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Friday
Nov122010

Reduce tobacco taxation to maximise revenue

The smokers' group Forest Eireann has welcomed comments by a Fine Gael Senator highlighting the negative effect of increasing tobacco taxation. But spokesman John Mallon pointed out that this is not just an issue of law enforcement ... See HERE.

Thursday
Nov112010

Spot the difference

Squeeze released an album last month called Spot The Difference. It features re-recorded versions of their best known songs that are extremely faithful to the originals. (You may think this is a pointless exercise but the Independent explains why they've done it HERE.)

I mention this (cue tenuous link) because I challenge you to spot the difference between the ASH Scotland press release that announced their Up In Smoke study and some of yesterday's media reports. (Mark Butcher, commenting on my previous post, wrote, "What really gets my goat is so many of the papers just regurgitate all these press releases in full". Quite.)

Equally culpable are websites such as eGov Monitor, "a Policy Dialogue Platform". Policy Dialogue is part of Policy Governance Media Limited which is described as "an independent media company that provides neutral platforms to facilitate open dialogue among stakeholders on public policy and encourage innovation and excellence in governance that enables and equips citizens and businesses to enjoy a better quality of life".

Neutral platform? As far as I could tell they had merely recycled ASH Scotland's press release. So I clicked on the 'feedback' button and suggested that it would have been rather more neutral if they had included an alternative point of view. I didn't expect a reply but late last night an email popped into my inbox:

Simon

As always our goal is to highlight all perspectives (within reason of course) and we will include [your quote] in the news item tomorrow.

The Editorial Team
eGov monitor - A Policy Dialogue Platform

Fair play to them for responding. I just wish that I didn't have to spend what feels like half my life chasing journalists to do what they should have done in the first place.

Click HERE.

13:00 ... They're not in a hurry, it seems, to update the news item with my quote.

PS. The Scottish Daily Mail (below) reported the story under the tendentious headline 'Smoking blows £129million black hole in public finances' but at least they included a quote from me on behalf of Forest:

"The real scandal is that public money is poured into the tobacco control industry when resources are limited and everyone else is being asked to tighten their belts."

How many people read beyond the headline is another matter.

Wednesday
Nov102010

ASH Scotland: the cost of smoking

According to a new "economic report" published today by ASH Scotland, the costs of tobacco in Scotland each year are estimated at:

  • £271m in direct NHS costs of treating smoking-attributable disease
  • £692m in productivity losses due to excess absenteeism, smoking breaks and lost output due to premature death
  • £60m in lost output to premature deaths due to second-hand smoke in the home
  • £34m in cleaning cigarette litter from the streets
  • £12m in fires caused by smoking in commercial properties

The BBC has the story HERE, including a quote from me. Ditto the Scotsman HERE.

I am reminded, when I read these fanciful statistics, of comments made by the the late Lord Harris, chairman of Forest, 1987-2006. Ralph's great love (apart from his wife and his pipe!), was the Institute of Economic Affairs which he ran from 1957-1988, becoming founder president in 1990.

In 2005, in a booklet published by Forest entitled Smoking Out The Truth: A Challenge to the Chief Medical Officer, Ralph wrote:

Sticking with dubious economics, [the CMO's] 2004 annual report further claims that smokefree workplaces would bring annual benefits of up to £2,700 million. Although he dismisses any testimony from the tobacco industry as tainted, he relies on the Department of Health’s own staff obligingly to serve up figures from unrevealed sources on such ‘costs’ as smoking-related absenteeism (£70-140 million), smoking breaks (£430 million), and ‘health benefits’ (precisely £2,171million).

On top of such wild estimates of benefits, his tame economists conjure up two disbenefits: one hard-looking figure of £1,145 million as lost tax to the Exchequer (presumably from an assumed reduction in cigarette sales), and another wholly esoteric invention of ‘loss of satisfaction’ to smokers (£700 million). I would not embarrass the CMO by asking how seriously he expects us to take such home-produced figures on the benefits of banning smoking!

If Ralph was alive today I am sure he would have something similar to say about ASH Scotland's "dubious economics". Meanwhile I will not embarrass chief executive Sheila Duffy by asking how seriously she expects us to take these latest calculations on the benefits of tobacco control in Scotland.

Smoking Out The Truth is available via the Recommended Reading page of the Forest website.

Up in Smoke: The cost of tobacco in Scotland is available HERE.

Monday
Nov082010

A small step for liberty, a giant leap for Forest Eireann

The broadsheet Irish Times today published a letter by John Mallon, our spokesman in Ireland. John's letter was in response to a letter by the chairman of ASH Ireland which was in response to THIS excellent article by columnist Ann Marie Hourihane.

If you know anything about the stranglehold the tobacco control industry has on the news media (in particular) in Ireland you will understand what an important breakthrough this is. You can read the full correspondence HERE.

Monday
Nov082010

MP hails victory for Dutch smokers

Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South and a supporter of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, has again called on the Coalition Government to review the smoking ban "in light of the decision made in Holland to allow some pubs to reintroduce smoking".

Binley said: "The Dutch Government held their promise and reviewed the smoking ban two years after its implementation. The British Government must change their approach to this issue and review the matter as the previous Government said that it would. I am delighted by the decision in Holland to allow smokers back into the pub and it is a good sign for the mounting campaign in Britain."

Above: Brian Binley at the Great British Pub Awards 2010 in September

Monday
Nov082010

The world of Auberon Waugh

Looking forward to reading Kiss Me, Chudleigh: the World According to Auberon Waugh edited by William Cook. I've been catching up on some of the reviews in the New Statesman and elsewhere and they have reminded me why Waugh was my favourite journalist when I was a student in the late Seventies and he had regular columns in The Spectator and Private Eye.

I have written before about how thrilled I was to meet him, shortly after I became director of Forest, and how he persuaded me (although I didn't need much persuading) to sponsor a series of rather louche drinks parties at The Academy Club (which he founded) in Lexington Street, Soho.

Furnished with wooden tables and chairs and the smallest bar you ever saw, the Academy Club consisted of a single room which Dickens would have recognised. During our parties it would be thick with tobacco smoke and it was no coincidence that the most popular seats were the ones next to the open sash windows!

Bron would invite contributors to the Literary Review (which he edited), Forest would invite some of our contacts, and one or two guests would simply appear. As a result journalists and authors would mingle with politicians, campaigners and out-of-work actresses in what I can only describe as a den of hedonism, though perhaps my memory is playing tricks.

What I do recall very well is meeting Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas and we have remained friends ever since.

Sadly Bron died in January 2001 and it was only then that I discovered that he had lived for 40 years with just one lung, having lost the other as a result of an accident during National Service. His obituary in the Telegraph explained that:

Horribly injured, he was still alert enough to say "Kiss me, Chudleigh" to his troop sergeant, on whom the allusion was lost and who treated him afterwards with suspicion. "To those who suffer from anxieties about being shot," Waugh later wrote, "I can give the reassuring news that it is almost completely painless."

PS. Following his funeral on January 24, 2001, the Telegraph added that:

At the end of the service a retiring collection was taken for the Howard League for Penal Reform, one of Waugh's favourite charities, although his family said that they had considered giving it to Forest, the pro-smoking organisation which the satirist had long supported.

Full story HERE.

Monday
Nov082010

The secret society of smokers

Lots to read on the return journey from Ireland including a heart-warming article in The Times Magazine. Writing from hospital where she has been since breaking her neck and back after falling from a horse earlier this year, columnist Melanie Reid (left) noted that:

If I fall off a horse and I'm costing the NHS thousands of pounds a month to keep and treat, I'm not sure I'm any different from someone who makes a similarly dangerous lifestyle choice to smoke cigarettes.

At its best, the most wonderful thing about the NHS is that it treats everyone the same - there are no deserving and undeserving. At its worst, it is a patronising monolith.

All naive, clean-living souls who enter hospital should know that everywhere, in external nooks and crannies, nurses, cleaners, auxiliaries, porters and probably, for all I know, doctors gather in secret huddles, shivering over forbidden cigarettes.

One late-night group at a Glasgow hospital was attacked by a fox, which tried to bite their ankles, but they dared not report the incident because some of the secret smokers were of such seniority.

So of course it goes on: a surreptitious mass defiance of the edict that one should obey all rules and cast off addiction as a sin, along with germs and dangerous practices such as walking and breathing.

Just be good, switch off your brain and obey the notices that almost literally wallpaper hospitals ...

If I didn't think I had enough problems already, I'd take up smoking just as a form of protest at continually being told what to do.

PS. Read Melanie's first article following her accident in April. It's one of the most beautifully written yet spine-chilling (no pun intended) articles I have ever read. Click HERE. (It's from The Times archive so you don't have to be a subscriber.)

Sunday
Nov072010

Their own worst enemy

I am trying hard to be supportive of electronic cigarettes, I really am. Having read some of the comments on this blog when the subject has come up, I think they are a genuine alternative to cigarettes in places where smoking is banned.

I would object strongly if anyone tried to prohibit them. (As far as I can tell, the only reason some campaigners want e-cigarettes outlawed is because they, er, look like cigarettes - from a distance.)

Sometimes, though, the people promoting e-cigs are their own worst enemy. Last week, for example, someone called ElectronicCigFan added the following comment on my post about Nick Clegg choosing "a stash of cigarettes" as his luxury item on Desert Island Discs:

"Not sure a cigarette is a 'luxury' item, particularly with all the damage they do to your body!"

Fair enough. ElectronicCigFan is entitled to his point of view and I have no wish to censor an honest opinion.

But then I noticed that he had added the following URL - www.smokestik.com - and I thought, "Uh-oh".

Look, I have no problem with people saying how wonderful or how horrible e-cigs are (the jury seems to be out), but please don't use this blog as a crude marketing tool.

Saturday
Nov062010

Dutch courage

Interesting - and encouraging - that the Sun should publish THIS interview with Wiel Maessen, spokesman for Red de Kleine Horecaondernemer (KHO), translated as the Foundation To Save Small Bar Owners.

Wiel is a long-term smokers' rights activist in the Netherlands. The lesson, however, of the success of the Dutch campaign against the smoking ban was the alliance between campaigners like Wiel and small bar owners whose businesses were under threat.

Hence the importance of our own Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign which is designed to create a similar alliance. I will comment further when I get back from Ireland.

Friday
Nov052010

Flight 205 now boarding

I am currently in the departure lounge at Stansted airport waiting to board an early morning flight to Dublin ... Lunch and then (I am guessing) the rest of the day in the pub. Strictly business, of course ...

Friday
Nov052010

How the UK compares with Europe

The decision by the new government in Holland to amend the smoking ban introduced two years ago is very welcome, not least because it highlights the intransigence of politicians in the UK. It also gives us somewhere to go for long weekends, but that's another matter.

Just as important, how does the UK compare with countries other than Holland? Let's not beat about the bush. Smoking in public is restricted throughout Europe, but to a greater or lesser extent most countries provide exemptions to the ban in bars and, sometimes, restaurants, cafes and casinos.

Here are some examples:

Austria
* In venues greater than 80m² separate smoking rooms covering maximum 50% of surface area are permitted
* Venues between 50m² and 80m² may permit smoking provided the owner can prove that partitioning or separation of the premises is not possible
* Venues less than 50m² may decide to become either fully smoking or non-smoking

Belgium
* In restaurants smoking is allowed in a separate smoking room in which only drinking is allowed
* In bars that do not serve food (only pre-packaged foods that keep at least three months are allowed) a smokers zone is permitted; it cannot take up more than 50% of the total surface of the establishment and needs to be equipped with a ventilation system
* Casino playing rooms are exempt from the smoking ban

Denmark
* Smoking rooms with adequate ventilation (where food and drinks are not served) are permitted in venues larger than 40m²
* Small bars (less than 40m²) may permit smoking

Germany
* Smoking regulations at regional level usually allow for separate smoking rooms
* Some special restaurants and bars are exempt from the ban altogether
* In some states there are exemptions for small pubs or beer halls (Festzelte) or even for specially designated 'smoking restaurants'

Italy
* Segregated smoking rooms allowed as long as they cover less than half the space of the venue, with strict ventilation requirements

Portugal
* In venues with an area less than 100m² the owner may permit smoking, as long as: (i) the smoking area is clearly designated; (ii) it is physically detached from the remaining facilities or has an autonomous ventilation mechanism; (iii) the direct ventilation to the exterior is assured by an air extraction system
* In venues with a total area of 100m² or more, owners may designate up to 30% of their total area as a smoking area or up to 40% in the case of a physically separated area, as long as the conditions (i), (ii) and (iii) are fulfilled and the area does not include spaces used exclusively for workers or areas where workers have to be permanently

Sweden
* Smoking permitted in separate smoking rooms in restaurants and other places where food and drink are served; smoking room must occupy less than 50% of the total area and no serving or consumption of food and drinks will be permitted inside the smoking room

You get the picture - and I haven't even mentioned Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic or Latvia where exemptions remain reasonably generous. (The Czech Republic for example allows proprietors to decide whether to designate their premises as smoking or non-smoking, or provide structurally separated areas for smokers and non-smokers, and then visibly label their premises in accordance with specific signs.)

The point, rarely acknowledged by politicians in the UK, is that our smoking bans are more draconian than anywhere else in Europe with the exception of Ireland. Funny, that.

Thursday
Nov042010

Dutch amend smoking ban

Confirmation today of the news reported here a few weeks ago ...
Dutch smoking ban reversed for small pubs (Daily Telegraph)

See also: Smoking ban stubbed out (Sun)

Wednesday
Nov032010

Forest goes global

Above: how the smoking breaks story was reported today in Brazil's largest circulation newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. The Portuguese-language daily describes me as "diretor da Forest, grupo cujo nome significa Organização Libertária pelo Direito de Divertir-se Fumando". I like it.

The story, with quotes from Forest, has also been reported in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Holland, China and the United Arab Emirates (to name a few).

Update: In Romania I am "directorul Forest, grup de lobby pentru drepturile fumatorilor". I realise this is of no interest to anyone (not even members of my family) but it amuses me.

Tuesday
Nov022010

Smoking breaks: add a comment

More on smoking breaks, the story that keeps on giving ... Should workers be forced to clock out to smoke? (BBC News Magazine).

Note: this is currently one of the most read stories on the BBC website so it's worth adding a comment.

Tuesday
Nov022010

Polite notice

Seen in a hotel lobby in California ...

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