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Forest petition - final total

Well, that went down to the wire. I can't tell you how busy we've been these past couple of weeks (or how many Christmas parties I've been to) but we finally submitted Forest's response to the EC Tobacco Products Directive consultation this afternoon, an hour or so before the deadline.

And the petition? Well, the online petition we launched ten days ago attracted a total of 1655 names (and addresses) of whom 1610 were EU citizens. Others came from America, mostly, but also Australia, Thailand, Japan, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland, but we had to exclude them because the consultation was targeted at EU citizens only. (Perhaps I didn't make that clear.)

Anyway, given that the petition didn't get much promotion beyond Forest's mailing lists, Iain Dale's Diary (which helped add 150-200 names earlier in the week), Taking Liberties and two or three other blogs (Dick Puddlecote, Pat Nurse and the ASI blog), I'm not unhappy with the result.

Interesting to note the location of respondents, by country. I've had a quick glance at the documentation and the numbers seem to break down as follows:

United Kingdom, 1300
Netherlands, 157
Spain, 31
Denmark, 31
Romania, 21
Ireland, 19
Belgium, 12
France, 11
Germany, 9
Poland, 6
Estonia, 5
Sweden, 3
Finland, 2
Portugal, 1
Greece, 1
Hungary, 1

Total: 1610

PS. The EC has previously tried, and failed, to exclude Forest from stakeholder meetings in Brussels on the grounds that we are not an EU-wide organisation. Now, perhaps, they will believe me when I say that we have supporters in a number of EU countries.

H/T to Wiel Maessen for the Dutch contingent.


Drugs and the battle for control

Spectator blogger Alex Massie has linked to my post about ASH's Cecilia Farren. He adds:

If only the tobacco industry were as fierce and effective as Ms Farren suggests! The sad truth is that the tobacco lobby has been led dreadfully. First by denying the obvious for so many years (tobacco can be bad for you) and then by falling into the trap of making it seem as though the pub-smoking battle was fought between smokers and abstainers not, as was the case, between individual businesses and an overbearing government. It was a question of property rights as much as anything else.

Full post HERE.

I have some sympathy with this view of the pub-smoking issue. Unfortunately passive smoking became the dominant issue and regardless of the truth tobacco control had the best and most succinct soundbite: 'Passive smoking kills'.

We tried to bring property rights into the debate but it was pushed to one side and the issue ultimately became one of health versus business. Publicans should of course have stood up for property rights but the pubcos and hospitality trade associations had very little to say on the subject. More fool them.

Anyway, in the light of former Labour minister Bob Ainsworth's call for the decriminalisation of drugs, you might be interested in another Massie post.

On Tuesday he wrote:

The Drug Warriors appreciate the importance of everyday, uncontroversial use of drugs. That's why anti-smoking zealots and harpies want to "denormalise" tobacco use. It's time, therefore, to include tobacco in the Drug War discussion. My guess is that in 10 to 15 years time there will be, if current trends persist, a serious discussion about tobacco prohibition. The battle for minds and lungs is already joined and The Outlaw, Michael Heath's great cartoon strip in this magazine, was prophecy as much as it was satire. Alas.

In the end, the mind-set is the same: it's a battle for control. In this respect and this instance, the present British government is no more liberal than its authoritarian predecessors. Sometimes it uses a big stick, other times it just wants to "nudge" you in the correct direction but always it favours coercion over freedom and your ability to make your own informed choices. That's true whether you're talking about alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, ecstasy or any other stimulant.



Forest petition - 36 hours left to sign

OK, there are just two days left to sign the Forest petition which opposes proposals to ban, for example, tobacco displays, vending machines and smokeless tobacco products throughout the European Union.

You have until midnight on Thursday and we will then submit the petition to the European Commission in Brussels on Friday, which is the closing date for the public consultation.

As I write there are 1,511 names on the petition so let's have a final push to see if we can get the number up to 1,600.


ASH spokeswoman accuses tobacco industry of "terror campaign"

As I reported earlier Dizzy had this story on his blog this morning. It got lost a bit in my earlier post so I am highlighting it again, having now listened to the interview with Cecilia Farren of ASH on the Today programme.

Responding to Wiel Maessen, organiser of the small bar owners' campaign that successfully challenged the smoking ban in the Netherlands, Farren told presenter James Naughtie:

"It's a very backward step. For me, on the side of keeping smokefree law is public opinion, public health, workers health, equality of access. There's just so many reasons and on the other side it's just long campaigning by the tobacco industry, frightening businesses. It's an absolute terror campaign and I think you've got to have backbone to stand up to them or actually back down in front of their campaign."

Three years ago Farren tried to "name and shame" me at a tobacco control conference in Edinburgh, a story I recorded HERE. She embarrassed fellow tobacco control campaigners that day and listening to her now I'm sure she's embarrassed a few more.


RIP Iain Dale's Diary

In the light of his post yesterday mentioning the Forest petition, I was disappointed to read that Iain Dale has given up blogging on a daily basis.

However my disappointment goes a little deeper than that because reading Iain Dale's Diary had become something of a ritual and, dare I say it, an addiction (alongside my all too frequent mugs of coffee).

Money aside (how does an independent blogger attract serious revenue from blogging?), Iain Dale's Diary was a phenomenal success, attracting thousands of readers and even generating spin off events at successive Conservative party conferences.

Indirectly the success of the blog led to its demise because it created the platform from which Iain launched his broadcasting career. (From reviewing the papers on the BBC News Channel and Sky News, he is now hosting a popular daily programme on LBC, which can't be bad.)

What I liked about Iain's blog was the combination of politics with more personal stuff. It's a format I have copied here - albeit less successfully!

Iain has also been a consistent champion of social and economic liberalism so his decision to retire the blog is a huge loss to the liberal community.

In fact, the longer I read Iain Dale's Diary the more I realised that we had very similar opinions on almost every major issue and it was a source of enormous frustration to find that Iain had already commented on a story, expressing exactly what I wanted to say, hours before I could whip out the keyboard.

I should add that I have known Iain for about ten years. In 2001 I approached him with a proposal to produce a magazine for Politicos, the Westminster-based bookshop he owned and ran in what seemed, from a distance, to be a rather dictatorial fashion.

I discovered though that his bark - or at least his glare - was very much worse than his bite. Together we produced several issues of The Politico at quarterly intervals (guest of honour at our launch party was, I think, the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP) but we scrapped the project in 2003 because we couldn't generate enough advertising to make a profit and it was too time-consuming to justify working for nothing. (Sound familiar?) Nevertheless it gave me an insight into Iain's remarkable contact book.

We never spoke about it but I assumed that Iain was a fierce anti-smoker because at that time Politicos combined the bookshop with a small coffee shop and sitting there I would often find myself staring absentmindedly at a sign above the main door that forbade anyone to even think about lighting up.

In fact, although he often claims to "hate" smoking, very few people in the public eye have defended smokers' liberties (as someone called it the other day) as often as Iain Dale, despite the usual vituperative criticism (see some of the early comments in yesterday's post about the Forest petition).

In recent years Iain has chaired a number of our events (never asking for or being a paid a fee), the most recent being a Voices of Freedom debate at the IEA in June.

In short - and he won't thank me for saying this - Forest and The Free Society will miss Iain Dale's Diary, and so should you. You can comment HERE.


Whatever happened to ...


Did Roy Castle smoke?

I'm not one of those people who is obsessed by whether Roy Castle did or not smoke. Nor do I wish to attack him (or his memory) because I wouldn't wish lung cancer on my worst enemy and I applaud his efforts, after he was diagnosed, to help raise £12m to build, equip and run an international centre for lung cancer research.

Nevertheless, since his death in 1994 this popular light entertainer has been held up as proof that non-smokers can contract lung cancer as a result of passive smoking, the implication being that he was a victim of working in smoky clubs.

I suspect that no-one knows the truth, but in cases such as this we should certainly consider other factors.

This morning, on the Five Live phone-in, the chief executive of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Dr Rosemary Gillespie, was asked a direct question: did Roy Castle smoke cigars? Her reply:

"I am not prepared to discuss whether Roy Castle smoked."

Given the importance of Roy Castle to the passive smoking debate, I think we should be told, don't you?

Above: Deathbed, the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation poster


BBC Radio and the smoking ban

BBC Radio seems to be going big on the partial lifting of the smoking ban in the Netherlands. This morning both Five Live Breakfast and the Today programme on Radio 4 featured interviews with Wiel Maessen who led the revolt by Dutch bar owners.

Also featured was Cecilia Farren of GASP, a fascinating company described HERE as a "highly successful mail order company stocking everything and anything connected with stopping - or not starting - smoking". Good to know that Cecilia is doing so well from the anti-smoking industry!

While I was tuned to Five Live Dizzy was listening to the Today programme and he reports hearing the extraordinary claim that hose who campaign for the freedom to smoke and the amendment of blanket bans are engaged in a "terror campaign". He adds:

I'm not sure when Simon Clark and Forest were put on the proscribed terrorist list, but I'm sure they'll be very proud to know that their campaigns are being equated with the IRA and crazy Islamists on national radio.

Full post HERE. More to follow.

Update ... Five Live Breakfast has just featured an interview with landlord Nick Hogan who, as readers of this blog know, was jailed in March for failing to pay fines accrued for allowing people to smoke on his premises in Bolton and then released following an Internet campaign that raised £9,000 in less than a week.

09:00 ... The smoking ban is now the subject of the Five Live phone in. Brian Binley MP, a leading supporter of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, will feature.

Above: demonstrators gather in The Hague in 2008.


Tobacco control: Forest video urges public to fight EC proposals

Here it is ... the campaign video to promote Forest's online petition to oppose further EU-wide tobacco controls. It features Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Dr Eamonn Butler (Adam Smith Institute), Niki Haywood (National Federation of Retail Newsagents) and David Bowden (Institute of Ideas).

The main video is 2:45 minutes long. It's followed by one or two outtakes that demonstrate that, well, no-one's perfect.

If you haven't signed the online petition please do so now. By midnight last night 1,118 people had signed it.

PS. If you have a blog or website feel free to post the video. The embedded code is on YouTube.


Judi Dench calls for ban on smoking in cars with children

Expect an announcement from government soon. Meanwhile the Independent on Sunday reports that Dame Judi Dench, vice president of the British Lung Foundation, has joined calls for a ban on smoking in cars, citing the dangers to the health of children.

“Children are still being exposed to passive smoke, which is extremely harmful to developing lungs,” the actress said. “I am happy to offer my support … I encourage anyone who wants the Government to make children’s lung health a priority to sign up to the petition.”

The IoS rang me for a quote yesterday so, anxious not to get into a war of words with a national treasure and someone I greatly admire, I said:

"It's reasonable to encourage people not to light up in a small confined space if children are present, but banning smoking in cars is unnecessarily heavy-handed.

"If you ban smoking in cars with children it's a small step to far more illiberal measures like banning smoking in all private vehicles or, worse, banning smoking in the home. Enough is enough."

I added: "The vast majority of parents who smoke already choose not to smoke in cars with children so why legislate? Education is always better than coercion". But they didn't use that.

I know some of you disagree with me, but I do think it is considerate, if nothing else, to err on the side of courtesy (as my friend Rose Whiteley puts it) when smoking in cars, especially where children are concerned.

I remain however strongly opposed to the prohibition of smoking in cars (with or without children) and all that it entails (enforcement, fines, penalty points etc etc).

PS. In her defence there's a very good reason why Judi Dench supports the British Lung Foundation. Her husband, actor Michael Williams, died in 2001 "after struggling against lung cancer for more than a year" (Independent) so no abusive comments, please.

A respected stage actor, Williams is best remembered for starring with Dench in the ITV sitcom A Fine Romance. I also remember him starring alongside Holly Aird in an enjoyable BBC sitcom Double First that lasted for only one series (in 1988) and has never, to my knowledge, been repeated. I have often wondered why.


The future of smoking in pubs

While (some) students were running amok in Parliament Square on Thursday and MPs were debating the issue of tuition fees in the House of Commons, another debate was taking place simultaneously in Westminster Hall.

The subject was the future of pubs and the sponsor was Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group. However, with the tuition fees debate pulling MPs (especially Liberal Democrats!) in different directions, the two-and-a-half hour debate in Westminster Hall was introduced not by Mulholland but by Karen Bradley, Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands.

Now, I won't pretend that the smoking ban dominated proceedings - far from it - but a number of MPs did make reference to it and despite a briefing note to MPs from ASH (above), the usual anti-smoking/pro-ban propaganda was largely absent. (Interestingly, the strongest supporter of the smoking ban appeared to be Labour MP Jack Dromey, husband of Harriet Harman.)

Anyway, here are those smoking ban references in full. Draw your own conclusions:

Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that members of the previous Government bear a large share of the blame for the predicament that many pubs now find themselves in, first because of the overly bureaucratic Licensing Act 2003, which means that many pubs are now unable to provide live entertainment, and secondly because of the implementation of the heavy-handed smoking ban?

Karen Bradley: I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's comments. Although I do not believe that we want to make this a terribly party political debate, I think that he has made some very valid points ...

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Does [my hon. Friend] accept that the smoking ban was one major reason why so many wet trade pubs, which focus predominantly on selling beer, closed? Many local pub customers left because the smoking ban was introduced. Although not many people in the industry are calling for the ban to be overturned-I do not think that that is what people want-does she recognise that those pubs have been hit particularly hard?

Karen Bradley: I do not dispute that some pubs have closed as a direct result of the smoking ban, but I do not think that the industry wants the ban to be rescinded. The pubs that have closed as a result of the smoking ban would not reopen if it were rescinded. The wet pubs that are successful have adapted to the smoking ban and compensated for it ...

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I declare straight away that although I am not a pub landlord, I am a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, and so often associate the words 'beer' and 'pub' ... The difficulties pubs face can also be the result of a lack of support and a lack of customers, perhaps because of changes in lifestyle. I think that another Member plans to talk about changes in permitted practice, particularly the ban on smoking indoors, which some have indicated has led to a drop-off in the number of people attending pubs. Anecdotally, I recognise that to be true. As most landlords will confirm, the smoking ban has led to a lack of drinking because people are outside smoking, so there is an element of transactions falling as well ...

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): As has been discussed often and at length, the smoking ban probably affects all pubs throughout the land. Overall, the smoking ban has been positive. It has improved the environment of pubs no end, especially for those that rely on serving food as a key part of their business, and it makes for a much more pleasant experience for most people who are non-smokers. It has also made pubs more family friendly. But there needs to be a re-think on having a dedicated smoking area inside buildings, with extractor fans, where no children would be allowed and no food would be served. I realise that this would not be possible in every case, but it would allow many pubs to utilise extra space or even have a smoking bar and non-smoking bar or room/lounge-whatever-and end the practice of smokers being thrown outside in all weathers at any time of day or night, with the problems that can be caused with disturbance to local residents who live close by. That would generate a significant increase in business for pubs that are currently struggling and it could make the difference between a pub staying open or closing ...

Andrew Griffiths: There is no doubt that the smoking ban had a dramatic impact on many pubs throughout the country. Many pubs that were reliant on the wet trade were unable to find alternative income when drinkers who had used their pubs for many years decided that if they could not enjoy a cigarette with their pint they would stay at home with a can of lager and sit in front of the television to smoke. That is regrettable, but we all recognise that the time to overturn the smoking ban has passed.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is right to say that there is no chance of overturning the smoking ban, but I like to think that there may be a chance of introducing legislation to allow smoking somewhere inside pubs. Overturning the smoking ban is not realistic, but it is a realistic ambition for people to have the opportunity to smoke in pubs somewhere where other people do not have to go.

Andrew Griffiths: I understand my hon. Friend's concern, and many people support his suggestion. The danger is that if we lose sight of the real problems facing pubs and focus on reintroducing smoking in them, we may lose our focus on the more pressing problems that lead to pubs closing.

Greg Mulholland: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I apologise, Mr Benton, that I did not explain earlier that at the request of the Speaker I must return to the main Chamber after his speech. The Save The Pub group does not have a position on the smoking ban, but we called for a review of its impact on pubs and clubs. That was promised by the previous Government, and it is disappointing that the response by the Department of Health to the save the pub group was that it would not go ahead with that review. We believe that it should take place ...

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales when the smoking ban was passed. My libertarian instincts are such that I was one of only six Members who opposed the legislation. Although I do not want to criticise another parliamentary body, I must say that when we initiated a debate about wanting to retain a smoking room, or a place in which people could smoke without affecting anyone else, there was a comprehensive antipathy towards the whole idea. Although I felt that we were arguing on a rational basis-I thought that the case that we were making was bombproof-it was almost as if there was no willingness at all to compromise or to look at common sense, and it is that attitude that we need to change ...

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Why are pubs closing so quickly? I submit that it is because our way of life is changing, as are social trends. Some 30 pubs close every week, which is 1,500 a year. In the average constituency, a dozen pubs will close before the next election if it is in five years' time. The problem is that we have had not too little red tape and regulation on our pub sector but too much. Very often that results in unintended consequences. Members will know that I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on 13 October to give landlords the freedom to decide whether or not to have a separate room in which people could smoke provided that no food was being served and proper ventilation was in place. The Bill was defeated, but it is time for the Government to review the operation of the smoking ban.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): There was one point made in the debate that I think should be disregarded. It was absolutely wrong to resurrect the issue of the smoking ban. I say that for numerous reasons, but in particular because, having represented the union members concerned, I knew people who contracted cancer and died as a result of working in licensed premises. I think that that debate should rightly remain closed as we move on ...

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Robert Neill: I am with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington on the smoking ban. I know that some hon. Members have misgivings about it, but the fact is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands rightly said, that this is not a debate that will focus on the most important priorities for public health. I respect the views of those concerned, but I think that there are other ways to make progress more swiftly and constructively.

So, there you have it. As I say, these comments must be put in perspective. There were issues (the beer tie, supermarket pricing etc) that got far more attention, but the impact of the smoking ban is still an issue otherwise it wouldn't have been mentioned at all.

PS. Prior to the debate Forest sent briefing notes to MPs highlighting the impact of the smoking bans on pubs throughout the United Kingdom. Supporters of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign who attended the debate included Greg Knight, David Nuttall and Simon Kirby. Unless I'm mistaken, supporters of ASH were noticeable by their absence. They were certainly very quiet.


Threatened with violence ... for smoking

Apologies for the lack of blogging this week. Very busy, one way or another. Hope to catch up over the weekend if I'm not Christmas shopping. Feel free to talk among yourselves or you may like to comment on this email which I received this week in response to the Forest petition:

Thank you for all your good work. I have just signed the petition.

I follow your work closely and I wish I could I could do more. At times I feel like resigning from my position as a school principal and focussing on protecting the rights of smokers.

Last weekend, when standing in an open car park, here in Poland, someone came speeding towards me in their car with its horn screaming at me. I had to jump aside, to avoid being hit! It wasn't until the driver got out and threatened me with physical violence that I realised what his problem was .... I was smoking in a public place.

Since then I realised that I was in fact a victim of a hate-crime because I am a smoker. And what's worse is that because there is a smoking ban now here in Poland, he (incorrectly) believed that he had the law on his side.

The harm of the smoking bans is greater than the infringement of our rights. It creates division and hatred in our society.

I can't reveal the name of my correspondent because, as he/she writes:

As the anti-smokers can be very powerful and influential ... my freedom of speech is limited.

Now what does that say about the "liberal" society in which we live?


Forest launches petition against EC proposals on tobacco

The EC’s Tobacco Product Directive dates from 2001. Officials in Brussels believe there may be a need to revise it and a few months ago they launched a "public consultation" ... which is fine except that very few people know about it.

Respondents to this exercise in democracy are invited to select from a range of options that are featured in the consultation document, one of thousands of EC documents that the general public never read.

It includes options to:

  • introduce plain packaging
  • enlarge the size of graphic health warnings
  • ban vending machines
  • prohibit the display of tobacco products, and, oh,
  • ban ALL smokeless tobacco products

Forest opposes all those options because we are passionate about "unnecessarily restrictive regulations that will threaten jobs and small businesses, inconvenience millions of law-abiding consumers, and are designed to denormalise a legal product".

In recent weeks British retailers have been making their views known courtesy of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, the Scottish Grocers Federation and the Scottish Wholesale Association. Now it's the turn of the consumer.

Today Forest is launching an online response form to oppose the options listed above. It takes less than a minute to fill in your name and address and Forest will do the rest.

If you prefer you can download a petition. Sign it and fax it to 01223 370040 or post it to Forest, Sheraton House, Castle Park, Cambridge CB3 0AX, and we will send it to the EC on your behalf.

Closing date for the EC consultation is Friday 17 December 2010. If however you are sending your response via Forest we must receive it no later than Wednesday 15 December 2010.

Whatever your view of the EC, the EU or the European Parliament, it is important that the consumer engages in this consultation. Failure to do so will undoubtedly weaken our position.

Tell family, friends and work colleagues about the consultation and invite them to respond too.

We don't make a habit of asking for your help because we are conscious of 'campaign fatigue'. This however is one of those occasions when we need your direct input. There is very little time left so please act on this today.


Lights, camera, action ...

I'm in London today filming a Forest campaign video. I hope it's not too cold because we're going to be filming in Smith Square, College Green (opposite the Houses of Parliament), Farringdon Road and the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras. Watch this space.


Why the winner of I'm A Celebrity made me proud to be British

How reassuring to see Stacey Solomon crowned 'queen of jungle' on I'm A Celebrity last night.

You can carp long and hard about the vacuous nature of the programme but it's only light entertainment (think Generation Game with bugs) and year after year the majority of the voting public gets it right with their choice of winner.

This year the public got it spot on again, right down to the last four of Dom Joly, Jenny Eclair, Sean Ryder (a very worthy runner-up) and Solomon herself.

"Dippy" Stacey was a revelation from start to finish. Good-natured, humorous and actually quite smart, she never had a bad word to say about anyone. She radiated warmth and her feel good personality was a tonic for everyone, including viewers at home - an extraordinary achievement.

On a parochial note, it was good to see Ryder, the only smoker in the group, reach the final. OK, that's not the reason people voted for him, but his habit wasn't held against him.

In fact - and this is something I've often noticed about "reality" TV programmes - smoking is rarely an issue among contestants or the voting public. (Politicians and anti-tobacco campaigners, take note.)

In I'm A Celebrity 2010 the only person to have a pop at Sean Ryder for smoking was the truly awful Gillian McKeith. Again, the public did exactly the right thing. They voted for the "World Renowned Holistic Nutritionist" while she entertained us with a combination of hysterics and alleged fainting fits, and then dispatched her to Z-list oblivion as soon as she had outlived her usefulness.

Thankfully, the woman who dominated the headlines in weeks one and two did not even come close to winning. Instead the finalists were two incredibly honest, likeable, down-to-earth characters and the public rewarded them with their vote.

Seriously, it made me proud to be British.