Entries by Simon Clark (2076)

Tuesday
Dec122017

Brazen CRUK targets cigarettes

It's not enough, apparently, to have graphic health warnings and 'plain' packaging on tobacco products.

A study published yesterday by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) advocates that a health warning ('Smoking kills') should be printed on the side of every cigarette.

Moreover manufacturers should be forced to change the colour of the traditional cigarette from white to an "unappealing" green.

This, we are told, will discourage more smokers to quit and will also discourage teenagers from smoking.

It's rubbish, of course. Similar studies were produced to support plain packaging yet there is still nothing to suggest the policy has helped reduce smoking rates anywhere it's been introduced.

Likewise graphic health warnings that were ignored almost as soon as they appeared.

Ignoring the failure of these policies, anti-smoking campaigners now want to target the humble cigarette.

It's not a new idea and I'm certain it won't go away which makes the complacency that greeted the announcement of the UK government's tobacco control plan in July all the more baffling.

Apparently we can all relax because the current government shows little sign of wanting to legislate further on tobacco.

Well, I've been here before – several times – and I can tell you that the tobacco control industry is relentless and never stops lobbying or bullying politicians (ministers included) to bend to their will.

I'll address this issue properly in the new year. In the meantime, here's Forest's response to CRUK's latest initiative:

Campaigners have dismissed a call for a health warning to be printed on the side of each cigarette to deter people from smoking.

Responding to a new study by Cancer Research UK that argues that making the cigarette itself unappealing could reduce smoking rates, Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said:

“We were told that graphic health warnings and plain packaging would make cigarettes less desirable but there’s no evidence that either policy actually works.

“Printing a warning on the cigarette or changing the colour of the stick will achieve nothing other than highlight the failure of existing policies.

“Clumsy and heavy-handed state interventions that rely on scaremongering invariably fail because the health risks of smoking are already well known to teenagers as well as adults.

“If the government wants fewer people to smoke the solution is not to impose more regulations on cigarettes but to encourage existing smokers to switch voluntarily to products like e-cigarettes that provide a safer yet pleasurable alternative.

“Smokers need a carrot not a stick with yet another warning they will almost certainly ignore.”

To date we've been quoted by The Times, Herald, Independent, London Evening Standard and the National (Scotland).

Monday
Dec112017

Breaking news ... Austria overturns smoking ban

In the last hour it’s been reported that Austria is to drop its planned smoking ban, ‘bucking Western trend’.

According to Reuters:

Austria passed a law banning smoking in bars and restaurants as of May 2018. But that will now be overturned under a deal between the conservative People's Party (OVP) led by Sebastian Kurz and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) reached during their ongoing negotiations on a governing coalition, according to a person familiar with their discussions.

I’ve only visited Austria once, in 2011, but I liked it very much and wrote about it here:

If you've never been to Vienna I strongly recommend it, if only for the legendary coffee houses. This time yesterday I was enjoying breakfast – or should I say frühstück – at Café Landtmann which is said to have been popular with Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster and Paul McCartney.

According to their website, "The Café Landtmann offers a big non-smoking area as well as large facilities for our guests who wish to smoke". We were sitting in what appeared to be the largest indoor area and as far I could tell there was an ashtray at every table allowing customers to eat, drink and smoke at the same time. A more civilised way to start the day I cannot imagine.

Café Landtmann wasn't the first coffee house I visited yesterday and smoking was allowed in every one. An increasing number of Viennese restaurants ban smoking indoors but not the one where I had lunch, so everyone has a choice, including staff.

The previous day I wrote:

Currently in a Viennese bar overlooking the Danube. People are smoking ... just as they were in the hotel restaurant last night. Writing as a non-smoker, I genuinely consider it to be the height of civility and quite wonderful to behold. I can't understand why Britain doesn't try it.

I’m not yet sure of the full details of this volte face (it may not be as dramatic as it sounds) but I’ll try and find out.

In the meantime ... rejoice!

Saturday
Dec092017

Beer and burgers in Brussels 

Just back from Brussels.

On Thursday I joined 45,000 pro-Catalan protestors marching in support of independence.

Just kidding.

The weather was foul and nothing would have tempted me to take to the streets.

Instead I spent most of the afternoon in a meeting. When it finished I checked in to my hotel before getting a taxi to Be Burger, venue for the third in a series of ‘Burning Issues’ dinners organised by Forest EU.

As the name suggests, Be Burger is a restaurant specialising in, er, burgers - albeit a large and luxury version of the popular delicacy.

The format of these events is simple. Guests are invited to enjoy a complimentary burger (with chips) and a bottle or two of beer.

Last night, in keeping with the season, the restaurant also provided a small vat of mulled wine.

While guests eat and drink our speaker talks for 15 or 20 minutes. That’s followed by a short Q&A.

After that we stand around chatting until the booze runs out. We then totter off into the night, or the bistro next door.

Speakers at the first two dinners in Brussels were Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, who talked about his report, ‘The Pleasure of Smoking: the views of confirmed smokers’, and Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, who reprised a subject she addressed at another Forest event in Dublin in May, ‘Is health the new religion?’.

Last night it was the turn of Sinclair Davidson, professor of Institutional Economics at RMIT University in Melbourne and an honorary senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia.

Sinclair is an increasingly familiar face at tobacco-related events worldwide. I first met him in Chicago in 2015 where I had dinner with him and his wife Dominique (Dom).

Last year I particularly enjoyed his speech at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum in Brussels when his gently humorous tone was a welcome antidote to some of the more corporate speeches.

The subject of his talk on Thursday was ‘How to torture data to justify public policy’. In hindsight it didn’t really lend itself to a lighter approach so - rightly, I think - Sinclair played it fairly straight.

Plain packaging featured heavily because, it could be argued, few policies have been introduced (and justified) with so little evidence that it actually works.

Having written several papers on the subject, Sinclair is one of Australia’s leading voices on plain packaging. On Thursday however his greatest feat was simply turning up.

Truth is, he had no plans to be in Brussels this month. Our paths crossed at GTNF in New York in September and he mentioned he was taking a few weeks off in December to visit Europe with his wife.

He told me they were staying in Paris for a few days and I asked him if he would interrupt his holiday to speak in Brussels.

He agreed. What he didn’t tell me was that December 7, the most suitable date, was Dom’s birthday.

So not only did he interrupt his holiday, he also left his wife in another city on her birthday. Brave man!

The real drama though was getting a message at 4.30pm that said he was still in Paris where his train to Brussels had been “delayed”.

At that point I seriously thought I might have to speak myself. Thankfully all was well and the train arrived in Brussels at 6.00, 30 minutes before the event was due to start.

Thanks, Sinclair, you almost gave me a heart attack.

Thanks too to Guillaume Perigois, director of Forest EU, who organised another successful evening - 64 guests, many of them attending their first Forest EU event.

Sadly, owing to the weather (it never stopped raining), our smoking area was entirely redundant - despite the lighting and heaters Guillaume hired for the occasion.

Viewed through the floor to ceiling glass doors it looked nice, though.

Friday
Dec012017

Plain packaging: five years of failure

Today is the fifth anniversary of the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.

On December 3, 2012, I wrote:

Plain packs came into force in Australia on Saturday ... Seen for the first time, or in a gantry with lots of very similar packs, the effect is, I admit, quite gruesome.

That said, people reacted in a very similar way the first time they saw the graphic warnings that currently adorn branded packs. Very quickly people got used to them and the impact has been marginal at best.

Another reason graphic warnings don't work is this: most of the pictures portray something that, in reality, few of us witness first hand so why should we take them seriously.

When was the last time you saw someone with severely rotten teeth? Or oral cancer? I'm not saying that smoking isn't responsible for these things but putting such images on the packet is disproportionate to the risk so consumers tend to ignore them.

Anyway, the public health industry has been forced to develop a new shock tactic – even more grotesque packaging. Tobacco control calls it plain or standardised packaging but they can call it what they like. It will make no difference.

Standardised packaging is all the evidence you need that graphic health warnings have failed and there is no reason to think that plain packaging will be any different.

Five years on that comment seems rather prescient.

Plain packaging has had a negligible impact on smoking rates in Australia. In fact, since 2013 smoking prevalence has barely changed and with an increasing population it's said there are more smokers in Australia than before the policy was introduced.

Despite the evidence that plain packaging hasn't worked (or the lack of evidence that it has worked), the UK, France and Ireland have all chosen to adopt the policy.

Hungary is also introducing the measure and other countries that are considering it include Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Uruguay, Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, Romania, Turkey, Finland, Chile and South Africa.

Anyway, today's milestone reminds me of an event Forest organised at the Institute of Directors in London in February 2015 shortly before MPs voted in favour of introducing plain packs in the UK.

Nine speakers representing a variety of think tanks and organisations including the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Institute of Ideas lined up to condemn the policy.

One of the speakers was Angela Harbutt, my colleague on the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, who had this to say about plain packaging in Australia:

Wednesday
Nov292017

It's all about the money

Talking about Deborah Arnott (see previous post), I sense ASH is genuinely concerned about future funding from the Department of Health.

A day after Lord Rennard and Lord Faulkner tabled questions concerning grants for organisations to support for the government's new tobacco control plan (see Please, minister, we want some more), the government has published replies by health minister Stephen Brine to four very similar questions tabled by Bob Blackman MP.

Blackman's first question, which is almost identical to one of two questions tabled by Faulker, read:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, whether the grant competition to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan for England will contain provisions for future year funding to cover the full length of the Plan from 2017 to 2022.

In comparison Faulkner's read:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any plans to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan for England will contain provisions for future year funding to cover the full length of the Plan from 2017 to 2022.

You can see what they're up to. They want a commitment from government for funding not for one year but FIVE. Nice work if you can get it.

Responding to Blackman's question, health minister Stephen Brine has replied:

The Department is still considering the scope and procurement process for grants to support the implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan. Cabinet Office standards require all new grants to be subject to competition. Our intention is to make any future grant available on a multi-year basis, subject to an appropriate business case and satisfactory performance on the part of the funded bodies.

Blackman's other questions – with Brine's answers in italics – were:

To ask the Secretary of State, what plans his Department has to open the competition for the grant to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan for England this year.

The Department is still considering the scope and procurement process for grants to support the implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan. Cabinet Office standards require all new grants to be subject to competition. Our intention is to make any future grant available on a multi-year basis, subject to an appropriate business case and satisfactory performance on the part of the funded bodies.

To ask the Secretary of State, when his Department plans to complete the approvals process to enable the competition for a grant to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan to proceed.

The Department is still considering the scope and procurement process for grants to support the implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan. Cabinet Office standards require all new grants to be subject to competition. Our intention is to make any future grant available on a multi-year basis, subject to an appropriate business case and satisfactory performance on the part of the funded bodies.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, how much his Department has budgeted for 2017-18 for a grant to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan for England.

The Department is still considering the scope and procurement process for grants to support the implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan. Cabinet Office standards require all new grants to be subject to competition. Our intention is to make any future grant available on a multi-year basis, subject to an appropriate business case and satisfactory performance on the part of the funded bodies.

Like Rennard and Faulkner, Bob Blackman has a very close relationship with ASH, being chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health which ASH runs. Reynard and Faulkner are also vice-chairmen of the APPG so this is almost certainly a move coordinated by ASH to determine future funding.

If so it indicates a nervousness I've not seen before.

The irony of course is that any grant ASH receives from the DH will come with a clear stipulation that it cannot be used to lobby government.

Lobbying, however, is what ASH is particularly good at – hence this sudden burst of activity. So here's another question:

What part of ASH's funding is currently being used to lobby government to grant the group funds to support the government's tobacco control plan?

Tricky, isn't it? Perhaps it would be best to exclude ASH from the process entirely so there is no confusion.

Either way, may I suggest that public health minister Steve Brine changes his Twitter banner as a matter of urgency?

It currently features the CEO of a certain anti-smoking lobby group that is seeking a grant from the Department of Health in what should be an impartial bidding process.

That process should not only be fair, it should be seen to be fair and impartial. Just a thought.

Wednesday
Nov292017

Deborah Arnott and the national smoke free prisons project board

The psychoactive drug Spice is fuelling prison debt and violence, according to new research published today:

With Spice selling for up to £100 a gram in prison, some quickly got into debt and turned to crime to pay it off, according to the report by HM Inspectorate of Probation.

"Those in debt were often involved in violent incidents where threats were made to family members, with some stating that they offended to repay the debts they had built up in prison," the report said.

What the Sky News report doesn't say is that Spice is now half the price of tobacco in prisons, a consequence, it seems, of the smoking bans that are being rolled out in Britain's jails.

The potential link was underlined earlier this month by HM Inspectorate of Prisons which published another report on the subject of Spice. According to the Independent:

In HMP Erlestoke “prisoners also told us that the price of Spice was around half of that for illicit tobacco, which encouraged more Spice use than we have seen in similar prisons recently,” the report states.

Inmates reported “frequent medical emergencies, some very serious” as a result of use of the drug. This was partly because prisoners were smoking the synthetic cannabis substitute without diluting it with tobacco.

“Many prisoners we spoke to said that the availability of drugs, coupled with the recent smoking ban, had contributed to a widespread sense of hopelessness," the report states.

If the smoking ban is partly to blame for this, shouldn't we be holding the responsible parties to account?

Arguably the most prominent advocate of the prison smoking ban was the Prison Officers Association. Beyond that it’s difficult to point the finger at any other group or body with any degree of certainty.

For example, replying yesterday to a written parliamentary question tabled by Philip Davies MP, Sam Gyimah, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, stated:

The Prison Governors Association (PGA) made no representation on the banning of the use of tobacco on the prison estate.

Surprisingly, according to Gyimah, the government received no representations from ASH either. Then again, ASH had no need to lobby for a prison smoking ban because, according to the MoJ:

The Director of ASH, Deborah Arnott, is a member of the national smoke free prisons project board and is informed of the progress of the roll out.

To be honest, I had no idea there was a 'national smoke free prisons project board', far less that the CEO of ASH was a member of it.

I've just searched 'smoke free prisons project board' online and I can't find a single reference to anything with that name so who else is on the 'board' is a complete mystery.

What is clear is that while ASH may not have lobbied the government for a prison smoking ban, their CEO was influencing ministers and civil servants in other ways.

Equally certain is the fact that, despite the evidence, no tobacco control campaigner will ever accept there is a link betweenative the increased use of a psychoactive drug that has been fuelling violence in Britain's jails, and the prohibition of smoking.

Forget the negative and potentially violent consequences. The only thing that matters is that inmates are banned from smoking tobacco. Job done.

Btw, I'm not alone in having never heard of the 'national smoke free prisons project board'. Did they make it up in response to Philip Davies' question? Who knows, but watch this space.

Tuesday
Nov282017

Please, minister, we want some more

Is ASH getting jittery about its next handout from the public purse?

For the best part of a decade this taxpayer-funded lobby group has received over £1.5 million of our hard-earned cash.

That may be small beer compared to ASH Scotland which has swallowed upwards of £800,000 a year from the taxpayer during the same period, but it's nevertheless a substantial part of ASH's annual income.

The money has been awarded by the Department of Health with the express purpose of supporting the tobacco control plans of successive governments.

Technically ASH is not permitted to use the money to lobby government but given its record as a political pressure group that has consistently lobbied parliament to introduce a full range of anti-smoking policies, it beggars belief that ministers continue to allow the DH to fund ASH's work, however it may be dressed up.

What may concern ASH is the fact that grants are now subject to a bidding process. This means that ASH could (and hopefully will) face competition for future DH grants.

CEO Deborah Arnott is clearly aware of the threat, hence two questions that were tabled in the House of Lords yesterday by Lord Rennard, a former director and trustee of ASH who is currently vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health which is run by, er, ASH.

The first read:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to provide funding under section 64 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan for England published in July.

The second read:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how much funding they provided under section 64 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan for England published in 2011; and to which organisations.

Interestingly, two related questions were also tabled yesterday by Lord Faulkner of Worcester. Like Rennard, Faulkner is another former ASH trustee and a current vice-chair of the APPG on Smoking and Health.

Faulkner's questions read:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any plans to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan for England will contain provisions for future year funding to cover the full length of the Plan from 2017 to 2022.

To ask Her Majesty's Government when the approval process for proposals for a grant for 2017–18 to support implementation of the Tobacco Control Plan under section 64 of the of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 will be completed.

Several things strike me about these ASH-inspired questions but the underlying message seems very clear:

One, where's the money?

Two, we've had handouts before and we expect to be on the list of organisations receiving further remuneration in future.

Three, we want a five-year commitment from government to deliver the dosh every year until 2022 with no further questions asked.

Four, if our proposal for a grant isn't approved soon it will seriously fuck up our budget for 2018.

We await the government’s replies with interest.

PS. One other point. Each year since 2008/09 ASH has received a grant to support the tobacco control plan.

The previous plan ended in 2015 and a new plan was only announced in July this year after persistent lobbying by the likes of ASH.

For two years therefore there was no tobacco control plan, a fact the tobacco control industry complained about bitterly and at length.

Why then did ASH receive a grant of £195,000 to cover a period (2016/17) when there was no plan in place?

What exactly did ASH use that money for and shouldn't the DH ask for it back?

Monday
Nov272017

How quickly the anti-smoking virus spreads

I didn't have time to comment on this last week but I don't want to let it pass without saying something.

According to the Guardian:

The French Socialist senator Nadine Grelet-Certenais has fired up a heated debate in France over the depiction of smoking in the movies. She wants it stubbed out, for good, on the basis that Gallic heroes puffing away on the silver screen makes the filthy habit seem cool and provides the evil tobacco industry with free advertising.

The story was first reported by a single French news source on Saturday November 18 but developed legs partly because the call was supported by health minister Agnès Buzyn who said she was in "total agreement" with the senator, and partly because it attracted so much ridicule online.

Before we knew it papers such as the London Evening Standard were running the story with headlines such as 'Smoking could be banned in French films' almost as if it was a fait accompli.

Nevertheless things may have ended there had it not been for a further comment by European Commission spokesperson Anca Paduraru who told Euractiv.com:

"The Commission welcomes all measures taken by EU countries that deglamorise smoking, and reduce uptake, particularly amongst young people."

Within the space of a few days therefore a single comment by an opposition socialist politician in the French parliament during a debate about tobacco price rises had escalated into a headline that read 'Commission backs French idea to ban on-screen smoking'.

A few weeks earlier a company in Japan announced that it was giving non-smoking employees an additional six days' holiday a year to compensate them for the extra time smokers allegedly take for smoking breaks.

Needless to say this 'story' went worldwide without a word from anyone pointing out that:

Smokers are as entitled to breaks as anyone else and if some are taking additional breaks to smoke it's a sign of weak management.

If some employees are taking unauthorised breaks to smoke they're not alone, they're simply more visible. Other employees may be spending time on social media, private emails, personal phone calls or an excessive number of coffee breaks, but that's less obvious.

Since relatively few people work on conveyor belts these days it's difficult if not impossible to judge a person's productivity through time spent at their desk.

We all know people who work longer hours but are no more productive than those who work fewer. As for creative people, we need thinking time and who's to say that a period of contemplation at your desk is more or less effective than a smoking break (if you're a smoker)?

The point is, both of these anti-smoking stories went global yet one began with a comment by an opposition politician in a debate about something completely different, while the other was prompted by a relatively small company (120 employees) based the 29th floor of an office block in Tokyo.

How quickly the anti-smoking virus spreads.