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Entries by Simon Clark (1667)

Saturday
Dec042010

Nigel Farage: follow the leader

I still don't 'get' Twitter.

That aside, we've had an influx of emails overnight and this morning confirming that so-and-so is "following your tweets (@Forest_Smoking) on Twitter".

I looked into it and the common denominator (so-and-so "follows a user who follows you") pointed towards UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

And so it proved (see above).

I can only return the compliment. Click HERE to follow Nigel on Twitter.

Btw, did you read this extraordinary story on Wednesday: Crash pilot 'threatened to kill UKIP's Nigel Farage' (BBC News).

Thanks to Rose W for bringing it to my attention.

Friday
Dec032010

The defiant snowman

Thanks to Forest supporter Liz Barber (left) for sending me this seasonal photograph ...

Thursday
Dec022010

To Russia the World Cup - and, frankly, I don't give a damn

Two weeks ago, in response to those politicians and administrators who felt the need to apologise in advance for the Panorama programme about alleged corruption within Fifa, I wrote: "If that's what it takes to win the World Cup bid, you can stick it".

I feel the same way today, although I tend to agree with those print journalists who argued that only the BBC could "hold the front page" for weeks on end. If a newspaper had got hold of a similar story, they said, the editor would have run with it immediately for fear of losing it to a rival publication. In contrast, BBC current affairs doesn't have any competitors so it could choose its moment (when most of the nation was watching I'm A Celebrity).

Anyway, I would be very surprised if Monday night's Panorama programme had a significant impact on the outcome of today's vote. The reality is that England's bid had so little support that it was dependent on the second and third votes of Fifa's governing board.

And you know what - who cares that we didn't win?

If Russia (and Qatar!!) want to build countless new stadiums, that's up to them. Russia, it is said, will also have to build new airports, new hotels and other infrastructure. Well, let them - and good luck, because they're going to need it.

I shall never forget, when I visited Moscow in 1981, what happened on the morning we were supposed to visit the self-styled Exhibition of Economic Achievements.

Shortly after breakfast we were informed by our Intourist guide that the trip was cancelled. Why, we asked.

Embarrassed silence. Then:

"It always shuts on Wednesday."

Really, we persisted, are you sure?

"Well, er, it's shut for cleaning."

Eventually the truth emerged, but we were sworn to secrecy.

"The roof fell in overnight."

What?!

"The roof collapsed."

Some achievement.

What was interesting was the fact that they didn't want anyone to know. It was too much of a blow to Soviet pride and all that.

The following day we visited a space museum that featured a Soviet spacecraft from the Sixties. God knows how they got this thing into orbit because from what I saw it was little more than a Heath Robinson-style tin can.

OK, I exaggerate, but two years later in Washington DC I viewed a US spacecraft from the same era. The difference between American and Soviet technology was like day and night.

Now, thanks to Fifa, we'll have an opportunity to see how much the old Soviet Union has changed. Has the ugly duckling become a swan?

One thing is certain. Don't expect the Panorama team to be welcomed with open arms. Free speech and democracy are not yet seen as virtues in a country that is still governed by an iron fist.

The World Cup? They're welcome to it.

PS. Follow Vladimir Putin on Twitter. Brilliant!

Thursday
Dec022010

When a man is tired of snow he is tired of life

I love my car but, I have to admit, it's rubbish in winter. It slips and slides all over the place and this weekend I shall be driving to the Peak District where I once drove into a dry stone wall in conditions very similar to this week.

Despite this - I LOVE SNOW!! I really do. It hasn't snowed in Cambridgeshire for two, possibly three, days but it's so cold that apart from the snow on the road, very little has melted.

I love looking at the snow - and the rabbits and the guinea pigs - from the kitchen window. I wish it was like this all the time - well, until March, at least.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and buy some winter tyres. Or a 4×4. No, winter tyres are cheaper.

Wednesday
Dec012010

Cheer up, Christmas is coming ...

... and here's a sneak preview of the 2010 Forest Christmas card.

Tuesday
Nov302010

Forest response to white paper on public health

12:30 ... Still waiting for the details of the Government white paper on public health. According to one BBC report, "Details on how the government aims to tackle individual problems, such as obesity, smoking and drinking, will not be spelt out in full until the new year." However Radio 4's World At One has just reported that tax on high strength beer is to go up, so there may be more detail to come.

Here is Forest's response, based on Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's comments earlier today:

NEWS RELEASE Tuesday 30 November, 2010

WHITE PAPER "A CHARTER FOR SOCIAL ENGINEERING" SAYS SMOKERS' GROUP

A consumer group has warned that the Department of Health white paper on public health could be a "charter for potentially oppressive social engineering".

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: "Government has no business micro-managing people's lives. For all the talk about nudging, the white paper could be a charter for potentially oppressive social engineering.

"We know what happens when people refuse to be nudged. Campaigners demand more and more regulations and ministers are happy to indulge them.

"The white paper merely transfers that power to local councils.

"We are in danger of creating an immensely dull, zero risk society in which freedom of choice and personal responsibility are consigned to history."

Update: the Guardian has the story, and a quote from our press release, online: White paper hands responsibility for public health to local authorities.

In contrast the Telegraph's medical editor Rebecca Smith appears to have swallowed the Government's line without query: No more nanny state on health: Andrew Lansley

Tuesday
Nov302010

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Department of Health to publish public health white paper today ... Should give an indication of the direction the Coalition Government is taking us. Watch this space.

Sunday
Nov282010

The good (Andrew Marr), the bad (Andrew Lansley) and the Widdy

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was interviewed by Andrew Marr on Sunday AM this morning. In comparison to this dull grey career politician, how refreshing it was to hear also from Ann Widdecombe, reviewing the newspapers.

Ann Widdecombe: You know, I could absolutely weep. We have a Conservative administration and all I'm reading in the papers today is about the intervention of the state. The state is going to set a minimum price for alcohol. The state is going to prescribe the colour of cigarettes. And now we've got the state actually saying to emplyers, in a time of recession, you must provide paid breaks, paid facilities, a spcial fridge for expressed milk and goodness knows what else, for women returning to work who decides, on their responsibility presumably, to have a child.

Compare that to the following dialogue between Lansley and Andrew Marr (and hats off to Marr for playing devil's advocate):

Andrew Marr: Is it true that you ant to remove the packaging from cigarette packets and make them all one one colour?

Andrew Lansley: One of the things we are going to oook at is whether there is a case for plain packaging of cigarettes because, remember, we\re taken steps in the past as a parliament as a government to try to reduce the level of smoking but it is very persistent. I mean, for example, we have a level of smoking that leads to around 80,000 deaths a year. We have to treat smoking as a major public health issue. We have to reduce the xtent to which young people start smoking, and one of the issues is the extent to which display of cigarettes and brands does draw young people into smoking in the first place.

AM: So how will this work in practice? Would you therefore not have any Benson & Hedges or Marlboro or Camel, or whatever it is, adverts at all at the point of sale? Would you have packets that all looked the same?

AL: This is an issue we're going to consult on. Essentially, yes, they would be packets that all looked the same. They would have the name of the brand on it but no other brand identification.

AM: Why is this your job? Why is it the job of government to decide whether people should or should not smoke?

AL: Because 80,000 lives a year are lost.

AM: But people know the risks, they can make judgements for themselves.

AL: Well, why did we ban smoking in public places, because actually we don't want people to have harm ...

AM: That's a secondary smoking issue ...

AL: Yes, secondary smoking is important too but also what we have to make sure is that young people don't start smoking and we have to treat tobacco as the serious public health issue it is and try to make sure, and this is a kind of behavioural philosophy, if young people are in a situation where brands and tobacco is being pushed to them in their local supermarkets and stores they are more likely to start smoking.

AM: But if one packet is gold and another red I don't see that is going to make people more likely to smoke.

AL: Well, actually, I think the evidence, we'll see see how the evidence emerges. Australia, for example, are [sic] going dow the path of plain packaging. We'll see what the evidence looks like.

PS. Headline courtesy of Ann Widdecombe on Strictly Come Dancing last night.

Sunday
Nov282010

Tobacco: a litmus test for the media in a free society

In 1988, more than a decade before I began working for Forest, I wrote a 115-page report that analysed over 300 articles in five national newspapers (The Times, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian and Independent) from October 1984 to March 1988.

The report was called Smoke Out: How The Quality Press Covers The Smoking Debate. This week I found a copy in, where else, a box at the back of my garage. The blurb on the cover reads:

Smoking has never been illegal in this country and it is a matter for genuine debate whether the arguments against it on health grounds should outweigh the financial arguments in its favour, or whether smokers' rights to indulge in a personal habit should override non-smokers' preference for clean air.

The smoking debate tests the media in several ways. First there is the wide range of arguments, for and against. Then there is the political battle running alongside the medical debate. The most important parties to the controversy have their own special interests that taint their objectivity.

Most important, the media must strike a balance between exaggeration and understatement. They must shun sensationalism without sacrificing their story. Both critics and supporters of smoking are anxious to use the media to promote their cause; good journalists should make sure they are not being used.

Some people might question whether - in the smoking debate - 'balance' and impartiality is that important. The answer, quite simply, is 'Yes'. Standards of journalism matter in a free society, and if they abandoned when dealing with an unpopular subject like the tobacco industry then they will not be maintained in other more mainstream areas of debate.

It is always the hard cases and unpopular causes that best serve as a litmus test for media standards. If the quality press fails to inform its readership to the best of its ability it is no better than the tabloids that, so often, it derides.

I suspect that many of you will be wearily familiar with my analysis which found systematic bias and concluded with these words:

It is clear that standards of journalism have fallen well short of what is required for the fair coverage of a controversial issue. Analytical, non-partisan articles are extremely rare. Particularly disturbing is the extent to which the smoking 'debate' has been conducted via a series of 'news' reports, the majority of which are simply the result of a press release or a story handed directly to the journalist or news desk concerned.

Alarmingly, the journalist is often prepared to accept such 'news' at face value. On relatively few occasions does he quote those who might be expected to hold opposing views. Since much of what passes for 'news' in the smoking debate is generated by those attacking smoking, the result is a 'debate' that is woefully one-sided in favour of the health lobby.

Sadly, nothing has changed. In the last fortnight there have been three significant smoking-related stories - smoking during pregnancy may make children career criminals, UK government considers plain packaging, and, two days ago, passive smoking kills 600,000 people worldwide every year.

The tobacco lobby was completely ignored for the two 'health' stories. On plain packaging both Forest and the Tobacco Manufacturers Association were quoted by several newspapers but, speaking for Forest, we had to push hard to get our views in print. With the exception of BBC News, no journalist approached us, we had to go to them.

Saturday
Nov272010

Joe Jackson: how can we tackle the passive smoking 'fraud'?

Joe Jackson (featured, above, on a Forest poster) has responded to my previous post about the journalist who asked me whether I should be doing something "more worthwhile" with my life. Joe writes:

Simon, you are indeed doing something very worthwhile, but I would like to offer a lone voice of qualified support or at least understanding, to the lady journalist in question.

I, like you and many others, am angry about many things the antismoking movement has accomplished: trampling on property rights, bullying and stigmatising people, causing social division, ruining businesses, etc etc. But the thing is, I would not feel nearly so strongly if I did not fundamentally believe that the risks of smoking are greatly exaggerated and the risks of SHS are non-existent. The trouble is, many, even most, people believe those things, and they can't entirely be blamed; they want to believe the 'experts' and the 'authorities' whose business it is to 'know'. And from their point of view, it is hard to understand why some of us are wasting energy making such a fuss about some supposed 'right' to poison ourselves and others with a toxic substance.

People DO care about civil liberties, etc, but not so much compared to dying of lung cancer. I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but I think sometimes it's good to remind ourselves of the real nature and magnitude of what we're up against. The problem is not that people don't grasp the various libertarian or business issues, it's that they feel fundamentally that Smoking=Death. Thus it can't really be defended even if 'our' side does have some valid points in theory.

That is why, although I will be the first to applaud if, for instance we get the UK ban amended to allow smoking rooms, I don't think we are ever going to start really turning the tide until something can be done to change this perception. How it's to be done, I only wish I knew. I remain baffled, for instance, that the myth of SHS is allowed to continue to flourish without meaningful protest from anyone with serious money or clout. Can't something be done about this latest piece of fiction about SHS from the WHO? Can't we, Forest, F2C, etc, pool our resources and send a petition to the government asking them to stop indulging such nonsense, since it is bringing science and medicine into disrepute? It might not change anything but at least it would demonstrate that people are waking up to the fraud. OK, I wish I had a better idea - does anyone else?

Download The Smoking Issue by Joe Jackson (2005).

Friday
Nov262010

And the big question is ...

I was interviewed yesterday by a charming freelance journalist. We sat outside a pub close to Broadcasting House in central London and discussed plain packaging and the war on tobacco.

She was fair, friendly and very professional and we had a good exchange of views. I sensed however that she was a strong anti-smoker.

When we had finished and were walking back towards Oxford Circus she confirmed my suspicions.

"I hope you don't mind me saying this," she said, "but shouldn't you be doing something more worthwhile with your life?"

Wednesday
Nov242010

Snowdon on the Moral Maze

On Monday evening I took a call from the BBC Radio 4 programme Moral Maze. They were looking for someone to take part in a live debate in a central London studio between 7.30 and 8.40pm on Wednesday 24 November (tonight).

They wanted, they explained, to explore certain moral and ethical issues around plain packaging. What is the Government's role? Should the Government be getting involved? Is it a question of freedom of choice or nudge?

I thought about it for a few minutes. A couple of telephone calls later it was settled.

And so tonight, at 8.00pm, Chris Snowdon, author of Velvet Glove Iron Fist and The Spirit Level Delusion, will be grilled by two of the programme's resident team of experts.

Full details HERE. Recommended.

Wednesday
Nov242010

Display ban: tobacco control moves the goalposts - again

Last week a study commissioned by Ireland's Office for Tobacco Control and the Irish Cancer Society claimed that the removal of tobacco display has been successful in reducing the awareness of smoking among young people.

Allied to the results of a second study, Evaluation of the removal of point-of-sale tobacco displays in Ireland published in Tobacco Control, the British Medical Association felt confident enough to announce that as a result of the display ban "fewer young people believed smoking was widespread among their peers". This of course was a prelude for the BMA to urge the Government to implement Labour's legislation to ban tobacco display in UK shops.

Thankfully, the Democracy Institute's Patrick Basham and John Luik have saved me the trouble of writing about these studies at greater length. Much of what needs to be said is included in the excellent article they have written for Spiked in which they point out that:

Until very recently, tobacco-control advocates campaigned for a display ban because it would lead to reduced youth smoking, full stop. But the evidence from various jurisdictions that have implemented a display ban suggests that smoking prevalence, especially among adolescents, is at best unaffected by such a ban. Indeed, there is evidence in some places that display bans have coincided with an increase in smoking.

Consequently, ban advocates are quietly and subtly moving the empirical goalposts. They are replacing youth smoking levels as the test of success with a measurement of how many young people perceive that their peers are smoking and then propagating a lower score as ‘evidence’ of the display ban’s effectiveness. It is an intellectually dubious tactic, but left unchallenged it may do the trick, politically. Hence, the new Tobacco Control article by McNeill et al finds, ‘The proportion of youths believing more than a fifth of children their age smoked decreased from 62 per cent to 48 per cent’.

Commenting on the BMA's response, Basham and Luik write:

Curiously, the BMA’s press release chose not to highlight the very same article’s finding that: ‘There were no short-term significant changes in prevalence among youths or adults.’ In other words, no one in Ireland has stopped smoking because of the ban: the policy is a failure.

Full article HERE.

See also: Is Ireland the new Canada of tobacco control?

Monday
Nov222010

Thatcherism lives!

Here's another nugget discovered in a box at the back of my garage. Compiled by my old friend Brian Monteith and published in 1991, Thatcherism Lives! is a "collection of some of Margaret Thatcher's most important speeches between 1975 and 1991".

I mention it because today is the 20th anniversary of the announcement of Mrs Thatcher's intention to resign as prime minister and Thatcherism Lives! includes her bravura performance in the House on the afternoon of November 22, 1990, a few hours after she had announced her decision to resign.

Replying to a motion of no confidence in her government, Thatcher told Labour leader Neil Kinnock:

Eleven years ago we rescued Britain from the parlous state to which socialism had brought it. I remind the House that, under socialism, this country had come to such a pass that one of our most able and distinguished ambassadors felt compelled to write in a famous despatch, a copy of which found its way into the Economist, the following words:

"We talk of ourselves without shame as being one of the less prosperous countries of Europe. The prognosis for the foreseeable future," he said in 1979, was "discouraging."

Conservative government has changed all that. Once again Britain stands tall in the councils of Europe and of the world, and our policies have brought unparalleled prosperity to our citizens at home.

In the past decade we have given power back to the people on an unprecedented scale. We have given back control to the people over their own lives and over their own livelihood - over the decisions that matter most to them and their families. We have done it by curbing the monopoly power of trade unions to control, even to victimise, the individual worker ...

Labour is against spreading those freedoms and choice to all our people. It is against us giving powers back to the people by privatising nationalised industries ... Labour wants to renationalise electricty, water and British Telecom. It wants to take power back to the state and back to into its own grasp - a fitful and debilitating grasp.

In response to complaints about more than two million unemployed and an inflation rate of 10.9 per cent, Thatcher responded:

Yes, 10.9 per cent inflation is much higher than it should be, but it is a lot lower than 26.9 per cent under the last Labour Government ...

Because individuals and families have more power and more choice, they have more opportunities to succeed - two million more jobs that in 1979, better rewards for hard work, income tax down from 33p in the pound to 25p in the pound and no surcharge on savings income ...

People on all levels of income are better off than they were in 1979 ... The extraordinary transformation of the private sector has created the wealth for better social services and better pensions ...

We are no longer the sick man of Europe - our output and investment grew faster during the 1980s than that of any of our major competitors. No longer a doubtful prospect, when American and Japanese companies invest in Europe, we are their first choice ...

Yes, in 1987 and 1988 the economy did expand too fast. There was too much borrowing, and inflation rose. That is why we had to take the tough, unpopular measures to bring the growth of money supply within target ...

Labour's policies are a vote of no confidence in the ability of British people to manage their own affairs. We have that confidence. Confidence in freedom and confidence in enterprise. That is what divides Conservatives from socialists.

Our stewardship of the public finances has been better than that of any government for nearly 50 years. It has enabled us to repay debt and cut taxes ...

During the past eleven years this Government has had a clear and unwavering vision of the future of Europe and Britain's role in it. It is a vision which stems from our deep-seated attachment to parliamentary democracy and commitment to economic liberty, enterprise, competition and a free market economy.

No government in Europe has fought more resolutely against subsidies, state aids to industry and protectionism; unnecessary regulations and bureaucracy and increasing unaccountable central power at the expense national parliaments ...

We have worked for our vision of a Europe which is free and open to the rest of the world, and above all to the countries of eastern Europe as they emerge from the shadows of socialism ... They deserve a Europe where there is too for their rediscovered sense of nationhood and a place to decide their own destiny after decades of repression ...

Ten years ago, the eastern part of Europe lay under totalitarian rule, its people knowing neither rights nor liberties. Today we have a Europe in which democracy, the rule of law and basic human rights are spreading ever more widely ...

These immense changes did not come about by chance. They have been achieved by strength and resolution in defence, and by a refusal ever to be intimidated. No-one in eastern Europe believes that their countries would be free had it not been for those western governments who were prepared to defend liberty, and who kept alive their hope that one day east Europe too would enjoy freedom.

But it was no thanks to the Labour party or to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament of which the Rt Hon Gentleman (Labour leader Neil Kinnock) is still a member. It is this Government who kept the nuclear weapons which ensured that we could never be blackmailed or threatened ...

Twice in my time as prime minister we have had to send our forces across the world to defend a small country against ruthless aggression: first to our own people in the Falklands and now to the borders of Kuwait.

To those who have never had to take such decisions, I say that they are taken with a heavy heart and in the knowledge of the manifold dangers, but with tremendous pride in the professionalism and courage of our armed forces.

There is something else which one feels. That is a sense of this country's destiny: the centuries of history and experience which ensure that, when principle have to be defended, when good has to be upheld and when evil has to be overcome, Britain will take up arms.

It is because we on this side have never flinched from difficult decisions that this House and this country can have confidence in this Government today.

I shall never forget the sadness I felt at Mrs Thatcher's departure from office, although I remember with pride the way she went, fighting to the end. ("I am enjoying this!")

Nothing lasts forever but to this day I remain a committed Thatcherite, not a Conservative. I knew what it meant to be a Thatcherite. I have no idea what the Conservative party under David Cameron stands for.

And therein lies a problem because where there is an intellectual vacuum ministers will pursue their own policies, sometimes for personal political gain (it makes them stand out from the crowd) or because they don't have the bottle to fight their own civil servants or well-funded lobby groups.

Thanks to Cameron's inability to articulate what the current Conservative party stands for there are no boundaries - and no need to justify policies in the light of the bigger picture because there isn't one, apart from clearing up the financial mess that Labour left behind.

Sunday
Nov212010

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

The Observer today reported that "The government is considering forcing tobacco companies to package their cigarettes in plain brown wrappers in a bid to de-glamorise smoking and stop young people taking up the habit". Other papers are now running the story online.

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, is investigating the viability of introducing what would be one of the most radical public health measures ever implemented in the UK ...

His readiness to countenance such draconian action against cigarette manufacturers drew praise and delight from leading medical organisations. "We are very pleased that the health secretary supports the plain packaging of cigarettes. There is clear evidence that young people find packaging appealing," said a spokesman for the British Medical Association. "And we know that the tobacco industry spends huge amounts on this clever marketing to enhance their brands and increase sales."

In the words of The Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again', "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss".

PS. The BBC contacted me for Forest's response while I was watching my son play rugby near Leighton Buzzard. I was so cold standing in the middle of a field in Bedfordshire that I'm not sure I made much sense. Click HERE.

The Daily Mail has a very short quote from me HERE.

Update ... Email received this evening:

Just read an article on proposed plain packaging. Are ministers completely mad. This will encourage counterfeit products which will be sold cheaper, with no tax revenue, and cause a major health risk as there would be no control on quality. Tar nic values would be random. This policy would actually cause a bigger risk to public health. Someone should make this clear to the idiots in Westminster.

Dick Puddlecote is suitably outraged. And Liberal Vision isn't happy either.

See also Velvet Glove Iron Fist (sorry, Chris, just noticed that you quoted The Who too!) and Man Widdicombe.

Let's hope Conservative MPs get the message. We're not happy.

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