Entries by Simon Clark (1956)

Thursday
Apr272017

No evidence that plain packaging affects the number of young people smoking

A report published today suggests that 300,000 smokers in Britain may quit by May 2018 as a result of plain packaging.

According to the BBC:

The Cochrane Review team ... estimated that the number of people who smoked in the UK could go down by 0.5% by May 2018, although they said the current evidence was limited [my emphasis].

The findings were backed up by a report from the Australian government, which showed a similar drop in smoking prevalence - 0.55% - following the introduction of plain packaging there in 2012.

Naturally this has been seized upon by anti-smoking campaigners. Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, told the Sun:

"Standard packs are a landmark public health policy the tobacco industry fought tooth and nail to prevent. As evidence grows it is easy to see why.

"Smokers already saying they feel differently about their pack of cigarettes and in years to come we expect to see fewer young people smoking as they are no longer seduced by glitzy, brightly coloured packs."

I don't know if Deborah bothered to read the report but on this point co-author Jamie Hartmann-Boyce is absolutely clear. There was no evidence, she said, that changing packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking.

Think about that for a minute. How many times were we told that the raison d'etre for introducing plain packaging was to reduce youth smoking rates by deterring young people from smoking?

And yet, four years after the introduction of plain packaging in Australia, there was no evidence that changing packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking.

Judged on that issue alone plain packaging has been a monumental failure.

Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, summed it up nicely when he told the BBC:

"This report destroys the rationale for the introduction of plain packaging by finding no evidence that it actually acts a deterrent to young people in taking up smoking - this was at the core of the government's and health campaigners' argument for its introduction."

Instead there are desperate references to a "six per cent increase in people trying to give up smoking" and an "increase in calls to quit smoking helplines".

Talk about grasping at straws.

Forest, btw, is quoted in both the BBC and Guardian reports.

Update: The BBC appears to have made a subtle change to its report, presumably at the request of Deborah Arnott or the authors of the review.

Whether it was prompted by the headline of this post, who knows, but I'm happy to clear things up.

If I remember the BBC report originally read:

There was no evidence that changing packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking, she [Jamie Hartmann-Boyce] said.

Now it reads:

However, there were no studies showing whether changing the packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking.

A subtle difference.

Hartman-Boyce's name has also disappeared from the amended version. I'm pretty sure the original report quoted her because I noted that she was referred to as the 'co-author'.

Rather than a direct quote, however, the BBC report paraphrased what she said and I suspect that's where the 'error' crept in.

My headline remains accurate however because, whichever way you spin it, studies or no studies, there is no evidence that plain packaging affects the number of young people smoking.

Like it or not, Deborah, that is an undisputed fact.

Monday
Apr242017

Smokers can be fit too!

According to the organisers of yesterday's London Marathon, 40,382 people took part.

I wonder how many were smokers? Theoretically, given that 19 per cent of the adult population in Britain smoke, there may have been as many as 7,672 smokers on the starting line.

I accept there may have been fewer but logic suggests that there must have been several hundred (at least) who were among those who successfully ran the 26.2 mile course.

The truth, as we know, is that a great many smokers are perfectly fit and healthy and are capable of the same physical deeds as any non-smoker.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a friend of mine was recently part of a small team that set off from Barneo Ice Camp, a Russian-operated drift station on the frozen Arctic Ocean, to walk to the geographic North Pole.

They began their trek on April 4 and reached their destination six days later (see above), having walked 120km on ice, much of it in temperatures below minus 30 degrees Centigrade.

Expeditions like that rarely get any publicity nowadays. Like the climbing of Everest there are so many people doing it the feat has lost its allure.

In this instance however my friend's achievement was mentioned by the Irish Times which reported that:

The expedition camped, each participant pulled a pulk or sledge weighing 40kg, and lived on freeze-dried food, cooked with ice that took several hours to melt.

See Wicklow climbers celebrate arrival at North Pole with Scotch and cake.

But here's the point of this story. When my friend returned home he told me that not one but at least two of the team were smokers, including one of the guides.

The other was my friend's tent mate who thought nothing of smoking inside the tent.

In spite of this nobody died ("The pork scratchings and Kendal mint cake were much more dangerous," said my friend) and the entire team successfully achieved their mission to reach the North Pole on foot.

I mention this only because it bucks the current orthodoxy that implies that smoking and serious physical achievements are incompatible and anyone who smokes is bound to be a physical wreck, sooner or later.

The truth is far more complicated than that but we live in a world where few people are interested in nuance, least of all tobacco control, and everything has to be black or white, good or bad.

I bet there were hundreds of runners gasping for a fag after the London Marathon yesterday. Something however tells me that if they did light up they won't be featured in any reports of the race.

Instead they will be airbrushed from history – just like Churchill's signature cigar in this famous photograph.

See also: Smoking and climbing and Smokers' lungs can help at high altitude says climbing expert.

Friday
Apr212017

Guest post: John Mallon on tour

John Mallon (above), Forest's spokesman in Ireland, has just finished his latest media tour.

Inspired by the The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, the study by the Centre for Substance Use Research, the theme was 'Smoking: Pleasure or Addiction?'.

Sometimes of course events take over and an interview swings in a different direction. That was certainly the case when John appeared on Ireland AM (TV3), Ireland's version of Good Morning Britain, but more often than not we were able to set the agenda.

Local radio is very important in Ireland, hence these tours which John has been doing since 2011. Here's the full list of interviews he conducted between 3-17 April followed by a guest post on the subject:

Monday 3rd April - Galway
Galway Bay FM - Keith Finnegan Show
Galway Independent

Tuesday 4th April - Kerry/Tralee
Radio Kerry - Talk About with Deirdre Walsh
The Kerryman newspaper

Friday 7th April - Waterford
WLR FM - Deise Today
Beat 102/103FM - news report
Tipp FM - telephone interview

Monday 10th April - Athlone/Tullamore/Naas
Midlands 103FM - Midlands Today

Tuesday 11th April - Dublin
TV3 - Ireland AM
Newstalk - Pat Kenny Show
LMFM

Thursday 13th April - Kilkenny
KCLR Radio

Tuesday 17th April - Cork
Red FM - Neil Prendeville Show

GUEST POST: JOHN MALLON ON TOUR

Forest Ireland remains the sole voice of protest for smokers in Ireland so it is incumbent on us to make that voice heard as much as we can. For that reason we try to mount an annual tour of radio stations around the country.

The theme this time was 'Smoking: Pleasure or Addiction?' which was inspired by 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers', an excellent study conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow and funded by Forest UK.

The findings were sufficiently interesting to justify a tour based on that report alone. After all, tobacco control campaigners love to argue that smokers hate smoking and 70 per cent want to quit. Well, 95 per cent of the 600 smokers who took part in the CSUR study said they smoked for "pleasure" and 77 per cent had no intention of quitting. That alone has profound implications for the Irish Government's target of a "tobacco-free Ireland" within ten years.

This year we began in Galway before heading for Limerick. Sadly Limerick couldn't accommodate us on the day so we continued to Tralee and then Waterford before moving on to Tullamore, Dublin, Kilkenny and, finally, my home city of Cork.

I appeared live on the Keith Finnegan Show on Galway FM and was also interviewed by the Galway Independent. I found Keith very down to earth and practical as well as welcoming. Deirdre on Radio Kerry is always a pleasure to speak to. She makes her guests relax and feel at home. Tadgh at the Kerryman newspaper was intense and serious and took studious notes. Eamon Keane at WLR in Waterford asked some hard questions but was fair and disinclined to judge the issue with observations of his own.

It's always refreshing to be interviewed by an impartial presenter. Speaking of which, Fran Curry on Tipp FM in Clonmel added humour to the debate as he and I speculated on which of us would end up paying the hospital bills of the other!

Will Faulkner on Midlands FM in Tullamore is an insightful guy who had the awareness that at least a quarter of his listeners were smokers and he was open-minded as a result.

Dublin began with an interview on Ireland AM TV3 at some ungodly hour of the morning. Joining me on the couch was none other than Dr Patrick Doorley, chairman of ASH Ireland. Although I've crossed swords with him over the phone I've never have the pleasure of shaking his hand, something I put to rights in the make-up room.

"Dr Doorley, I believe," said I, marching over with my hand out. This miserable looking suit is the chief voice of tobacco control in Ireland today.

I knew the chief presenter, Mark Cagney, from years ago and he gave me a huge welcome. When we went on set however it became clear that Mark's side-kick, Sinéad Desmond, would be doing the interview.

The previous day the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had announced to a breathless nation that there are now more ex-smokers than smokers in Ireland. She started with me and Forest's reaction to the HSE figures. Then Doorley had his say and trotted out the usual spin.

Then it was back to me which gave me the chance to highlight aspects of The Pleasure of Smoking report. Doorley got the last word, rubbishing the study as lightweight and contrived. Interestingly I offered him the hard copy I had with me but he said he had already studied it.

A tetchy interview with LMFM Louth followed. Once again I was debating with the good doctor. At one point while Doorley was making a point, he went into a prolonged coughing fit, something the listener might have expected from me instead. Naturally I had the good manners to remain silent.

After that I had to leg it to Newstalk, Ireland's leading independent national radio station, for an appointment on The Pat Kenny Show. Of all the presenters I have encountered over the years Pat is the most polished and professional of all. He has an analytical brain and is one of those people who makes you the absolute centre of his attention while you are with him. If you're honest and open with him Pat will guide you along but wo' betide the bullshitter. He has no patience with that.

The one and only time I was previously invited on KCLR in Kilkenny I was bullied and almost hounded out of the studio by a very, ahem, unsympathetic presenter. She's now retired and the new man in the chair is John Masterson.

John and I had ten minutes shooting the breeze before we went on air. During this intermission he told me that although he didn't smoke himself he had no objection to others enjoying it. Thus lulled into a false sense of security I was unprepared for his combative style. He gave me a hard time but did finish by observing that, "Well, I don't know how you do it, John, but I'm looking at a fine big healthy man opposite me." You never know what to expect, do you?

Though I wanted to keep The Pleasure of Smoking study as the focal point of each interview other issues inevitably came up including plain packaging, social exclusion and e-cigarettes. (As someone who smokes and vapes I have first hand experience of the merits of both.)

All in all I didn't sense quite the same hostility towards smokers that I have experienced in the past. Of course it's harder than ever to get a smoking room in a hotel, although I did manage it. But I used an e-cig where cigarettes were unwelcome and it occurred to me more than once that it's not illegal to puff on one in a studio either.

If I'd done that in Kilkenny I bet John Masterson would have required smelling salts to come round.

PS. My favourite pint of a week is on Sunday, 12.30 to 2.30pm, in my local. I usually meet up with a guy called Noel, a smoker and a big shot in the insurance industry. Noel and his mates love to hear me on radio and he told me last week that he'd heard me on a replay of Pat Kenny. He'd also heard bits of it on trailers promoting Newstalk.

Even better, Noel was listening to Pat Kenny interview some environmental public health guy and Kenny began a question with, "I had John Mallon from Forest in with me earlier and he said ..." Noel couldn't remember anything else no matter how much I pressed him but it's nice to have one of the nation's leading broadcasters quoting us, is it not?

Wednesday
Apr192017

The perils of devolution in public health

Haringey Council is denying that it has plans to extend the smoking ban to outdoor public places including beer gardens.

The Labour-run council was identified by the Telegraph last week as the protagonist behind a "list of demands from councils and health authorities in London."

When the idea came to light it was criticised by Marcus Jones, minister for local government, who said:

“We already knew that Labour councils charge higher council taxes and levy more red tape.

"Now Labour’s municipal killjoys have been caught with a smoking gun, trying to ban adults enjoying their local pub garden. If implemented, these ill-founded proposals would lead to massive pub closures.

"Conservatives in Government will be vetoing these Labour Party plans. Ahead of May’s local elections, local voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Labour councillors."

See Smoking ban in beer gardens and al-fresco dining areas rejected by ministers (Telegraph).

Haringey Council has now told the Morning Advertiser it has "no plans" to ban smoking in public places but is looking into how it can "increase the number of smoke-free environments" (Council denies claims it led charge to ban smoking in pub gardens).

According to a spokesman:

It is clear that smoking and inhaling second-hand smoke is one of the biggest contributors to premature deaths in the country, and what we are committed to is looking at all the options for reducing the impact on our residents.

Through our health devolution bid, we hope to carry out detailed research into how increasing the number of smoke-free environments in Haringey and across London could improve the health and life chances of all out residents."

I'm not sure how they intend to increase the number of "smoke-free environments" without extending the smoking ban, so where do we stand on the matter?

One document I have seen – Haringey Devolution Pilot, Prevention Pilot, Outline Business Case, dated January 2017 – argues that:

Devolution will enable partners, employers and residents in Haringey to improve the health of local residents at pace and scale ...

Devolution will enable Haringey to shape a healthier borough to improve residents’ choices
and prevent people with health problems dropping out of employment.

According to the document:

Our vision is to fundamentally ‘normalise good health’ by supporting residents to make healthier choices and reducing unhealthy, risky behaviours.

This includes:

Primary Prevention: interventions through population/borough-level policy in order to shape the places where people live so that the healthier choice is the easier choice for residents.

We want an environment which promotes healthy eating and exercise, and is not dominated by premises that sell tobacco, or alcohol, or contribute to debt through gambling.

Primary prevention is the goal of our prevention pilot’s Healthy Environments strand. Local government plays a critical role in this. Devolution enables us to do this more effectively.

The plan proposes to use licensing powers "to create healthier environments" with a specific focus on tobacco and alcohol.

So far so general. However a second (draft) document – London Health and Social Care Devolution: Memorandum of Understanding – is pretty specific:

Some of the prevention policies put forward by the pilots to date would have implications for national policy and legislation [my emphasis] ...

London and national partners should "commit to collaborating on and contributing expertise to establish the opportunities and explore the evidence base for ..."

This is followed by three proposals one of which is:

Granting local authorities the freedom to extend smoke-free areas to include alfresco dining areas of restaurants and pub gardens [my emphasis].

Interestingly the parties to the draft agreement include not only the "London Councils representing the 32 London boroughs and the City of London" but also "national partners", among them the Treasury, the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Marcus Jones, the minister who spoke out against the plan to extend the smoking ban to pub gardens, works at the DCLG, so what exactly is going on?

Is the Government really opposed to extending the smoking ban to beer gardens or is this just Conservative Central Office making party political mischief ahead of the local elections on May 4?

Meanwhile, while most of the headlines focussed on the Conservative Government allegedly blocking the proposal, some newspapers chose a different angle.

Why smoking could soon be BANNED in pub beer gardens, trumpeted the Leicester Mercury:

Plenty of people in Leicestershire will be heading out to beer gardens this summer to enjoy a pint in the sunshine.

However, if you also enjoy a cigarette in a beer garden, that could soon be outlawed.

A London council has suggested "extending smoke-free areas" in the area to protect public health, Mirror Online reports.

If Haringey Council's plans go ahead, that could mean an end to smoking in pub beer gardens and restaurant terraces.

It is now believed that the approach could be adopted by other councils across the country.

The good news is that Haringey Council has been forced on the back foot. The bad news is that issues concerning public and private health are increasingly being devolved to local authorities and it only takes one or two to get behind a policy for it to develop momentum.

That's what happened before the introduction of the current smoking ban. Regional authorities in London and Liverpool wanted the power to unilaterally ban smoking in enclosed public places.

Councils in other towns and cities (Plymouth, Middlesbrough and St Albans to name a few) then began to explore the issue, inviting witnesses such as Forest to give evidence to various committees.

At one point the Labour government seemed happy to allow local councils to devise their own policies. And that's when the pub industry stepped in, demanding a level playing field across the country.

So that's why, despite Marcus Jones' welcome comment to the Telegraph, it's no time to be complacent.

In fact, anyone who recalls the debate about the tobacco display ban is entitled to remain deeply sceptical of anything any politician says.

As Philip Davies MP wrote, following the Coalition government's decision to implement Labour's tobacco display ban:

In answer to a parliamentary question, Mike Penning, then Shadow Health Minister said, “I have looked long and hard for evidence from around the world that the Government’s proposals (to ban displays at the point of sale) are sufficiently evidence-based, but I do not think that they are.” Why the sudden change of heart? It is simply to try to appease anti-smoking fanatics who can never be appeased.

Davies' comment hit the nail on the head. It's one thing for Conservative Central Office to try to embarrass Labour councils before local elections, but after the forthcoming elections (national and local) will a Conservative Government be prepared to ignore the fanatical anti-smoking industry or will there be more years of appeasement?

Yes, I'm encouraged by Marcus Jones' comments, and the Government's apparent refusal to bow to the demands of anti-smoking organisations to publish a new Tobacco Control Plan without further delay, but I remain wary.

We've seen what devolution has done in Scotland. My concern is that devolving even more responsibility for 'public' health to local councils would generate more grandstanding policies designed to grab headlines in order that local authorities are seen to be 'doing something'.

Opinion polls are clear. The public does NOT believe that tackling smoking is a high priority for either national or local government.

That's the non-party political message we have to get across ... to all politicians, national and local.

Sunday
Apr162017

Danny Baker: Cradle To The Stage

Happy Easter to those of you who are not otherwise engaged.

On Friday night I went to Milton Keynes to see Danny Baker's one-man show Cradle To The Stage.

I've been a fan of Baker's since the early Nineties when I listened to his breakfast show on Radio Five, the precursor to Five Live.

The show combined the presenter's bubbling, effervescent personality and remarkable memory for trivia and pop culture with some great music selected by Baker himself.

The show was so successful that he was snapped up by Radio One, in hindsight a bizarre decision given that station's much younger target audience.

Baker was also the original presenter on 606, the long-running football phone-in that never recovered from his departure.

In his hands it was a conduit for eccentric tales from the terraces. In the hands of his successors it became what it is today – a platform for inane whinges and pompous commentary (and that's just the presenters!).

If Baker thought a caller was being stupid or, worse, boring, he frequently cut them off and moved on. Today we have to listen for what seems like an eternity to someone droning on and on about the fate of Arsene Wenger or whatever match we've just listened to on the radio.

Some years ago Baker was brought back to 606 – albeit sidelined to a graveyard slot in midweek – but it wasn't the same and he didn't stick around.

Instead he spent the best part of a decade hosting a daily afternoon show on BBC Radio London before that job was also taken away from him, much to his disgust.

Today this award winning (yet Marmite) broadcaster is restricted to just two hours on Five Live on Saturday morning.

Aside from his TV and radio career Baker is a gifted comedy writer who worked for the NME in its Seventies heyday before moving into scriptwriting.

He has written for just about every comedian you can think of (or so he tells us!), not to mention the likes of Jonathan Ross, Chris Evans and many, many more.

In recent years he wrote two bestselling volumes of his life story, with a third to follow this summer. They were great fun and I enjoyed them enormously.

I also enjoyed Crade to Grave, the 'sitcom' based on the first of the two books. If it wasn't quite as good as Baker would have us believe (like his career it can be described as "uneven"), it was nevertheless amusing and full of Seventies period detail.

And so to Friday's show in Milton Keynes.

The first thing to note is that Baker came on stage at 7.35, talked non-stop for almost two hours, broke off for a 20-minute interval, then returned for an 80-minute 'second act'.

Cradle To The Stage finished at 11.10 but I missed the final 30 minutes because, ironically, I had to slip out to do an interview for Five Live.

It didn't feel like a three-hour show but like his Saturday morning programme on Five Live it felt just a little self-indulgent.

It didn't help perhaps that I'd read the books and watched the TV show based on the first of the books so few of the anecdotes and stories came as a surprise.

I laughed along with everyone else but I'd heard and read most of it before and I could happily live to be a hundred without hearing yet another story about his old man Spud.

Hence my disappointment with the second part. We were promised a Q&A that would elicit gossip and stories about the many stars and celebrities he has worked with or encountered.

Instead we got a good story about Marc Bolan that drew an 'Aaahhhh' from the audience and another about Kenneth Williams (though if you've read the books you'll know them already) allied to yet more stuff about good ole Spud.

Indeed the very first 'question' – allegedly sent via text or Twitter from a member of the MK audience – was to ask what his father thought about his son's 'fame'. Cue a story (also in one of the books) about Harry Enfield and Spud's belligerent reaction to a perceived insult.

Baker is a natural raconteur but a show like this has to be better paced. Despite his rapid fire delivery (which was a bit exhausting to listen to over three hours) most of his career was left untouched and the promised Q&A was minimal with Baker taking just three questions in the 80-minute second 'act'.

And despite his many disagreements with producers and management over the years there was nothing to upset former or current colleagues. The closest he got was his description of The One Show - which he appeared on a few weeks ago - as "moribund", which is neither controversial nor the worst thing anyone has said about that programme.

In short this was safe entertainment for all the family (well, those over 40), an enjoyable but ultimately rambling diversion into the life of a man who, despite his protestations, evidently feels he hasn't received the credit he deserves for his scriptwriting in particular.

Apparently this tour was supposed to be a final hurrah before a move to Florida where he intends to devote himself to writing. According to Baker however Cradle To The Stage is already taking bookings for next year so he could be around for a while yet.

And why not? With the third volume of his memoirs out soon this could run and run. Florida may have to wait.

Saturday
Apr152017

ASH Scotland poll avoids questions that really matter to smokers

The results of a poll commissioned by ASH Scotland and conducted by YouGov (whose president, Peter Kelner, is on the board of trustees at ASH London) has been published today.

I got a sneak preview of it yesterday, just as I was sitting down for coffee and a brownie at the Old Bicycle Shop in Cambridge.

The headline of ASH Scotland's press release stated, 'Scottish government action on smoking backed by both smokers and non-smokers'.

The full press release read:

The results from a new YouGov survey suggest people in Scotland continue to support government action on smoking, with smokers themselves indicating approval for recent government initiatives.

The survey results, released today by charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland, showed strong backing for recent legislation, with 91% of smokers agreeing with the ban on smoking in cars with children present. This was even higher than the 88% support amongst non-smokers.

At the same time 70% of Scottish adults (42% of smokers) support the ban on tobacco displays in shops, while only 9% (24% of smokers) are against.

Only on the introduction of plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products did the strong public support (60% support, 11% oppose) mask a balanced view amongst smokers (30% support, 35% oppose, 35% don’t know).

The Scottish public also indicated a strong appetite for further government action on tobacco and health. 87% of Scottish adults, including 85% of smokers, would support increased penalties for selling tobacco to children. 74% of adults, including 62% of smokers, would support requiring businesses to have a licence before they can sell tobacco.

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland, said:

“When asked about specific government actions to tackle smoking both smokers and non-smokers tend to indicate support. This should encourage politicians that action to reduce the harm and inequality caused by smoking isn’t just effective, it is popular too.”

I'm trying to locate the full poll results, including questions, that YouGov are compelled to publish online.

It's interesting there was no reference to extending the smoking ban to outdoor areas, which is the one issue smokers would react most strongly against, the current level of tobacco duty or the bans on smaller pack sizes.

In contrast to the ASH Scotland/YouGov poll you may recall that last year a Forest/Populus poll found that a majority of adults in Scotland would allow smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

In addition 61% thought that government policies to reduce smoking rates had gone far enough (44%) or too far (17%). Only 35% thought they had not gone far enough.

Anyway, Forest's response to ASH Scotland's survey, which was written during the 20 minutes I was waiting for my coffee (I like the Old Bicycle Shop but they do make you wait), read:

"The results of other polls conducted throughout the United Kingdom over the last 18 months suggest the public does not believe tackling smoking is priority for government.

"Smoking has consistently rated the lowest in a list of government priorities for the NHS, behind even obesity and alcohol issues.

"A Populus survey conducted in Scotland last year even found that 54 per cent of the public would allow well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and private members' clubs, with only 40 per cent opposed to the idea.

"There is no justification for further tobacco control measures until there has been a truly independent review of the impact of recent legislation including the display ban, plain packaging, the ban on ten packs and larger health warnings.

"Tobacco control measures have to be evidence-based and so far there is no evidence that any of these policies have had an impact on smoking rates.

"The most significant factor in the recent fall in the number of smokers would appear to be smokers switching to e-cigarettes. Vaping provides a free market solution to smoking cessation that no government policy can match.

"Instead of trying to force smokers to quit the Scottish Government should embrace the concept of choice and encourage smokers to switch to alternative nicotine products like e-cigarettes.

"It's important too that ministers engage with smokers, not nag or bully them to quit. Tobacco is a legal product and if adults choose to smoke that choice must be respected."

I knew only one or two sentences would be used but I wasn't sure how the media would report the poll so in terms of our response I had to give them several options.

To date, as far as I can tell, only one newspaper – the Herald – has covered the poll and their report was headlined 'Recent ban on smoking in cars with children receives backing from majority of Scottish smokers'.

Had I anticipated that I would have added:

"It's hardly surprising smokers support the ban on smoking in cars carrying children.

"Long before the ban smokers knew it was inconsiderate to smoke in a car with kids and the overwhelming majority didn't do it. The legislation was patronising and completely unnecessary."

Instead they quoted me as follows:

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' rights group Forest, said that the results of other polls in the UK in the last 18 months suggested the public does not believe tackling smoking is a priority for government.

He said, "Tobacco control measures have to be evidence-based and so far there is no evidence that any of these policies have had an impact on smoking rates."

Anyway, I know the cost of Scotland-only polls (they're not cheap) so a single report hardly represents good value for the taxpayer who funds ASH Scotland to the tune of £800,000 a year.

CEO Sheila Duffy will no doubt calculate that the real value of the poll will be the copies that land on the desks of MSPs including Scottish Government ministers.

Some might describe that as government lobbying government but I couldn't possibly comment.

Meanwhile you may recall Deborah Arnott's sniffy response to the poll Forest commissioned in Wales last month.

Commenting on the news that 58% of respondents would allow well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and private members' clubs, she said:

"The benefits of smoke-free laws are not a matter of public opinion."

In the crazy world of tobacco control opinion polls are fine when you get the result you want but when they are less conducive they must be dismissed and ignored.

Strange, that.

Saturday
Apr152017

Groundhog day 

Groundhog day: a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way.

There has been conjecture that the Government's new Tobacco Control Plan has been delayed because it's not a priority.

I'm sure that's true. I can think of lots of things – not just Brexit – that are far more important (don't we have enough tobacco control measures already?), and the public seems to agree.

Over the last two years polls conducted by Populus for Forest have consistently shown that tackling smoking is usually the lowest in a list of priorities for national and local government, below even obesity and alcohol issues.

The public isn't stupid. They know that smoking rates in Britain are the lowest they've ever been since the introduction of mass-produced cigarettes.

They know too that in the last decade successive governments have passed a series of laws from the smoking ban to plain packaging via the ban on the display of tobacco in shops and the general feeling, I believe, is "Enough's enough."

See Enough Is Enough: Attitudes to UK Smoking Policies (Forest).

Unfortunately when it comes to tobacco control the Department of Health tends to be a law unto itself – unelected mandarins calling the shots, working hand in hand with the likes of ASH, 'advising' (ie lobbying) health ministers on the 'next logical steps'.

So it's good to see the Government taking its time (although sod's law dictates that as soon as I've published this I'll get a call saying there will be an announcement early next week!).

It was encouraging too to read yesterday a comment from the minister for local government in response to the 'revelation' that some Labour councils have a "secret plan" to ban smoking in "alfresco dining areas" including beer gardens.

According to the Telegraph:

The proposals to extend the ban to outdoor areas have been included in a list of demands by councils and health authorities in London which has been supported by Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London.

However the Government has rejected the plans and condemned "labour's municipal killjoys" for making the proposal.

Marcus Jones, a minister for local government, said: “We already knew that Labour councils charge higher council taxes and levy more red tape.

"Now Labour’s municipal killjoys have been caught with a smoking gun, trying to ban adults enjoying their local pub garden. If implemented, these ill-founded proposals would lead to massive pub closures.

"Conservatives in Government will be vetoing these Labour Party plans. Ahead of May’s local elections, local voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Labour councillors."

While this is good news let's not get carried away. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing to stop any local council introducing a by-law that would ban smoking in outdoor areas.

In other words, we have to remain extremely vigilant. We're still in the early phase of what promises to be a long war on smoking in outdoor areas, public and private.

In fact the whole situation feels extremely familiar, a note for note re-run of the long-running 'debate' about smoking in indoor public places, and these are the initial skirmishes.

Yesterday, for example, I did a couple of interviews for BBC Radio London and Five Live. In the course of those interviews it was suggested a good compromise would be smoking and non-smoking areas in beer gardens and 'alfresco dining areas'.

Years before the smoking ban was introduced pubs and particularly restaurants introduced smoking and non-smoking areas.

If I remember this was supported by ASH who insisted their only goal was more choice (ie 'smoke free' zones) for non-smokers.

No-one could really object to this (compromise is good, right?) but of course there were complaints from anti-smokers (who are never satisfied) that smoke drifted from the smoking to the non-smoking area.

Hence the proposal for separate smoking rooms but even that wasn't good enough because there were complaints that whenever the door to the smoking room was opened smoke – or the smell of smoke – would drift out into the non-smoking area.

The 'killer' argument was of course "passive smoking kills". Despite extremely dubious evidence we lost that battle because "passive smoking kills" was a slogan that was almost impossible to respond to in an equally succinct manner.

Have you tried explaining epidemiology and the risk ratios concerning passive smoking in a soundbite? It can't be done.

Well, I got an enormous sense of deja vu last night because I found myself going head-to-head with arguably the world's leading anti-smoking campaigner, Dr Stanton Glantz, who insisted, on Five Live, that smoking outside presented a serious threat to the health of non-smokers.

Presenter Stephen Nolan sounded sceptical and I declared the claim to be "nonsense" but Glantz was his usual bolshie self and became quite aggressive when I had the temerity to interrupt.

It was a slightly uncomfortable interview because I was standing, shivering, in the dark outside the Milton Keynes Theatre where I had gone to see Danny Baker's one man show, From Cradle to Stage.

The show began at 7.30 and finished – almost four hours later – at 11.10. I was booked to appear on Five Live at 10.45 so I had to slip out early.

Truth is, it wasn't my finest interview (if there is such a thing) because I do find Glantz a little intimidating and the argument became quite heated (or "passionate", as Nolan put it).

Anyway, despite the positive noises emanating from government, it all feels strangely familiar.

Update: During the Five Live 'debate' with Glantz I insisted repeatedly that it was "nonsense" to suggest smoking outside is a threat to non-smokers.

This morning I read this by Dr Max Pemberton in the Daily Mail:

As a doctor, you might expect me to support the call to extend the smoking ban to outside spaces. Actually, I think the Government was right to reject the plans as they did this week.

As a former smoker, I know that the more you’re told not to do it, the more there’s a tendency to dig your heels in. Brow-beating people into quitting rarely works.

There’s no doubt the smoking ban has brought about great benefits and, along with e-cigarettes, has gently nudged lots of people to quit.

But as a libertarian, I think there has to be compelling evidence before we ban things. It might not be pleasant to get a whiff of smoke as you walk past someone in the street, but it’s not going to kill you.

Time and again, public health officials, often in cahoots with busy-body councils, try to impose their will on people when there is flimsy evidence of any real benefit, riding roughshod over people’s basic right to choose how to live their lives.

Just because people make choices the experts don’t agree with doesn’t mean they should have those choices taken away.

To me, the attitude of public health officials embodies everything I dislike about doctors — the patronising, ‘we know best’ attitude of yesteryear that the medical profession has tried so hard to shake off.

Let people smoke outside if they want to. It’s their life and the Government has no place telling someone what to do if it doesn’t affect anyone else.

It’s just the nanny state interfering — which I like even less than smoking.

Glantz or Pemberton? I know who I believe. Click here.

Wednesday
Apr122017

The Global Forum on Nicotine – in Warsaw again!

Last year I questioned why the Global Forum on Nicotine, which promotes harm reduction, had introduced a ban on vaping during plenary and parallel sessions.

The self-imposed rule was odd, I thought, because delegates had arrived from all over the world to advocate the use of e-cigarettes and neither the venue - the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw - nor the Polish Government saw fit to restrict their use.

However, as I explained here, the organisers were concerned that:

Some non-vaping delegates last year felt that they were 'trapped' with the vapour, which they found unpleasant and distracting, particularly in the plenary and parallel sessions where there are a lot of people packed into a relatively small space;

The Polish government are pushing for indoor usage restrictions - there may be regulators present and we would like them to leave with a positive view of vaping and vapers, and indeed of the conference;

Since last year the majority of experienced vapers have switched to high powered devices and sub-ohming, which is fine for vape meets but not so good in the conference venue where it tends to create a rather disconcerting fog bank for those who are not used to it.

In my experience people's imaginations are generally worse than reality (the fear of flying being the obvious example) so if you're not a vaper and have never experienced a handful of people vaping in a room you're likely to imagine something far worse than the actualité, especially if your experience of vaping has been limited to seeing images of cloud chasing vapers in magazines and newspapers.

I would suggest therefore that you should let regulators experience people vaping but have a quiet word with vapers about the need to vape (or stealth vape) with discretion and consideration for others during the relevant sessions.

Instead the organisers chose to prohibit all vaping for a substantial part of the conference on the curious grounds that this was the best way to create "a positive view of vaping and vapers".

So how did this policy of appeasement work out? Well, shortly after GFN 2016 the Polish Government banned vaping anywhere smoking is prohibited!

While the anti-smoking law isn't as comprehensive as the UK legislation (clubs, bars, restaurants and other public places are allowed, apparently, to have a separate smoking room as long as it's properly ventilated and closed off from other public areas) the decision to extend it to vaping was nevertheless a substantial blow.

Why then is the Global Forum on Nicotine returning to Warsaw in June?

I don't know about you but if I was organising a conference that advocated the use of e-cigarettes I'd take my money – and that of my delegates – to a country where there are few if any restrictions on vaping in indoor public places.

I'd tell the media why we weren't returning and I'd praise the new host country for its positive and enlightened attitude to e-cigarettes.

What I wouldn't do is return to the same venue as if nothing had happened. Indeed, the GFN website has dropped any mention of a 'vaping policy' nor can I find any reference to the new law or how the organisers will accommodate those who want to vape.

There are tips about currency, electricity, safety and tipping etiquette, but nothing about where delegates can vape.

Compare this to another annual event, the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF), a tobacco industry conference that does its very best to accommodate smoking and vaping.

Despite stringent regulations on smoking worldwide, the organisers have been heroic in their efforts to find smoker-friendly venues, although New York 2017 is going to offer a serious challenge!

Last year for example GTNF took place in Brussels. Belgium has tightened up its public smoking policy in recent years (previously smoking rooms were allowed in restaurants and even offices) but thanks to an exemption in the law (something to do with the fact that GTNF was a private event for which the entire hotel had been booked) the organisers were able to persuade the hotel to provide a designated smoking room on the ground floor off the main reception area.

The room (see below) was well proportioned, ridiculously ornate, with a high ceiling and comfortable armchairs and sofas, and we called it The Liberty Lounge.

On the penultimate evening before the gala dinner Forest hosted a small reception in The Liberty Lounge where guests could eat, drink, talk and smoke. (The absence of almost all the pro-vaping/public health speakers was noted but I'll let that pass.)

What I didn't know until very recently was that hotel staff were given the option to not go into the smoking room, which explains why the food and drink were served outside.

Nevertheless the organisers did everything they could to accommodate those who wanted to smoke – which I don't think is unreasonable at a tobacco industry conference – and I applaud them for that.

In my view the organisers of GFN should be doing the same for those who want to vape and finding a country where delegates can vape without being forced outside ought to be a priority.

Unfortunately (and this observation is not confined to GFN because I've experienced it at other conferences too) consumers are generally bottom of the pecking order. The role of the consumer (even at conferences like GTNF) is to sit, listen and learn from industry and public health 'experts'.

They know what's best for you, after all.

I'm not suggesting there's a long list of vape friendly countries because there isn't, but according to the Nanny State Index, launched last year, the following are among those countries that, as of March 2016, had no (or very few) restrictions on vaping indoors:

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

When the 2016 Nanny State Index was published Poland would have been on that list too so it will be interesting to see how many countries are still considered vape-friendly when the 2017 Index is published in May.

Meanwhile vapers attending GFN 2017 will just have to grin and bear it. I'm sure the organisers will find some way to accommodate your habit.

Below: The smoking room (aka The Liberty Lounge) at GTNF 2016.