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Entries by Simon Clark (2289)

Monday
Mar252019

Philip Morris lobbies councils to go 'smoke free' harder and faster

I was on BBC Radio Essex this afternoon.

They wanted to talk about a ‘story’ that first appeared in September 2018:

England won’t be entirely cigarette free until after 2050, new research suggests. Some areas will go ‘smoke free’ sooner than others as experts call for more to be done to help smokers kick the habit.

Bristol, Wokingham and York to be the first parts of England to go smoke free in mid 2020s but people in North Lincolnshire, Derby and Cheshire are expected to still be smoking beyond 2050.

Based on a study by Frontiers Economics, which was commissioned by Philip Morris to carry out the research, the claims were widely reported with several headlines focussing on the prediction that Bristol could 'kick the habit' as early as 2024.

That's nonsense, of course. Nevertheless, on Saturday, six months after those reports were published, the study was resuscitated and given new life. In a report described by the Mirror as an 'exclusive', readers were told:

The cigarette’s days are numbered, and the last fag to be smoked in England will be puffed in Derby in 2050, researchers have predicted.

If current quitting trends continue, today’s 7.4 million smokers will dwindle to zero in 30 years, market analysts Frontier Economics found.

But the rate at which smokers quit their filthy habit, which kills 200 people a day, varies in different areas.

Bristol is set to be the first city to quit, having no smokers by 2024, followed by York and Wokingham, Berks, in 2026.

I've no idea whether Philip Morris was behind the Mirror's 'exclusive' but, either way, the comms team lost no time exploiting it:

Other councils Philip Morris has been tweeting today include Portsmouth, Reading, Blackpool, Southampton, Milton Keynes and East Riding.

The aim, clearly, is to nudge local authorities to implement more 'smoke free' policies with a view to stubbing out smoking harder and faster.

I'm sure you have your own views on that. I'll keep mine to myself for now, although the word 'shameless' comes to mind.

In the meantime I can't wait for the opportunity to test the forecast that Bristol will have 'no smokers by 2024'.

That should be fun. Perhaps PM's comms team would like to join us.

PS. This morning I was on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Subject: eating, drinking and smoking in cars.

They put me head-to-head with Perry, a driving instructor, who spoke (unsurprisingly) just like a driving instructor.

If Perry had his way we'd keep both hands on the wheel at all times and not allow ourselves to be distracted by anything, not even the radio.

On the question of smoking, I pointed out that research suggests it is well down the list of things that are said to distract drivers and, unlike the use of mobile phones, there is no record of smoking having been responsible for any accidents.

Pushed (by me) to produce evidence that smoking has been responsible for a single accident, Perry admitted there isn't any but justified his concern by pointing out that drivers are not allowed to smoke during their driving test.

I'm not sure that was a winning argument. After all, if that's the bar we'd never listen to the radio, change a CD, chat to fellow passengers or carry children.

Then again, I think Perry would be quite happy with that.

Monday
Mar252019

Blast from the past

Never thought I’d see one of these beauties again.

In February 2006, shortly before members of parliament voted to ban smoking in enclosed public places, we sent every MP a final briefing note plus a special gift - an ashtray emblazoned with our campaign logo.

Although they were hand delivered we discovered later that quite a few got chipped or broken en route so I was more than surprised, two weeks ago, to meet a politician who still had one in mint condition.

When I say ‘mint’, I mean it was still in one piece. In truth it was filthy. It sat on a low wall in his garden and following overnight rain fag ends were floating around in the dirty water that had collected in it.

Nevertheless I can’t tell you how delighted I was that, 13 years on, one of our ashtrays had not only survived, it was still in daily use.

Anyway, by complete coincidence, I have since stumbled upon one of the original samples and here it is.

A design classic, I think you’ll agree.

Saturday
Mar232019

One million my arse

People's Vote say 'around one million people' have turned out for today's anti-Brexit march in London.

A charitable person would say that figure is a guesstimate. Others might conclude they've made it up. Either way it's almost certainly not true.

I've written before about the problem of estimating the number of people who have taken part in similar demonstrations.

I won't repeat myself (again) but if you're interested here's why you should be sceptical.

It's worth noting too that People's Vote has history when it comes to exaggerating the number of marchers:

People's Vote march was attended by a third of number that organisers claimed, official estimate says (Telegraph)

Either way, as I wrote last year:

The only number that counts is the 17.4 million people who took the time and trouble to vote Leave in June 2016, thereby winning a referendum whose outcome the government promised, in advance, to uphold.

If only we had a government that was bold enough to do what a majority of the electorate clearly instructed it to do.

Democracy. It's not that hard to grasp, is it?

Saturday
Mar232019

PMI, Vice and me

According to a report in the FT on Thursday:

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International has teamed up with youth-focused Vice Media to promote vaping, in a move that has alarmed health campaigners.

Vice has agreed a deal with PMI to produce sponsored content endorsing ecigarettes, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.

One said the deal would cost the tobacco group £5m and that the campaign was due to start in April ...

The latest PMI initiative will be produced by a team of journalists recruited to work for a new online platform on Vice’s UK website.

Full story: Marlboro maker teams up with Vice for vaping push.

A source has since told me the FT article contains “inaccuracies”.

What is not in doubt is that Vice and Philip Morris have worked together before – see Vice Media attacked for making tobacco adverts for Philip Morris (March 2016) – so it's hardly a revelation.

Funnily enough, back in January I was interviewed by a freelance journalist who was writing an article for Vice.

He had been commissioned, he said, to write about the ‘smoking lobbies’.

We met at Boisdale and talked for the best part of two hours.

The article has yet to appear but I’m told it’s due to be published next month.

Update: PMI’s Dr Moira Gilchrist, vice president, Scientific and Public Communications, has tweeted:

Friday
Mar222019

Vanishing act

The second reading of Tracy Brabin’s bill to ban smoking on hospital premises has been delayed for a second time.

Originally scheduled for Friday March 15, it was then listed for today, March 22.

Yesterday however it suddenly disappeared from the order of business.

Although the Smoking Prohibition (National Health Service Premises) Bill has very little chance of becoming law, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to know what’s going on.

Tuesday
Mar192019

Pubs in hospitals? I’ll drink to that!

Further to the Forest report about hospital smoking bans, published last week.

Rob Lyons wrote an excellent piece for Spiked that was headlined, a little misleadingly, ‘Why we should allow smoking in hospitals’.

(The report called for smoking to be allowed outside, on hospital grounds, not inside.)

Anyway, I was rather taken by the following response that was posted in the comments:

Speaking as a lifelong non smoker I agree with this article. Smokers are a hectored, bullied group. Any other group can of course claim discrimination and win, this group can't.

As an added point I would also like to see alcohol served, preferably with a bar in hospitals. I recently spent a day in hospital whilst my wife had an operation. The boredom was unbelievable.

Wetherspoons have pubs in airports and motorway service stations. Why not hospitals? I jest not!

Pubs in hospitals? I'll drink to that!

Saturday
Mar162019

I think I’m having a breakdown

It’s mid morning on a Saturday and I’m sitting in my car in the Novotel Hotel car park near Heathrow awaiting the arrival of the BMW breakdown service.

It isn’t how I hoped the day would go.

I left home at five o’clock to collect my daughter Sophie whose flight from Atlanta was due to arrive at Terminal 3 at 7.00.

On the M25, ten miles from Heathrow, a message appeared on my screen.

There was a fault with the drivetrain (whatever that is) that would result in a reduction in power but I was advised to keep driving.

Soon after that I noticed the car wouldn’t go faster than 60mph. Pretty quickly it dropped to 40.

A new message appeared warning me there was almost no oil in the engine and I should add a litre as soon as possible.

Stuck on the M25 with no service station ahead of me there was little I could do.

Smoke was coming from the exhaust and the engine was beginning to rattle.

I limped along, joined the M4 towards Heathrow but instead of coming off and turning right to Terminal 3 I turned left towards West Drayton.

At which point a third message appeared. Pull off the road and turn the engine off!

And that’s how I found myself in the Novotel car park at 7.00am.

A taxi took me to Terminal 3 to collect my daughter. The driver then brought us both back to the Novotel.

At 8.00 I called the AA but my membership had lapsed. I could either rejoin, they said, or I could contact BMW’s own rescue service that is valid for all BMWs that are less than three years old.

(Who knew? Not me!)

BMW Emergency Assist, to give it its proper title, said someone would be with us within 90 minutes, probably sooner because it was a Saturday and they weren’t too busy.

That was three and a half hours ago.

During that time I have spoken to three (four?) different people at BMW Emergency Assist, spending a combined total of one hour on the phone listening to muzak and recorded messages.

Each time I have had to repeat my name, postcode and car registration number. I have also had to explain - several times - what was wrong with the car.

At 11.00am, three hours after I first spoke to them, I was given a new time for the arrival of a technician - 12.40.

Judging by the smoke, the smell of burning and the engine rattle, I’m not convinced a technician will be able to solve the problem on site, but we’ll see.

My car, incidentally, has 5,000 miles on the clock. Oil and engine management should not be an issue.

And, yes, I know that BMW drivers deserve little sympathy but I’m one of the decent ones, honest.

Update: My daughter is asleep on the back seat and a text has arrived:

‘Your technician is on the way.’

I’ll keep you posted.

Update: The technician, when he arrived, diagnosed that the turbo charger had blown. A breakdown truck was called and the car was taken away.

BMW Emergency Assist arranged a hire car but it was mid afternoon before I was handed the keys.

After driving my daughter back to Birmingham I finally got home at 8.00pm, 15 hours after I left!

Friday
Mar152019

Dear Tracy Brabin

Today sees the second reading of the Smoking Prohibition (National Health Service Premises) Bill.

It's a private members' bill proposed by Labour MP Tracy Brabin and few people expect it to become law.

Sometimes however what begins as a backbench initiative - even by an Opposition MP - develops legs and is adopted by government.

Anyway, Brabin was interviewed on BBC Look North on Wednesday and we might have gone head-to-head had I not been driving back from Cardiff. (I was asked if I was available but I wasn’t.)

The programme is no longer online but my comment that banning smoking on hospital grounds is “inhumane” was put to her and she did appear a bit uncomfortable.

She admitted that calling the police to remove a smoker from the grounds of Hull Royal Infirmary, as the hospital is alleged to have done, is probably not the best use of police time.

And she revealed she had been asked by an NHS hospital trust (Mid Yorkshire, I think she said) to put forward her bill.

You might think that NHS trusts have better things to do than lobby MPs to enact new legislation but it shows just how political these taxpayer-funded bodies are.

A BBC source told me the trust had also lobbied the local council to introduce a bye-law to make it an offence to smoke on the trust’s grounds but the council wasn’t interested.

If the local authority won’t act why the hell should central government get involved?

Anyway, I took the opportunity yesterday to write to Tracy Brabin and this is my email:

Dear Ms Brabin,

Please find attached a copy of our new report, Prejudice and Prohibition: Results of a study of smoking and vaping policies on NHS hospital trusts in England.

The accompanying press release can be read here:

In particular I would like to draw your attention to the foreword which I have posted below.

We completely understand why hospitals do not want to be seen to encourage smoking. Nevertheless, many smokers take comfort from smoking, especially when they are stressed or upset. It calms them and in an environment where much of their independence has been taken away, the act of smoking also offers a small sense of autonomy.

Again, we understand why hospital authorities don’t like the sight of people smoking around hospital entrances. Nevertheless, talk of people having to walk through clouds of tobacco smoke is greatly exaggerated.

Forcing smokers to leave the site and stand on public roads is, in our view, unreasonable and occasionally inhumane. In particular it discriminates against those who are infirm or immobile without third party assistance.

Our report recommends a compromise. One, restrictions on vaping should be lifted to give the smokers the choice of switching to a safer nicotine product. Two, to incentivise smokers to move away from the hospital entrance, NHS trusts should be encouraged to install comfortable, well-signposted smoking areas (or shelters).

We believe strongly that a caring, compassionate society should not be threatening people with fines or other penalties for the ‘offence’ of smoking in the open air, especially at a time when they may be at their most vulnerable.

I appreciate that behind your bill lies the best of intentions but there are two sides to this debate and I would be grateful if you would at least read the foreword to our report (below).

I also invite you to read this article, published yesterday by the online magazine Spiked following the publication of our report.

The headline, I should add, is a little misleading. No-one is suggesting smoking should be allowed back inside hospitals (although the problem of people smoking by the entrance is a direct result of the closure of the old hospital smoking rooms). We are however asking for some common sense and compassion when it comes to smoking outside.

Finally, can I draw your attention to the remarkable incident at Hull Royal Infirmary, reported by BBC Look North yesterday (on which you were interviewed). Incredibly, despite it not being illegal to smoke on hospital grounds, the police were apparently called to escort a smoker off the premises. How can that possibly be considered a productive use of police time?

Unfortunately, should your bill become law, the police could regularly be called to investigate such ‘offences’ with the result that otherwise law-abiding people could find themselves in court charged with the ‘crime’ of smoking in the open air where they are harming no-one but (possibly) themselves.

I do hope you will take these points into consideration before proceeding with your bill.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Clark
Director, Forest

If I get a reply I’ll let you know.

Update: The second reading of Tracy Brabin’s bill has been put back to Friday March 22.