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Monday, 11 April 2011

Freedom2Choose Newsletter April 2011

Chairman’s Announcement

Freedom2Choose will be undergoing a 'Strategic Review' over the next few months.

We need to re-assess our strengths and weaknesses, our opportunities and threats.

This will, I assure you, lead to a much more successful working practice.  All paid up members’ views will be sought - independently and anonymously, so it is much in your interest to partake.

I have asked a paid-up F2C member with relevant professional experience to carry out the review, reporting to a small working party, and have been assured that the results will be ready by September and circulated before October’s AGM.

Remember - your responses will shape the F2C that will be most active in the coming months!

Phil Johnson, Chairman

Display Ban and Plain Packaging

Could it be that the media – so often way ahead of politicians and lobby groups in their awareness of public feeling – have realised that the public’s enthusiasm for all things anti-smoking is on the wane?

Coverage of the proposed display ban and plain packaging proposals would certainly indicate that something is afoot. In stark opposition to their stance before the implementation of the smoking ban, many publications have allowed critics of this latest move plenty of scope to vent their spleen, from Simon Clark of Forest on Conservativehome to the packaging industry publication, Packaging News, which tears into proposals they call a “smugglers charter.”

The Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Norwich Evening News, This Is Leicestershire, and This is Business – East Midlands all give ample column inches to the concerns of small businesses who feel that, notwithstanding the exhortations of the anti-smoking lobby that “bans don’t hurt business,” this one definitely will. Even the politically-neutral Bastiat Institute describes the move as a “War on Smokers and Shopkeepers.”

The traditionally Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph describes the move as “puritan”; the political blog is self-consciously neutral on the whole issue, giving scope for parties on both sides to say their piece, and both the Independent and the BBC – in the past such enthusiastic supporters of restrictions on smoking - are offering up stories that are, at best, lukewarm in their reporting.

The anti-smoking movement, hitherto used to having their every whim and desire pandered to by those in power, are of course putting on a brave face, but their evident dismay is clear for all to see, with ASH, the BMA and the BHF all admitting to being “disappointed” by the delays in implementation of the display ban and the government’s further dithering on plain packaging.

Disappointed? And just a little bit furious!

The Budget: Penalising the Poorest

Duty on tobacco rose by 2pc above inflation, in line with the previous government’s plans. However, a change in the way tax is to be estimated will see higher price rises for economy brands and rolling tobacco than for premium cigarettes. In a bid to ‘narrow the equality gap’ between rich and poor, the government is heaping pressure on the least advantaged smokers in order to drive down smoking rates.  This policy discriminates against those who can least afford it, especially the elderly and the low paid.

Before and After: Typical  Price Increases

Economy brand cigarettes    per20
Premium brand cigarettes    per20
Hand rolling tobacco       per12.5g
Cigars                                  per5
Pipe tobacco                      per50g

As ever, the proposals are designed to reduce smoking. As ever, the proposals will raise a lot of revenue – in this case an extra £355m a year by 2015.

Combined with the tobacco display ban, it is widely accepted that the real beneficiaries of George Osborne's first budget will be organised crime 
..from the petty criminal, selling 'cheap fags' in the local pub, through to organised crime syndicates who manage the trade through large-scale container fraud.

Reducing, not increasing tobacco taxes, might well boost the Treasury's income while alleviating a burden that falls disproportionately upon the poor. As a bonus it might also produce a decrease in ‘racketeering’ and outsourcing - as countries around the globe are beginning to

A Postcard from Prague

The Czech Republic has little appetite for prohibition.  In July 2010, a multiple-choice scheme was introduced that was more about signage than banning things.

Even the doctor who suggested this restaurant smoking ban is not in favour of a blanket smoking ban in bars and clubs.

I did not see any posters campaigning for support for smoke free restaurants, and I was actively looking for them.

Some premises do not display any signs and these are usually smoking. If you can't see through the window go in and have a look. Although some places have the smoking permitted sign, they do not permit pipe or cigar smoking. These are rare and inside you will see a picture of a cigar and pipe with a cross through them.

Although smoking and non-smoking areas are supposed to have a dividing wall, I didn't find any. Some places do have a separate room and some just have either a separate area or a few tables without ash trays.

Not sure how the restricted smoking times is supposed to work but I only saw one of these which was a restaurant.

Premises which permit smoking are in the vast majority. The places I saw which did not permit smoking were all restaurants and all of these had smoking areas outside with tables and seating. Most were covered and some had heating and lighting.

Overall verdict - Great, no change!

White Paper: Stragegy on Tobacco Control in England

For anyone interested in the future of smoking, this new Government White Paper on tobacco control in England is an essential, if joyless, read. Its radical, new approach to ‘driving down tobacco use’ is based upon two core principles: Localism and Behaviour Change.

Like all Public Health measures, tobacco control is to be devolved to ‘community’ level. Here, anyone who can make a contribution is invited to hector smokers into self-imposed bans and, although Westminster has no plans for further national bans, communities are free to legislate at local level. For example, Hospital Trusts may impose outdoor bans around hospitals. Such legislation is justified on grounds of behaviour change.
We want all communities  to see a tobacco-free world as the norm and we aim to stop the perpetuation of smoking from one generation to the next.

While the cost effectiveness of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is emphasised, long term NRT use is being seriously considered to ‘help’ stubborn smokers.
the Medicines and Healthcare products regulatory agency granted an extended indication in 2010 for NRT to be used for “harm reduction”, to assist smokers who are unwilling or unable to quit.
(our emphasis)

In the meantime, ongoing research will provide strategies for ‘smokeless tobacco’ cessation. 

Other points of interest
  • Successful ‘quit’ attempts have more or less stalled since 2007.
  • Further restrictions look likely for prisoners and mental health patients.
  • Cost of smoking to NHS is said to be ‘over £50million per week’ – with no word of thanks for the £200million-plus each week in tobacco taxes.
  • The jury is still out on e-cigarettes.
  • The use of cigarette papers as a tobacco marketing device is to be investigated.
  • And much, much more…

Academic Review of Smoking Ban in England

With its lack of data and substantial use of ‘international evidence’, this academic review bears all the hallmarks of being a rushed job.

Three areas are glossed over examined:

Exposure to 'second-hand smoke
(reduced, amazingly)
On fairly safe ground here, but the reviewers are hampered by insufficient post-ban data: childhood exposure records are available only to the end of 2007,  and the bar-workers’ study lost almost two-thirds of its participants by the third and final assessment.

Changes in health and behaviour

Health, here, relates solely to hospital admissions for heart attacks.

Two areas of behaviour change are looked at: ‘quit’ rates around the time the ban was implemented and changing attitudes to the ban itself. Both are compromised by lack of data.

Much of the behavioural section relies heavily on a study conducted in 2009.  This study recognised the deleterious effect smoking bans have on ‘some’ people, but thinks similar legislation should be used to tackle other ‘wicked issues’ like alcohol and food. 

Impact on Hospitality Industry

Six sources of information were chosen from which to assess the impact of the ban on hospitality venues:

Literature –  international evidence only
Labour Force Survey – sample size too small for analysis
Tourism figures – limited data
Licensing data – unavailable for England
Annual Business Inquiry – limited data giving mixed results.
Gambling figures – Bingo! Enough data here for clear evidence that Bingo halls began to fail in the direct wake of the ban. Nevertheless, the authors are keen to suggest that the Bingo habit is merely being replaced by the rising popularity of other forms of gambling so nothing to do with the smoking ban, after all.

Despite a lack of sufficient data across all three areas examined, the reviewers confidently conclude:

Results from the studies conducted in England show benefits for health, changes in attitudes and behaviour and no clear adverse impact on the hospitality industry.

Thank You, Nurse

Doctor Helen Evans, a senior nurse and the Director of Nurses for Reform, provides this month's anti antidote.  She has written about her concerns for the 'some' people who find themselves at the receiving end of the denormalisation process.
Stigmatised, marginalised and treated with no sense of proportionality, British smokers are being reduced to the perilous and irrational status that a number of minorities suffered in Germany around 1934 and 5. Today, 23% of Britons are being made to feel guilty for who and what they are and everyone else is being encouraged to ‘un-normalise’ them.
So - THANK YOU Dr. Evans from Freedom2Choose for daring to stick your head above the parapet and reminding us that the NHS was once popularly known as 'The Caring Profession',   Too many of your colleagues appear to have forgotton.

Other News in Brief

Unintended consequences: Richmond College is having to reconsider the wisdom of chucking its students onto the surrounding residential streets for their smoking breaks.

Paramount pictures comes under fire for depicting more than 60 instances of smoking  The film Rango, which is not about smoking, grossed £38million in its opening weekend.

The most newsworthy event of this year’s No Smoking Day was Kate Moss’s Parisian cat-walk cigarette. The audience cheered,  Jan Moir booed.

Labour Shadow Ministers for Health from both sides of the border were busy getting the lifestyle message across last month. Diane Abbott heaped cross-party praise on the coalition’s display ban, while Jackie Baillie celebrated the Scottish ban’s fifth anniversary by admitting that any improvement to Scotland’s health cannot be measured.

Health Experts Jackie Baillie and Diane Abbott - Are They Keeping Up?

Latest BBPA figures show that the rate of pub closures slowed last year from 40 per week to 25 per week. This equates to about 1,300 closures in England and Wales for 2010.  Worth noting is the Daily Mail sub-headline which puts smoking in first place as a cause of pubs closing – a step change since early ban days when it was rarely, if ever, mentioned.

The percentage of Welsh women between the ages of 16 and 44 who smoke is a little over 30%.  Pregnancy appears to boost this figure to 37%. This is  a directional embarrassment for the principality's health providers who are forced to resort to bribery.


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