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Wednesday
Mar072018

How the UK is driving the global tobacco control industry

All roads lead to Cape Town this week – if you're a tobacco control activist, hanger-on or, dare I say it, schmoozer.

Incredibly, as Guido reports this morning, there are at least 35 delegates from the UK attending the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, many of them beneficiaries of taxpayers’ money.

Naturally they include Deborah Arnott (ASH), Ailsa Rutter and Catherine Taylor (Fresh NE), plus a host of academics from Bath, Stirling, Edinburgh, York and Warwick universities which are all members of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS), a network of 13 universities (12 in the UK, one in New Zealand) that conducts research on tobacco and alcohol.

If you want to know the extent to which the UK is driving the global tobacco control industry, check the programme. These are the UK attendees who are giving presentations. There may be more:

Deborah Arnott - ASH
Anna Gilmore – University of Bath
Tim Baxter – Department of Health
Rosanna O’Connor – Public Health England
Catherine Taylor – Fresh North East
Catherine Best – University of Stirling
Ailsa Rutter – Fresh NE
Marisa de Andrade – University of Edinburgh
Danielle Mitchell – University of Stirling
Kamran Siddiqi – University of York
Allison Ford – University of Stirling
Amanda Amos – University of Edinburgh
Jamie Pearce – University of Edinburgh
Andy Rowell – University of Bath

Apparently there are going to be awards for the countries and NGOs that are doing most to combat the tobacco 'epidemic'. That should be interesting.

Also present in sunny South Africa is Linda Bauld who wears so many hats (CRUK, UKCTAS, Stirling University) it’s difficult to keep up.

There must be mornings when Linda wakes up and can’t remember what country she’s in or what issue (smoking, alcohol, obesity) she’s lecturing us about today.

Other familiar faces in Cape Town are Clive Bates, vaping advocate and former director of ASH, and Derek Yach, founder of the Foundation for a Smokefree World, although I'm not sure Yach has been invited to the party.

Given that his organisation has accepted a generous donation from PMI, I suspect not.

Other noticeable absentees are stakeholder organisations representing smokers or the tobacco and vaping industries. Plus ça change (as PMI is discovering).

The conference began, officially, this morning but good to see there's a social side too.

Tobacco control - one big happy family.

Tuesday
Mar062018

State regulation, a free press and the CEO of ASH

The state-approved press regulator Impress came under further attack yesterday, this time in Parliament.

In a debate on the Data Protection Bill in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said:

"A free Press is one that cannot be regulated by the state. And so quite understandably no serious newspaper of the Left or of the Right has been willing to bend the knee to Impress and nor should it."

Ouch.

Meanwhile Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, is still a member of the board of the state-approved press regulator Impress.

Tuesday
Mar062018

Trevor Baylis CBE – smoking, sex and hell

So sorry to hear that inventor Trevor Baylis (above left) has died at the age of 80.

The invention for which he's best known is the clockwork (or wind-up) radio that transformed millions of lives, in Africa in particular.

He conceived it relatively late in life – the first production model appeared in 1994 – but he was a prolific inventor long before then.

According to this excellent and occasionally jaw-dropping obituary in the Guardian:

A few years before his wind-up radios began to sell at the rate of 120,000 a month, many of them bound for Africa, he had conceived more than 200 devices to help people with disabilities. He did most of this in less than three months of creative effort in which food and sleep played inconspicuous roles. The inventions included one-handed bottle and can openers, whisks, graters, sieves, sketching easels, embroidery frames and binoculars, as well as smoking aids for those who had difficulty in co-ordinating their limbs (he was an unreconstructed heavy pipe smoker).

The obit is 'jaw-dropping' because there’s a lot of stuff I knew nothing about. For example:

In 1964 he produced a chlorination system that he claimed to be 20 years ahead of the competition, and at the same time began work as a freelance stuntman. He devised and built a 35ft diameter tank in which he had to teach Peter Cook and Dudley Moore how to escape from a car in water. He took the tank around Britain and Europe for displays, once persuading Austin Mitchell, then a Yorkshire TV reporter and later a politician, to ride a killer whale in it.

In 1970 Baylis appeared as Rameses II in a Berlin circus, was shut in a sarcophagus and dropped into the water. The crane went out of control and for a time he was trapped, so that when he finally did get out, the relieved applause was thunderous. He said later that his stay in Berlin was the happiest time of his life.

From the £6,300 he earned in Berlin, he started his own business, Shotline Pools, and dived off the top of a house into his first steel and PVC pool. But at 45, after his father had died and he himself had been ill for a year with a blocked intestine, he gave up stunts and devoted his life to inventing.

I can't remember how or when I first met him.

In 1999, the year I joined Forest, he was awarded the title Pipesmoker of the Year. In those days it was quite a big deal. The award took place over lunch at The Savoy and for 30 years the list of winners was a Who's Who of British sport and showbiz.

I was at the lunch and I may have written to him afterwards, I don't know. What I do know is he became a popular and familiar figure at Forest events, always ready to step in if we needed someone to say a few words.

In July 2008, for example, we organised an event at the House of Commons that I wrote about here:

Exceeding our expectations, 17 MPs and five peers turned up. Of the MPs, there were eleven Conservatives, five Labour, and one LibDem. Views ranged from those strongly opposed to the smoking ban to those broadly in favour.

Our host, Philip Davies, gave a short, well-received speech. I announced the launch of our new Amend The Smoking Ban campaign. And Trevor Baylis told a joke involving smoking and sex.

The following year he helped launch the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign at a pub in Westminster (see below).

He was a welcome guest at many other Forest events. Smoke On The Water, our annual boat party, was a particular favourite of his which I found a bit odd because he lived, surrounded by water, on Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. Talk about a busman's holiday!

Then again, he lived alone and I think he enjoyed the company and the laissez faire atmosphere of these events.

Some interviews implied that he was bitter about not making more money from his inventions. He may have been annoyed or angry that some of his patents were circumvented, allowing others to cash in, but that's not the Trevor Baylis I knew.

He was the most genial and good-natured man you could meet.

If I have a regret it's that I never spent much time talking to him. Instead I would greet him with a cry of, "Trevor! Great to see you, thanks for coming", and usher him to a chair where he would hold court, tell jokes and smoke his beloved pipe.

Perhaps my favourite quote of his appeared in the Daily Mail in 2015. Invited to discuss his health, and asked if he would like to live forever, he replied:

No. I want to go to hell when my time is up because all my friends will be there waiting for me.

Trevor attended our 30th and 35th anniversary parties at Boisdale of Belgravia in 2009 and 2014, and he would have been a special guest at our 40th anniversary event next year.

Sadly he won't be there but I'm sure he'll be looking up, enjoying the banter.

RIP, Trevor, and thanks for your support.

Monday
Mar052018

Not Impressed

More on Impress, the state-approved press regulator.

According to Ian Burrell, writing for iNews yesterday:

It has been a devastating week for those campaigning for tougher regulation of the press and, most of all, for the privacy campaigner and former Formula 1 chief Max Mosley.

I have interviewed Mosley at his home near London’s Hyde Park and found him pleasant company and an engaging spokesman for victims of press harassment. But his standing and credibility are weaker now due to disclosures by the Daily Mail about his political past and his own response to those revelations.

The story is bad news for Impress, the only press regulator recognised by a Royal Charter set up after the Leveson Inquiry. It was created with £3.8m from Mosley’s family charity. Some small publishers signed to Impress are now reconsidering their relationship with the regulator.

They include Skwawkbox, a 'pro-Corbyn' blog. According to the Press Gazette:

Skwawkbox is among a handful of publishers regulated by Impress who have said they are considering cutting ties with the press watchdog following Daily Mail revelations about Max Mosley.

The independent left-wing website’s editor, Steve Walker, told Press Gazette: “Our membership of Impress is under review but no decision has been taken.”

Ironically Skwawkbox is no stranger to controversy itself. In November The Times reported:

An influential pro-Corbyn blog can be called a publisher of fake news, according to a ruling from the [rival] press watchdog [Ipso].

Skwawkbox, which has links to left-wing Labour MPs, published an article that “endorsed the credibility” of false rumours that the real death toll from the Grenfell Tower fire was covered up.

The article cited “multiple sources” claiming that the government had placed a D-notice on coverage and said that “every instinct is screaming” that the allegation was true.

The D-notice system, now known as the DSMA-notice system, is a voluntary code between the government and media organisations to prevent disclosure of information that could undermine security or put lives at risk.

The system was not used after the Grenfell fire.

On December 28 the Huffington Post reported:

A popular pro-Corbyn blog has been accused of the “deeply sinister bullying” of a female Labour MP after it criticised her for attending a gig with a Conservative counterpart.

The report included this tweet by Michael Dugher, former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport:

With supporters like Skwawkbox who needs enemies?

Then again, how does an alt-left blog square its support for Impress with the fact that the press regulator is backed by money from a Mosley family trust?

What a mess.

Anyway, as of this morning, Skwawkbox is still a member of Impress and Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, is still on the board of Impress.

Saturday
Mar032018

“The gentleman from ASH”

I was on LBC this morning discussing this story:

Refusing surgery to obese people and smokers is "discriminatory and cruel", surgeons have said as they issued a landmark statement calling for the NHS policies to be halted.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges accused health authorities of taking decisions which are counter to the fundamental principles of the NHS.

The Telegraph has the story here.

Also on the programme was Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum.

We agreed on most points but I had to laugh when Tam referred to me as the “gentleman from ASH”.

I didn’t have to say anything because presenter John Stapleton, standing in for Andrew Castle, quickly corrected him, adding, “It’s a similar organisation.”

How true.

Forest has never hidden the fact that we’re a lobby group. Nothing more, nothing less.

ASH, on the other hand, describes itself as a “public health charity”.

I’ve also seen terms such as “health charity”, “independent charity”, “antismoking charity”, “anti-smoking health charity” and, most recently, “tobacco awareness charity”.

John Stapleton is a top pro who’s enjoyed a long and distinguished career. As far as he’s concerned ASH and Forest are merely two sides of the same coin.

So the next time a spokesman for ASH tries to occupy the moral high ground, remember this.

In the opinion of one of Britain’s top broadcasters (and, I suspect, many other journalists and commentators), Forest is a “similar organisation”.

It’s not exactly how I’d like Forest to be remembered but imagine how more galling it must be for ASH!

Friday
Mar022018

Even without the Max factor, Deborah’s press regulation role is surely untenable

Further to my previous post, and leaving aside the Max factor, there's a serious point to be made about Deborah Arnott's position on the board of Impress, a state-approved press regulator.

It’s exactly two years since I first wrote about Impress. I highlighted two articles, one by Mick Hume, former editor of Spiked (A new free-speech outfit – for less press freedom), the other by the late Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian (Newspaper regulator Impress is repressive, dangerous - and daft).

As you can tell from the headlines, they both expressed serious concerns about the new body.

Last year the News Media Association, which describes itself as "the voice of national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK", published a dossier about Impress.

According to the Sun (a member of the NMA), it revealed what some committee members and staff at Impress "really think about the very papers they will be expected to make unbiased judgements on".

Those singled out by the paper were Jonathan Heawood, founder and chief executive of Impress; Máire Messenger Davies, who is both a member of the board and chair of its Code Committee; Martin Hickman and Emma Jones who are on the board and members of the Code Committee; and Gavin Phillipson, Paul Wragg and Mary Fitzgerald who are also members of the Code Committee.

The list of comments, tweets and retweets is too long to list (you can read it here) but they suggest a general abhorrence of the Sun, Daily Mail and other centre right newspapers plus (in some cases) support for an advertising boycott of the Mail.

Like the Sun, I don't think it's unreasonable to question the suitability of people with such views to sit in judgement on those very same newspapers.

Until yesterday one member of the Impress board who had gone largely under the radar was the CEO of ASH. I'm not sure why.

ASH receives annual grants of taxpayers' money and enjoys a close relationship with government. Am I alone in thinking that it's inappropriate for the chief executive of a partisan lobby group to be a member of a board that could influence the relationship between politicians and the press?

Another issue is Arnott's support for Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that seeks to restrict if not prohibit interaction between governments and the tobacco industry.

It may be a leap but it concerns me that an advocate of this and other restrictive practices is now involved in press regulation.

All things considered, I can’t help thinking that the two roles – CEO of ASH and member of the board of Impress - are incompatible.

If Deborah hasn't got the sense to recognise that then I would seriously question her judgement.

Meanwhile I couldn’t help noticing this comment by Impress chief executive Jeremy Heawood:

“Impress is entirely independent of the publishers we regulate and the donors who support our work.”

Let’s assume Arnott endorses that statement.

If it’s true (that Impress is independent of the donors who support their work), why can’t it be equally true that Forest is independent of the donors who support our work?

Instead, Arnott never tires of reminding the media that Forest is funded by tobacco companies, the clear inference being that - far from being independent - we are merely stooges of Big Tobacco.

The only conclusion one can draw is: there’s one rule for groups she’s involved in, and another for those she detests.

What a hypocrite.

Thursday
Mar012018

Anything interesting in the papers today, Deborah?

Click here and scroll down.

See also: ASH CEO on board of "repressive, dangerous and daft" press regulator (Taking Liberties, February 24, 2016).

Monday
Feb262018

Schmoozing with Stanton Glantz

There was a brief yet interesting exchange of views on Twitter at the weekend.

From SRNT2018 (aka the annual meeting of the Society For Research On Nicotine and Tobacco) in Baltimore, Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, tweeted:

Prof Glantz is of course Stanton Glantz, American's leading tobacco control activist. Much has been written about Glantz, including recent claims that he 'sexually harassed a former researcher and stole credit for her work', allegations he 'categorically denies'.

I won't elaborate on that story (you can read it for yourself) because I happen to believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty, however much I may disagree with them personally and professionally.

Nevertheless there are plenty of other reasons why I'd decline to be photographed with Glantz, the pair of us grinning like Cheshire cats.

If it was the result of an entirely spontaneous encounter over which he had very little control I could just about understand it. But Greg seems to have been on a mission.

Earlier, for example, he tweeted:

Between times he posted another picture (below) in which he stands next to Glantz who seemed unaware of his presence.

Overall it gave the impression that Greg was ever-so-slightly obsessed with meeting his “favorite foe”.

When I saw these tweets I kept quiet because I thought it was (a) none of my business and (b) I didn't want to fall out with Greg, who I like.

In any case I didn't have to say anything because Carl Phillips, former scientific director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), posted his reaction via a series of tweets that Greg started to answer before signing off to drive home.

It got me thinking, though. What, if any, are the limits when it comes to ‘engaging’ with tobacco control zealots like Glantz?

To be clear, and to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, I have never knowingly blanked or ignored a professional 'foe'. I have always believed one should be civil – even friendly – with opponents, not least because, in some instances, it winds them up royally!

On other occasions it's because I genuinely like or respect them.

I draw the line however at schmoozing in such an overt fashion with someone I genuinely hold in contempt because, to me, that is hypocritical.

Engaging with opponents is generally a good thing (and Greg later tweeted that he “learned a few things that may be useful in the future”), but appearances matter and this seemed a bit too chummy for my taste.

To be fair, Greg wouldn’t be the first to succumb to the curse of the casual encounter but I'm surprised he made so much of it.

Then again, I've attended a good few tobacco control conferences myself and I've noticed an increasing tendency for vaping advocates to actively seek the company/approval of even the most zealous anti-smoking activists in the optimistic belief it might unlock the door to a vape-friendly future.

Another observation is that the same advocates studiously avoid criticising any anti-smoking campaigner they categorise as pro-vaping.

This is particularly noticeable on Twitter. At the weekend, for example, Derek Yach’s Foundation for a Smoke-Free World recycled some WHO propaganda about secondhand smoke killing 890,000 people each year and hardly anyone batted an eyelid.

Even people who, a few years ago, would have reacted with disbelief if not laughter to this nonsense, remained silent.

The reason is pretty clear. In harm reduction circles Yach is the closest thing there is to a ‘celebrity’ and in some people's eyes that puts him – and his Foundation – on a pedestal and beyond criticism.

It's also human nature for people to be slightly subservient to those they consider a 'big beast'. Even if they don't agree with them they are gratified and even flattered by their company or attention.

That, at least, is my assessment of the psychology behind all this. But perhaps I'm reading too much into it. What do you think?

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