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The man from the Peru

Peru100.gif Graham, "in cloudy Cornwall", reports that "The Peruvian Arms in Mount Street, Penzance, is  applying to the Peruvian government to establish themselves as a Peruvian embassy in Cornwall as they have  found out that Peruvian embassies allow smoking on the premises and are not under the jurisdiction of the UK  government!!!!" Apparently there was an item on the local BBC news last night. Good to see that at least one publican hasn't given up hope!


Britain's prohibition culture turns to drink

WineGlasses100.jpg It gets worse. Alcohol Concern, "the national agency of alcohol misuse", not only wants a 16% rise in alcohol taxes, a crackdown on under-age alcohol sales, a further reduction in the drink-drive limit, a ban on alcohol advertising before the 9pm television watershed and non-18 certificate films in cinemas, it also wants parents who give alcohol to children aged under 15 to be PROSECUTED!! (Full story HERE.)

How such a law would be enforced, heaven only knows. Picture the scene: a warm summer's day; a family with three children is in the garden; everyone, including one set of grandparents, is seated at a table on the patio; dad (wearing shorts and a floppy cricket hat) is dishing out the meat, freshly cooked on the barbecue; mum (glad to be relieved of the cooking) is pouring out the drinks. The men are drinking beer; mum and gran have been given a bottle of chilled Chardonnay; the youngest child, aged 9, is offered a Diet Coke; the older children, aged 14 and 12, are each given a glass of wine, slightly diluted with water. Everyone is happy, laughing and chatting.

Suddenly they hear the front door bell, followed by a loud knock on the door. Before they can react two alcohol control officers burst through the garden gate and march purposefully towards the patio. "No-one move," barks the first officer. "We have received a tip-off. We have reason to believe you have committed a criminal offence. You don't have to say anything but anything your children drink may be used in evidence against you."

Public health minister Caroline Flint says she doesn't agree with the proposals but they all say that, at first. The fact that such a plan can be taken seriously (witness today's media coverage), rather than dismissed as the work of cranks and fanatics, shows how far our prohibition culture has come. The extreme agendas of groups like Alcohol Concern (and of course ASH) must be defeated if we want to live in a mature, civilised society. It's my view that things will get worse before they get better, but today's proposal to prosecute parents suggests an arrogant over-confidence that could prove to be their Achilles heel. Watch this space.


Scotland gets a wake up call

PayingPiper.jpg Ex-MSP Brian Monteith was in London yesterday promoting his new book Paying The Piper (Birlinn, £6.99). It's not what you might call a page-turner, but it's an important contribution to the political debate, especially in Scotland where social and economic liberals like Brian are an endangered species.

A member of the Scottish Parliament for eight years (1999-2007), Brian wants to confront the "collectivist consensus" that dominates Scottish politics and promote a "liberal open society". In particular, he makes the case for lower taxes, a single rate of income tax, the abolition of inheritance tax, less public spending and less regulation. He wants more "small government thinking", adding, "It requires brave politicians from all parties to turn their backs on yet more legislation that interferes with our personal lives and inhibits our economic growth."

Brian's views are summed up by Mark Twain who quipped, "What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax inspector? The taxidermist only takes your skin." Likewise Winston Churchill believed that, "For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle." More recently, Ronald Reagan commented: "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases. If it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; and if it stops moving, subsidise it."

Perhaps the most pertinent quote is an endorsement by Times columnist Matthew Parris who wrote: "Scots should wake up. Monteith is pointing the way back from extinction." Let's hope so.


Give us this day our Daily Mash

mashlogo.jpg Good news for those of us who view the world through a sceptical lens, and even better news if you live in Scotland and fancy a local take on global issues.

The Daily Mash is a new satirical website featuring spoof news stories, comment and opinion. Each day it is updated by a team of writers led by journalists Neil Rafferty and Paul Stokes. Between them they have more than 35 years' professional writing experience. Rafferty has worked for the Press Association, Business AM and the Sunday Times. Stokes is a former columnist with Scotland on Sunday, the Daily Record and the Scotsman.

Rafferty is well known to Forest because he just happens to be our spokesman in Scotland. He is therefore perfectly placed to take the piss out of politicians and po-faced health campaigners. Stay tuned!


NICE idea - not!

Smoking100.jpg I have been busy this morning doing a number of interviews in response to a proposal by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) who say that smokers should be allowed to attend clinics in working hours to help them quit. Full story, including my reaction, HERE and HERE. The only thing I would add to what I have already said is, what about people who are overweight - should they be given time off to attend fitness classes as well?


Doctors? Don't they make you sick!

BMA Report01.jpg

The British Medical Association excelled itself yesterday. Not content with banning smoking in public places, it issued a new report (left) containing a number of "key recommendations" - for example, banning the display of cigarettes in shops and "encouraging" parents to "adopt" smoke-free homes if they smoke. The magic word used to justify such measures is 'children'. Like most people, I prefer not to see children smoking. Nor do I condone those who smoke around children, but I don't condemn them either.

Let's put this in perspective. Millions of children grew up surrounded by tobacco advertising and sponsorship (let alone cigarettes on display in shops), yet the majority of us chose not to smoke. Nor is smoking around children the worst offence in the world. An entire generation of children grew up in the Fifties and Sixties with adults smoking around them - and we are living longer than ever. (I'm not suggesting these two facts are connected, but you get my point!)

Anyway, if you're interested, here are those recommendations in full:

  • Smoking cessation services should be targeted at high risk groups to include those in the lower socio-economic groups, pregnant mothers, those with mental health problems and children who are looked after by the state, in foster care or in institutional settings.
  • Taxation on all tobacco products should be standardised and increased at higher than inflation rates to reduce the affordability and therefore availability of cigarettes.
  • Cigarettes should not be displayed at the point of sale and tobacco vending machines should be banned.
  • Legislation to ban the sale of packs of 10 cigarettes.
  • Legislation raising the minimum age of sale of tobacco products to 18 should be introduced across the UK and strictly enforced.
  • A licensing scheme, already in place for shops that wish to sell alcohol, should be introduced for tobacco.
    The UK governments should continue with country-wide media campaigns to inform the public about the health effects of exposure to second-hand smoke at home and in cars.
  • Parents who smoke should be encouraged and helped to quit smoking, and to adopt smoke-free homes if they continue to smoke.

You can see where some of these proposals are leading:  (1) a ban on smokers as foster carers; (2) a ban on smoking at home and in cars; (3) an army of tobacco control officers to enforce the bans; (4) parents who smoke accused of "child abuse" etc etc.

What we are witnessing is a relentless, systematic assault on a significant minority of the population who are doing nothing worse than consuming a legal product. Ironically, some of these measures are sure to be counter-productive. Banning smoking in public places makes it MORE likely that people will smoke at home; increasing tobacco taxation further still is VERY likely to create a smuggling epidemic (it's happened before); banning the sale of packs of 10 cigarettes will hit those adults who want to cut down (possible on the road to quitting) because they will HAVE to buy a pack of 20. And you know what? They'll smoke 20 in the same time it would have taken them to smoke ten. It's called temptation and no government can legislate against that.

Meanwhile the BMA will continue its remorseless campaign to reduce smokers to the role of lepers, vilifying and stigmatising them until finally - browbeaten into submission - they quit the habit. If this is what the 'caring' medical profession has come to, God help us. And don't forget - today tobacco, tomorrow food and drink.


Getta pizza this

Pizza451x131.jpg From the American Civil Liberties Union. Activate the sound on your computer and click HERE.


War on free speech

ID100.jpg Iain Dale (left), one of Britain's most successful bloggers (and a friend of The Free Society), drew attention last week to EU legislation that will curb our right to free speech. "Its aim," he wrote, "is to make holocaust denial a criminal offence, but it has far reaching implications beyond that. I have never believed that you can legislate on people's thought processes. If someone believes the holocaust didn't exist they are clearly bonkers, but does that mean they should be banned from articulating that view? Surely the best way to defeat such idiots is to expose their specious arguments? That's what you do in a free society." I couldn't have put it better myself.


Smoking: problem solved

OKNOSign.jpgFormer US paratrooper Greg Billingsly sent us the above image.  Greg points out that while the outgoing US Surgeon General's 2006 report called for a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places, it also admitted, in a section called 'Technological Strategies for Controlling Secondhand Smoke', that there ARE ventilation technologies available to minimise the (alleged) hazards of secondhand smoke:

"The concept is straightforward: process a portion of the air locally and remove secondhand smoke constituents with commonly used devices mounted on ceilings. The devices use the principle of electrostatic precipitation to remove particles or a series of filters to remove particles and odors. New devices have become available recently and include ultraviolet-activated photo catalytic systems that oxidize vapor phase organic compounds. With the addition of filters to this configuration, these devices could also remove particles. However, widespread application of these systems to effectively control secondhand smoke exposure in buildings has not yet been demonstrated."

In other words, the technology exists to accommodate smokers without inconveniencing non-smokers - but it hasn't been fully utilised. One solution is to insist that proprietors who want to accommodate smokers have to apply for a license. In order to get that license they would have to install an approved ventilation system. If some businesses can't afford the technology - tough. They'll just have to be non-smoking. But that shouldn't be a problem. After all, how many times have we been told that smoking bans are good for business? The UK may have ignored this option but we are hopeful that the EU will take a more pragmatic view when it considers submissions to its Green Paper Consultation, ‘Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: policy options at EU level’. Don't bet on it, though.


The bigger picture

SC100.jpg Having started the thread ('Can you Adam and Eve it?', April 17th), I feel I ought to come to the defence of Rob Simpson who is currently under fire (in the comments section) for defending smokers' rights. Richard Canzio, for example, argues that "To use smoking as a platform for the erosion of freedom ... is quite frankly self-indulgent. There are far more worrying issues that affect everyone." Yes, Richard, there ARE far more important issues than the right to smoke in a pub or private members' club but if, like me, you believe in individual freedom, personal responsibility and market forces, there are some important principles at stake.

As a non-smoker, I believe the smoking issue is important on a number of levels, not least the fraudulent nature of the passive smoking campaign. If it's OK to exaggerate and mislead people about the effects of passive smoking (which I'm convinced the government is doing), how can we be surprised when we're misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? If politicians are allowed to play fast and loose with the truth on issues like secondhand smoke, how can we complain when lying spinning becomes a habit?

I want to live in a liberal, tolerant democracy. Banning smoking in EVERY indoor public place may not matter to many, but it is neither liberal nor tolerant. It's not even democratic. Non-smokers may be in a majority but poll after poll, including government-funded research, has consistently found that an overwhelming majority of people in the UK - when given a range of options rather than a simple 'Yes', 'No' - favour a choice of smoking and non-smoking facilities in pubs, clubs and bars.

Society changes and attitudes towards smoking have been changing for 30-40 years. It's the pace of change that I object to because it's not based on public opinion, which is relatively benign on the issue, nor market forces. It's driven by a small but vociferous group of well-organised, well-funded campaigners who represent no-one but themselves. Meanwhile they are supported by craven politicians who by actively seeking to stigmatise a substantial section of the population are going way beyond their remit in a free society. (Whatever happened to education, education, education? In Blair's Britain it's become coercion, coercion, coercion.)

I'm not sure if this a good analogy, but there were those who argued that the Falkland Islands were not important enough to defend by going to war. At the time many of us believed that we were right to fight because, had we not, it would have given the wrong signal to rogue states throughout the world and a loss of freedom for the Falkland islanders could have been the catalyst for a series of land grabs by dictatorships and other regimes throughout the world. We'll never know because we won that particular battle.

The point is, if people are not prepared to defend relatively minor freedoms, you may one day lose a far more precious freedom that DOES matter to you. That is why we have set up The Free Society. We want to show that there is a link between the war on tobacco and what many of us perceive to be an erosion of freedom in other areas. The idea is to establish a loose coalition of genuine (not phoney) libertarians who understand the need for less not more government involvement in our daily lives and have the integrity to defend things that they themselves have no direct interest in. That's our big idea. Smoking is a small but important part of it.


Songs for swinging smokers

YouCantDoThat100.jpg Further to the previous item, Forest has also joined forces with Boisdale to produce a CD featuring no fewer than 20 smoking-related songs. Entitled You Can’t Do That!, the CD includes classics such as Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Giving Up Giving Up. It also features a new song, I'm Going Outside, with lyrics by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Alan Plater. All songs are performed by the Boisdale Blue Rhythm Band who played at our 'Politics and Prohibition' party at last year's Conservative party conference.

The CD will be released ahead of the public smoking ban on July 1st and will be distributed to journalists, broadcasters and politicians to promote both the dinner and our message that the ban is unnecessarily severe and that opposition to the ban remains both vocal and visible. It will also be used to generate support for Forest and The Free Society among musicians, artists and patrons of Boisdale. Friends of Forest will receive a copy; so too will every guest at the Savoy (see below).


Dinner with destiny

Savoy3.jpg I spent yesterday morning at the Savoy Hotel in London. Together with Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale we were negotiating the terms of what, sadly, will be an historic occasion - possibly the last major public event in England where guests can smoke indoors while they are eating, drinking and enjoying the finest entertainment! Organised by Boisdale, Forest and The Free Society, 'You Can't Do That!' will be advertised as a 'freedom dinner' with guest speakers, live music and other attractions. Provisional date: Tuesday 19th June from 7.30pm. Tickets available from 1st May. Watch this space for more details.


Would you Adam and Eve it?

Ashtray100.jpg Dr Luke Clancy is chairman of ASH Ireland. I've met him once or twice and I quite like him. Like many anti-smokers he means well and genuinely wants to improve the health of his nation. Unfortunately, like the good Samaritan who insists on helping the old lady across the road when she is perfectly happy where she is, he and his ilk go too far.

Yesterday it was reported that a study by a team from the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society in Dublin, led by Clancy, had found that "the smoking ban in Ireland has cut air pollution in pubs and improved bar-workers' health". (Full report HERE.) The study was (of course) widely reported yet a simple glance at the press release should have alerted even the most gullible health correspondent. By their own admission, the team relied on "volunteers"  whose evidence consisted of "self-reported workplace exposure" and "self-reported health symptoms". And we're supposed to take this study seriously???!!!

It's hardly rocket science to conclude that smoking bans reduce exposure to airborne carcinogens. However it's the dose that makes the poison and although secondhand smoke may increase our exposure to carcinogens, the concentration of particles is usually very small. The best ventilation systems (which tests show can remove up to 90% of all gases and particles from environmental tobacco smoke) reduce it even further.
Many people find a smoky environment unpleasant but that doesn't justify a ban on smoking in EVERY pub, club and bar in the country. Luke Clancy's feeble report should be condemned for what it is - junk science designed to justify an unnecessary and authoritarian piece of legislation. Similar "research" has appeared in Scotland. Expect more of the same within six or 12 months of the smoking ban in England.


Hedonism, Noi and moi

StraightActing451.jpg Cripes, as Boris Johnson would say. I've been invited to take part in a late night ‘speak easy’ on hedonism at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. According to the blurb, my fellow speakers on Friday 11th May include comedian Simon Munnery; Sebastian Horsley, writer and author of Dandy in the Underworld; John Noi, editor of Spektacle, a new-fashioned magazine that describes itself as ‘not for everyone but neither is good taste’; Travis Elborough, cultural commentator and author of The Bus We Loved: London's Affair With the Routemaster; Alexander Mayor of Alexander’s Festival Hall; and Sam Roddick, founder of "erotic emporium" Coco de Mer. For those who don't know, the ICA is just off The Mall. To book, click HERE.

PS. On May 17th, also at the ICA, the Straight Acting Theatre Company (above) will present "a mixture of music, theatre and live art that interrogates the queer term 'straight acting' particularly in relation to English nationalism". Now THAT I would like to see.


The IPPR's brave new world

WineGlasses100.jpg Hats off to the Institute for Public Policy Research. New Labour's most influential think-tank knows how to attract publicity. Writing in the latest issue of Public Policy Research, the IPPR magazine, Observer columnist Jasper Gerrard says that Britain should consider raising the legal drinking age to 21. Failing that, he suggests making 18-year-olds carry smart cards "which record how much they have drunk each night and making it an offence to serve more alcohol to anyone under-21 who had already consumed more than three units". (Full report HERE.)

Can Gerrard be serious? Sadly, I think he is. Nor is he alone. His proposal is similar to one put forward by a doctor in Scotland who last year suggested that people should be limited to three units of alcohol when they go to the pub. The idea was dismissed as ludicrous and impractical but, thanks to Gerrard, the idea has resurfaced  but with one significant 'improvement' - the smart card. Of course the idea is still ridiculous - and worryingly authoritarian - but others will no doubt repeat it in the hope that it gets taken up by campaigners and politicians who are either on a mission to 'protect' us from ourselves or will do anything to justify their existence.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on the IPPR. Earlier this month Simon Retallack, the organisation's head of climate change, called for tobacco style health warnings to be displayed on holiday ads, warning people about the possible damage that flights and cars will do to the environment. What next? A ban on short-haul flights? Weekend breaks abroad? Or perhaps we'll be issued with a smart card that monitors how far we've travelled by car or plane and prevents us from going any further once we've reached our 'limit'.