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Victoria Coren: attitude towards smoking has become hysterical

"Smoking while pregnant turns your baby into a criminal. That preposterous idea was actually published, last week, by a large number of British news organisations," writes Victoria Coren in the Observer today.

Why is this study being reported as proof that cigarettes breed criminals? Because the attitude towards smoking has become hysterical, ridiculous and as sour-tasting as an old butt in a damp ashtray. The British press could report that smoking causes rape or genocide and people would just nod and say: "Stands to reason."

Click HERE. You may like to comment.


Jools Holland loves pubs, hates people who tell us what (not) to do

Jools Holland was featured last week in Seven, the Sunday Telegraph's arts and culture supplement, in a column that invites well known people to list their "loves and hates". Two things that the musician and TV presenter professed to hating were the demise of the pub and people who interfere:

"I used to love going to a smoky pub with a piano and a landlady ... The whole world and his wife would be there. That's all gone now and landlords have been replaced with managers.

"I don't like it when people poke their noses into other people's business and say 'don't smoke' or 'don't eat too much'. Why don't they just go and have whatever they want to have, whenever they want to have it, and leave the rest of us to a cigarette and a pie?"


Selfish smokers

Further to my piece about the Irish Examiner's refusal to publish any letters, comments etc from Forest Eireann, my attention has been drawn to an article (no longer available) by Irish journalist Adam Maguire. The headline says it all, though. Tough gig, Ireland.


Bad day for an honest politician


Like the majority of people, I have a job. I haven't had a pay rise for two or three years but during that period (thanks to low interest rates) my mortgage payments have dropped from £800 to £150 - a month. Therefore, I am better off.

OK, he could have qualified his statement to take into account those people unfortunate enough to lose their jobs in the past couple of years, or those not yet on the property ladder and forced to rent, but what Conservative peer Lord Young had to say on the subject was essentially correct.

Today, however, he is being pilloried as a Tory toff and he has been forced by 10 Downing Street to apologise for his "insensitive and inaccurate" remarks.

Insensitive, perhaps (if you don't like the truth), but inaccurate? The Daily Mash, as ever, has the appropriate response HERE.


Banned! Sadly, it's not only the Irish economy that's in trouble

Since the launch of Forest Eireann in August we have been slowly developing a media profile in Ireland. Spokesman John Mallon has been interviewed by nine Irish radio stations, some more than once, and he has been quoted in several local newspapers.

Today however we can reveal that the Irish Examiner, based in Cork (ironically John's home city), is refusing to publish any tobacco-related comments by Forest on its letters page and, by implication, any other section of the paper.

Confirmation that letters from Forest Eireann have been banned by the paper followed two telephone conversations between John and the letters editor. After the second conversation on Monday, John wrote to the letters editor expressing his disappointment at this interesting turn of events. In return he received the following response:

John, the editor says there is no way he going to allow his paper to be used in any way as a vehicle for a lobby - funded or not - that condones or promotes the consumption of a hazardous subject - legal or not. As a lifelong smoker I agree with him.

As I said yesterday, our columns are open to your views on any other issue provided it is from your home or (if relevant) work address ... just like every other contributor to the letters column. Regs. letters editor, Irish Examiner

John has the full story on the Forest Eireann blog HERE. He concludes, more in sorrow than in than anger:

It's saddening and maddening in equal measure. I began reading the Examiner all of 43 years ago and, coincidentally, I started smoking around that same time.

Now, because of my association with a legitimate lobby group that is long overdue in Ireland, they intend to censor my opinions. They also intend to deny Forest Eireann a platform for views that are shared by hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens including, I suspect, many of their own readers.

It's a setback for Forest Eireann, but it's a much bigger blow for free speech and for the reputation of the Irish Examiner.

Today Ireland stands on the edge of a financial precipice. Sadly, with this absurd attack on free speech, it's not only the Irish economy that's in trouble ...


Passive smoking and the price of propaganda

A couple of weeks ago I received an email that I wanted to publish verbatim but my correspondent was worried that it might "rip my family apart if they read it". I have edited it slightly to remove one or two tell-tale details but it is fundamentally the same. Sadly, I suspect that June (not her real name) is not alone and the scenario she describes will be familiar to others of a similar age. Anyway, this is her story:

I'm a 57-year old-woman who is not knowingly suffering from any ‘smoking related’ illnesses. I have smoked cigarettes since my teens and have raised a son and a daughter. They are both healthy. Neither of them became smokers. My husband (also a non-smoker) has no illnesses related to ‘passive smoking’. He is in fact extraordinarily athletic.

I was a ‘stay at home mum’. Luckily my husband could support us and I could devote my time to him, raising the children and being a near perfect housewife. When my youngest went to university I wanted to get back into the workplace but found that nobody wanted to employ a fiftysomething woman so I had unwittingly given up my career to raise my children.

I thought I had raised my children to be tolerant. One of the first lessons I taught them was ‘Everybody’s different and we all like different things’. Can you imagine my distress when my daughter first insisted that I smoke outside her flat? But I accepted it. I never smoke in her flat, nor in any property belonging to a non-smoker as I understand that they may find it distasteful and they have the absolute right in their own property to insist on fresh air. I’m OK with that.

This year, for the first time in years, my daughter, her husband (an ex-smoker) and their young son will be joining us for Christmas. I’d stopped inviting her (as refusals do hurt a bit) but this year she asked to come.

I’d decided not to smoke in the same room as my grandchild. Three days ago my daughter rang me. She wanted a frank discussion about my smoking. Would I be smoking outdoors? She didn’t want her son in a house where someone had been smoking. I told her that in my own house, on Christmas Day, when I had cooked for eight, I wouldn’t be standing outside in the middle of winter to smoke.

I agreed reluctantly to smoke in an upstairs room, with the door shut. I actually don’t know how I’m going to pull this off (with my sense of outrage running high) and still be a welcoming hostess to our guests.

So this is what years of propaganda about the perceived threat of passive smoking has done to ordinary families. Look, I can understand why some people may have concerns about long-term exposure over many years to a heavy smoker in a confined space (though how many people genuinely experience that is open to doubt), but short-term exposure is a different matter entirely (unless you are a serious asthmatic) - and I certainly don't buy the argument about the dangers of "thirdhand [sic] smoke".

I do believe that people should err on the side of caution (or courtesy, as my friend Rose puts it) where small children are concerned, but I am not going to condemn anyone for smoking in their own home and as a parent myself it would not stop me visiting anyone, let alone a close relative, with my own children.

As it happens, my mother-in-law gave up her 40-a-day habit before my children were born but if she hadn't quit I certainly wouldn't have boycotted her house. Nor would I have dreamt of having a "frank discussion" with her about her habit. And as for insisting that she could only smoke in one room, upstairs, with the door shut, what a blooming cheek!

But what really appalls me is that June is fearful that if she shares her experience with you, dear reader, and her children see it, it could "rip my family apart". What type of society is that?

June wants us to do everything we can to combat the propaganda on passive smoking. We're doing our best but my fear is that the horse has already bolted and it will be easier to counteract the denormalisation of tobacco than reverse the often irrational fear of secondhand smoke.

As far as families go, what is needed is a sense of proportion from parents of young children and some common sense (and courtesy) from everyone else, including smokers. Is that too much to ask?

PS. I will ask June to report back after Christmas ...


Thumbs up for fake science!!

The same press release issued by BMJ Journals (see previous post) also points us to an article in the latest edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics:

US scientists significantly more likely to publish fake research

US scientists are significantly more likely to publish fake research than scientists from elsewhere, finds a trawl of officially withdrawn (retracted) studies, published online in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Fraudsters are also more likely to be “repeat offenders,” the study shows.

The study author searched the PubMed database for every scientific research paper that had been withdrawn—and therefore officially expunged from the public record—between 2000 and 2010.

A total of 788 papers had been retracted during this period. Around three quarters of these papers had been withdrawn because of a serious error (545); the rest of the retractions were attributed to fraud (data fabrication or falsification).

The highest number of retracted papers were written by US first authors (260), accounting for a third of the total. One in three of these was attributed to fraud.

The UK, India, Japan, and China each had more than 40 papers withdrawn during the decade. Asian nations, including South Korea, accounted for 30% of retractions. Of these, one in four was attributed to fraud.

The fakes were more likely to appear in leading publications with a high “impact factor”. This is a measure of how often research is cited in other peer reviewed journals.

More than half (53%) of the faked research papers had been written by a first author who was a “repeat offender.” This was the case in only one in five (18%) of the erroneous papers.

The average number of authors on all retracted papers was three, but some had 10 or more. Faked research papers were significantly more likely to have multiple authors.

Each first author who was a repeat fraudster had an average of six co-authors, each of whom had had another three retractions.

“The duplicity of some authors is cause for concern,” comments the author. Retraction is the strongest sanction that can be applied to published research, but currently, “[it] is a very blunt instrument used for offences both gravely serious and trivial.”

Fake charities, now fake research. You couldn't make it up.


Smoking, pregnant women and their criminal offspring

I've been sitting on a new study (published today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health) and I can reveal (cue drum roll) that "Mums who smoke heavily while pregnant run the risk of having kids who grow up to become repeat criminal offenders, research suggests".

I'm not making this up. According to the press release:

The findings showed that children whose mothers had smoked heavily during the pregnancy were the most likely to have a criminal record as an adult.

They had a 30% increased chance of having been arrested, and this applied to women just as much as it did to men.

The findings held true, even after taking account of a comprehensive range of family and social factors, such as mental ill health and deprivation, which are likely to influence behaviours, the research showed.

“While we cannot definitively conclude that maternal smoking during pregnancy (particularly heavy smoking) is a causal risk factor for adult criminal offending, the current findings do support a modest causal relationship,” conclude the authors.

I'm speechless, so I'll quote my source: "It must be true: it's peer reviewed."

See: Study claims heavy smoking during pregnancy can lead to a life of criminality (Liverpool Daily Post). Click HERE to view the paper in full.


England's World Cup bid distances itself from free press

The Press Association reports that England 2018 bid leaders have sent a letter to all Fifa executive committee members to try to repair the damage caused by two media investigations into World Cup bidding. The letter states: "We hope England's bid will not be judged negatively due to the activities of individual media organisations, regardless of one's view of their conduct. We hope you appreciate that we have no control over the British media."

The investigations into alleged corruption within football's world governing body Fifa have been carried out by the BBC current affairs programme Panorama and the Sunday Times. How pathetic to see British administrators grovelling at the feet of all those [insert your own words as long as they're not libellous] who "run" world football.

If that's what it takes to win the World Cup bid, you can stick it.

PS. I felt the same about our Olympic bid but at least Lord Coe & Co didn't sink this low. I feel physically sick.


Forget the law, ASH is a fake charity and here's why

A couple of weeks ago, following the publication of a Forest report about the use of public money to fund anti-smoking quangos and charities such ASH (and a subsequent piece by Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times), there was a mildly heated discussion about the issue HERE.

True to his word, one of the protagonists, Blad Tolstoy, has written a document that tackles "some common misconceptions about charities" including ASH, and an interesting document it is too. Click HERE.

That said, I really don't agree with Blad's criticism of the label "fake charity". I accept the argument that it won't "stand up to legal scrutiny" but it's a useful tool nevertheless because it differentiates between those charities that genuinely try to help people and those that seek to denormalise them, as ASH does.

Last week I was quoted in a retail trade magazine. "Tobacco control groups are no longer interested in educating people about the health risks of smoking," I said. "Their strategy is to denormalise and stigmatise adults who consume a legal product."

Today the tobacco control lobby is more interested in coercing people to quit smoking, with groups such as ASH using every "confidence trick" in the book to achieve their goal of a "smokefree" (sic) world.

Illiberal smoking bans, display bans, claims that smokers are harming (and even killing) those around them - this has nothing to do with health and everything to do with denormalising not only a legal product but the consumers of that product.

Thanks to charities like ASH, many people's social lives have been ruined, businesses have closed and jobs have been lost. I fail to see what's "charitable" about that and for that reason alone I am happy to call ASH a fake charity.

But there's another reason (and it has nothing to do with the millions of pounds of public money that ASH has received, which neatly avoids the need to do any traditional fundraising).

For years the tobacco control industry has been winning the war of words with unscientific yet emotive terms such as "passive smoking", "secondhand smoke" and so on. Language, as anyone knows, plays an important role in what I call PR and others call the battle for hearts and minds. If that means using some emotive terms of our own, then so be it.

Ultimately, though, the war on tobacco is a battle of ideas that won't be won or lost by debating or challenging ASH's charitable status. It's a side issue and a fairly unimportant one. I won't be losing any sleep over it and I suggest that you don't either.


Why ASH should be at the fag end of government grants

Writing in the Scotsman today, former MSP Brian Monteith (left) has launched a fierce attack on ASH Scotland, accusing the "taxpayer-funded pressure group" of issuing a "highly tendentious report claiming that Scottish smokers cost the nation a horrific £129 million more than they paid in taxes".

Echoing Forest, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and the TaxPayers' Alliance (see HERE), Monteith goes on to argue that government should stop giving public money to campaigning bodies such as ASH, especially when the money could be better spent on teachers, police officers and care workers.

According to ASH Scotland, writes Monteith:

Scotland contributes £940 million in tobacco duties but “pays” £1,069 million due to the health, social and economic costs of smokers.

Conveniently the income column included only duties on tobacco products but excluded VAT, giving the ridiculous justification that if people stopped smoking they would pay VAT on something else therefore VAT should be omitted. There are quite a lot of things that it’s possible to spend one’s money on that does not include VAT that smokers might choose, such as gambling or going to the bingo – or travelling by air or rail or binging on most foods.

Nor does ASH give the true amount of tobacco duty raised in Scotland but reduces the number by arguing it should be limited to what comes back via the Barnett formula – conveniently ignoring the remaining government spending in Scotland such as the Ministry of Defence or Scotland’s welfare budget.

The true fact is that the total take in tobacco duties and VAT in the UK last year was £10.5 billion, which if Scotland provided just ten per cent would be £1,050 million – but as we all know thanks to organisations like ASH Scotland our smoking rates are higher than England’s and so our contribution will be greater than our population share and considerably greater than the amount that ASH says smoking costs.

The expenditure column is even less reliable because instead of being able to cite hard figures from the exchequer what we are given is a number of rounded totals based on research papers. In other words it is self-serving guesswork. 

Again certain items have been helpfully left off the balance sheet such as the rather gory but true savings from smokers who we are told die younger not collecting their pensions after paying their taxes and National Insurance for most of their lives. Also missing is the significant saving on elderly care that the taxpayer funds but is not taken up. This latter sum would of course be even higher in Scotland because of the ballooning cost of free personal care.

These two items alone would further tip the balance towards tobacco being a net contributor towards the Exchequer. I’d give you the figures but I don’t have a research grant.

How, you may ask, does ASH Scotland afford to publish such reports? By shaking tins on Sauchiehall Street? No, it gets by on taxpayer-funded government income that almost trebled from £353,120 in 2005-06 to £921,837 in 2008-09. In December 2009, it received a £500,000 grant from the Big Lottery taking its total income in 2009-10 to £1,053,909.

Noting that "ASH Scotland is entirely separate from ASH UK, which is run from London with a staff of eight", Monteith asks:

How many might you think [ASH Scotland] employs? Three, five, twelve maybe? Actually, a rather corpulent 28 positions according to its own structure chart, including a chief executive, three directors and four managers. Its policy and campaigns unit has nine staff alone.

As if to make this government funding of organisations that seek to tell government what to do, then run government programmes off the back of legislation they pushed for, and then bid for projects to start the same process all over again – is not jaw-droppingly brazen enough – it was revealed yesterday that lungs from 20-a-day smokers are being used in transplants.

That’s right, the government can spend millions on bodies such as ASH and others, passing laws that persecute smokers, spend millions more on advertising telling smokers they are disgusting social pariahs, criminalising them if they don’t go outside in the cold and wet to smoke – but then, when they die the NHS will say to the relatives, “Excuse me, can we harvest the lungs?” No doubt they will take a moderate drinker’s liver too.

Full article HERE.

Expect ASH Scotland's Sheila Duffy to be sharpening her wand pencil as we speak ...

Brian Monteith is author of The Bully State: The End of Tolerance (The Free Society, 2009)


Archive: interview with Forest's first director, Stephen Eyres

Amazing what you find in the course of a clear-out. A long-lost issue of Campus, the student magazine I edited from 1978-80 and again from 1983-84, has turned up. To my surprise it includes an interview I did with Stephen Eyres, one of my predecessors and the first director of Forest, in 1984. I thought you might like to read it:


"I really wish we didn't exist."

In a small South London office surrounded by news cuttings, posters, pamphlets and empty coffee mugs, sits a tall, distinguished yet cheerful-looking gentleman. As he speaks he leans back in his chair and proudly fondles the thick dark growth on his upper lip, a recent and much loved innovation unashamedly described as "a sign of middle age".

The room exudes an air of calm before the storm (Channel 4 is due to interview him that afternoon), with the silence broken only by the rat-a-tat-tat of a single typewriter and the muffled roar of traffic outside.

Stephen Eyres, archetypal chinless Tory, is the charismatic director of Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), a libertarian pressure group best known for its successful campaign to make British Rail re-think a smoking ban in buffet cars.

Ironically Eyres is a non-smoker. "I occasionally have a cigar at the end of a banquet," he says, "because I like the aroma. But I have frequently said that I am a happy passive smoker of other people's cigars!"

Forest was founded in 1979, apparently on the whim of Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, an ex-Battle of Britain pilot who took grave exeption when told, by a lady at Reading railway station, what he could do with his pipe. Two years later he was joined by Eyres who quit The Freedom Association to help the cause.

Consequently Forest has emerged as an active, non-partisan pressure group with support from both sides of the political spectrum. One of Forest's biggest supporters, he says, is Labour MP Roy Mason whose avowed intention is to "defend the interests of the working man".

Those who want to ban smoking are described by Eyres as "busybodies". He is particularly alarmed at any attempt by the state to dictate to people what they can and cannot do. "Seventeen million adults in the UK choose to smoke. That's their business, not the state's. What will they outlaw next? Obesity?"

Forest is currently funded by the tobacco industry and private subscribers. Eyres is contemptuous of anti-smoking lobbies, especially those such as ASH and the Health Education Council which are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, the latter by over £2m last year.

Lest some people get the wrong idea, he adds, somewhat defensively, "We are not encouraging people to smoke. It's a question of politics and philosophy, not medicine. I don't debate about cancer or heart disease but about the role of the state and the rights of authority."

But what about the rights of non-smokers? "Of course, smoking in confined spaces can be unpleasant and annoying to non-smokers so smokers must exercise due courtesy to the wishes of the non-smoker. But courtesy is not a matter for government legislation."

Ultimately, says Eyres, the question of smoking is one of property rights - that is, what happens on private property is the business of the owner alone. All one needs, he argues, are sensible and representative restrictions such as those on buses where smokers sit on the top deck.

"Total bans," he says, "are completely unworkable anyway. Grampian Regional Council tried to ban all smoking on buses but it is patently not working."

Public support, he claims, is firmly on Forest's side. Even though only 40 per cent of the population now smoke, independent opinion polls conducted in various parts of the country last year suggest that two-thirds of all adults, including non-smokers, want to keep their freedom to choose. Only a quarter want smoking banned in public.

The dramatic decrease in the number of smokers is due, he believes, to the sharp increase in the price of cigarettes over the last decade, plus a new phenomenon which he calls "health nagging".

Whatever the politics of Forest, and Eyres is adamant that it is non-party political, those of the director himself are unequivocally Thatcherite. Having graduated from St Andrews University in 1970, a period he recalls with horror as the "dark years of Heath", he first worked for the Selsdon Group ("fighting to keep the free-market philosophy alive") and later as a tutor at Swinton Conservative College until its closure in 1975 when party funds ran dry.

Not long afterwards he joined Norris McWhirter's right-wing Freedom Association, eventually becoming editor of the Freedom Association newspaper Free Nation.

"One of our finest moments," he recalls, "coincided with the TUC Day of Action in 1980." With Fleet Street newspapers grounded, The Freedom Association printed and sold a quarter of a million copies of Free Nation via a network of newsagents.

This special issue was a great success. It even included the obligatory topless model. Needless to say it was one of the most popular, and controversial, items prompting the inevitable reaction from frustrated feminists. To one Eyres is said to have replied, "Madam, if she was being fucked by a donkey you would have a case."

With his proven commitment to the free market, Eyres has also stood for Parliament on three occasions, albeit unsuccessfully. He reserves his fondest memories for his 1974 campaign in Central Fife where he fought the sitting Labour MP, Willie Hamilton, on a platform of de-nationalising the mines.

The issue aroused great interest and debates between Eyres and the Communist candidate attracted audiences of up to a thousand bemused miners.

Further defeats in 1979 and 1983 have forced Eyres to concede that a parliamentary career may have passed him by. "No-one else will have me," he wails. Not that he intends being idle. "So long as professional busybodies are trying to control our lives there has to be a response," he says firmly.

"I'd also like to campaign against restrictive licensing laws," he adds. "The other side are such awful puritans. If they had their way we'd all be drinking herbal tea and eating All-Bran with compulsory aerobics in between."

With people like Stephen Eyres around, that time should be some way off yet.

Postscript: this interview was published in 1984. Stephen Eyres died in 1990 of a non-smoking related disease. He was 42.


The BBC, Maggie and me

Well, the skip is now full (see previous post) but the garage is no less cluttered than it was before.

The problem is, there are some things I'm not allowed to throw out (toys, bicycles, a cot and a family-sized tent that will never ever be used again) and loads of stuff that I don't want to throw out (books, an antique pine wardrobe, my old vinyl records ...).

I've got copies of The Spectator going back to 1975 and this morning, under a black plastic groundsheet, I found a stack of newspapers with headlines such as 'Maggie comes out swinging' (Daily Mail, May 14, 1983), 'Thatcher resigns' (London Evening Standard, November 22, 1990), and - the day after she stood down - 'Too damn good for the lot of them' (Daily Mail, November 23, 1990).

In a box at the back of the garage I also found a copy of the Independent on Sunday dated March 4, 1990, two months after the paper was launched. The front page features the following headlines: 'Thatcher fails to calm Tory nerves', 'Commons to investigate secret payments to MPs' and 'BBC's right-wing critic failed to secure trainee's job'.

The man who started the latest BBC controversy by accusing the Today programme of bias was turned down by the corporation when he applied for a job as a trainee journalist.

Simon Clark, director of the Media Monitoring Unit ... has written several reports critical of BBC standards of balance and impartiality.

On his early ambitions to join the BBC [Clark] said: "I tried to join the scheme they have for young reporters and I completely mucked up my interview. They asked me questions like, 'What do you know about Tibetan politics during the last 20 years?' and I had to admit not a lot."

That's right, my casual, light-hearted 'confession' that I had failed to get past the first interview stage when I applied for a job as a trainee reporter with the BBC after leaving university in 1980 ended up as a lead story in a national newspaper!!

The good news is that on the front page, directly below a large picture of Margaret Thatcher is a photo of, er, me.

Throw that out? Never. I think I'll have it framed.


What a rubbish day

This time last week I was in Dublin recovering from a nine-hour lunch the previous day. Today I shall be in my garage throwing years of accumulated rubbish into a skip. If I find anything that is remotely interesting I'll let you know.


Daydream believer

People spend 'half their waking hours daydreaming' (BBC News). If it's true I'd be tempted to make them clock off.

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