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Thursday
Jan202011

Polite notice ... this blog has moved

THIS BLOG HAS MOVED.

TAKING LIBERTIES CAN NOW BE FOUND HERE (note new URL):

http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com

THIS SITE WILL REMAIN LIVE FOR ARCHIVE PURPOSES ONLY.

Tuesday
Jan182011

Bleak house

Writing on The Free Society website today, Martin Cullip asks, "With such a history of failure, why is it that we are still surrounded by so many who seem to have nothing else to offer except ever more extreme forecasts of imminent collective death and social collapse?" Full article HERE.

Monday
Jan172011

Return of Fake Charities website

Good to see the return of the Fake Charities website and - what's this - you can use this form to submit a charity for inclusion. Hmmm, now, let me think ... See also Devil's Kitchen and don't forget THIS post on the inappropriate use of public money.

Friday
Jan142011

There is power in a union

Further to my post on Monday, here is the cover of the January issue of Club Journal, the monthly newspaper for members of the Working Men's Clubs and Institute Union.

The report reads:

The Union has teamed up with the campaigning organisation Save Our Pubs & Clubs (SOPAC) to step up pressure on the Government to review the smoking ban.

Recent decisions in Denmark and Holland have seen rules relaxed for small bar owners and a recent phone-in on BBC Radio Five Live confirms that the issue is not dead.

General Secretary Mick McGhasham attended a meeting at Westminster recently with Greg Knight, Brian Binley and David Nuttall, all MPs who tried their best to get the Government to allow clubs and pubs to have a smokinq room

The campaign will focus on the ffects that the ban has had on member clubs and pubs - the loss of community networking opportunities for the elderly and ex-servicemen, the failure of the previous government to honour its promise for a formal review of the legislation, and the need for a more balanced approach to the issue of smoking in public places.

SOPAC propose to undertake a social impact study on the effects of the smoking ban as a way to open the debate and reinvigorate the issue and they hope the campaign will focus on clubs and pubs being allowed a separate smoking room with appropriate ventilation.

The Union General Secretary emphasised that, along with below-cost supermarket alcohol pricing and excessive reglation, the smoking ban has been a key part in the demise of clubs.

The Union feels that only by joining other organisations and groups with a similar desire to save clubs will it be in a position to help the many failing clubs in membership.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group is also planning a campaign, along with other groups in Parliament representing similar organisations, to rally support and lobby government to take some positive action to help clubs stay open.

Thursday
Jan132011

Letter of the week!

I have been awarded the ultimate accolade - Letter of the Week in The Grocer.

Sir,

As your Top Products Survey shows, price not packaging is the key factor in determining the brand of cigarette people buy ('Consumers choose price over branding', The Grocer, 18 December).

Smokers do not impulse buy, so banning product display or introducing plain packaging will have little or no impact on purchasing habits. We support all reasonable measures that discourage or prevent children from accessing tobacco. But banning display and introducing plain packaging is unreasonable because the idea is based on a desire to denormalise tobacco and stigmatise the consumer.

"Glitzy" packaging, allegedly designed to encourage young people to start smoking, is a figment of the tobacco control industry's fevered imagination. Young people take up smoking for a number of reasons, usually peer pressure. Plain packaging is unlikely to have any effect on youth smoking rates.

A ban on tobacco display and the introduction of plain packaging will eventually reduce choice because companies are less likely to develop new brands and products if their ability to communicate with their customers is severely compromised.

As long as tobacco remains a legal product consumers should have the right to differentiate between brands, and retailers must retain the right to display and sell it in a way that does not harm their business.

Simon Clark
Director, Forest

Thursday
Jan132011

Pub closures: response from the Department of Health

Last month I wrote to public health minister Anne Milton who seems to believe that there is little or no correlation between smoking bans and pub closures. I don't make a habit of making public letters sent to MPs, ministers or civil servants, but there are exceptions to every rule.

My letter was sent on behalf of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign:

Rt Hon Anne Milton MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health
Department of Health
Richmond House
79 Whitehall
London SW1A 2NS

Dear Minister,

Pub closures and the smoking ban

You are quoted in the Morning Advertiser on 25 November declaring that “there is little, if any, evidence that would link the closure of pubs and clubs to the introduction of [the smoking bans]”.

A quick look at a report in the Guardian (12 April 2010) should give pause for thought. This sets out the British Beer and Pub Association research on pub numbers in the UK from 1980 to the present. These data are part of a series stretching back decades.

Over the period 1990-2010 the total number of pubs has indeed shown a long-term decline from around 63,500 to 52,000:

UK pub numbers 1990-2010
(source British Beer and Pub Association)

1990 63,500
1991 62,200
1992 61,600
1993 61,000
1994 60,700
1995 61,000
1996 60,800
1997 60,600
1998 61,000
1999 61,500
2000 60,800
2001 60,700
2002 60,100
2003 59,400
2004 59,000
2005 58,600
2006 58,200
2007 56,791
2008 54,818
2009 53,466
2010 52,000

However, a little analysis demonstrates the considerable acceleration of the trend from the end of 2006 – the last data point before the bans in England, Wales and N Ireland.

The period from 2006-10 showed an average closure rate of 2.7% a year - over four times as fast as the long-term trend of 0.6%. In other words, on average more than a thousand more pubs closed each year after the bans than before.

Years Change in UK pub numbers
1990-4 -1.10%
1994-8 -0.10%
1998-2002 -0.40%
2002-6 -0.80%
2006-10 -2.70%

Average trend ... pubs closed per year
Pre-ban (1990-2006) -0.60% ... 331
Post-ban (2006-10) -2.70% ... 1550

Given the frequent references to the impact of the smoking ban by licensed trade associations and companies this is likely to be much more than just a coincidence.

Please find attached a research paper that examines the pub closure data in more detail. This shows an almost exact correlation between the rates of decline in pub numbers in Scotland, England, Wales and even the Republic of Ireland, when viewed in comparison to the varying dates of their bans.

All of these data are publicly available. Given the commitment of the Government to a private sector-led recovery, the closure of more than a thousand businesses a year in a key part of the economy surely requires a more thorough investigation and review.

I look forward to your response and hope that the Government will review its decision not to review the smoking ban in accordance with a commitment given by the previous government.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Clark

Yesterday I received a reply - not from Anne Milton (who is too busy schmoozing with ASH!!) - but from someone in the DH's "Customer Service Centre" which sounds more like something you'd find in Kwik Fit than a government department.

Needless to say, the DH has completely ignored the gist of my letter (I expected nothing else), but judge for yourself:

Dear Mr Clark

Thank you for your letter to Anne Milton about smokefree legislation. I have been asked to reply.

In preparing the smokefree legislation, the Government of the time considered the possible economic impact on pubs and the hospitality trade of taking action on secondhand smoke. A Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) was published alongside the Healtj Bill. The RIA contains estimates of cost and benefits of legislation to end smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces. A copy is available on the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk.

Closures in the pub industry and general hospitality sector were covered at the time of Parliament's consideration of the legislation in 2005/2006 and the Regulatory Impact Assessment published at that time includes the following statement (paragraph 323 on page 10, final sentence):

Given the evidence from other countries, as well as in England, the Department of Health understands that it is likely to be prevailing economic, structural and cultural issues, rather than the introduction of smoke-free legilation, which will be primary cause of any significant decline in the sector.

The Government believes that people should have the choice to smoke, but that it is also right that people are both made aware of the major health risks of smoking and are provided with support to quit.

Therefore, by increasing the information available about the dangers of smoking and providing support to individuals who want to stop, the Government can hope to reduce smoking by helping people make the choice or not to start or to give up.

At the same time, it is right that others should be protected from exposure to harzardous secondhand tobacco smoke. The smokefree legislation eliminates smoking in virtually every enclosed public place and workplace in this country.

There is a clear evidence that the smokefree legislation is working very well and almost all enclosed workspaces and public places are free from secondhand smoke. Many families are now voluntarily making their homes smokefree, reducing children's exposure to secondhand smoke.

Public support for the smokefree law is high and continues to grow. Even a majority of smokers now support the law. Because of this, ministers see no reason to review it.

I should also point out that the smokefree provisions in the Health Act 2006 were carried on free votes across all parties by large majorities in both Houses of Parliament. This Parliamentary support for smokefree legislation reflected the very widespread public support.

Smoking is the largest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK. It kills over 100,000 people every year and a recent academic study suggests that the cost to the British taxpayer is more than £5 billion a year. It causes 84 per cent of deaths from lung cancer and 83 per cent of deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease, including bronchitis.

Medical and scientific evidence also shows that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of serious medical conditions such as lung cancer, heart disease, asthma attacks, childhood respiratory disease, sudden infant death syndrome and reduced lung function.

I realise that this reply is likely to be disappointing, but I hope it clarifies the Department's position on the matter.

Yours sincerely,

Customer Service Centre

Now, I'm not naive enough to have expected any other reply, but it is interesting that rather than address the issue of pub closures that have occurred since the smoking ban, the DH continues to quote from the Regulatory Impact Assessment that was carried out in advance of the smoking ban, despite the very clear evidence that the number of pub closures has increased enormously in the period since the ban.

I'm not going to fisk the DH's letter line by line because I can't be bothered, but one line does annoy me: "Parliamentary support for smokefree legislation reflected the very widespread public support".

I don't need to tell readers of this blog that this is simply not true. It may reflect opinion polls commissioned by ASH (that offered people a straight choice between smoking or smokefree without the option of, for example, separate smoking rooms) but it certainly doesn't reflect the surveys carried out by the Government's own Office for National Statistics that consistently found that a substantial majority (approximately 70 per cent) were opposed to a comprehensive ban.

Of course public opinion has changed a bit as non-smokers (and even some smokers) have got used to smokefree pubs and clubs, but not as much as the tobacco control lobby would have as believe.

On a more positive note, the response from the DH may be disappointing (if unsurprising) but the tone of the letter is well, neutral, and that is a significant improvement on previous years. Others too have commented upon the fact that, under Labour, letters from the DH were cool if not downright hostile.

Sure, public health minister Anne Milton and ASH's Deborah Arnott are birds of a feather. But until we hear more about the Coalition Government's tobacco control strategy it's not all doom and gloom.

Our understanding is that, unlike the previous regime, the new Government is at least listening, even if they spout the same old mantra. So my message is, keep writing to the DH and the relevant ministers.

More important, if you haven't already done so, is to write to your local MP. By and large, organised letter writing campaigns don't work. They're easy to spot and MPs will usually ignore them. A letter from an individual constituent - that's different.

Feel free to recycle the statistics in my letter to Anne Milton but the letter should be in your own words and no more than two sides of A4. You can also send them a copy of our Smoking Gun report.

Let me know if you get a response.

Wednesday
Jan122011

Europe: the bigger picture

Further to Peter Thurgood's article about Spain ('Whatever happened to "my Spain"?', published HERE), John Mallon has posted a piece on the Forest Eireann blog: Catering for smokers: how the rest of Europe compares. Comments welcome.

Btw, we used to call Paris the "European capital of smoking". The title then transferred to Prague. Any further suggestions? I have heard that the bars in Budapest are so smoky that even smokers (well, those that live in Britain) find them a little, er, fuggy.

Tuesday
Jan112011

Smoking bans and the Spanish inquisition

Do bans make people smoke less? asked the Irish Times on Saturday. Rare for an Irish newspaper to discuss the smoking ban and rarer still to see comments from opponents of the ban in any Irish publication. Features a quote from John Mallon, spokesman for Forest Eireann.

The article was prompted by the recent smoking ban in Spain:

The Spanish measures, which are the country’s second attempt at a ban, are far more stringent than those introduced here in 2004, when Ireland became the first EU country to implement the policy.

Since last Sunday, smoking in Spain – the fourth largest tobacco manufacturer in the EU – is outlawed not only in places such as restaurants, bars and airports but also outside schools, hospitals and in children’s playgrounds.

The fines for breaking the ban range from €60 to €600,000. It remains to be seen whether the fuming Spaniards will flout the new laws, but both Irish experience and recent research suggest the extreme nature of the ban makes compliance even more likely.

As it happens we have in our midst an unrepentant smoker who has been working in the Spanish tourism industry for a number of years.

"I knew about the proposed ban last year," writes Peter Thurgood, "but to be perfectly honest I never thought it would really happen. I feel so let down I will never again recommend Spain as a holiday destination to anyone until they overturn it."

Peter feels so strongly he has written a 1500-word article for The Free Society. Click HERE.

See also: Smoke-free? It's a Spanish imposition! (Daily Mail), Spanish Bars Flout the Ban (Time) and Spanish smokers struggle with new ban (Daily Telegraph)

Monday
Jan102011

CIU joins Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign

Further to rumours and reports, I am delighted to confirm that the Working Men's Clubs & Institute Union (CIU) has agreed to join the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign.

Together with Forest, the CIU will lobby MPs to change the law to allow separate smoking rooms in private members' clubs. (Forest will of course continue to fight for smoking rooms in pubs as well.)

The CIU's National Executive agreed to the proposal last month following our extremely productive meeting with general secretary Mick McGlasham in November.

Specific initiatives will be announced shortly. In the meantime I have accepted an invitation to address the CIU's annual general meeting in Blackpool in April. Greg Knight MP, a leading supporter of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, will also attend the conference dinner to demonstrate his support for working mens' clubs.

The CIU describes itself as "the largest non-profit making social entertainment and leisure organisation in the UK, representing the interests and views of four million club members".

Above: yours truly with Mick McGlasham (general secretary, CIU) and Geoff Whewell (chairman, West Midlands branch) following a Forest/Free Society event at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham last year. Below, publicans from East Anglia demonstrate their support at the launch of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign in London in June 2009.

Monday
Jan102011

Postscript to passive smoking and the price of propaganda

A couple of months ago I published a poignant email from June, a 57-year-old mother of two who had devoted many years to bringing up her two children. June has smoked since her teens but now her daughter doesn’t want June's grandchild in a house where someone had been smoking.

I disguised some of the details because June (not her real name) was worried that her knowledge of her email might "rip my family apart". The basic story, however, was unaltered.

June had mixed feelings about Christmas. She was looking forward to having her daughter, her son-in-law and her grandchild to stay (for the first time in years) but the prospect of having to stand outside in the cold every time she wanted a cigarette was less appealing. Eventually it was agreed that June could smoke in an upstairs room, as long as the door was shut.

"I don’t know how I’m going to pull this off, with my sense of outrage running high," wrote June in November, "and still be a welcoming hostess to our guests."

I was curious to know what happened so on Saturday I emailed her and last night she replied as follows:

Christmas didn’t go exactly to schedule, as we received a phone call Christmas morning to say that my daughter, her husband and child couldn’t join us as planned. My grandson was suffering a mild case of flu, and was too poorly.

My daughter, her husband and child joined us on New Year’s Day instead. It was a small party of just five adults. I honoured my agreement.

I cooked a two-course meal, and disappeared upstairs periodically during the visit. Nobody commented on my disappearances. Nobody was inconvenienced by this except me. I have told none of my guests over the Christmas/New Year period of my daughter’s request.

I sent both my children extracts about passive smoking found on your site. My son informed me that he’d never believed everything said about passive smoking anyway. My daughter didn’t reply.

I’d like to thank all those who have left posts as they heartened me. Joyce in particular hit the nail on the head. I will tell my daughter that I will never refrain from smoking downstairs again when he visits. I would be prepared to go into another room, but not to shut myself away again.

Sadly, I fear that this will cause his visits to diminish, perhaps even cease, and I feel a great injustice here – as he had a privileged upbringing. I also feel bereaved in some way – crazy, I know.

Public and repeated debunking of the effects of passive smoking is a priority, I think. But what hope is there for tolerance when even our prime minister and his deputy are ashamed to admit they do or ever did smoke?

You can read the original post HERE.

Friday
Jan072011

A teacher writes

We have this afternoon received the following email:

Dear Forest,

As a secondary school teacher who on a weekly basis teachers my students about the dangers of cigarettes and tobacco I was wondering in what sense your organisation is doing anything positive in our world?

Don't you think that you should give up the ghost and this losing battle? I am a big believer in freedom of choice when that choice is safe and positive but not when a choice will kill and harm you and those around you.

Myself and the entire student faculty look forward to your answer which will be discussed in classes.

Regards,

Prof C.D.

Your comments are welcome and I will of course be only too happy to refer him "and the entire student faculty" to this post, should you have anything constructive to say!

Thursday
Jan062011

Frankly, who gives a tweet?

I have just been asked to comment on a story that Duncan Bannatyne is refusing (allegedly) to reply to anyone on Twitter whose profile picture shows them smoking.

I am told that some people are complaining that this is unfair and a form of discrimination. I say, good luck to him! If the bigoted old booby chooses not to reply to anyone for any reason whatsoever that's up to him - it's a free country.

Ditto, if he wants to publicise his extreme intolerance - and make himself look a prize chump at the same time - that's up to him.

The real question is: why would anyone want to waste a second of their life corresponding - even on Twitter - with this vain, egotistical ... need I go on?

Tuesday
Jan042011

Escape to Ireland

On my way to Stansted to catch a flight to Ireland. First Cork, then on to Dublin. Not a bad way to start the year ...

Tuesday
Jan042011

It's good to talk: why UK ministers must ignore this foreign diktat

Further to the picture of public health minister Anne Milton rubbing shoulders with Deborah Arnott at the ASH AGM last month (left), my attention has been drawn to a recent parliamentary answer given by Milton to a question tabled by Labour MP Grahame Morris:

Grahame M. Morris: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment he has made of the potential contribution of (a) voluntary partnerships with industry and (b) regulation in reducing the incidence of (i) obesity, (ii) alcohol abuse and (iii) tobacco smoking;

(2) what plans he has to reduce the incidence of (a) obesity and (b) alcohol abuse; and what account he plans to take of the views of industry representatives in formulating his Department's policy in these areas.

Anne Milton: The forthcoming public health white paper will set out the Government's strategy for improving the public's health, including tackling the challenges of smoking, obesity and alcohol misuse. Consultation with stakeholders, including industry representatives, is an important part of the formulation Government policy and it will continue as normal.

The Public Health Responsibility Deal brings industry, the retail sector, the voluntary sector, non governmental organisations and local government together in a forum to consider and agree on a voluntary basis the actions that they will take to support the Government's public health ambitions.

Government engagement with the tobacco industry on public health matters is governed by Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its supporting guidelines. The guidelines specifically state that meetings with the industry or its proxies should be take place only when strictly necessary [my italics].

My correspondent writes, "The net effect of what she’s saying is that there will be no meetings with the tobacco lobby unless ASH/the tobacco control lobby decide it’s strictly necessary. Worrying stuff from a Government committed to [corporate and social] responsibility?!"

It seems to me that dialogue with the manufacturer of a legal product is the least we should expect of any government. Anything else is a dereliction of duty and morally ministers give up the right to govern if they adopt such a policy.

Likewise, a government that refuses to engage with the consumer cannot complain if the consumer decides to operate outside the normal parameters.

History tells us that governments - even democratic ones - are never shy to engage with terrorists and other opponents of the state.

When it comes to tobacco, a legal product that generates billions of pounds of revenue for governments worldwide, different rules apply. Scandalous, really, and yet few people ever mention it.

If I have a wish for 2011 it's that Big Government liaises far more closely with tobacco manufacturers and the consumer. Stuff the FCTC. If they have any self-respect UK ministers will use their common sense and not be dictated to by foreign diktat.

Otherwise, what's the point of being in government?

Saturday
Jan012011

Happy New Year!

Happy new year to all my regular readers. Fingers crossed, 2011 will start rather better than 2010 ended - with a blow-out on the M25 as we were returning from London yesterday. Luckily we were near South Mimms Service Station where a fellow motorist helped change the wheel (after showing me how to use the car jack!). Today we're heading back down the A1 to spend the day with friends in Watford so talk amongst yourselves. What do you wish for in 2011, or is that a silly question?