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Tonight, Geoff Norcott on Brexit

This is the only photo we have of comedian Geoff Norcott at Forest’s 40th anniversary dinner last month.

We were told Geoff didn’t want to be filmed on stage and I interpreted that, wrongly perhaps, to mean we shouldn’t take any still photos either.

The official photographer was therefore long gone when Geoff came off stage and started chatting to Chris Snowdon (above).

I took the picture on my iPhone but didn’t set it to flash so the image was very dark and almost unusable until our own photographer Dan Donovan managed to bathe it in some (artificial) light.

My excuse for posting it now is that tonight, at 11.00pm, Geoff will be talking Brexit on Radio 4.

It’s a one-off stand-up comedy show that was recorded in a west London pub on Sunday night.

Warmly recommended, even if you’re a Remainer.


Hancock's half hour of fame

'Smoking must be stamped out in the UK within 11 years, according to timeline set out in ambitious new Government plan'.

That wasn't the headline I wanted to read at 23:00 last night, just as I was going to bed.

According to the Daily Mail:

Smoking should be eradicated in England by 2030, ministers are set to urge.

The Government will vow to get all smokers to either quit the habit entirely or switch to e-cigarettes within the next 11 years.

The target to make the country smoke-free by 2030 will be announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock next week as he unveils a Green Paper looking at how prevention is better than cure.

I do wonder if this is his attempt to leave a 'legacy' (Hancock's half hour of fame?) before he departs the Department of Health, as he might under a Boris-led government.

Then again, it doesn't really matter who the Secretary of State for Health is. Labour or Conservative, they all fall under the spell of the unelected, anti-smoking civil servants at the Department of Health.

ASH of course enjoys a hotline to the DH so I'm not surprised by the news, or that it follows a YouGov poll (commissioned by ASH) that suggested public support for the very policies the DH is now proposing in its Green Paper.

Anyway, having read the Mail's report, I sent out Forest's response.

It was picked up this morning by the Press Association and an edited comment has been reported on hundreds of news websites throughout the country including the Mail Online, Mirror Online, Metro, Sky News, ITV This Morning and many more:

Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest, said people have the right to light up "without being harassed to quit".

"It's not up to government to dictate people's lifestyle," he said.

We have now issued a longer statement that reads:

Campaigners have urged the government to delay the publication of plans to stub out smoking by 2030 until a new prime minister and Cabinet have been appointed.

According to leaked documents reported by the Daily Mail, the government wants to create a smoke free society within eleven years. During that time smokers will be urged to quit or switch to harm reduction products like e-cigarettes.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said:

“It makes no sense for these proposals to be published before the appointment of a new prime minister who may want to adopt a less hectoring, more liberal style of government.

“It’s great that smokers now have the option of switching to reduced risk products like e-cigarettes but adults have every right to smoke without being forced to quit by government and anti-smoking campaigners."

He added:

“We welcome a full and frank discussion about the government’s plans to tackle smoking but it has to include all stakeholders, including adults who have made an informed choice to smoke and don’t want to quit.

“It is frankly offensive that in a so-called liberal democracy unelected civil servants are conspiring with the tobacco control industry to force adults to give up a legal habit many of them enjoy.”

See 'Forest urges government to delay plans to stub out smoking'.


Trouble in paradise?

Does anyone remember A Billion Lives? It was a film about smoking and vaping.

E-cigarettes, it seemed to suggest, have the potential to save a billion lives if only those pesky and corrupt politicians stopped obstructing their adoption by smokers worldwide.

I wrote about the film several times and reviewed it here - Thoughts on A Billion Lives (October 2016).

I was critical of several things - not least the title which was based on a contentious WHO estimate of the number of lives that may be shortened by smoking in the 21st century.

I admired the energy and the commitment director Aaron Biebert brought to the project but the film itself was rather dull and was undermined by what appeared to be an absurd conspiracy theory.

Inevitably I was criticised by vapers who took umbrage at what they perceived to be criticism of a project in which they had invested so much hope.

(Some vapers agreed with me but only in private, which is usually the way. God forbid they should ever support me in public!)

Anyway, fast forward to 2019 and director Aaron Biebert is currently filming a new documentary with the catchy title, You Don’t Know Nicotine.

Intriguingly, some vapers (and vaping advocates) are so appalled by the initial trailer (or teaser), released last week, that they’ve taken to social media (where else?) to make their views known.

Watch the trailer below and draw your own conclusions.

Bear in mind this is only the first trailer so the actual movie may adopt a different tone, but given the stick I got from vapers when I criticised A Billion Lives (after seeing the trailers for that film) it’s hard to be too sympathetic.

More important, I wonder what the organisers of the Global Forum on Nicotine think of it. After all, A Billion Lives had its European premiere at GFN in 2016 and director Aaron Biebert won the event’s Dorn Award.

In 2018 Biebert was appointed chairman of the GFN Film Festival and this year he chaired the film jury and presented the winner with her award.

Meanwhile here are some tweets that were 'liked' or retweeted by the You Don’t Know Nicotine account in the past week:

Returning to the film, I can't be alone in noticing a difference in the way You Don't Know Nicotine was launched and the trailer.

According to the movie's Kickstarter page:

With all the media hype surrounding nicotine, it's time to end the harmful misinformation and educate the public on what nicotine is, isn't, and what should be done with it.

We will answer three big questions during this 75-minute eye-opening journey:

How does nicotine actually affect developing brains?

Are there any benefits to adults who use nicotine without smoking?

Who's covering up the truth about nicotine, and why?

Contrast that with the one-line description of the film that accompanies the 'official documentary teaser':

An unbelievable documentary about nicotine and the teen vaping epidemic. Coming to theaters spring 2020.

Personally I'm looking forward to seeing the film (the production values look great!) but that’s just me. If nothing else it will be interesting to see who attends the world and European premieres and who hosts them.

I hope the film is more balanced than the trailer, though. If it isn't vapers and vaping advocates who previously eulogised him may be entitled to ask, 'With friends like Biebert who needs enemies?'!


Sunday run

My wife took part in a five kilometre fun run in Cambridge this morning.

It was part of Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life project and I believe this one event alone raised over £300,000.

Naturally I wanted to support my wife, who was taking part as one of a team of runners, but I can’t say I’m a fan of the charity.

If CRUK stuck to research and spent less time lobbying government to regulate and legislate - and less money on politically charged advertising - I might be more disposed to support their work, but they don’t and I’m not.

To be fair, the t-shirts of several runners bore messages remembering family members who have died of cancer and there was a poignant minute’s silence before they all set off, so it was hard not to be touched by these individual stories.

Nevertheless there was a slightly awkward moment before the run when everyone was encouraged by the MC to turn and have a ‘chat’ with the person standing to our right.

It was reminiscent of the moment in church when members of the congregation are invited to turn round, shake hands with their immediate neighbours, and say “Peace be with you.”

Thankfully there was no-one directly to my right and the person on my left showed no inclination to talk to me so I ignored him.

Anyway, while my wife was running/walking in a leisurely fashion around Cambridge (some people even brought their dogs), I trotted off to have something to eat.

The good news is that, despite the scaremongering about eating bacon, there was a van next to the registration tent selling delicious bacon baps and giant Lincolnshire sausages.

There was also a Mr Whippy ice-cream van.

Good result all round!


Irony alert as ASH Wales calls failure to reduce Year 11 smoking rates ‘shocking’

This went under the radar this week but I can’t not comment on it.

On Wednesday BBC Wales reported that:

A recent survey of thousands of Year 11 pupils suggested the percentage who smoke regularly in Wales - about 9% - has not fallen since 2013-14, with the rate among poorer teenagers rising.

ASH Wales said this was "shocking" and called for a more targeted approach.

What you need to know is that the five-year period in question (2013-2018) coincided with what was possibly the worst anti-smoking initiative I have ever seen, worse perhaps than PMI’s excoriating ‘Unsmoke’ campaign.

It was a project moreover that was targeted directly at teenagers in Wales including the Year 11 age group.

You may remember it. It was called The Filter and it was described as Wales' only dedicated youth stop smoking service.

Launched in 2013 with £850,000 of Big Lottery funding, The Filter was kept afloat with additional funding from the Welsh Government.

Thankfully it shut down in March 2018 after five years.

The Filter's Twitter account no longer exists so none of their crass and infantile tweets have survived, but I've managed to dig up a few Forest tweets that will give you a taste of what it was like following them:

Thankfully for taxpayers the financial tap was turned off last year sparing followers from any more puerile rubbish.

There is however a delicious irony that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Filter project was run by ASH Wales, the same group that now says it is "shocking" that the smoking rate for Year 11 pupils in Wales hasn’t dropped since 2013.

Instead of acknowledging their own part in this “shocking” failure, however, ASH Wales want a return to the ‘targeted approach’ that failed so dismally last time.

If the Welsh Government does go down that route, let’s hope they don’t put ASH Wales in charge.

Btw, Forest was also quoted in the BBC Wales' report but they cut the second paragraph. The full quote read:

“The best way to reduce smoking rates among teenagers is a combination of education and stiffer penalties for shopkeepers who sell cigarettes to children and adults who proxy purchase.

“The reality however is that some teenagers will always experiment with cigarettes, just as they do with alcohol, and although this should be discouraged the government must be careful not to overreact by introducing measures that will hit adult smokers and discriminate against poorer families.”


Beware anti-smoking campaigners and their siren pro-vaping voices

Above: Forest supports choice for smokers and vapers

Prompted by new research published this week I’ve been doing a bit of reading.

On Monday ASH unveiled the results of its latest YouGov survey. As I wrote here it got very little coverage but we shouldn’t dismiss it because ministers and civil servants will no doubt be devouring the data to see how far they dare push further anti-tobacco measures.

(On Wednesday, on BBC Radio Sussex, ASH’s Vicky Salt took issue with my claim that ASH want to ban smoking in all private vehicles. Not so, said Vicky. That is not “currently” ASH’s policy. Maybe not but it won’t be long before it is. That’s how ASH works - by stealth.)

On Tuesday, meanwhile, in collaboration with Public Health England, the Office for National Statistics published its latest report, ‘Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2018’.

This is the report that found that the number of smokers continues to fall across England while the number of smokers switching to vaping continues to rise, albeit at a fairly modest rate.

What concerns me though is the role of PHE in this partnership because I’ve always considered the ONS to hold itself to higher, more impartial, standards than bodies like PHE.

I was particularly interested to read a comment by Martin Dockrell, formerly with ASH and now head of PHE’s tobacco control programme.

“Vaping,” he said, “remains the most popular way for smokers to quit.”

Not true, Martin. A recent study found willpower (55%) is the most popular way to quit smoking.

Vaping came second (16%) followed by nicotine patches (8%) and gum (6%). (You can read the full results on the YouGov website.)

As readers know I’m not anti-vaping - far from it - but let’s not play fast and loose with the facts.

Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that tobacco control campaigners prefer to ignore the important role willpower plays in smoking cessation.

After all, their whole careers are built on the premise that smoking is a such a difficult habit to break we need an entire industry to ‘help’ people quit.

Well, it turns out that most smokers prefer to give up using willpower, not smoking cessation services or reduced risk products or Allan Carr’s Easyway books.

In other words, smoking cessation tends to lie in the hands of the individual not government or the anti-smoking industry and tobacco control campaigners find that very hard to accept.

Willpower, like personal responsibility and freedom of choice, is anathema to them.

Vaping of course was supposed to take smoking cessation out of the hands of anti-smoking campaigners by empowering smokers who want to quit with the ability to do so on their own terms.

But that’s not how it’s turning out. Increasingly tobacco control campaigners are taking ownership of e-cigarettes and they’re doing it in a number of ways.

One, they are arguing (successfully) that e-cigarettes must be a quit smoking device not a recreational product in its own right.

Two, some want e-cigarettes prescribed on the NHS as a smoking cessation aid, like nicotine patches and gum.

Three, most are happy for e-cigarettes to be strictly regulated, even by the EU's Tobacco Products Directive.

Four, anti-smoking vaping advocates (not vapers) are increasingly dominating the media when it comes to commenting on reduced risk products.

Five - and this is most damning - tobacco control campaigners like ASH rarely if ever fight restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes at work or in indoor public places.

Vaping, as far as they’re concerned, is simply a way to ‘help’ smokers quit, nothing more. The longer term goal is to wean consumers off their nicotine ‘addiction’ and stop non-smokers from taking up the habit.

To achieve that vaping must be controlled.

The remarkable thing is, some vaping groups seem happy to buy in to this. They’re so thrilled to be invited to ‘engage’ with PHE and other anti-smoking bodies they appear blind to the fact that they are being neutered to the point where they are fast becoming bystanders, not activists, in the public debate.

The vaping industry is represented by the UKVIA but who represents the consumer? Sure, there are pro-vaping voices in the media but very few of them are vapers.

Sometimes Forest is invited to comment but most of the pro vaping voices are tobacco control campaigners who have become vaping advocates in order to pursue their relentless war on tobacco.

I suspect many vaping activists are not unhappy with that. Oh look, they think, isn’t it great we’ve got public health on our side. That’s got to be good, right?

Perhaps, but be careful what you wish for. A week or so ago ASH tweeted:

Have you #quitsmoking by taking up #vaping? Are you comfortable sharing your experience on TV tonight? We’d love to talk to you, get in touch! Please email

From tobacco control to vaping control is a very small step and I believe we are seeing the latest move in that direction.

For years ASH has claimed to be on the side of smokers. Most smokers want to quit, they bleat, we’re only here to help.

Imagine if Forest didn’t exist and ASH had the media to themselves. The message would be clear and one-sided.

‘It’s a myth that people enjoy smoking and don’t want to quit. Listen to all these smokers we’ve co-opted to spread the word. They’ll tell you.’

By allowing ASH to fill a media vacuum, vaping bodies are handing control of the vaping debate to opponents of choice and personal responsibility.

It will come back to haunt vapers, I’m sure, because choice and personal responsibility are anathema to tobacco control campaigners, even those who currently (remember that word?) advocate the use of e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile another important message is getting lost.

Smokers are not patients and e-cigarettes are not a medicinal smoking cessation aid. For some people they offer a genuinely pleasurable alternative to smoking.

That’s why I couldn’t join in the applause when Sainsbury’s announced they were relocating e-cigarettes from behind the counter to the shop floor close to the ‘heathcare’ aisle and next to smoking cessation products.

I’m sorry, but if vaping is to have a long-term future, reduced risk products like e-cigarettes should be given similar status to alcohol and caffeine products. They must be recognised as a recreational, not a healthcare, product.

Vaping bodies fought hard to prevent e-cigarettes being licensed as a medicinal device yet e-cigarettes are now being sold alongside nicotine patches and gum.

What next? Will the sale of e-cigarettes eventually be restricted to pharmacies like Boots?

Anyway, my basic point is this.

Increasingly e-cigarettes are being appropriated by public heath and anti-smoking campaigners with barely a murmur from vapers and if they continue to allow that to happen there is only one way it will end.


Update: Talking of PHE's Martin Dockrell, here's a post I wrote about him in 2014.

Dockrell recently 'liked' a tweet that described me as a 'smug apologist for deadly cigarettes'.

I can't imagine anyone working for the Office for National Statistics doing that but it's interesting to see his prejudices confirmed online.

Stay classy, Martin!


Forest Unfiltered - now available online

To mark Forest’s 40th anniversary we have produced a limited edition 52-page photo journal.

Forest Unfiltered is now available online. It features pictures from many Forest events and includes photos of David Hockney, Joe Jackson, Antony Worrall Thompson, Rod Liddle and many more. Click here.


Christopher Booker, first editor of Private Eye, dies

Sorry to hear that journalist and writer Christopher Booker, the first editor of Private Eye, has died.

In 2007 Forest was delighted to host a special event to mark the publication of ‘Scared To Death: From BSE to Global Warming’, a book he co-wrote with Richard North.

One of the chapters was on passive smoking. Like us, Booker looked at the evidence and was highly dubious that ‘secondhand smoke’ was a significant risk to non-smokers.

He wrote:

For years, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on trying to prove that smokers not only harmed themselves but also the health of those around them, the anti-smoking campaigners found the evidence they wanted frustratingly elusive.

So when the two most comprehensive studies of passive smoking ever carried out each came up with findings that non-smokers living with smokers faced no significantly increased risk of cancer, their antismoking sponsors did all they could to get the reports suppressed.

In a pattern familiar from other scares, the researchers were subjected to a torrent of personal vilification. By the time a wave of smoking bans swept through Europe and America in the early 21st century, the official statistics used to justify them had become not just exaggerated but wholly fictitious.

See ‘Why you must read Booker’s new book’ (Taking Liberties)

As for the event, I wrote:

Guests came in all shapes and sizes. Politicians rubbed shoulders with journalists, lobbyists, publishers and publicists. In one corner Christopher Chope MP, in another UKIP leader (and MEP) Nigel Farage.

Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler (founders of the influential Adam Smith Institute) were there. So too Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance, and many more. Others, like the very senior "captain of industry" - a famous face in the City - who was attending in a personal capacity, shall remain nameless!

Full post here.

Remarkably Booker wrote for the Sunday Telegraph from 1961, when the paper was founded, to March this year when he retired due to ill health.

“One of my guiding principles as a journalist had long been to bring to light what I considered to be some shockingly important story which was not being properly covered elsewhere," he wrote in his final article.

Sadly, in an age when cut ‘n’ paste reporting predominates, he is literally a dying breed.

Below: Christopher Booker signs copies of Scared To Death at an event hosted by Forest at Boisdale of Belgravia in November 2007

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