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Hubris before a fall

Philip Morris has been in the news again.

A Daily Telegraph investigation found Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is supplying newsagents across Britain with window posters promoting new iQOS tobacco heaters ...

The iQOS posters are in breach of a strict long-standing ban on advertising tobacco and tobacco-related products, the Department for Health and the National Trading Standards Institute have confirmed.

Leaving aside the legality or otherwise of the posters (which make no health claims and are as plain as plain could be), what's interesting is the reaction of public health minister Steve Brine and Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH.

Brine told the paper:

“It’s completely unacceptable for organisations to be promoting tobacco products – smoking kills, and that’s why we have clear, strict rules in place protecting people from its harmful effects."

Arnott said:

"The legislation is very clear that advertising which has the effect of promoting tobacco products is illegal. That includes iQOS, just as it includes pipes used for smoking tobacco. It’s a barefaced cheek for Philip Morris to argue otherwise.”

Their response was predictable and rather pathetic. For example, although the Committee on Toxicity said in December that heat-not-burn tobacco products were not risk free, it was also reported that:

The advisory panel to the government found that people using heat-not-burn products are exposed to between 50% to 90% fewer "harmful and potentially harmful" compounds compared with conventional cigarettes.

On a scale of risk, heated tobacco clearly lies somewhere between combustible tobacco (high risk) and e-cigarettes (low risk) which makes it, by definition, a reduced risk product.

But Brine and Arnott have no time for nuance. As far as they’re concerned all tobacco products should be treated the same.

A second and far more interesting PMI-related story concerned the company’s latest sales figures. According to Bloomberg:

Shares in the cigarette giant plunged as much as 18 percent after its latest earnings report showed that $4.5 billion spent on four new products are failing to win over new customers. Sales growth of the iQos, a device that heats a tobacco plug without setting it on fire, has been slowing after initial success in Japan.

In a follow-up report published on Friday, Bloomberg added:

The tobacco giant spent $4.5 billion developing devices it says deliver fewer chemicals and potentially more profits. One of them, called the iQos, is big in Japan, with a 16 percent share of the country’s tobacco market. But 40 percent of Japanese adult smokers are age 50 and older, and they’ve been more leisurely about changing habits. Sales growth slowed in the first quarter and company revenue fell shy of estimates. Shares tumbled 15.6 percent.

“Now we’re obviously going to adjust our plans,” Chief Financial Officer Martin King said on a Wednesday call with analysts. “We’re now reaching different socioeconomic strata with more conservative adult smokers who may have slightly slower patterns of adoption.”

Translation: It won’t be easy to wean Grandpa and Grandma from a habit they’ve had for decades in favor of a device that heats a tobacco plug without setting it on fire.

In truth it's not just Grandpa and Grandma who are digging their heels in.

While the concept of heated tobacco is undoubtedly appealing (more so, I think, than e-cigarettes for many smokers), the reality – which I can’t repeat often enough – is that millions of people enjoy smoking and don't want to quit, nor do they want to switch to alternative nicotine products.

How hard is that to understand? Sadly it's a truth many people, and PMI, seem reluctant to acknowledge. Indicative of a rather hubristic corporate culture, the CFO also declared:

“We don't buy the idea that somehow there's a big chunk of consumers that want to continue using combustible cigarettes when offered extremely high-quality, satisfying reduced-risk products. It just doesn't make sense.”

Goodness. In the words of one analyst who emailed me privately, “No arrogance towards the customers there then!”

PMI’s attitude is nothing new. This after all is a company that hopes to stop selling cigarettes in the UK by 2030 following which the goal is a 'smoke free' world.

It’s unlikely but you do wonder whether there may be a tiny connection with the sales figures published last week and PMI consistently belittling its core product and, by association, its customers.

After all, if you declare the future to be ‘smoke-free’ don’t be surprised if many smokers take umbrage and take their business elsewhere. And that includes alternative products. (Other devices are available.)

In recent months we’ve witnessed a very vocal backlash from consumers against drinks’ manufacturers that have slashed sugar content and abandoned popular recipes in favour of 'healthier' alternatives.

It’s too soon to know whether that will be reflected by a decline in sales, but why antagonise your most loyal customers unnecessarily?

In comparison Coca-Cola has played an absolute blinder. The company introduced a range of sugar free products over many years without ever threatening to take the original recipe off the shelves.

Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the company declared its support for a 'sugar free' world or pledged a billion dollars to a foundation of the same name.

Far from it. Here’s a tweet Coca-Cola posted last week:

Tobacco and carbinated drinks are two very different products with different risks and some might say it’s unfair to bracket them together.

The point is, Coca-Cola is treating its customers like adults, defending their right to choose what they buy and consume.

The same cannot be said of some of Coca-Cola's competitors nor indeed PMI whose high-handed attitude is, at best, patronising to those who enjoy smoking. At worst it's downright offensive.

That said, I don’t think PMI’s sales figures are as bad as last week’s headlines suggest. Allowing for the fact that it was always going to be difficult to maintain the early success of iQOS in Japan (where e-cigarettes are banned) sales are actually holding up reasonably well.

As Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, commented at a recent PMI-supported event, the initial popularity of vaping was based on attracting "low-hanging fruit" - smokers who, generally speaking, wanted to cut down or quit and were therefore open to alternative products that gave them as much pleasure as smoking.

That probably explains why 2.9 million smokers in the UK switched fairly quickly to e-cigarettes, 1.6 million of them permanently, and why the rate of growth in Britain appears to have stalled. (Not declined, note, just stalled.)

Rapid growth followed by a levelling off is far from unusual following the launch of an innovative new product so it's far too early to write off products like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco that are still in their infancy and are developing all the time.

I do however think it's a mistake to blithely assume that most smokers, given the option, will switch to a safer non-combustible product.

As readers know, there is clear evidence that a large number of people smoke because they enjoy it. They know the risks but unless they experience a serious health scare (which isn't as common as many would suggest) the pleasure of smoking outweighs the potential harm.

We know too that a significant number of confirmed smokers have tried e-cigarettes but for various reasons vaping doesn't appeal to them. Not yet anyway, and possibly never.

PMI is also taking a risk if it thinks that lobbying for a ‘smoke-free’ world will have no consequences commercially. Did they even consider the reaction of consumers?

In the last few weeks a major retailer of e-liquids in the UK has posted a number of tweets using the hashtag ‘WarOnCigarettes’. One read:

The response included these replies:

“No I won't be joining you, because you've just declared war on me and the tobacco I enjoy. Bring it on.”

“Are you now? Well I won't ever be buying anything off you then. I still enjoy the occasional cigarette and I'm still furious about the smoking ban. The Anti tobacco Industry wants rid of you, too, so don't bother getting pally with it.”

“There’s already more than enough arseholes bashing smokers on a daily basis without this kind of nonsense. Let people decide what they want, it’s all about choice.”

Personally I see very little difference between Vaporized’s ‘war on cigarettes’ (which you can also read as a ‘war on smokers’) and PMI targeting a ‘smoke-free world’.

Compare it with the far less strident approach adopted by other tobacco companies.

British American Tobacco for example talks not of ending the production of cigarettes but of "extending choice" in the form on e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and other devices.

That, it seems to me, is a far better strategy because choice is the key to consumer freedom and there is far less risk of alienating your core customers.

PMI’s anti-smoking grandstanding may have generated headlines throughout the world but I do wonder what impact it will have on the company’s long-term relationship with its customers.

By remaining loyal to those who prefer the company’s ‘classic’ recipe, Coca-Cola sent out a powerful message to its customers. PMI, in contrast, has demonstrated no such commitment.

I am reminded of Gerald Ratner who famously undermined his jewellery chain by joking that one of its products was “total crap” and another “probably wouldn’t last as long” as an M&S prawn sandwich.

After his speech customers rebelled and the value of the Ratner group fell by around £500 million.

Again, two very different products and situations, but the lesson is this. No good can come of undermining your core product because, in the process, you are also passing judgement on the very consumers you hope will keep you in business in the years to come.

To be clear (and I've written about this numerous times), I'm a keen advocate of heat-not-burn products because they contain an important ingredient that e-cigarettes lack - tobacco.

HnB devices therefore strike me as a far more natural alternative to cigarettes. I’m convinced though that even heated tobacco will meet resistance if smokers feel pressured to switch.

Individual choice, as Coca-Cola understands, is paramount. Other companies take note.


ASH targets smoking on TV and in films

Love Island 'seduces teenagers into smoking' screamed a headline in today's Sunday Times.

Teenagers are being encouraged to smoke by Love Island, the hugely popular ITV reality show, a public health charity has warned.

The series ... was described as "harmful" by Action on Smoking and Health. The charity fears the cult show ... is heavily influencing young people's decision to start smoking.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: "The amount of smoking in films and programmes watched by children, like Love Island, is completely unacceptable.

It's no surprise that our surveys shows children reporting high awareness of smoking in screen and ... the more smoking they see, the more likely they are to start smoking themselves.

If all this sounds familiar it's because it is.

Complaints about the number of Love Island contestants who were seen smoking first appeared during the last series which was broadcast in June 2017:

Nearly every single contestant was seen puffing away on a cigarette at one point during the airing on ITV2 ...

At one point, viewers claimed to spot eight cigarette packets on the table as contestants chatted away.

The fuss – which according to the Sun attracted TWO complaints to Ofcom – was soon forgotten.

Two months ago however research revealed that:

Love Island viewers would have been exposed to millions of images of contestants smoking and of tobacco-related images during the run of the reality show, new research has warned.

The report quantified the amount of tobacco content on the show and found that in 21 episodes, comprising 1,001 minutes of content, tobacco imagery occurred in 204, totalling 20 per cent of the time ...

They measured audiovisual tobacco content, categorised as actual use, implied use including verbal references and the on-screen presence of cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia and clear branding ...

The data was combined with audience viewing figures – the final episode was watched by around 2.6 million people – and population estimates.

The researchers calculated that the 21 episodes delivered 559 million overall tobacco "impressions" to the UK population ...

The episodes delivered 44 million impressions of branded tobacco products, including four million to children, the research found.

These calculations are likely to be an underestimate, as they do not take account of online viewing or the accompanying weekly review of the series, Love Island: Aftersun, the researchers added.

There is a clear link between young people's exposure to on-screen tobacco imagery and starting to smoke, it was emphasised.

Actually, I would dispute that. The research published by the online journal Tobacco Control calculated a number of smoking-related images or 'impressions'. It didn't demonstrate a causal link with children starting to smoke, a claim that is contentious at best.

Sensing an opportunity however ASH has been lobbying the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In a follow-up to the Sunday Times report, ASH today issued a press release that began:

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.

Recommendations include:

Ofcom and the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) should monitor youth exposure to depictions of tobacco use on screen in the channels they regulate and publish these data in their annual reviews;

Ofcom and the BBFC should revise their guidelines with respect to smoking on screen in entertainment media viewed by under-18s to discourage any depictions of tobacco use [my emphasis]; and require action to mitigate any remaining exposure [my emphasis].

Interestingly there is no reference to Love Island anywhere in the press release. Instead the focus is on 'smoking on TV and in films' in general. It concludes:

ASH and UKCTAS have already shared the evidence with Ofcom and are having very constructive discussions with Ofcom. Ofcom has agreed to review the evidence we have provided it with and undertake its own analysis of the impact of smoking depictions on young people, preparatory to making any decisions about how to proceed. ASH and UKCTAS have written to the BBFC this week with a copy of our submission asking to meet to discuss our recommendations with them.

Truth is, Love Island is just a convenient stalking horse. What ASH and UKCTAS are really trying to do is persuade Ofcom to prohibit any depiction of tobacco use that might be viewed by under-18s, a definition that is pretty far reaching.

It's like saying smoking should be banned anywhere children might be present for fear they will see someone smoking. (That of course is another of their aims.)

Anyway, the Guardian was quick to follow up the Sunday Times article, reporting: Love Island and other shows 'encourage teenagers to smoke'.

Unlike the ST, the Guardian gave Forest the chance to comment, even if our response was bookended in typical Guardian style:

Contestants’ cigarette habits in the reality TV show Love Island and Winston Churchill’s cigars in the Oscar-winning film Darkest Hour inspire children to take up smoking, anti-tobacco campaigners have warned MPs.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies said children in the UK are still exposed to significant amounts of on-screen smoking. They cited a rise in smoking in Oscar-nominated films and research that showed cigarettes appeared in Love Island every five minutes on average, with the Lucky Strike brand appearing 16 times ...

The pro-smokers’ group Forest said ASH was mounting “an attack on artistic freedom”, adding that there is “no significant evidence that smoking on TV or film encourages teenagers to smoke”.

ASH responded that multiple academic studies had proved causality and said Forest was funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association.

Forest is supported by companies including British American Tobacco, which makes Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes.

See what they did there? Clever.

I also like the fact that having invited our response to ASH's press release (a copy of which was emailed to me), the reporter obviously spoke to ASH again so they could debunk our reply!

Anyway, here's the full response that we subsequently issued to our other media contacts:

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “Films and television should reflect the world as it was and is, not as prohibitionists would like it to be.

“Directors must be allowed to portray characters as they see fit, not according to regulations imposed on them by government and unelected NGOs.

“Many Oscar-listed films that contain smoking, like ‘Darkest Hour’, are set in a period of history when a large majority of adults smoked. Even today one in six adults smoke.

“Prohibiting or excessively restricting the depiction of smoking would be a gross attack on artistic freedom and a worrying attempt to rewrite history.”

He added: “It’s ludicrous to suggest there is a causal link between smoking on screen and children taking up smoking.

“To put this in perspective, smoking rates among young people in the UK are at their lowest ever level.

“The anti-smoking industry is manufacturing a sense of alarm that is out of all proportion to reality.”

See Smoking on screen: Forest condemns "attack on artistic freedom".

The Mail, using Press Association copy, has quoted Forest here, 'Love Island and other shows encourage young people to smoke, say campaigners'.

PS. For the record, and contrary to what ASH told the Guardian, Forest is not funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.

Forest receives donations from BAT, JTI and Imperial Brands but not the TMA. A small distinction but an important one.


Bad day for advocates of choice

Well, that was sadly predictable.

Following a challenge by Swedish Match, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice today announced that, in his opinion, the EU-wide ban on snus is ‘valid’.

Can't say I was surprised.

The ECJ has yet to make a final decision on the matter but it’s rare, apparently, that advice from the Advocate General is ignored so don't expect any change to the status quo.

Truth is, we’re living in a risk averse age and on issues like this judges and politicians rarely stray from an anti-tobacco consensus.

Prohibition (especially when the product is banned already) is much easier to support than a more radical (and liberal) approach to consumer choice.

The Swedish Match challenge reminds me of an earlier case concerning tobacco vending machines. This 2011 Forest press release sums it up:

The UK Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal over legislation to ban sales of tobacco from vending machines in the UK.

The ruling upholds a decision by the High Court in December 2010 to reject a legal challenge by Imperial Tobacco's cigarette vending machine subsidiary Sinclair Collis.

Two of the three Court of Appeal judges agreed that the High Court's decision should be upheld. The view of the third judge was that a ban on tobacco vending sales was disproportionate.

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, admitted the DoH's arguments were "not very convincing" [my emphasis] but said tobacco's health risks meant courts should not interfere with Government restrictions.

He added that given the health risks posed by tobacco, "virtually any measure [my emphasis] which a government takes to restrict the availability of tobacco products, especially to young people, is almost self-evidently one with which no court should interfere".

Although statistics used by the DoH to justify the ban were "little more than guesses" [my emphasis], Lord Neuberger said they did "not appear fanciful" and the ban was "lawful" and "proportionate".

Imperial won the original challenge but the Labour government appealed and the Appeal Court judges voted 2:1 in favour of upholding the ban.

According to the presiding judge, if the ban saved a single life [my emphasis] he had to support it.

For me that comment is as ridiculous today as it was then but the thinking behind it is instructive because it explains many of the paternalistic laws that have been passed since the introduction of the seat belt law in (I think) 1982.

The ban on snus makes even less sense when the product is evidently 'safer' than other products that are already on the market, but when did common sense dictate legislation?

Of course I applaud Swedish Match for challenging the ban but I would like to have seen the court case accompanied by a high profile, consumer-driven PR campaign to raise awareness of the product and the issues.

As I suggested a couple of weeks ago, it's important to win over public opinion and to win that battle you have to engage with more than a handful of like-minded people. You've also got to have a loud voice in the media and if you can't get it through editorial you buy it through advertising and advertorial.

Yes, it costs money – a lot of money – but legal challenges don't come cheap either. It's not one or the other, the battle has to be fought on both fronts.

Apart from a handful of articles by Chris Snowdon and Clive Bates, however, consumers and advocates of snus have been largely invisible in the UK.

I'm not having a go at anyone, by the way. I know how hard it is to organise any sort of campaign, let alone motivate people to support a niche product like snus.

Nevertheless the PR battle was there to be fought and I don't understand why so little effort has been made to challenge the ban in the court of public opinion.

I don't underestimate the difficulties. Snus may be a genuine harm reduction product but it's not part of British culture in the way it is in Sweden or Norway.

In fact, I'd wager that most people in the UK have never heard of snus and the majority of those that have (including smokers) are dubious about its appeal.

Anecdotally, in my experience, most people find the idea of a moist tobacco pouch in the mouth quite unpleasant. I don't know why, given the popularity of chewing gum (for example), but there it is.

Meanwhile opponents of snus are quick to raise the grim spectre of oral cancer. The risk may be small, as advocates claim and evidence seems to suggest, but images of that horrible disease are pretty gruesome and, once you've seen them, hard to forget.

What I'm saying is, if the advocates and manufacturers of snus want the ban to be lifted it will take more than a legal challenge.

Without an educational, well-funded, consumer-driven PR campaign that gives equal weight to choice and pleasure, harm reduction and risk, the sale (if not the consumption) of snus will almost certainly remain illegal in Britain.

Even then the odds on legalisation are small but, post Brexit, why not give it a go?


Stubborn bastards

I attended a private event in London last night called 'How long until smoking is history?'

I say 'private' because I don't think it was widely publicised. Nevertheless there were a lot of familiar faces present, many of whom (I'm guessing) had received a personal invitation.

Organised by the New Statesman 'in association with Philip Morris International', it was described thus:

Last year, the Government published its new Tobacco Control Plan for England that outlines a range of proposals to achieve a ‘smoke-free generation’.

More recently, Public Health England outlined a series of ambitious ideas to encourage smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives including encouraging hospitals to sell e-cigarettes and converting smoking shelters to vaping shelters.

Philip Morris International has committed itself to a smoke-free future and commissioned a report from Frontier Economics, ‘Towards a Smoke-free England’, to help understand the potential timescales for England to become smoke-free.

This event will discuss when, based on current trends, England may become smoke-free, and how this might be achieved sooner.

When I read that my heart did sink a little and I vowed to go if only to invoke the elephant in the room – the fact that many people enjoy smoking and don't want to quit or switch to vaping.

As it happens I didn't need to say anything because two of the three panellists covered that ground, to a greater or lesser extent, and I didn't feel there was much more to add.

Chaired by health journalist Anna Hodgekiss, the speakers were 'GP and smoking cessation expert' Dr Roger Henderson; Sarah Jakes, chairman of the New Nicotine Alliance; and Mark Littlewood, director general, Institute of Economic Affairs.

Dr Henderson was bullishly anti-smoking and quite full of himself. He was overly dramatic about the health risks of smoking, making frequent references to smokers having to choose between smoking or losing their legs. If I was a smoker I'd dread having someone like him as my GP.

I don't always see eye to eye with Sarah Jakes (or the New Nicotine Alliance which she chairs) but credit where credit's due. A former smoker, she's not anti-smoking and she does stand up for choice. She grasps why many smokers are not yet prepared to switch to vaping. And she understands that punishing smokers in order to force them to switch or quit is not the answer.

Mark Littlewood made some telling points in his usual entertaining way. Describing himself as a "stubborn bastard" who enjoys smoking and is too lazy to quit completely, he began by mocking the definition of a 'smoke-free' country.

"If five percent prevalence is the measure of smoke-free," he declared, "I am pleased to announce that Britain is heroin-free."

Dismissing the idea that smoking rates will fall to zero or even one percent in the foreseeable future, he warned against setting targets.

To sum up, it was a well-organised, well-attended event with three good speakers, four if you include Nick Fitzpatrick of Frontiers Economics who kicked things off with a short presentation that highlighted estimated smoking rates between now and 2050 when some people predict it will be zero.

Henderson's anti-smoking rhetoric wasn't to my taste but he was forthright and never boring. His views were also balanced by his fellow panellists, neither of whom was anti-smoking and both offered some welcome nuance.

So credit (on this occasion) to PMI. Credit too to the New Statesman for putting aside a long-held distaste of tobacco companies to organise the event. (I can't imagine what persuaded them!)

If I took one thing from the evening it's this. Forget forecasts and targets. The answer to the question 'How long until smoking is history?' is simple: no-one knows.

Everything we hear and read is speculation based on trends that, as Mark Littlewood noted, will be hard if not impossible to maintain as the smoking rate edges towards single figures and confirmed smokers (aka Mark's "stubborn bastards") dig their heels in and continue to smoke.

One thing's for sure. Even if the smoking rate does fall to five per cent of the adult population, that still represents two million smokers in the UK alone.

Smoke-free Britain? You're 'aving a laugh.

Postscript: I couldn't help notice that every time the dangers of smoking were emphasised by Roger Henderson a young guy in front of me would nod his head several times in agreement.

Later, during the Q&As, his mate – who was sitting next to him – asked how many young people smoke in comparison to the elderly.

When informed (incorrectly as it happens) that the highest percentage of smokers is in the 18-24 age group (it's actually more common among those aged 25-34, according to the latest ONS figures), he muttered, "Shocking."

What a prig, I thought.

Imagine my surprise then when, as I was leaving, I saw the pair of them outside, in the street ... smoking.

Update: I've told this story before but, many years ago, I took part in a debate about smoking bans hosted by the English-Speaking Union.

I was partnered by the late Lord Harris, chairman of Forest and a distinguished speaker in the House of Lords and elsewhere.

Our opponents – who were speaking in favour of smoking bans – were two young world championship winning debaters. They were brilliant and won the debate hands down.

Afterwards, to add insult to injury, they told us they were both smokers.


Scotland's "barmy bid" to wean prisoners off cigarettes

Just back from a short post-Easter break.

Last year we went to Lisbon where it was warm and sunny. This year we split our time between Harrogate (wet) and Glasgow (cold).

I don't think I've missed very much, unless you count the introduction of the new sugar tax.

There's been a great deal of weeping 'n' wailing on social media but it's been a long time coming and the protests I read on social media were, as ever, too little too late.

The template for using tax as a form of social engineering was established a long time ago but the ennui that habitually greets the annual increase in tobacco duty has undoubtedly encouraged ministers to use the same tactics when battling obesity, regardless of whether it works.

In fact, I still don't think people get it. The tobacco template has proved so lucrative to the 'public health' industry it was inevitable they would use it on other products (and consumers).

Anyway, back to the day job.

I was contacted yesterday by a journalist from the Scottish Sun who sent me a copy of a survey that is being conducted by the Scottish Prison Service.

It invites prisoners to say whether they smoke and if they want to quit and then asks, 'What kind of things do you think would be helpful in your attempt to quit smoking?' Options include:

Jigsaws, stress balls, relaxation CDs, colouring books and pencils, word games, other (specify)

There are several more questions, including a couple about e-cigarettes, but the Sun was naturally more interested in the jigsaw/colouring book angle.

Invited to comment, I said:

"Smoking is one of the few pleasures many prisoners enjoy. That's why tobacco is an important currency in prison. It's laughable to think you can replace it with jigsaws or colouring books.

"Smoking is not a right but if inmates wish to smoke there should be areas where they can light up without the long arm of the nanny state denying them that small comfort.

"If, on the other hand, the plan is to treat them like children, don't be surprised if they behave like children."

A short report appeared in today's paper. It's not online but it began:

Cons could be given jigsaws and colouring books in a barmy bid to wean smokers off cigarettes.

Stress balls and relaxation CDs are also being considered by jail chiefs ahead of the smoking ban introduction in November.

My quote wasn't used but what the story indicates is that the Scottish Prison Service is aware that forcing smokers to quit isn't going to be easy and won't work unless you offer them a alternative.

I'm just not sure that jigsaws and colouring books are going to be a satisfactory replacement.


VApril partner declares "war" on tobacco

As last Friday's post made clear, I wish VApril, the new pro-vaping campaign, well.

Fronted by Dr Christian Jessen – who seems refreshingly open and willing to engage with the tobacco companies ("what a good thing that the tobacco industry is supporting harm reduction") – the VApril campaign does seem to be primarily about choice and education.

From today, for example, smokers who want to quit are being encouraged to take the 3-step VApril Challenge:

1. Drop into a Vaping Masterclass (in cities across the UK)
2. Receive your free 6-page VApril guide
3. Be social (post thoughts, pics, videos on social media)

Who could possibly object to that? It's entirely voluntary, it offers practical help and advice to smokers who want to quit, and unlike Stoptober (the publicly-funded Public Health England campaign), the promotion of VApril has been largely free of the usual anti-smoking rhetoric.

This morning however one campaign partner adopted a more belligerent tone. Vapourized, the 'UK's largest e-cigarette and vaping retailer with over 100 stores nationwide', tweeted:

Declaring war? I thought the vaping industry had moved on from that type of tub-thumping nonsense.

Let's be clear, if you're fighting a 'war on smoking' you're also declaring 'war' on the millions of adults who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

As for being 'tobacco-free', does that include every tobacco product including reduced risk heated tobacco devices?

I wonder what the manufacturers of iQOS and Glo (who are also supporting VApril) think about that?

Anyway, the actions of one rogue partner won't stop me supporting VApril. But targeting thousands of potential customers with that sort of bellicose language is no way to win friends and influence people.

See also: Dr Christian Jessen is no VApril fool.


A sorry silence on snus

Snus is taking a bit of a hammering. It began on Thursday with the publication of a Daily Mail 'investigation':

'THE DRUG THAT IS SWAMPING FOOTBALL', the headline screamed.

Sportsmail's investigation reveals use of banned stimulant 'snus' prevalent in the sport ... with some players using drug during matches

Since then almost every tabloid, and even the BBC, has piled in:

What is snus? Chewing tobacco adored by England star Jamie Vardy does far worse than just cause cancer (The Sun)

What is snus? Previously used by Jamie Vardy and banned amid cancer links, the stimulant flooding the Premier League (Mirror)

Premier League footie stars 'using banned TOBACCO during matches', investigation claims (Daily Star)

The story has even gone global.

America's leading anti-tobacco campaigner Stanton Glantz told the Sun:

Linked to several cancers, snus is unequivocally a bad thing. Tobacco firms promote it as “safer” than smoking, but whether you jump from the tenth storey of a building or the 20th, the effect is the same. Studies show kids who see their favourite sportsmen using tobacco are more likely to go on to use it too. And tobacco products like snus or e-cigarettes are gateway drugs to cigarettes. So these sportsmen are harming a lot more people than just themselves.

Cancer Research UK also commented:

"Snus use has been linked to pancreatic and oesophageal cancer."

Absent from any of these reports was a response from the pro-snus camp – you know, the people who are always telling us that 'snus saves lives'.

It's not easy, I know, getting your voice heard in these circumstances. You should at least try however and it's now almost 40 hours since the Mail published its 'investigation', plenty of time for pro-snus advocates to issue a statement (or statements) in response.

Instead ... silence.

Snus is rarely in the news in the UK where oral tobacco has been banned for 28 years and the overwhelming majority of people are, if not unaware of its existence, ignorant of its harm reduction role in Sweden.

The Mail 'investigation', and the subsequent media coverage, was – and still is – a great opportunity for advocates to smash perceptions of this unfairly maligned product.

What frustrates me is that far too many harm reduction activists are happy to attend tobacco control conferences, rub shoulders with public health lobbyists, talk repeatedly about 'saving a billion lives' etc, but when it comes to tackling media firestorms like this they go AWOL.

Had I known the #SnusSavesLives lobby was going to adopt a vow of silence I would have issued a statement myself (on behalf of Forest). However, as we tweeted this morning:

It could be this story will run its course over the weekend. The damage however may take rather longer to repair, especially if football clubs start to ban the use of snus by their players.

Nevertheless, if I was a snus advocate I know what I'd be doing this weekend. I'd be on the phone to national newspapers offering to write an article that defends not only snus but nicotine in general.

After all, when even its detractors admit that nicotine improves 'alertness, concentration, strength and power' it's amazing that employers don't make its consumption compulsory!

Update: Good news! The New Nicotine Alliance has (finally) issued a response to the Mail's 'investigation'. You can read it here.

Sarah Jakes, chairman of the NNA, tweets to say they've "had this in hand since we first saw the story yesterday lunchtime. Response written this morning, signed off and sent to journos at lunchtime, then published on website."

So, nothing to do with this post or the tweet below which I posted at 10:43 this morning. Happy to clear that up.


Doctor Christian is no VApril fool

VApril, the new pro-vaping campaign, was launched yesterday.

It's early days but the signs are it won't be the four-week festival of anti-smoking rhetoric some may have feared.

Indeed, what I like about the VApril website is that it focuses on the positive (the potential health benefits of vaping) instead of the negative (the often hysterical arguments against smoking).

Yesterday I watched interviews with Dr Christian Jessen and Mark Pawsey MP, chairman of All Party Parliamentary Group for E-Cigarettes, and I have to say it was a far cry from the stern, humourless propaganda one associates with tobacco control campaigns.

At one point, speaking on the Daily Politics in the aftermath of a long, Brexit-driven interview with Nigel Farage, Dr Christian (as everyone seems to call him) good-naturedly invited the former Ukip leader to take up the ‘VApril challenge’.

Presenter of the BAFTA award winning Embarrassing Bodies, Dr Christian is VApril's poster boy. Getting him on board is a major coup for a campaign run by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) whose members include BAT, JTI, PMI and Fontem Ventures (owned by Imperial Brands).

Compare Dr Christian with the comedians and 'celebrities' that have been hired – at the public's expense – to promote anti-smoking events like Stoptober.

Why anyone would care what Al Murray, Bill Bailey, Rhod Gilbert or Shappi Khorsandi have to say about smoking I can't imagine. What a waste of money (£195,000, reportedly).

Even worse was the year they enlisted ex-footballer Chris Kamara, former Atomic Kitten Natasha Hamilton and serial quitter Phil Tufnell.

Most important, I've seen Dr Christian tweet about vaping many times and he strikes me as someone who is genuinely interested in the issue.

At the same time he doesn’t seem judgemental about smoking. He believes there are healthier habits and smokers would benefit from quitting, but I’ve never seen him deliver an unneccesarily derogatory comment about smoking, or smokers.

He's also comfortable with the fact that the VApril campaign is organised by a body whose members include the world's leading tobacco companies. As he himself tweeted:

In short, an inspired choice by the UKVIA (or the Westminster-based PR company hired to work on the campaign).

It's worth noting too that VApril is entirely self-funding with not a penny of public money asked for or spent on the campaign.

In contrast, Stoptober has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds since it was launched by Public Health England in 2012.

As we know, because I've written about it several times, including here and here, the fall in the number of smokers registering to take part in the Stoptober 'challenge' has been so dramatic that PHE no longer records the figure, preferring to spend public money on a whim and a prayer with little or no evidence that the taxpayer is getting value for money.

Like vaping, VApril is a harm reduction initiative driven not by government, the public sector or taxpayer-funded lobbyists, but by business and the free market.

That probably explains why the tobacco control industry is ignoring the new campaign but it doesn't explain why public health minister Steve Brine has also adopted a monk-like vow of silence. I mean, how pathetic is that?

Anyway, that's a subject for another post. (We are monitoring their tweets and public comments and will report back.)

In the meantime, if the focus of the VApril campaign is genuinely on choice and education, then I'm happy to support it. I'll keep you posted.

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