RIP Olde Gruff Pete

Another rock god has kicked the bucket.

Well, not quite, but I was sorry nonetheless to hear that Pete Overend Watts, bass player with Mott the Hoople, died of throat cancer earlier this week. He was 69.

Few people will know his name but his long silvery hair and thigh high platform boots were an iconic sight on Top of the Pops during the mercifully brief period that Mott embraced glam rock.

Mott split in 1974 and when the original band - which was founded in 1969 - reconvened in 2009 for five nights at Hammersmith Apollo it was said that Watts hadn't played a note for 30 years.

Unlike his fellow band member Ian Hunter, whose solo career has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in his sixties and seventies, Watts took a very different path.

He became an antique dealer and later opened a large retro store in Hereford "selling specialist clothing, unusual antiquities, instruments and rare music".

More recently he wrote a book, The Man Who Hated Walking, published in 2013, that described "the greatest challenge of his life", walking the South West Coast National Trail, "all 650 miles of it".

What spurred me to mention his death however was a rather charming message that was posted on Facebook by Morgan Fisher.

Fisher wasn't an original member of Mott the Hoople. He joined the band shortly after their breakthrough hit 'All The Young Dudes' and played on all the subsequent hit singles.

When the band got back together in 2009 and 2013 however Fisher was overlooked. There was a logic to this (the reunion was instigated by the original keyboard player and Mott's core fan base has always been ambiguous about the more successful 'pop' period) but it makes the following all the more touching.

Fisher wrote:

My dear, darling, crazy friend Peter Overend Watts passed on today. I can't speak, am numb. All I can do is share one of the last emails he sent me, on December 6th 2016. Unedited, unexplained. His bravery, honesty, generosity, open heart and still-devastatingly witty humour during his last days utterly blow me away. He left this world as a total hero, a samurai. Love you, Pete <3.

Watts' email to Fisher, sent six weeks before he died, revealed that he had kept his illness secret for six years. It read:

Oh Yay Clifford T. Whoard!

Thanks fur your lovely message me old son. Looks like the news is finally out. But PLEASE KEEP IT UNDER YER HAT. IF POSS.

Managed to keep it quiet for more than 6 years though - so that was pretty good.If you remember I wasn't great at Hammo in 2009 - felt very grimeworthy then!

I just dread being besieged by Mott fans - all PRAYING for me, sending cards or gifts - or worse still, trying to visit me! God forbid - even tho I don't believe in him - even NOW.

Can't deal with all that crap - even tho I know they mean well. My sis got a message from Joe Elliot [Def Leppard] yesterday which made me think the game might be up. I know Jean and Buff [Mott drummer who died last year after developing Alzheimer's] were overwhelmed and were upset by it all after going public.

I think it's about 5 years too late for 2nd opinions now son. I've had every type of treatment, surgery etc - it was far worse than the illness itself! I've had enough now and am fine about going - it might be plezz up there (or down there) - an adventure, whichever way yer look at it.

I'm not in any great pain, just giddy tired and weak. To be honest I'm more worried about Ralphur [Mick Ralphs, Mott/Bad Company guitarist who had a minor stroke recently] than myself right now. I really hope he recovers so he can play again. I love the guy so much - just as I love you son.

I hated having to tell you that only the original band were doing the reunions - I know it must have hurt you a lot. One of me worst jobs ever. I wish we could've done it but it wasn't financially possble + too difficult to co-ordinate with everyone concerned.

The Hospice is great - very much like Carry On Nurse - so I 'aint complainin'! Another 3 decent years of travel would've been good but it's not to be after all - but I did a hell of a lot anyway.

Glad you shifted the skin cancer - and I hope you have a long, healthy and happy life.

I can hardly type so I may not be able to keep in touch, but i just wanted you to know that you are still the best musician I ever had the privilege to work with and a brill bloke to boot ..... but David Reid - guitarist from The Contrast 'int far behind you!!! I was gonna bloody join them on electric 6 & 12 string till this bloody disease returnrd. What a bummer that was.

Anyway, must sleep now. I refuse to say "Goodbye" (so I'll just say ........ Take care Morgo - Love you son - Olde Gruff Pete xxx

PS OH - PIES OF GRATE MEAT!! We had some great times didn't we!

How wonderful is that?

As a teenager Mott the Hoople were my favourite band. I bought all their albums but never saw them live.

Pete Watts was part of my childhood and it was a thrill in 2009 to finally see him, and the rest of the band, on stage. In the words of one reviewer:

And the rockin’ went on, unrestrainable, deafening, totally life-affirming.

Source: Mott the Hoople storm back to London for a dazzling night at the Hammersmith Apollo (Daily Telegraph).


Supermarket sweep: MP wants ban on sale of tobacco in major chains

I'm currently in Brussels for reasons that will become clear in six weeks or so.

On Monday, before I caught the train to Belgium, I was booked in to a small studio at BBC Cambridgeshire to take part in a discussion on BBC Wiltshire.

Local MP Dr Andrew Murrison (Conservative) wants the government to ban the sale of tobacco in supermarkets.

Dr Murrison is a medical doctor. Prior to becoming an MP he was a surgeon commander in the Royal Navy.

But that's no excuse. Like many politicians Murrison seeks to impose his own agenda on ordinary people in the name of 'health'.

When I was invited to do the interview I was told there was almost no support for his proposal. According to the researcher I spoke to they had struggled to find anyone who agreed with it.

Come the broadcast the BBC had not only managed to find some opposing voices, they were the first soundbites from local residents:

Male: I think it’s a very good idea.

Male: Yes, I think where there is proof of concern and when people are walking about, yes, definitely. We have to change, don’t we?

Female: Why is he taking away something from somebody just because it's bad for them? I will just go somewhere else to buy them. It won’t put me off.

Male: There are a lot worst things in supermarkets than cigarettes. If it's going to be a ban on cigarettes why isn’t there a ban on alcohol?

Female: Well, you wouldn’t get so many children. You know they get people to get it for them, don’t they? Things like that.

Male: If supermarkets stop selling cakes then lot of people won’t be so fat.

Female: Guess it will push the price up if they have got to go to the little corner shop or whatever.

Female: I think it’s a step too far. I think people need to make your own mind up.

Male: I don’t think it encourages people to smoke in the supermarkets. It just makes it inconvenient. I will just say let them carry on.

Male: To roll it out across the country will be a huge cost. Where would the cost come from? Would it come out of the taxpayers yet again? I will still buy it from my local corner shop.

Here's the rest of the item:

Ben Prater, presenter: Dr Andrew Murrison joins us on BBC Radio Wiltshire, good morning.

Dr Andrew Morrison MP: Good morning.

Prater: And Simon Clark from the pro-choice group Forest. Simon Clark, good morning.

Simon Clark: Good morning.

Prater: Dr Murrison, why bring this suggestion to play now?

Murrison: Well the important thing to understand is that people who are poor will die nine years earlier than people who are relatively well off and half of that is due to differences in smoking. That is an extraordinary statistic and if we're going to get real about health inequalities we really do have to start there.

Prater: And it's not good enough to try to educate people? You actually want to deny people the opportunity?

Murrison: No, I don’t want to deny them but we do need a tobacco strategy which is something the government has been promising since the summer of last year and we are yet to see it. So we need this thing urgently and within that I want to see a number of things. I certainly want to see a commitment to an increase in price of tobacco because that certainly does alter people's behaviour in relation to consumption and I think it's appropriate to look at where tobacco is sold and frankly I don't think its acceptable for tobacco to be sold alongside foodstuffs. I just don't think that's right.

Prater: Simon Clark from Forest, your reaction to all that?

Clark: Well, what Dr Murrison is basically advocating is creeping prohibition and I am sure that’s his long-term goal. We saw with prohibition of alcohol in the United States it simply doesn't work because you drive a habit underground and this would not stop people buying tobacco. They will find it somewhere else and it will probably drive a lot of people into the hands of the black marketeers, the gangs who sell illicit tobacco on the black market. It's also designed to make it difficult for people to smoke. Now tobacco is a perfectly legal product. Smokers already pay a huge sum of money, £12bn pounds a year in tobacco taxation, and when Dr Murrison talks about increasing taxation what he actually wants to do is make poor people even poorer by forcing them to pay even more for something they enjoy consuming.

Prater: Dr Murrison, what about that black market, and we have got a few texts actually this morning from people saying that they're appalled at the number of sort of duty free fag outs on places like Facebook these days. That will only increase, won’t it?

Murrison: Well, I think it certainly needs to be hand in hand with any even greater attempt to reduce tobacco on the black market, that’s for sure. But Forest uses the standard excuse. Really and truly the two are the same. We need to make sure the black marketeers are dealt with but we also need to reduce the amount of tobacco consumption. If we're serious about public health, and the government says it is, it really has to start here because the cigarettes are way above any other thing that we consume in our lives poses a direct threat to health. It causes a huge amount of premature death through cancer, of course you know that famously, but also heart attacks to rouge all of the captains of the men of death are promoted by smoking and we either get to grips with it now or we simply throw up our hands and say nothing could be done.

Prater: I am sorry, Simon Clark, let me just ask you, is it striking to hear a Conservative MP sort of, you know, question whether the government is serious about public health?

Clark: No, not at all. I don’t think it makes any difference whether you are Labour or Conservative [but] I find it strange to hear a Conservative MP trying to dictate to a business like a supermarket what they're allowed to sell. Dr Murrison talked about urging the government to introduce a new tobacco strategy. For heaven's sake, over the last ten years we've had a raft of legislation and anti-tobacco measures starting with the smoking ban, then we had the display ban, and we've currently got plain packaging being introduced. I mean, a whole range of things. Now we've already got a display ban in supermarkets so cigarettes are not in sight of customers. They certainly don't encourage people to take up smoking, but let's have a review of existing policies before we charge ahead and introduce new policies. This just sounds like another MP on a bit of a personal crusade. He's got no public mandate for this sort of policy and politicians really have to start representing their constituents, not going on these sort of personal crusades. He is so patronising about ordinary consumers. People are well aware of the health risks of smoking. They have been aware for absolute decades. We see health warnings all over the place. People have to be allowed to make their own choices and that’s what disappoints me.

Prater: Let me just step in there Simon Clark. I mean, has he got a point there, Dr Murrison? Janette on our Facebook thread this morning says what's the difference between supermarkets selling and the corner shop is a half and half idea. Why doesn’t the MP expend his energy into better mental health funding, at turning more social housing, something that really is needed by lots of people?

Murrison: Well, this of course costs the country money because it costs the NHS dearly because it picks up the tab ultimately. It's not being patronising to try to improve public health. That is what government has a mandate to do, that is what government is in part there to do, and I'm afraid we have to accept that of all the lifestyle things that we have at the moment smoking is one of the most pernicious and were there a substance to be introduced today most certainly would not get any sort of statutory approval. It would be banned outright and I think now we need to get to grips with this otherwise there's no point in pouring huge sums of money, which I certainly support, into the National Health Service if we're not dealing with the problem at source.

Prater: Do you, Simon Clark, think there's any kind of hypocrisy when it comes right to choose towards smoking and alcohol?

Clark: Oh, undoubtedly. I mean we've heard about the so-called cost to the NHS. Yes, I'm sure there are some costs to the NHS in terms of dealing with smoking-related diseases, but let's be clear. Smokers more than pay their way in society. They contribute over £12bn pounds a year in tobacco taxation compared to the alleged cost of the treatment of smoking-related diseases which is said to be to be £2.75bn. So that's a massive net contribution that smokers make to society. There are lots of things in life that are potentially risky to our health. Now clearly the health risks of smoking are higher than many other things but what we've seen all the time is a slippery slope where politicians interfere and try to dictate to ordinary people how they live their lives and surely, if we have learnt something from the last 12 months in politics, it's that many ordinary people are fed up of the establishment and MPs telling them how to live their lives. This is just another example of it.

Prater: What about that kind of perception of double standards, Dr Murrison? You want us to be healthy but you quite like the £12bn pounds of duty that it brings in?

Murrison: First thing to say is there are plenty of things which government has seen fit to ban. I am thinking of various forms of drugs and I'm thinking of seat belts, for example. So it's not the case that there is no precedent for making it more difficult to indulge in a behaviour which is frankly harmful. Look, I've seen people with lung cancer, it isn’t very nice, it's a pretty unpleasant way to go and I'll do everything I possibly can to reduce the toll this pernicious material takes on people. I didn’t go into medicine or indeed in the politics simply to allow this sort of thing to continue ad infinite. Yes, I will do what I can to reduce people's smoking consumption and I'm really pleased that the figures, particular in Wiltshire, have come down recently. So there is evidence of some sort of impact but if we are really going to deal with this then we need to, I'm afraid, ramp up our efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, particularly among the most disadvantaged, because the figures that worry me most are the people who are having years and years and years knocked off their lives and it's particularly the poor that are affected by that.

Prater: Dr Andrew Morrison, thank you. Simon Clark from Forest as well, thank you for coming on.

Before Christmas Murrison admitted having a meeting with the taxpayer-funded lobby group ASH. Now he is urging the government to publish its new tobacco control plan, just like them.

Peronally I can't understand why the government needs another tobacco control plan. Standardised won't packaging won't be fully introduced until May 2017; ditto the ban on ten-packs and larger health warnings.

Surely it would be prudent to wait and see what impact those and other policies have before embarking on another spree?

Does anyone really know what impact (if any) the display ban has had? Or the ban on cigarette vending machines? Or the ban on smoking in cars with children? I've not seen any evidence.

Instead the likes of ASH, Public Health England, Cancer Research and Dr Andrew Murrison want the government to plough on regardless.

If Britain's armed forces adopted a similar policy (marching on without reviewing previous battles) it would provoke outrage. And yet that is exactly the strategy a former surgeon commander in the Royal Navy wants the government to follow.

As things stand public health minister Nicola Blackwood says an announcement is due shortly, although it's not clear what "shortly" means.

My message to Blackwood is, take all the time in the world. The public has had their say and it couldn't be clearer (Enough Is Enough: Attitudes to UK Smoking Pollcies).

Last but not least, if anyone genuinely thinks a new tobacco control plan is a priority they clearly haven't been reading the news.

I rest my case.


Forest's spiritual home

Some of you may have read the interview with Ranald Macdonald, managing director of Boisdale Restaurants, that appeared in The Times on January 12.

The article (Meet Britain's 'most politically incorrect restaurant owner') is behind a paywall but it reappeared in the Scottish Daily Mail yesterday, complete with this indisputable fact:

As the smoking ban loomed Boisdale became the de facto headquarters of the libertarian campaign group Forest.

The question is, how did it happen?

Boisdale of Belgravia was a ten-minute walk from our old office near Victoria Station in London so it was on our radar even before I wrote to Ranald, in 2004 or thereabouts, inviting him to support Forest's campaign against the proposed smoking ban.

He agreed without hesitation and Boisdale quickly became our preferred location for meetings, lunches and events.

But Ranald was always more than a generous host. In February 2006, a week before MPs voted for the smoking ban smoking, he was one of several restaurateurs who joined us at the House of Commons to speak out against the legislation. The Caterer has the story here:

Opponents of a smoking ban in enclosed public places held a news conference at the House of Commons this morning to voice their anger ahead of MP's final vote on the subject next week.

A group of artists, MPs, hospitality representatives and pro-smoking lobby group Forest, queried the science underlying the ban, and argued for a technological solution to the problem of passive smoking instead.

Richard Shepherd, owner of Langans brasserie and Shepherds restaurant in London, was one of four hospitality and catering operators that spoke at the event.

Shepherd said: "Whatever happened to freedom of choice? If smoking is legal, licensees should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to allow smoking on their premises."

TV chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson also weighed in. "Smoking in public places that are properly ventilated seems better to me than people smoking in their homes with inadequate ventilation,"he said.

Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale Restaurants and Bars feared the ban would disadvantage smaller operators. "As someone running a small business, I believe a total ban will damage it and can only benefit the larger hospitality groups who are clamouring for a so-called level playing field."

In March 2007, a year after the introduction of the ban in Scotland, he was quoted again, this time by the BBC:

Ranald Macdonald, the Scottish businessmen who set up the London restaurant Boisdale, also described the ban as "unnecessarily severe".

He said he would like to open "an establishment run by smokers for smokers".

"As a smoker myself I believe we should be able to smoke in privately-run clubs if the owner or members agree to it," he said.

"Allowing designated smoking rooms in private clubs is something few people could object to."

Our closest collaborations however have involved a series of smoker-friendly events.

In October 2006 Ranald played a pivotal role at Forest's reception at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth.

'Politics and Prohibition' at the Royal Bath Hotel, attracted 400 guests and featured a mock police raid. The person they 'arrested' was Ranald who was charged with "inciting people to enjoy themselves".

The following year Boisdale and Forest joined forces again when we co-hosted a dinner for 400 people at the Savoy Hotel in London.

Dubbed 'Revolt In Style: A Freedom Dinner' the event took place just six days before the introduction of the smoking ban in England. Guests included Andrew Neil, Rod Liddell, Antony Worrall Thompson and many more.

As in Bournemouth the event featured the Boisdale Blue Rhythm Band with whom we collaborated on a CD.

You Can't Do That! Songs For Swinging Smokers featured 19 classic songs including 'Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette', 'Giving Up Giving Up', and 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'.

To mark the smoking ban it also featured 'I'm Going Outside', a new song with lyrics by Alan Plater:

One of our most successful film and TV screenwriters, Plater describes the government’s anti-smoking crusade as "hypocritical", "puritannical" and "sanctimonious".

He wrote the lyrics after he and his wife Shirley Rubinstein - both enthusiastic smokers - found themselves out in the cold every time they wanted to light up on a recent trip to Orkney. "I’m 71, it’s minus four degrees, and I’m going outside!"

Since then Boisdale of Belgravia has hosted a number of Forest events including Smoke-free England? (2008) which marked the first anniversary of the smoking ban and attracted the likes of David Hockney and Nigel Farage.

Other events included parties to celebrate our 30th and 35th anniversaries in 2009 and 2014 respectively.

City AM described the latter thus:

Forest, the pro-smoking lobby group, celebrated its 35th anniversary at one of finance's favourite watering holes last night. Boisdale Belgravia happily provided an ample heated smoking area along with Cuban cocktails and Latin canapes.

"The world is obsessed with people's rights, but one sizeable group with no rights are smokers," Boisdale owner Ranald Macdonald told us. "There's one organisation which defends their rights and that's Forest."

Eighties pop icon Joe Jackson flew in from Berlin and several MPs popped along to get some fresh air, including Nigel Evans and David Nuttall who were played to by Macdonald's son's band Hidden Charms.

In 2011 a new restaurant, Boisdale of Canary Wharf, was opened. Within a year it was the venue for another event, the annual Freedom Dinner.

Forest and Boisdale have now co-hosted five Freedom Dinners with a sixth scheduled for later this year.

Prior to that Boisdale will support another event, this one marking the publication of the recent report The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.

If I tell you that Ranald himself will be speaking you might like to make a note of the date (Wednesday February 22) and the venue (Institute of Economic Affairs).

Full details next week.

Below: Forest's 30th anniversary party at Boisdale in 2009.


Brought to book

Apologies, I've been in Ireland, hence the lack of posts over the past week.

In the little spare time I had I became hooked on Tim Shipman's hugely enjoyable All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class.

I know (not very well) several of the leading protagonists, which made it all the more interesting and enjoyable.

I don't think the book changed my opinion about anything or anyone. It did however confirm my thoughts about politicians and their enormous, often counter-productive egos.

More important, I picked up a lot about political campaigning which might strike some people as odd considering I've been a campaigner myself for the best part of 20 years but you never stop learning.

I won't say what those lessons were (no point alerting the enemy!) but there's no secret about the following:

"You win campaigns like this through message discipline and consistency."

Political campaigns are not democracies ... Campaigns are best operated as dictatorships.

Ultimately what I took from the book was this, and it's not rocket science.

You can be the greatest strategist or tactician in the world but the magic ingredients for a successful political campaign are hard work, conviction and a generous helping of luck.

The Leave campaigns (because there were more than one) had all three.

Thankfully it all worked out but it was a very close call.

PS. I couldn't help noting the following passages. The first won't surprise anyone, the references to David and Samantha Cameron might:

Before he went on stage [before the ITV debate] Farage slipped out for a cigarette ...

An hour later [after the ITV debate] he [Cameron] was on the terrace of the House of Commons having a pint and drawing reflectively on a cigarette ...

The tension had been so great during the campaign that, one friend said, 'the stress drove her [Samantha] to cigarettes'.

Fancy that!


The ugly face of science and health

H/T Dick Puddlecote for drawing this to my attention on Twitter.

It concerns esteemed musician Joe Jackson, friend of Forest, opponent of comprehensive smoking bans, author of the essay Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State (2007), and occasional commenter on this blog.

Unknown to me (before last night) one of Joe's songs (Steppin' Out) is currently being used on a TV ad which is described thus:

P&O Ferries new ad for 2017 sees an animated couple's plain and dull world filled with colour when they head off on a trip abroad.

After travelling across the water with P&O the pair enjoy some sightseeing and shopping for hats at a local market store.

Featuring such appropriate lyrics as ‘So tired of all the darkness in our lives’ and ‘Get into a car and drive. To the other side’, the understandable song choice for this advert is ‘Steppin’ Out’ by Joe Jackson.

Bizarrely someone called Carl Greatrex decided to make an issue of this and directed the following tweets to P&O:

"Extreme views"? Joe's comments about smoking (based on a lot of research) have always been rational, reasonable and well articulated. Judge for yourself – New York Times, Guardian, Spiked.

To suggest his music should be vetoed by an advertiser because of his views on smoking is extraordinary. What next? Should Radio 2 and other broadcasters refuse to play his music as well? (Oops, I'd better not give them ideas.)

Needless to say, within minutes of responding to his tweets Greatrex blocked me so I thought I'd check him out, beginning with his Twitter profile which reads:

Head of Innovation Adoption Yorkshire & Humber AHSN. Supporting the 5YFV & principles of the Accelerated Access Review.

AHSN stands for Academic Health and Science Network. The '5YFV' is NHS England's Five Year Forward View, and the Accelerated Access Review is a government project that "aims to speed up access to innovative drugs, devices and diagnostics for NHS patients".

Beyond that I discovered the following:

Carl first joined the [Yorkshire and Humber] AHSN in November 2015 as a Programme Manager supporting the Clinical Lead Medicine Optimisation on projects across the country with a focus on Yorkshire and Humber linking with the AHSN Network, Strategic Clinical Networks, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Acute Trusts and patients’ groups.

His new role will involve leading a number of projects promoting innovation as well as working across the organisation supporting other programmes focussed on safety and quality, strategic system support and delivering sustainability.

Carl has a wealth of experience both in the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS [my emphasis] including marketing, account management, project management and NHS strategy and policy across a number of disease areas including HIV, cardiovascular, respiratory and diabetes.

His project management roles have included a global project developing pricing and access strategies for emerging health economies and the use of new technologies to support customer engagement within the pharmaceutical industry.

I've posted the advertisement Greatrex objected to below. If he's genuinely suggesting Joe's music should be blacklisted by P&O because of his views on smoking (and smoking bans) that's a new one even to me.

Still, it's a valuable insight into the type of person currently employed by "health and science", someone (note) with a "wealth of experience both in the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS".

I note too that there's nothing on Greatrex's Twitter profile to suggest he is tweeting in a purely personal capacity. Far from it.

His profile states quite clearly who he works for and what his job title is. There's also a link to his employer's website and most of his tweets appear to be work-related.

The question therefore is this. Was Greatrex tweeting P&O in a personal capacity or was he representing Yorkshire & Humber AHSN? I think we should be told.

Update: He has now blocked me, Forest and (I believe) one or two others from reading his tweets. What a plonker.


Whatever happened to the Smoke Free Arts campaign?

Nick Hopkinson's latest signature gathering exercise (see previous post) caught the attention of the Guardian, if no-one else.

Will it prompt the PM to urge the Secretary of State for Health to publish the Government's new Tobacco Control Plan "without further delay"?

Governments have their own timetable and unless this becomes a hot political potato in the near future (unlikely given the current Brexit-focussed climate) I can't see a letter in the BMJ having much impact.

But who knows? We remain on amber if not red alert. What I do know is that another Hopkinson campaign has disappeared leaving little or no trace of its existence.

Last year the Observer reported:

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco.

The British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, the South Bank Centre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, have long-standing lucrative corporate membership and sponsorship deals with two leading cigarette manufacturers, which are banned from advertising in the UK.

The links have dismayed many in the medical community. “As a doctor specialising in the care of people with emphysema, I see the harm smoking causes every day,” said Dr Nick Hopkinson, reader in respiratory medicine and honorary consultant physician at the National Heart and Lung Institute, who is leading a campaign against the tie-ups.

“Tobacco companies, which rely on getting people addicted to products, which maim and kill, must not be allowed to use arts sponsorship as a way to present [themselves] as respectable.”

See Ditch tobacco sponsors, health experts warn cultural institutions (Observer).

Nine months later, using the Just Giving platform, a total of nine 'supporters' have donated just £730 to the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity in support of the campaign.

Worse, the Smoke Free Arts website has had some sort of meltdown and is currently inactive.

Oh dear.

If however you want to see an example of the type of "sponsorship" Hopkinson objects to, I recommend you click here.

It's a video highlighting "a collaboration between Leonard Cheshire Disability, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Academy of Arts and Crisis, supported by JTI."

Judge for yourself whether initiatives like this should be put at risk through lack of funding because anti-smoking campaigners like Nick Hopkinson want cultural institutions (including the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Academy of Arts) to refuse "morally unacceptable" sponsorship from Big Tobacco.

That Smoke Free Arts campaign doesn't seem so virtuous or clever now, does it?

Thankfully, to quote Monty Python, it appears to be resting, expired or shagged out following a prolonged squawk.


Nick Hopkinson, Louise Ross, Linda Bauld, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

Today's Guardian reports:

More than 1,000 doctors, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions, are calling on the prime minister to publish the latest tobacco control plan without delay.

In a letter to Theresa May, the senior doctors say the plan is essential to drive down smoking rates, which are highest and most damaging to health among the least well-off. The plan was due to be published last summer.

See Doctors urge Theresa May to publish anti-smoking strategy (Guardian).

The letter was coordinated by Dr Nicholas Hopkinson. “What we want is a smoke-free future,” he told the paper.

Support for mass media campaigns is needed, he says, as well as the continuation of policies on the cigarette pricing and tobacco smuggling. Spending on media campaigns in England has dropped in the past five years from just under £25m in 2009-10 to £5.3m in 2015, although evidence shows they help people quit.

“It is absolutely clear these interventions work. It is just keeping up the momentum and making sure there is a high priority to this,” he said. “There are 9 million smokers in the UK, and smoking is increasingly associated with inequality – it is quite a bit higher in the poorer parts of society.”

It didn't surprise me at all that Hopkinson was behind the letter. It's his modus operandi.

In February 2013 he was chief signatory to a letter in The Lancet that called on healthcare organisations to sever all links with PR companies lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry.

A few months later he got 150 "health professionals" to sign a letter to the Telegraph demanding the introduction of plain packaging.

In May 2016 he wrote a letter that was reported as follows by the Observer:

More than 1,000 healthcare experts, including 57 professors, have signed an open letter calling on some of London’s most respected cultural institutions to abandon their financial links with big tobacco.

For some reason the Guardian didn't include a link to Hopkinson's latest letter but you can read it in full here (The need for a new Tobacco Control Plan: an issue of justice).

You can also read the full list of signatories. The Guardian, naturally, focussed on the fact that the letter had been signed by "more than 1,000 doctors, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions".

In fact, a number of signatories are not doctors at all but long-term anti-smoking activists or researchers. Notably they include Deborah Arnott (ASH), Andrea Crossfield (Healthier Futures, formerly Smokefree North West) and Ailsa Rutter (Fresh, formerly Smokefree North East).

Other familiar names include Professors Anna Gilmore (University of Bath), Simon Capewell (Faculty of Public Health) and Anne McNeil and John Britton (both UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies).

Oh, and let's not forget those darlings of the vaping community, Linda Bauld (CRUK) and stop smoking service manager Louise Ross.

Frankly, the only person who's missing is Old Uncle Tom Cobley.

It's worth pointing out too that most if not all of the 1,000+ signatories are beneficiaries, in some way or another, of taxpayers' money so a more obvious example of government lobbying government is hard to find.

The question is, how does Nick Hopkinson do it? How does he get "more than 1,000 healthcare experts" to sign such letters?

Last year he ignored our polite request for information about his signature gathering methodology and today he responded to a similar query with the following tweet.

Naturally we responded with one or two of our own:


It's a mystery

Happy New Year!

There was an important omission in my previous post. Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh (formerly Smoke Free North East), was awarded an OBE "for services to Tobacco Control".

So this is where we are.

The most recent directors of Smoke Free South West, Tobacco Free Futures (formerly Smoke Free North West) and Smoke Free North East have all been awarded an OBE or MBE yet the chief executive of ASH (appointed in 2003) and the CEO of ASH Scotland (appointed in 2008) continue to be overlooked.

Why? It's a mystery.

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