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Tuesday
Jan082019

From prisoners to patients

I was on Reporting Scotland (BBC Scotland) last week discussing the prison smoking ban.

The same day, following the announcement of a smoking ban in La Moye prison, Jersey, I was interviewed for another evening news programme, on ITV News Channel TV.

"No-one has the right to smoke in jail," I said, "but smoking is one of the few pleasures many prisoners have.

"At the very least inmates should be allowed to light up outside, in an exercise yard or designated smoking area."

The prison rulebook was in the news again this week following a report about the contents of an 87-page manual published by HM Prison and Probation Service.

The Sun broke the story on Monday but Richard Littlejohn summed things up nicely in today’s Daily Mail. Headlined These crazy prison rules on alcohol and sex get my goat, Fletcher, it began:

Prisoners will soon be able to drink alcohol and have sex in their cells without facing disciplinary charges, under new guidelines from the Ministry of Justice.

They will also escape punishment for assaulting other inmates and absconding, provided they can come up with a reasonable excuse.

Last night we learned jails are to get photo booths so that prisoners can have snaps taken with their families.

This latest gimmick comes on top of painting walls pink, installing telephones in cells and allowing inmates to stroke pet goats.

To assess the impact, we cross to Slade Prison, where Norman Stanley Fletcher is relaxing on his bunk ...

To be honest, I don't feel strongly either way about allowing prisoners to drink alcohol, have sex or paint their walls pink.

Prison shouldn't be too comfortable. On the other hand, being sent to jail is a big punishment for most people and sometimes, in order to reduce the tensions and boredom that can lead to violence and self harm, governors have to find innovative solutions.

These more liberal rules do however make the smoking ban look even more punitive. If inmates are allowed alcohol, photo booths and cell phones (no pun intended), it seems ridiculous to stop them smoking anywhere on site.

To paraphrase David Hockney, "prisons aren't health clubs" and no-one should be forced to quit smoking, not even prisoners.

Meanwhile I was on BBC Wiltshire this morning talking about hospital smoking bans. I was up against a local man, an ex-smoker of three years, who naturally loved the idea.

Thanks to Public Health England, most hospitals in England are now 'smoke free' in the sense that they have a policy of banning smoking anywhere on site, including car parks.

In practice a lot of people ignore these 'voluntary' bans but what I find so unpleasant is the pettiness that lies behind policies that are intended to force patients to either quit smoking or light up off site, while staff who turn a blind eye or are minded to help are threatened with disciplinary action.

It’s come to something when hospital patients are treated little better than prison inmates.

Welcome to ‘our’ NHS, 2019.

Sunday
Jan062019

Government to target smokers and ‘problem’ drinkers 

A ten-year plan to help the NHS meet key targets is being launched tomorrow.

It includes proposals to tackle smoking, obesity and ‘problem’ drinking.

According to the MailOnline:

Heavy drinkers, smokers and fat people are to be targeted by a wave of adverts demanding they overhaul their lifestyles, the Health Secretary today revealed.

They face being hit by Facebook adverts telling them to cut down on their bad habits and get fit.

While patients in hospital for illnesses linked to heavy drinking could be given a 'stern' talking to by doctors which could last up to 40 minutes.

Conscious, perhaps, that elements of the NHS Long-Term Plan sounds like yet another nanny state initiative, Health Secretary Matthew Hancock has been quick to pre-empt that line of attack.

He has ordered health bosses to put an end to the 'nanny-state' nagging of the whole population to adopt a more healthy lifestyle.

Instead he wants them to focus on the core group of people who place the biggest burden on Britain's over-stretched NHS. 

Speaking on Sky News this morning he told presenter Sophy Ridge:

‘What I don't like in these areas is punishing the masses for the problems that only a minority have ...

He ruled out introducing a minimum pricing for alcohol to tackle problem drinking - saying he does not want to 'punish' most people to drink in moderation.

He said that it is 'perfectly healthy' for most people to enjoy a 'nice pint' and only those who drink to dangerous levels should be targeted. 

That’s all well and good, but who defines a ‘problem drinker’ or ‘dangerous levels’? The government, of course!

According to the NHS website:

The current UK guidelines advise limiting alcohol intake to 14 units a week for women and men. This is equivalent to drinking no more than 6 pints of average-strength beer (4% ABV) or 7 medium-sized glasses of wine (175ml, 12% ABV) a week.

Those guidelines have already been amended once (it used to be 21 units a week for men) so who’s to say they won’t be lowered again, creating more ‘heavy’ drinkers.

Meanwhile, following a pre-announcement announcement, it was reported yesterday that:

Problem drinkers and smokers who end up in hospital will be helped by dedicated new services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

As far as smokers are concerned:

Every smoker admitted to hospital will be offered NHS support to quit.

That’s right, every smoker. No matter if you’re in hospital for a non smoking-related illness or procedure - a hip replacement, for example - you will still be targeted for smoking cessation ‘advice’.

But wait. You don’t even have to be a patient to be singled out:

Partners of pregnant women will also be encouraged to kick the habit to give new mums the best chance of not smoking again.

Invited to comment, I issued the following statement on behalf of Forest:

“It’s stressful enough being in hospital without the additional pressure of being hounded to stop smoking.

“Pressing smokers to quit, especially if they’re in hospital for a non smoking-related reason, is an invasion of privacy and tantamount to bullying.

“No-one should be lectured about their lifestyle while they’re at their most vulnerable.”

I was quoted by the BBC, Daily Mail and Independent, and last night I was on LBC. I was due to appear on Five Live as well but that got postponed. I may be on tonight instead.

The BBC headline read, ‘Hospital patients who smoke or drink to be helped to quit’, while the Mail declared, ‘NHS goes to war on cigarettes and alcohol’.

As you can see, the tone of those headlines is very different. What is clear however is that while the government may draw a line between ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’ levels of drinking, anyone who smokes is to be treated the same.

When the Health Secretary says he wants health bosses ‘to focus on the core group of people who place the biggest burden on Britain's over-stretched NHS’, he clearly includes all smokers in that core group.

Like most politicians he ignores the fact that many smokers live long and healthy lives and are NOT a burden on the NHS.

He also ignores the inconvenient truth that smokers make a huge net contribution to the government - and therefore the NHS - through the exorbitant taxes they pay on tobacco.

Punitive taxation, smoking bans, denormalisation. Haven’t smokers been punished enough without being targeted for further discrimination, irrespective of whether they have a smoking-related illness?

I laughed when I read that he doesn’t want to 'punish' moderate drinkers because he wouldn’t be human - or a Tory politician - if he didn’t have an eye on the thousands of middle-class, moderate drinkers in his constituency, and nationwide.

Smokers, in contrast, represent less than a fifth of the electorate and are mostly working class from lower income households. For a Conservative government, the risks of upsetting confirmed smokers are minimal.

That said, I wouldn’t be too worried by this latest plan. Governments like to be seen to be proactive and grand announcements like this are par for the course.

In reality most hospital staff are either too busy dealing with more immediate problems or, like most people, they’re not inclined to nag other people to change their ways.

A comment posted on the Friends of Forest Facebook page last night read:

I was a patient for 10 days at a Portsmouth hospital and nobody approached me about giving up. Out of all the nurses, doctors, consultants, surgeons and specialists treating me only one of them mentioned smoking. Even now with regular check ups I'm never judged by the consultants because I smoke, only by the same pesky nurse.

I wonder if these health fanatics are living in cloud cookoo land believing their ideas are being used or it's all designed to frighten us. I smoke, I was treated for cancer without prejudice, so from my experience I would say don't worry too much about discrimination. I was but I was proved wrong.

I suspect this is the norm in most hospitals and GP surgeries where smoking, drinking and obesity have not yet been politicised to the extent they are in Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff.

Disease prevention is a worthy aim but this is not like typhoid, cholera and other public health epidemics that could affect the mass of the population.

Smoking, drinking and obesity are private health issues and while I agree that people should take more responsibility for their own health, governments must accept that in a free society people have the right to make choices that may be detrimental to their health without being unfairly targeted or punished.

We’re not automatons and the freedom to smoke, drink more than the recommended units, eat more than is good for us and shun exercise are all part of the rich and diverse society in which we live.

If the NHS can’t handle that then politicians should be honest and abandon the pretence that the NHS treats everyone equally regardless of race, creed, colour or lifestyle.

Friday
Jan042019

It was 20 years ago today

I don’t normally do work anniversaries but I’ll make this an exception.

Twenty years ago today I started working at Forest.

Prior to Christmas (1998) I had spent a week being ‘inducted’ by my predecessor Marjorie Nicholson - who was so well-organised it was quite intimidating - but my first day as director was Monday January 4, 1999.

I was living in Edinburgh, sharing an office with Brian Monteith, Forest’s spokesman in Scotland, when Marjorie announced she was leaving. She had been at Forest for ten years, I think, five as director.

Brian knew I wanted to return to London - I had already been offered another job that I was mulling over - and it was he who suggested I apply for the position.

I was interviewed by Marjorie and Lord Harris of High Cross (Forest’s chairman) at Audley House, 13 Palace Street, a short walk from Buckingham Palace and Victoria station.

The small ground floor office occupied a corner position with large sash windows on two sides. Built in 1905, the building had been refurbished to a good standard.

Marjorie and her three full-time staff had moved there in 1998. It was a big improvement, so I was told, on their previous rather shabby office, also in Victoria.

I don’t remember anything about the interview but I do remember being invited to stay for lunch.

‘Lunch’ was a selection of sandwiches that had been laid out on a coffee table that was dominated by an enormous metal ashtray.

Directly above the table, on the ceiling, was a large air filtration unit, one of four in the office.

Marjorie (cigarette) and Ralph Harris (pipe) were both smokers and each time they exhaled the smoke would rise and then magically disappear into the unit above.

I had never seen anything like it. It convinced me that technology was the solution to the issue of smoking in the workplace.

Marjorie thought so too because her new job was with an air filtration company!

When I was offered the Forest job a few days later I accepted without hesitation. Privately, though, I did have one or two misgivings.

After six years in Edinburgh I was keen to move back to England but after 15 years as a self-employed journalist I was concerned that being tied to an office, and having to commute (because we couldn’t afford to buy a house in London), might be a bit of a culture shock.

(In 1969, at the same age, my father had gone in the opposite direction, giving up a daily commute of three hours for one of just 30 minutes. He never regretted it.)

On the other hand I was almost 40 and had never managed even a small team of people. If I rejected the opportunity it might not come again.

Another issue was money.

Having been offered a salary that was a small increase on what I was previously earning, I discovered that the budget had changed and I would have to take a pay cut before I had even started!

To put this in context, we still had to sell our house in Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, so initially I would have to rent a room in London and commute each week from Edinburgh. In addition my wife would have to give up her job in Scotland and find a new one down south.

I wanted the job so we compromised. I accepted a smaller salary while Forest agreed to pay my travel and accommodation for a maximum of six months, and on Sunday January 3, 1999, I travelled to London from Edinburgh and moved in to a room on the top floor of a house in Notting Hill.

The owner and only other occupant was the sister of a former Labour MP who was a member of the House of Lords. She contacted me after I placed a classified ad in the Spectator but, typically, I can’t remember either of their names. (He died, I think, a few years ago.)

‘Notting Hill’ (the movie) was released while I was staying there and I watched it twice at the local cinema. It was a weird experience because some of the locations were right on our doorstep.

I enjoyed living there but I spent very little time in the house because on weekdays I would leave early, catch a Circle line train to Victoria, have breakfast (toast and coffee) in a local cafe, and be in the office by eight.

In the evenings I generally worked late (because there was nothing else to do), or I’d meet friends for a drink, or eat alone in a pub or pizzeria.

Every Friday after work I'd catch a train to Edinburgh, spend the weekend at home (my children were four and two at the time) and return to London on the overnight sleeper, leaving Waverley station at 11.00pm on Sunday, arriving at Kings Cross at 7.00 the following morning.

And that was pretty much my life for five months. We accepted an offer for our house in February but didn’t move out until May.

In March 1999 I took a week off work to look for a new house. I explored villages in Kent and Essex before stumbling on some new housing developments in Cambridgeshire. (A new house seemed the best option because it avoided the risk of getting caught in a chain.)

The train service from Huntingdon to London seemed relatively quick and reliable (the round trip to Victoria was three hours door-to-door via Kings Cross) so we bought a house in a nearby village and have lived there ever since.

Did I think, when I began, that I would still be working for Forest 20 years later? Of course not.

So what happened? Events, dear boy, events. (But that’s another story involving the smoking ban, plain packaging, David Hockney and much much more.)

I have no regrets though. I recognise that I’m lucky to have a job I still enjoy, despite the obvious frustrations and failures, and is still a challenge.

I’m grateful too for having met and worked with some wonderful people. It would be unfair to name some ahead of others but I must mention Lord Harris, chairman of Forest from 1987 to 2006, when he died aged 82.

What a fabulous sounding board he was. Ralph endured some terrible tragedies in his life but he was the most positive, jovial, inspiring and supportive person you could wish to meet.

I must also pay tribute to everyone I’ve worked with, some of whom dedicated years of their lives to Forest and didn’t do it simply to pay the mortgage (as Nicky Campbell playfully suggested to me on Five Live last year).

This week on Twitter an SNP councillor, responding to my appearance on Reporting Scotland on Wednesday, argued that we are simply lobbyists for the tobacco industry. It may look like that to an outsider but he couldn’t be more wrong.

Having been freelance for 15 years before I joined Forest I would never have taken a job where I was effectively working for a third party.

I did that when I worked for a PR company after I left university and I hated it.

The freedom to make my own decisions on behalf of Forest, and no-one else, is priceless.

Forest supports adults who choose to smoke not because it benefits the tobacco companies but because we believe in freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

In these cynical times it’s hard, I know, to credit people with some integrity but in my experience the overwhelming majority of people who have worked for Forest have done so because they genuinely believed in the cause.

That said, I’m very happy to acknowledge the support we’ve had from the tobacco companies and, 20 years on, I'm proud to be part of the global tobacco 'family'.

Above: With Antony Worrall Thompson at his restaurant in Notting Hill in, I think, 2001.

Below: From March 2010, a little contretemps with Deborah Arnott, CEO of Action on Smoking and Health

Monday
Dec312018

2018 in brief

And so another year is over.

Some predicted 2018 would be rather quiet on the smoking front. I begged to differ, and I think I was right.

The threat of further legislation may have receded in England (for the moment) but here are just some of the many smoking-related stories or initiatives Forest has responded to in England, Wales and Scotland in the last twelve months:

1. Warning that smoking on TV and in films is encouraging child take-up
2. Wales to ban smoking outside hospitals and schools in UK first
3. Scotland's new tobacco control plan tightens the net on smokers
4. Smokers could be banned from lighting up at bus and tram stops
5. Public Health England chief vows to get "ruthless" on smoking
6. Calls to ban smoking in outside dining areas
7. Cost of cigs soar to £10 a pack as Chancellor hikes tobacco tax
8. Hospital smokers shamed via loudspeaker
9. Plan to stamp out smoking in social housing
10. Smoking banned in Scottish prisons
11. City Council bans staff from smoking or vaping during work
12. Welsh town centre smoking ban proposed

Making smoking history

In 2018 Manchester launched a 'Making Smoking History' campaign that seeks to reduce the number of smokers in the city by a third in just three years. Similar 'smoke free' initiatives are being rolled out in Sheffield and Barnsley.

Meanwhile Dundee City Council became the first council in Britain to ban employees from smoking (and vaping) at any time during the working day, including lunch breaks, even if they are off council premises.

2018 was also the year Philip Morris International confirmed its anti-smoking agenda and Philip Morris UK launched a £2 million quit smoking campaign, the absurdly named 'Hold My Light'.

"There is no reason for anyone to smoke any more," MD Peter Nixon told the Independent in August.

According to the Mail on Sunday:

Philip Morris has spent over 15 years researching and developing smoke-free alternatives. The firm's efforts have escalated recently with a campaign launched over new year plastering full-page adverts in national newspapers promoting its 'ambition to stop selling cigarettes in the UK.'

Read my thoughts here (PMI's 2030 vision) and here (PMI: charmingly predictable).

Prison smoking bans

I've never believed that prisoners have a right to smoke in jail so why does it matter that smoking is now banned in every prison in England and Scotland?

It matters because when there are far bigger issues to address in Britain's jails, including reports of increasing violence and self harm among inmates, government and prison officers have chosen to focus on smoking, a legitimate habit, banning it not only in prison cells but also in every outside area including exercise yards.

To put this in perspective, prisons were exempt from the original smoking ban because they were considered a place of residence, like hotel bedrooms. Now that exemption has been swept away it will make it easier for the smoking ban to be extended to more residential accommodation including social housing.

The sight of prisons minister Rory Stewart, a man I generally admire, tweeting that he was "Delighted to confirm that we have just achieved one hundred per cent smoke free prisons", adding that “We were ahead of the Scots and we’ve done it!", has got to be one of the most depressing moments of the year.

Equally depressing was the sight of primary children being recruited to fight the war on smoking. According to one report:

Children from a primary school in Barnsley are urging parents to think twice before smoking around school grounds.

The 'peaceful protest' by pupils at Laithes Primary School is part of the 'Breathe 2025' campaign - and the council's vision to make the borough a smoke-free zone.

A clip subsequently appeared on Twitter in which a woman with a megaphone was seen coaching the children to chant "Keep our schools smoke free". Appalling.

Hospital smoking bans

The smoking bans introduced in Scotland in 2006, and England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2007, were designed primarily to protect bar workers from the alleged impact of 'passive' smoking, or so we were told.

A decade or so later smoking is increasingly being targeted with 'voluntary' bans in outdoor public places, despite the fact that there is no evidence that lighting up outside presents any risk to non-smokers.

Examples of this include hospital grounds. A hospital in Wakefield has gone even further and is trying to 'shame' smokers who light up outside the entrance. According to one report:

Staff, visitors and patients can activate the pre-recorded messages, which are then played through a speaker outside Pinderfields Hospital.

"Hi, I'm Georgia, would you mind not smoking outside? Someone's mummy or daddy could be having their treatment today," says one of the announcements.

Public Health England wants all NHS trusts to be 'smoke free' in 2019 so we're monitoring the situation very carefully. Watch this space.

Observation of the year

Talking of hospital smoking bans, this is what Observer columnist Barbara Ellen had to say about the Welsh Government’s plan to make it a criminal offence to smoke on hospital grounds:

While Britain still has smokers, is a designated smoking area outside a hospital such a terrible thing? It’s even arguable that smokers deserve a tiny break. The vast majority of smokers have complied with new laws with barely a peep – they’ve done as instructed, regarding smoking in public areas, trudging outside, to dolefully puff away in all weathers. The poor sods.

Now it seems they won’t even be able to smoke in a designated spot outside hospitals – the most stressful places on Earth. Evoking human rights may be stretching it (just a tad), but there’s no need for all compassion to go up in smoke.

See 'For pity’s sake, let people have a puff outside hospitals'.

Smoking on TV and in films

Largely unnoticed, the tobacco control lobby continued its quest for further restrictions on smoking on TV and in films:

In a strongly worded submission to the Select Committee on Science and Technology ASH and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol studies warn that smoking on TV and in films encourages children to take up smoking. They point out that children in the UK are still exposed to significant amounts of smoking on screen and that it is the amount of smoking that is important, not whether it is glamourised or not.

Expect further lobbying in 2019.

Most bizarre anti-smoking proposal

It was reported in March that:

Smoking while walking would be banned in New York City if a new bill is passed into law. Councilman Peter Koo is introducing the legislation on Wednesday, in what he says is an attempt to keep secondhand smoke away from pedestrians.

The threat appears to have receded but keep an eye on the States, New York and California in particular, because that's where many of the craziest anti-smoking ideas are born and incubated.

Reasons to be cheerful

Thankfully it's not been all gloom and doom. The coalition government in Austria, for example, deserves an award for not implementing legislation that would have resulted in smoking being banned in all indoor public places.

As a result Austria remains one of the few countries in Europe where you can still eat, drink and smoke indoors in some cafes, bars and restaurants. I emphasise the word 'some' because it's not difficult to find no-smoking cafes and restaurants, so everyone has a choice (which is how it should be).

Meanwhile, in Jersey, following submissions by Forest and other groups, the St Helier Roads Committee rejected a proposal to ban smoking in al fresco dining areas.

Media, reports, events

In the UK Forest was quoted or featured over 1500 times online, in print or in broadcast interviews and news reports.

We were quoted by, among others, The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, Sun, Mirror, Star and Independent.

Among many broadcast interviews I spoke to Jeremy Vine (Radio 2), Nicky Campbell, Stephen Nolan and Nihal Arthanayake (all Five Live), and Matthew Wright (TalkRadio).

See 'Some thoughts on smoking, vaping and individual freedom'.

In Scotland the guests of honour at a Forest dinner to mark the publication of our report, 'The McNanny State', were the author, former MSP Brian Monteith, and writer and journalist Allan Massie who wrote the foreword.

In Birmingham we hosted two events at the Conservative party conference – a balloon debate ('The most pleasurable nicotine delivery device in the world') and a panel discussion ('Should smoking be consigned to history?').

The latter was chaired by Claire Fox (Academy of Ideas) and featured me, investment analyst Rae Maile, Chris Snowdon (IEA) and Mark MacGregor (Philip Morris UK).

Meanwhile a poll conducted by Populus for Forest in Scotland in June found that 'Most Scots think government policies to reduce smoking rates have gone too far or far enough'.

I could go on (I haven't even mentioned Forest Ireland or Forest EU) but I want to keep this brief so ...

Most read posts on this blog in 2018

How the UK is driving the global tobacco control industry
The enemy of my enemy is not my friend
Doctor Christian is no VApril fool
Hubris before a fall
VApril and the UKVIA Forum 2018
The consequences of a ban on smoking in outdoor dining areas
Plain packaging and all that jazz
Forest EU, one year on
Government versus the people
Time for a national debate about Scotland's nanny state
Farewell, Sunday Politics
Filth, squalor and violence but at least smoking is banned
Vaping and the several faces of ASH
Message to Keep Britain Tidy
Thoughts on smoking, vaping and middle-class snobbery
Iain Dale's diary
Philip Morris: why 'smoke-free' is the sensible way to go
Philip Morris responds to accusations of “staggering hypocrisy”
ASH: Insulting our intelligence
Golden Nanny Awards 2018

Last but not least

We were sad to report the death in March of Trevor Baylis, award-winning inventor, former Pipesmoker of the Year and a regular attendee at Forest events for more than a decade.

Trevor died aged 80 but he won't be forgotten. Here he is at the launch of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign in 2009.

Another Forest supporter who passed away was Michael Peel – who I wrote about here. RIP.

Sunday
Dec302018

The price of appeasing PHE’s anti-smoking propaganda

Welcome back. Hope you're enjoying a well-earned Christmas break.

Apologies for the lack of posts this month. I've either been travelling (Ireland, Scotland) or busy on other things.

I intended to resume blogging next week but I couldn't let the launch of Public Health England's new anti-smoking campaign pass without comment.

According to the press release issued before Christmas but embargoed until Friday:

Public Health England (PHE) has released a new film showing the devastating harms from smoking and how these can be avoided by switching to an e-cigarette or using another type of quit aid. The film has been released as part of PHE’s Health Harms campaign, which encourages smokers to make a quit attempt this January by demonstrating the personal and irrefutable harm to health from every single cigarette [my emphasis].

The film features smoking expert Dr Lion Shahab and Dr Rosemary Leonard carrying out an experiment to visually demonstrate the high levels of cancer-causing chemicals and tar inhaled by an average smoker over a month, compared to not smoking or using an e-cigarette. The results of the experiment visually illustrate the stark contrast between the impacts of smoking and vaping. Research estimates that while not risk-free, vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking.

Now, I don't dispute that the risks associated with vaping appear to be very small compared to the risks associated with smoking.

I do however take issue with PHE's campaign video which goes beyond informing smokers about the relative risks and is designed – yet again – to shock smokers into quitting.

The slick two-minute video begins with a voiceover:

"Every cigarette you smoke causes tar to enter your body and spread poison throughout your bloodstream, poison that can cause heart disease, cancer and stroke."

It then cuts to Dr Shahab and Dr Leonard who have designed an experiment that ‘mimics the effects of inhaling tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vape and normal air into the lungs, with the lungs represented by three bell jars filled with cotton wool’ (Independent).

Examining the cigarette bell jar at the end of the experiment, Dr Leonard finds ‘the cotton wool in the tobacco bell jar is brown, the inside of the bell jar is brown and the tube leading to the air pump is thick with tar’.

In the video she comments:

"I mean, it's just so revolting. Look at this, that's just inside the jar. Here, a lump of tar. So that's what's going on inside your lungs. There's loads of it and this is only after one month."

Leaving no-one in any doubt about her feelings, this is followed by what sounds like an exasperated sigh or possibly "Ugh!".

In contrast the e-cigarette bell jar gets an almost clean bill of health. There’s evidence of ‘water vapour on the side and one cotton wool ball features some minor discolouration from the colouring in the e-liquid’.

Led by ASH and Fresh North East, the anti-smoking industry was quick to voice its approval. Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, was so enthused she posted only her third tweet of the year. (Go, Deborah!)

Vaping advocates also welcomed what one called the "good news".

What the PHE video doesn't address is this: if the lungs of regular smokers are equally "revolting", why are they frequently given to lung transplant patients?

You may recall this report from 2014 (Donor lungs from heavy smokers appear safe for transplantation):

Almost half of lung transplant patients were given the lungs taken from heavy smokers, with one in five coming from donors who had smoked at least one packet of cigarettes a day for 20 or more years.

Despite this, new research shows that those people given the lungs of smokers were just as likely to be alive up to three years after transplantation as those who had organs from non-smokers. In some cases, they had improved survival rates.

"Donor lungs from even heavy smokers may provide a valuable avenue for increasing donor organ availability," says André Simon, director of heart and lung transplantation and consultant cardiac surgeon at Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust.

"Our findings provide for the first time real world figures for the perceived risk of implantation of lungs from donors with even a heavy smoking history, and they show that such donor lungs may provide a much-needed lease on life to the critically ill patient whose chances of survival diminish with every day or week that passes by on the waiting list.

A few weeks later the March 2014 issue of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery confirmed that:

Transplanting lungs from donors with a history of heavy smoking does not appear to negatively affect recipient outcomes following surgery.

The PHE campaign ignores this uncomfortable truth, preferring to shock smokers and impress the media with simplistic propaganda.

It reminds me of another new year campaign that claimed that:

"When you smoke the chemicals you inhale cause mutations on your body and mutations are how cancer starts. Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation. If you could see the damage you would stop."

Some of you may remember it because in a complaint submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority Forest challenged the claim that "Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation".

The procedure was long and arduous (it took 18 months and I wrote about it several times) but during that time the ASA upheld Forest's complaint THREE times before the ASA Council eventually overruled its own executive following repeated appeals by the Department of Health.

In my view, however, it was a moral victory for Forest.

The point I am trying to make is this. I don’t dispute that vaping is significantly safer (in terms of risk) than smoking and I applaud efforts to educate consumers about the relative risks.

There’s a fine line however between education and propaganda and PHE’s Health Harms campaign is a classic example of the latter.

I’m not surprised that the anti-smoking industry has bought into it but it saddens me that vapers (and vaping advocates) are equally happy to endorse such obvious scaremongering.

It’s worth noting too that on Boxing Day, in the wake of reports that PHE want to introduce calorie caps in food to reduce obesity , several ‘libertarians’ called for the abolition of the taxpayer-funded quango.

One man-child repeated the mantra ‘Abolish PHE’ 17 times in a single tweet. Needless to say, when PHE picks on smoking, such comments melt away.

As I say, I don’t dispute that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking (and possibly not harmful at all) but the tacit (and lazy) endorsement of PHE’s anti-smoking propaganda is nauseating.

It also comes with a heavy price because, as we have seen, it has emboldened PHE to move on to food and drink without fear of serious reprisal.

So to those who are happy to support - silently or otherwise - PHE’s latest anti-smoking initiative, I say “Be careful what you wish for.”

Scaremongering propaganda, even in the name of health and even when the target is smoking, is fundamentally wrong. If you can’t see that you have no right to describe yourself as liberal, let alone libertarian.

PS. Interesting to note that PHE has apparently claimed ownership of the controversial ‘15 cigarettes/mutation’ campaign despite the fact that PHE was established on April 1, 2013, several months after the campaign was launched by the Department of Health in December 2012.

As already mentioned, Forest challenged the claim that “Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation” and the Advertising Standards Authority upheld our complaint three times before the part-time ASA Council overruled the decision of its full-time executive.

See also: On the record - that Forest/ASA correspondence in full.

This week, in a tweet promoting its new campaign, PHE bizarrely chose to resurrect the seven-year-old image below. Go figure.

Wednesday
Dec122018

St Helier rejects al fresco dining smoking ban

Good news.

Further to last week's post about a proposed ban on smoking in al fresco dining areas in St Helier, Jersey, the Roads Committee this morning rejected a motion to adopt a ban.

According to BBC Jersey:

Questions were raised by members of the parish’s Roads Committee over whether a blanket ban was appropriate.

Others suggested further research was needed and plans could be put forward in the future to allow businesses to participate in an optional smoking ban for the areas.

A survey put out by the parish to the public, which received 113 responses, found 58% in favour of smoke free al fresco areas, 39% against and 3% were unsure.

But when asked, only 31% of existing al fresco license holders were in favour of smoke free zones.

It was later reported that members of the committee also expressed concerns over how a ban would be policed and how it would affect the town's image.

A leading opponent of a ban was the aptly named Liberation Group of pubs:

One of Jersey's largest pub companies has said a blanket ban on smoking in al fresco areas would infringe on drinker's human rights.

Christine Oxford, from the Liberation Group, said smoking "was not illegal" and businesses with al fresco licenses should not be forced to impose a total ban.

However, she said the group was not opposed to "non-smoking areas".

"We need to do everything we can to enable people to enjoy eating outside in St Helier," she said, claiming the smoking ban could affect the town's vibrancy.

The committee said it wanted to gather more research on other options, including partial bans and exceptions for businesses who did not offer food.

To read Forest's ten-page submission to the Roads Committee consultation, click here.

See also: Forest responds to consultation on smoking in al fresco smoking areas.

According to its website the Liberation Group has a number of pubs in the UK that are run by Butcombe Pubs and Inns.

They appear to be located in the west country, including cities such as Bath and Bristol, so if you live in that region pop in to one of the pubs listed here and demonstrate your support!

Wednesday
Dec052018

Ban smoking in al fresco dining areas? Don't mention the Germans!

Next week the St Helier Roads Committee in Jersey will discuss a proposal to ban smoking in al fresco dining areas.

To date, and to the best of my knowledge, no other town or city in the British Isles (or Europe, come to that) has introduced such a ban.

A few years ago Brighton City Council included the idea in a public consultation but following a negative reaction the Council rejected proposals to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas.

The Irish Government is currently sitting on a proposal to ban smoking in al fresco dining areas but no decision is imminent so St Helier could be the first to go down that route.

A few weeks ago, when the issue first raised its head, I was quoted in the Jersey Evening Post and on Monday Forest submitted a ten-page response to the Roads Committee consultation. It concluded:

Pubs, restaurants and cafes are private businesses. Whether they choose to allow smoking in al fresco dining areas, where there is no risk to anyone else's health, should be up to them. Pubs and bars took a huge hit from the smoking ban with many closing as a direct result. Why should the future of many more businesses – including cafes and restaurants – be put at risk on the altar of tobacco control?

Banning smoking outside, even in al fresco dining areas, is unfair and unreasonable and will do nothing to improve public health. We urge the St Helier Roads Committee to reject the proposal and give owners of outdoor dining areas the freedom to implement policies that best suit their business, not the agenda of a small group of anti-smoking zealots.

What I didn't add, although I was sorely tempted, was to say that if a ban on smoking in al fresco dining areas is introduced in St Helier then Germany, the country that occupied Jersey during the Second World War, will seem like a beacon of liberty in comparison.

Instead, in the hope that the Committee might spot the irony for themselves, I wrote:

Interestingly Germany represents one of the more liberal European nations when it comes to regulations on smoking in public places. Policies differ from state to state but in several states smoking is still allowed in small bars (at the owners’ discretion). One can only speculate why this is the case but some people believe that for historical reasons successive German governments have been reluctant to be too repressive in the way it treats its citizens, including those who choose to smoke.

Germany is not alone however and Austria also gives many cafes, bars and restaurants the right to be ‘smoking’ or ‘non-smoking’ indoors and out. In other EU member states such as Belgium there are few bars and restaurants with street or garden terraces that do not welcome smokers. Many 'adapt' their terraces to the cold weather, offering smokers a confortable place to smoke, drink and eat.

Choice, not prohibition, is the key to a free and liberal society and we urge the Roads Committee to follow their example and reject regressive, authoritarian regulations on small businesses and consumers of a legitimate product.

The Roads Committee will discuss the matter at their meeting on Wednesday December 12. I'll keep you posted.

See also: Forest responds to consultation on smoking in al fresco smoking areas.

Saturday
Dec012018

Business news

This was the view from the restaurant at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Wednesday night.

I was there for a meeting with Ranald Macdonald, MD of Boisdale Restaurants.

The intention was to discuss ideas to mark Forest’s 40th anniversary next year. Or so I thought. Meetings with Ranald rarely go to plan.

Last year, for example, we met at Boisdale of Mayfair and halfway through the evening he got a call to say Kelsey Grammer (aka ‘Frasier’) was en route to Boisdale of Belgravia.

Grammer won the Cigar Smoker of the Year award in 2016 (in 2014 he came second to Arnold Schwarzenegger) and when he’s in London Boisdale - which hosts the event in Canary Wharf - is one of his favourite restaurants.

Business forgotten, we abandoned our dinner, called a taxi and raced across central London where we joined Grammer, his wife and several other people for what turned into a second meal at Ranald’s expense.

This week I arrived at the Canary Wharf restaurant expecting to find a table for two but after drinks on the terrace a small group had developed and I found myself sitting down to dinner with not just Ranald but an opera singer, someone working in ‘military intelligence’, Boisdale’s musical director, and Rebecca Ferguson, the former X-Factor contestant. (She was runner-up in 2010.)

This motley group proved very entertaining and it was well past midnight before the party broke up and we tottered home.

As for business, let’s just say that discussions will be resumed soon ...

PS. The 2018 Cigar Smoker of the Year dinner takes place at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Monday (December 3).

Apart from Schwarzenegger and Kelsey Grammer, previous winners have included Jonathan Ross and Simon Le Bon.

The winner is a closely guarded secret until the evening of the event but on Wednesday Ranald inadvertently let the cat out of the bag.

Unlike him my lips are sealed. Watch this space.

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