asked if I accepted that children were at risk if exposed to tobacco smoke in a car.

Fair question.

The gist of my answer was that the dose is the poison, to which I added that few if any children are exposed day after day, year after year, to smoke in someone's car.

At that point Hume started tut-tutting as if I'd said something incomprehensibly stupid or wicked. I was glad, frankly, when the 'discussion' came to an end.

Before that I took part in a phone-in, also on Radio Scotland. One by one a number of dour, crabby Scots came on the line to support the ban. One or two urged the authorities to go further and ban smoking in all vehicles.

As regular readers know, I grew up in Scotland. I went to university in Aberdeen. My wife is Scottish. We spent our wedding night on Skye. My children were born in Edinburgh. I support a Scottish football team.

I've visited every corner of Scotland from Stranraer to John O'Groats. I've been to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. I go to Scotland as often as I can. (I'm going next week, as it happens.)

However I no longer recognise the country I grew up in. Paternalism runs deep in Scottish society (think lairds and crofters) but in the Sixties and Seventies it was largely benign. Those with prohibitionist or puritannical tendencies (like the Free Church of Scotland aka the "Wee Frees") were at the margins and a source of humour not fear.

There were restrictions (you couldn't take your drink outside the pub, for example) but nothing that made drinkers (or smokers) feel like second or third class citizens.

Devolution has helped change that. Politically and culturally Scotland is now run by an authoritarian, sanctimonious elite that seeks to exercise every power they have to force people to change their ways.

The media has bought in to this (the relationship between government ministers and political journalists in Scotland is nauseatingly sycophantic) and it's encouraged a puritanical minority to speak out.

Those of a more moderate persuasion have gone to ground and in the last few days Forest has been a lone voice opposing what we believe are "unnecessary and patronising" regulations.

In fairness to the media they haven't baulked at publishing or broadcasting our views so I've no complaints on that score.

What disappointed me was the complete silence from so-called libertarian groups and campaigners who have clearly decided that this issue (smoking in cars with children) is too hot to touch so they've kept quiet.

The same, btw, is true of smoking in children's play areas. We don't condone it but we don't condemn it either. What we're against are excessive regulations instructing people how behave in public and private spaces.

Some people seem to think you can pick and choose the battles you fight. It doesn't work like that. By staying mute you are effectively endorsing the regulations and by doing that you are inadvertently giving the green light to further legislation.

Talking of which, on Monday the Scotsman's front page led with the BMA's demand for a ban on smoking in ALL private vehicles to protect "vulnerable adults".

The BMA has been calling for a complete ban on smoking in cars since 2011 but I can't remember hearing that phrase in this context before. It's always been about "vulnerable children".

It shows how tobacco control loves to move on even before the impact of new legislation can be reviewed and analysed.

Again, Forest was the only voice of protest although one or two editorials did imply it might be a step too far.

Hopefully there will be more voices opposing an outright ban. I wouldn't bet on it, though, especially in Scotland. 

Sunday
Dec042016

Think of the children (and more BBC bias)

Tomorrow smoking in cars carrying children will be banned in Scotland.

It's pretty much identical to the legislation that was introduced in England last year.

Yesterday I recorded interviews for Radio Clyde, Global Radio and Sky Radio.

Tomorrow I'll be on BBC Radio Scotland.

Today I'm quoted by Scotland on Sunday, the Scottish Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times Scotland.

Several people have queried why Forest bothers to fight such legislation. The reason is simple - it's unnecessary and wrong.

It's also a stepping stone to far more intrusive regulations - a ban on smoking in all private vehicles and, eventually, a ban on smoking in the home.

If smoking in cars was a significant risk to children's health it would have been prohibited a long time ago, years before smoking was banned in well-ventilated adult friendly pubs and clubs,

Or so you would have thought. Instead we're now led to believe it's on a par with child abuse, or worse.

At the very least seven million people are branded as ignorant, selfish and inconsiderate when, by and large, the opposite is true.

The overwhelming majority of smokers don't smoke in a car with children because they know that it's inconsiderate at best.

Nor do the overwhelming majority light up in children's play areas or by the school gates.

Health isn't the issue - they're outside, for heaven's sake. The principal reason is that, without legislation, most smokers have decided that it's probably inappropriate and and have changed their behaviour voluntarily.

(Personally, I think common sense should come into play and smoking in play areas should be governed by circumstances, a bit like driving fast on a clear open road or one that is heavily congested.)

Anyway governments and local authorities seem determined to brand every smoker as a potential threat to the nation's children.

Children, we are led to believe, are so vulnerable that even the sight of someone smoking will lead to a lifelong addiction.

This is not unlike the Scotland I grew up in, except the 'curse' was alcohol. In those days every pub in Scotland has frosted glass so children couldn't see adults drinking.

For the same reason customers weren't allowed to drink outside.

We've moved on from that. Now it's smoking that's cast as the morally degenerate behaviour we must save our children from.

Update: BBC News (Scotland) has a report about the car smoking ban (Ban on smoking in cars with children to come into force).

Interestingly, even though we sent the Scottish newsdesk our response on Friday, the BBC has ignored it.

Consequently at 6.30 this morning I was on the phone to the BBC in Glasgow and have just sent this email:

Smoking in cars with children: concerned at the shockingly one-sided nature of your report on this story despite the fact that we sent you our response on Friday.

Forest has been quoted by the Press Association and several newspapers including the Scotsman, Scottish Mail on Sunday and, I believe, the Sunday Times Scotland.

Your report quotes not one but FOUR supporters of the legislation and not a single opposing voice. Great journalistic standards. Well done.

The online newsdesk team get in at 9.00am, apparently. Let's see if they update their report.

Here's the Press Association report (with a quote from Forest): Ban on smoking in cars with children present to come into force.

Ditto the Mail Online: Ban on smoking in cars with children present to come into force.

The Sunday Mail and The People have also quoted Forest while the Dundee Courier reports, 'Law to protect youngsters branded "pointless" by smokers' group'.

The BBC? Nothing.

Update: My phone call to the BBC has resulted in their report being updated but why didn't they include an opposing voice in the first place, and why should I have to call them at 6.30 on a Sunday morning to make that point?

Thursday
Dec012016

Fancy that!

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