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Thursday
Apr252019

In conversation with ...

I’ll just leave this here.

Registered guests only so if you’d like to join us RSVP to VIPEvents@iea.org.uk.

Wednesday
Apr242019

Is vaping a comparable substitute for smoking?

The Martin McKee story (see earlier post) ran in several newspapers yesterday.

Here are three headlines: Health officials turning a blind eye to teenage vaping, experts claim (Telegraph), Stop ignoring the dangers of e-cigarettes, top scientist tells Public Health England (Sun), and Dangers of ‘vaping are being ignored’ as evidence of harm mounts (Metro).

As I mentioned I was invited to discuss McKee’s comments on LBC. Afterwards a hugely influential global vaping advocate messaged me to say, ‘Heard you on LBC this morning - very good!!’

Despite this and many other media appearances in which I have consistently defended e-cigarettes and opposed vaping bans I am still waiting for an invitation to speak at a single vaping conference.

(Correction: not true. I’ve just remembered that in 2016 I was a panellist at the Next Generation Nicotine Delivery event in London.)

Next month the UKVIA Forum includes a session entitled ‘Is the UK becoming vape unfriendly?’. That would be right up my street (last month for example Forest published a report about vaping policies on NHS hospital sites that was widely reported by the media) but perhaps the fact that I also oppose smoking bans and defend the rights of adults who prefer to smoke disqualifies me from consideration.

Likewise, two and a half years after Forest funded an independent study that led to a peer-reviewed paper that explored the reasons why many committed smokers won’t switch to e-cigarettes, I still haven’t been asked to address the E-Cigarette Summit or the Global Nicotine Forum on the subject.

Perhaps that’s another message vaping advocates don’t want to hear. Fancy that!

On a related issue I was asked by a journalist last week 'whether vaping is a comparable smoking substitute'. The article hasn't been published yet but here's my reply:

"E-cigarettes have helped 1.5 million smokers quit smoking completely and for many of them vaping is a more than adequate substitute for smoking. Some actually prefer vaping to smoking.

"The problem is that for many smokers e-cigarettes may be safer but they are not as pleasurable as traditional cigarettes. That is the challenge the vaping companies have to address and to their credit they are working hard to do so.

"Ultimately it's a question of choice. It's great that less harmful products are available to smokers but if adults make an informed decision to smoke instead of vaping that choice must be respected by government and the vaping industry."

No further comment, m'lud.

Update: Bizarrely, one of the panellists at the UKVIA Forum next month represents a pro-vaping campaign that has been inactive for over a year and gave its last media interview in December 2017.

Go figure.

Wednesday
Apr242019

Brexit just got exciting again

Woke up to the news that Anne Widdecombe is standing as a candidate for the Brexit party in the European elections.

Leaving aside my own pro-Brexit bias, this is pretty big news.

In fact, everything from the party logo to the staged announcements of some impressive candidates has been extremely professional so far.

I don’t know what it’s like behind the scenes but, publicly at least, everyone seems to be playing a blinder.

Huge credit to Nigel Farage, a force of nature, and possibly even more so to chairman Richard Tice.

The focus will inevitably be on Farage. It’s essential however that the media chores are shared by a number of spokesmen so the party cannot be dismissed as the Farage show.

I remember attending, out of curiosity, a Ukip meeting in Cambridgeshire ahead of the 2014 European elections.

There were several reasonably eminent speakers on stage including Patrick O’Flynn, former political editor of the Daily Express, and journalist Simon Heffer.

Farage’s entrance was delayed - deliberately, I imagine - for maximum impact.

After his stage-managed arrival I was struck by how the other speakers seemed diminished by his presence. O’Flynn, the local candidate, was rendered almost anonymous because all the questions from the audience were directed to Farage.

I can’t imagine the likes of Claire Fox, Anne Widdecombe or Annunziata Rees-Mogg taking such a back seat. The question is, will Farage be willing to step back on occasion when requests for interviews with Marr, Neil and Peston come rolling in?

Ditto Question Time and other political programmes.

Can the Brexit party also avoid some of the spectacular misjudgements that occasionally undermined Ukip and led to accusations of racism and xenophobia?

Again, with the sort of people who are being brought on board, one would hope so.

There also seems to be a degree of competence and professionalism about the Brexit party that belies its fledgling status.

Comparisons with Change UK (The Independent Group) are too easy perhaps but let’s take one small but important issue - the logo.

The Brexit party logo is simple but eye-catching. The forward-facing arrow offers a clear visual message.

The Change UK logo is simple but it’s also a mess. A ten-year-old using Letraset could have done a better job.

As for the name, is it Change UK or Change UK The Independent Group? Make up your minds! This is basic stuff.

But back to the Brexit party because even an old cynic like me is getting excited.

As I wrote yesterday, I was minded until the weekend not to vote in the European elections. Now I can’t wait to join the millions of other people who believe Parliament has let us down and destroyed our faith in democracy.

Update: I’ve just read this - Shambolic Change UK made to look like amateurs by slick Brexit party (Reaction).

Tuesday
Apr232019

Heroes of Brexit

I couldn't be more delighted that Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas, is standing on behalf of the Brexit party in the forthcoming European elections.

Of course I would prefer it had the UK left on reasonable terms (or no deal) and was not having to participate in another European election, but at least I can now look forward to it.

In fact I was discussing over the weekend whether I'd abstain or vote for the Brexit party and I hadn't made up my mind.

Claire's candidature has made that a very easy decision, even if she's not standing in my region.

The other Brexit candidates announced today seem pretty impressive too. They include a former marine, a millionaire businessman, an ex-NHS worker and a charity boss (Daily Mail).

One person I would love to see stand is Sir Christopher Meyer, if he could be persuaded.

The former British ambassador to the US voted Remain but unlike many Establishment figures he accepted the result and has been a font of wisdom and common sense ever since. He is now a fully committed Leaver.

Sir Socks, as he's known on Twitter, has become one of my heroes of Brexit because it would be so easy, as a retired diplomat, to say and do nothing that might offend his Remainer peers.

It takes a certain type of bravery to do that.

Claire is a hero of Brexit too. Week after week she's appeared on the BBC or Sky News arguing the Brexit cause.

I didn't hear her discuss Brexit on Any Questions last week but I understand she stood her ground in the face of a pretty hostile London audience.

Brendan O'Neil, editor of the online magazine Spiked, is another who has stuck his head above the parapet time after time after time.

Occasionally Brendan can come across as a professional contrarian but his insistence that Parliament must commit to the result of the referendum has been unwavering and genuine.

Yet another hero of Brexit is Lucy Harris. I don't know and have never met her, but she's the founder of Leavers of Britain that describes itself as a 'nationwide community of Leave voters'.

From a modest beginning (Leavers of London) the group now hosts meetings all over the country. That's quite an achievement.

Compare people like that with some of the egotistical, high profile Leave campaigners. They may have helped win the referendum but after that they walked away, job half done.

Heroes of Brexit? I don't think so.

If and when the time comes to acknowledge the real heroes the medals should go to those who (mostly) put their egos to one side, didn't rest on their laurels and kept fighting.

PS. We haven't announced it but I can tell you that Claire agreed several weeks ago to be one of the speakers at Forest's 40th anniversary dinner in London on June 25.

Full details to follow next month.

Below: Claire Fox addresses a Forest EU meeting in Brussels (where else?!) in November 2017

Tuesday
Apr232019

A tale of two interviews – vaping and cigarette butts

Tuesday morning, two interviews.

The first was a brief chat with Nick Ferrari on LBC. I was asked last night to talk about a report the Press Association was running overnight.

According to the PA:

A leading health professor has accused Public Health England (PHE) of ignoring mounting evidence on the harmful effects of e-cigarettes.

Martin McKee, professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the UK was "out of step" with other parts of the world when it came to messages around the safety of vaping.

He said San Francisco had adopted a "sensible" policy in moving to ban e-cigarettes until their health effects are fully evaluated by the US government.

My reaction was to suggest that they contact vaping advocate Clive Bates, former director of ASH, or John Dunne, spokesman for the UK Vaping Industry Association, and I even gave LBC their numbers.

Maybe they weren't available but LBC came back and said they'd still like to go with me (which was flattering).

It was a very brief interview but I found myself in the unusual position of defending Public Health England.

Thirty minutes later I was on BBC Radio Suffolk having quite a heated discussion with the presenter about about cigarette litter.

According to the producer:

A local anti-litter campaigner went out over the weekend and collected 6000 butts in less than two hours on a path beside Ipswich Hospital so we are discussing this as to whether smokers should be more considerate of is the lack of provision of giving smokers no choice on where they dispose of their butts.

On air I acknowledged that smokers have some responsibility not to drop cigarette butts but I added that hospitals, and local councils, have a duty to provide cigarette bins and these are frequently not available because the authorities see it as encouraging people to smoke.

When I pointed out that the smoking ban had exacerbated the problem because it forced more smokers outside, he came back and said words to the effect that we weren't talking about the smoking ban because it was no longer an issue.

I had to point out, quite firmly, that in the context of cigarette litter smoking bans are clearly an issue and in this instance there has to be a direct correlation between the butts on the path beside Ipswich Hospital and the prohibition of smoking on the the hospital site.

The solution, I said, was a designated smoking shelter on site with cigarette bins so smokers can dispose of their butts without leaving a mess.

I'm not sure he was listening.

Tuesday
Apr232019

Rock on

Saw Mott the Hoople in Birmingham on Sunday night.

I enjoyed it but it didn’t quite live up to Hammersmith Apollo in 2009.

The band that played five nights in London ten years ago was the original line-up with the exception of the drummer, Martin Chambers, who was brought in to replace Dale Griffin (‘Buffin’) who was suffering from dementia.

Griffin did however come on for the encore and the whole event had a poignancy and a level of anticipation that Sunday, perhaps inevitably, lacked.

Ten years ago the original band hadn’t played together for 37 years. In the intervening period some members hadn’t even seen each other and it was reported that the bass player, Pete Watts, hadn’t picked up an instrument for 30 years.

Some wondered if we were going to witness a car crash of epic proportions but somehow it all worked out. Perhaps the low expectations helped but the reviews were downright ecstatic.

A low key tour of England’s larger cities (and a misjudged attempt to fill London’s O2) followed in 2013.

Buffin died in 2016, Watts in 2017, and guitarist Mick Ralphs (who left the band in 1973 for a far more lucrative career with Bad Company) had a stroke from which he’s still recovering.

That, it seemed, was that. Rest in peace, as Ian Hunter sang on one of Mott’s most loved b-sides.

Last year however another version of Mott played three festivals in Europe and it’s that line-up that has been playing dates in America and the UK over the past few weeks.

The eight-piece band includes Hunter’s regular Rant Band plus guitarist Ariel Bender and pianist Morgan Fisher who were with Mott for one and two years respectively at the tail end of their more commercial period.

So it’s Mott the Hoople, but not quite as we knew it.

The reviews however have been unanimously positive, both here and in the States:

Mott the Hoople, Manchester Academy (Lancashire Telegraph)
Mott the Hoople, Symphony Hall, Birmingham (Express & Star)
Mott the Hoople: 2019’s Great Rock Resurrection (Variety)

After the current tour Ian Hunter’s next gig is a gala 80th birthday celebration at the City Winery in New York in June.

Not a bad way for an octogenarian to mark the start of his ninth decade.

PS. Halfway through Sunday night’s concert I had to ask the middle-aged man sitting next to me to stop using his mobile phone.

He had been flicking through Facebook for the best part of 20 minutes.

“It’s a bit distracting,” I said, pointing to the bright white light that was illuminating the screen.

To be fair he put the phone in his pocket. And ten minutes later he got up and left.

That didn’t happen at the Apollo in 2009.

Saturday
Apr202019

Crikey!

Delighted to be reunited with this old photo of me and my good friend Gary Ling at Sandhurst in 1986.

Saturday
Apr202019

Great bore of the week

Great Bores of Today was a long-running cartoon in Private Eye.

It was created by Michael Heath who provided the illustration while other contributors supplied the text.

Great Bores were highly opinionated and delivered their thoughts in the form of a rambling, rather breathless, commentary. (There was never any punctuation.)

I was reminded of Heath’s invention when I received this unsolicited email the other day. I reproduce it below, unedited:

Hi, just heard simon clark earlier this week talking to graham liver on bbc radio morning programme....what a load of clap trap he went on about...I lost my dad a few years ago, he was in the royal blackburn hospital, I got a call at 3 am to ask me to go up with my mum..out side it was freeing and there was a guy in a pyjama top only, with his arm connected to a drip on a trolley, drinking from a can of lager and smoking away freely in a non smoking part of the hospital..he was there for app. 1 hour whilst we were with my dad on the ward...when we left he was just going back to his ward, nor right hygenic taking a drip back to a ward from outside, stinking of smoke and drink...there are staff doing this dirty habit even on hospital grounds, I WOULD NOT EVEN TREAT ANY 1 WHO SMOKES for any health condition connected to smoking, ide ust leave em and let them cough there guts up in agony...it would save the health service billions of pounds every year....I got told that you didn't smoke ure self, I don't know how true this is ..non of my family have this dirty disgusting habit that you defend as ok...you sound a sad little old man to me...I bet even staff at ure place smoke in places at work they aren't ment to do ? look forward to ure reply, graham.non smoker...

Nurse!

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