Monday, 19 June 2017

Reflections On Warsaw: Pissing On Chips Edition

I thought some here may be interested in a few thoughts on my few days away in Warsaw for the fourth Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) ... which I nearly didn't make at all thanks to a car fire on the motorway on the Wednesday afternoon.

I can faithfully report that watching kids playing football on the carriageway amongst stationary traffic when you have a plane to catch in less than an hour is a deeply depressing experience. As it happens the blockage - a car which had quite literally melted by the time it had been extinguished and dragged to the hard shoulder - was cleared just in time for me to catch the flight with minutes to spare. My gallant cabbie floored it for the rest of the way and, after jumping out at the terminal while he was still travelling (I doubt he got out of second gear), managed to sprint to the gate in time for priority boarding.

As for the conference itself, I detected an atmosphere which was subtlely different this year. In the past there has always seemed to be an undercurrent of mistrust, with industry and NGOs distancing themselves from each other and barbed comments being flung from those who were on panels being afforded the use of a microphone, but if it was there this year I certainly didn't notice it. Everyone appeared far more relaxed as if this type of conference - where both sides of the debate are welcomed without prejudice - is now becoming more normal.

David O'Reilly of BAT was represented on one of the panels and there was no theatrical gayness of a staged walk-out as in previous GFNs, while some 'public health' types even turned up to the welcome night booze up!

It was, I believe, this more enlightened and mature approach which Louise Ross may have been referring to when she offered up what was, for me, the best quote of the conference.

That's not to say there wasn't the occasional frisson of controversy. Clive Bates fired the odd searching question to panellists while the idea that cigarettes should be "phased out" advanced by one 'public health' contributor was met with a brilliantly-delivered put-down from VTTV's David Dorn. Plus, my accommodation-sharer, Fergus Mason, managed to ask the question he had travelled all the way from Germany for.

It was, predictably, dodged with Arnott referring to the whole of the TPD rather than the regulations on e-cigs - which Fergus quite obviously meant - but he tried to correct this later in the lobby by clarifying it and asking the same question again. Arnott's response was to angrily say "why don't you leave me alone?!?" and swiftly vacate the area.

However, credit where it's due, at one point during her presentation, Arnott spoke in almost derogatory terms about Simple Simon Chapman by stating that "even he" had got things wrong about vaping. This was compounded by a plenary session (everyone in the same room) which followed breaking out in laughter when US advocate Cynthia Cabrera placed the name Stanton Glantz and "scientist" in the same sentence ... it was quite revealing to look around the room and see some tobacco control types chuckling along with the rest.

Along with Irish fraud Mountain McKee, it's starting to look like - as scientific evidence piles up against dangerous prohibition of safer products - tobacco control can see the charlatans in their midst over tobacco harm reduction and kinda wish they would shut the fuck up and stop being such dicks.

On a personal level, I spoke with a few on the dark side myself and was decently-received. Had an immensely entertaining discussion with an e-cig researcher from Kent who surprisingly regaled us with tales of her rag and bone man Dad, and found myself next to Linda Bauld at one point, so asked about her recent blocking of me on Twitter when I thought we had an agreement that I like her stance on e-cigs but reserve the right to pull her up on other subjects. To be precise, it went "Oi! You blocked me!", at which she laughed and replied she'd had a bad day that day and promised to unblock, which has now happened, before having a conversation about how my business is going (very well, by the way, thanks for asking).

Oh, that reminds me. Business. Prior to the conference, there was a new departure in the ISonTech day (Thursday) focussing on innovations in harm reduction from industry. Introduced by Hon Lik who brought a replica of his original guy-in-garden-shed 'invention' with him (see below), it was largely occupied by the tobacco industry and I heard a few bemoaning the fact that e-cig businesses hadn't taken the chance to be similarly involved. I hadn't originally planned to turn up to it but Fergus wanted to go along so we did and I'm glad of it as it was very interesting.

Hon Lik's e-cig
PMI exhibited their four platforms of risk reduced products, sadly with prototype platform 2 which I want to try being hermetically-sealed in a perspex box, while BAT educated attendees about their heat not burn product Glo and JTI promoted their expansion of Ploomtech.

My personal favourite on display though was the tobacco free snus which Swedish Match quite literally brought to the table.

Named Zyn, I thought it was a great product and so was extremely happy to find in the pub later that full pods of the Citrus, Mint and Cinnamon flavours had accidentally fallen into my jacket pocket. How lucky was that for the flight home, eh?

The ISonTech part of GFN, I thought, was a brave thing for the conference organisers to arrange, but a worthwhile one. They could have been given a hard time for daring to embrace industry innovation, but hopefully that will not have happened seeing as I witnessed a few well-known 'public health' NGOs there as interested as the rest of us.

As for the rest of the trip, I met fellow jewel robbing commenter Roberto S and also occasional visitor Brian Carter from the US who said he thought I was really funny. Nice to know I'm not regarded as some kind of lifestyle issue Gardener's Weekly or something, I suppose.

All this and I still got to catch the cricket, see Old Town with some immense friends, and enjoy some beer-fuelled late nights before touching down at Heathrow, being whisked home (fortunately without incident) and crashing asleep post-nosebag like a morphine-addled Tom cat after having its knackers removed.

Next stop is Forest's Smoke on the Water boat trip tomorrow, a different crowd entirely where - to borrow a phrase - I also hope no chips will be pissed on. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Where's Martin McKee?

In September 2015 - in the wake of Public Health England throwing their weight behind e-cigs - merchants of doubt, Martin McKee and Simon Capewell, described their stance as being a house built on sand.
So does the available evidence show clearly that e-cigarettes are as effective as established quitting aids, ask McKee and Capewell.
Unfortunately not. For example, a recent Cochrane review, widely cited in the PHE report, concluded the available evidence was of "low or very low quality" by recognised standards.
So where does this leave Martin and his commie sidekick following yesterday's news about new smoking prevalence data from the ONS.

Long story short, smoking prevalence has plummeted since e-cigs took a big hold on the UK, tending to suggest that PHE made an incredibly wise decision in the summer of 2015.

Where is the 'expert' on e-cigs, Martin McKee? He's gone very quiet of late. Seems like a giant vape-shaped cat has got his flabby, ideological, industry-phobic tongue. 
Come on Martin, let's hear you try to fraudulently talk your dogmatic way out of this one. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

The March Of Bigotry

Back in December 2015, The Soviet Republic of Brighton Council dropped plans to ban smoking outdoors on beaches and in parks due to the fact that responses to a public consultation told them to stop being a bunch of puritanical knob-gobblers and go do something worthwhile instead.

They didn't.

 Via The Brighton Argus:
CAFES, restaurants and pubs with outside eating areas will be asked to consider introducing a voluntary smoking ban.
Hopefully, those with outside areas will consider the idea, then politely tell Brighton Council to fuck off.
It follows a consultation run by the council in 2015 asking people for their views about smoking in public spaces outside. 
The majority of all those who responded agreed it was anti-social to smoke where people are eating and drinking.
They may well have done, but it's not any of the council's business until they waive business rates for such venues, buy the stock, maintain the premises, pay the staff, and make investments in things such as - oh I dunno - outdoor smoking areas.

You see, if it was advantageous for cafes, restaurants and pubs to ban smoking in their outdoor areas, they would have done so by now. If, at some time in the future, it becomes advantageous to these businesses to ban smoking outdoors, they will do so. The very last people who should have any input into such a position is a local authority.

Customers vote with their feet, not by responding to public consultations. And, apart from some guy in Leeds who runs a children's playgroup which just happens to sell alcohol, pubs especially know very well that it's not a good idea to turn away 40-50% of your regular customers on the basis of some fantasy bollocks about smoking outdoors being dangerous to others ... which it is not, and will never be.

Besides, there are many things that are anti-social in pub, cafe and restaurant gardens, and the most anti-social of all is screaming bloody kids! If mere irritation is the criteria for a council to come wading in with its size 12s then a ban on kids, I think many would agree, should be top of the target list.
Twelve businesses, including cafés, restaurants and pubs from the North Laine, Brighton Marina and city park areas, were interviewed by officials about the scheme. 
Ten said they supported the concept of the scheme, although two had concerns about potentially losing loyal customers. 
The other businesses did not support the idea, saying smokers were generally conscious of smoking around children.
If I ran one of the businesses which being interviewed I'd be quietly licking my lips, and mentally counting the extra till receipts, at the prospect of others in my industry falling for this kind of virtue-signalling crap; it's not often your competitors voluntarily throw their loyal customers in your direction after all.
David Sewell, who runs Brighton’s Pavilion Gardens café, said: “I’ve never smoked in my life but you have to be aware of what customers want. 
“If there was a blanket ban enforced it would be a lot easier."
Ah, the old level playing field, eh? Of course it would, but it's not illegal and there is no health issue. So it's clear from the fact that businesses allow smoking in their outdoor areas that it is financially profitable for them to do so. And as there is no chance of a mandatory ban, only a voluntary one, let's hope the council gets told to take a long walk off the end of that not so long pier of theirs.

As a side note, isn't it curious that these issues only crop up in the summer when anti-smokers start grumbling about smokers enjoying their habit outdoors? When was the last time you heard one of the fake-coughing, exaggerated hand-waving types complaining that their enjoyment of the icy December air is being polluted by smokers who are stuck out there all year round? You have to be one grotesque human being to object to smokers enjoying one of very few places left for them to smoke, yet check the comments and you will see many having the chutzpah to call smokers "inconsiderate" for not respecting that the world revolves around effete, lily-livered, intolerant, bigoted bedwetters whose life comes crashing down if they have to change seat when they get a whiff of a few wisps of smoke.

If they don't want to be inconvenienced by smoke, they have the inside of every pub, cafe and restaurant in the country to choose from. Perhaps they should get back inside to an atmosphere which ensures that they never have to wash their hair or clothes again, and leave the outdoors in summer to people who have learned the admirable skill of living and letting live.

And, if you are a Brighton resident, congratulations for living in a town where this kind of irrelevant bullying is all your councillors have to contend with. It must be an idyllic place

Monday, 5 June 2017

Everything Changes But ASH

There was a bit of a blast from the past on Twitter today when ASH Wales tweeted this.

"Story" is the operative word here, because - as we have come to expect from tobacco control - it linked to a document containing a succession of fake facts like this, for example.
Some of the industry’s claims, and the facts, used in the campaign include: 
- Standardised packaging (in Australia) has led to an increase in youth smoking 
Data from Australia has been misquoted by the tobacco industry in attempts to substantiate this claim. The data used does not include enough under 18s for the figures to be reliable.
As I have explained before, this is rot. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) did, in fact, describe the data as "considered sufficiently reliable for most purposes".

Still, that's nothing compared with this huge whopper about the cost of tobacco displays
- Shutters to put tobacco out of sight will cost small retailers thousands of pounds 
This is simply untrue and cost-effective covers can be bought for as little as £120.
You'll notice that the link to an ASH London page is a dead one, which is probably for the best because the claim that shutters would only cost £120 is a downright lie which was uncovered by FOI requests in 2009. I wrote about it at the time, as did Chris Snowdon; you can read about how ASH deliberately and grubbily misled politicians in parliament by reading his report, The Dark Market (highly recommended), see the document Lord Darzi used to mislead MPs here, and the email where Debs Arnott was told explicitly that she was misleading legislators here.

Yet here we are eight years later and ASH Wales are still repeating this lie! Shameless stuff.

As it happens, at the time retailer groups told the Evening Standard that a gantry would actually cost around £1,500, and what did it turn out to be? Well, once shops were forced to comply, here was the deal being offered by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents.

Just the fact that the NFRN were offering credit terms to small newsagents should tell you that the £120 figure quoted by ASH - and tweeted again today by their fellow tax-leeching Welsh colleagues - was never even remote true, and they damn well know it.

As a curiosity, the dead link which ASH Wales's reiteration of the £120 fabrication once took you to was an ASH PDF which is still available on the Wayback Machine. The source for ASH wales's £120 is therefore an ASH APPG briefing and was put forward by a retailer from the North East called John McClurey.
During the debate over legislation to end retail displays of cigarettes, I remember seeing lobbying claims from trade bodies claiming that the legislation could cost retailers over £10,000. I’ve just worked out the bill for the curtains I will need to put over my gantry for cigarettes – it comes to only £120.
Isn't it uncanny that he "just worked out the bill" and it came to the exact same false and fraudulent figure that ASH had deceived MPs with, eh?

But then I've written about John McClurey before too. He is the only retailer in the entire country that ASH can find who despises smokers enough to agree with their hideous bullying of tobacconists, hence why they use him for absolutely everything.

In fact, he even turned up today in ASH's timeline too, again bemoaning the fact he has to sell those pesky fags that he makes profit from.
The truth is that selling tobacco for me is a burden not a benefit and one I wish I didn’t have to shoulder. I have to tie up lots of money in stock — money which I could spend more usefully elsewhere, and space which I could put to better use.
Well stop selling them John, you melt, no-one is forcing you! But then, do you think that - just as with the £120 lie he faithfully parroted back in 2009 - someone was putting words in his mouth or, more likely, writing the article for the dozy twat?
I hope the incoming government will continue to prioritise working towards a smokefree future and publish a new strategy to achieve this without delay.
Is this the same 'strategy' that ASH have been screaming about since last summer, by any chance? I think it might be you know.

People say that life moves on and everything changes over time, but perhaps not in the ASH echo chamber. Just as they are still trying to lumber e-cigs with medical registration like they were back in 2010, they are also still using the same useful idiot as they were in 2009 - who is still selling tobacco 8 years on, by the way - to try to pretend that their policies don't hurt newsagents, and are still regurgitating the same £120 gantry lie which was an abuse of the parliamentary process back 8 years ago and has been proven comprehensively to be false in the meantime.

It's astonishing that government is still willing to lavishly fund, with our taxes, such a comprehensively dishonest bunch of self-serving charlatans. 

Friday, 2 June 2017

Rubber Bands For New Zealand Please

The problem with tobacco control is that it is a Goliath industry with very few big ticket items for it to go for any more, but it is still drowning in taxpayer cash.

Once a nation has advertising bans, display bans, smoking bans, graphic warnings and even pointless plain packaging, what else is there for their tobacco controllers to do with their huge salaries? Being greedy bastards, they don't make redundancies and scale back their operation - they're for too dishonest for that - but instead they flail around trying to find something, anything, to do.

Take New Zealand for example. Following a spate of violent robberies and assaults on retailers due to sky high tobacco prices (caused by bored tobacco controllers demanding them), some of the country's tobacco control glitterati came out with this hilarious piece of 'research'.
We undertook a qualitative research study, which involved in-depth interviews with 25 smokefree experts throughout New Zealand, to explore their views about the importance of reducing tobacco retail supply 
Participants believed tobacco retailer licensing was an important short-term step towards the 2025 goal. In the long-term, participants envisaged tobacco only being available at a small number of specialised outlets, either pharmacies or adult-only stores.
So let's get this straight. They questioned 25 professional anti-smoking fanatics and asked them what they thought about how tobacco is sold in New Zealand, and they all said that it should be sold in fewer places?

Someone get on the line to the Nobel Prize Committee pronto!

What's more, it's incredible that their answer to retailers who are suffering badly because of tobacco control policies is to deprive them of much of their livelihoods instead. Do you have to pass a how-to-be-a-cunt course to be a tobacco controller or does it just occur in them naturally?

Look, politicians, it's quite clear these are overpaid and woefully underworked people, and that there are some quite disgusting human beings amongst them into the bargain. It's high time their funding was cut to the bone instead of seeing taxes wasted on such utter garbage. Or, if you really must spunk the public's money down the drain, at least give the tedious Misery McFucks a few rubber bands to flick around the office to distract them from coming up with laughable and damaging 'research' such as this, which is about as much benefit to public welfare as a jar of verrucas. 

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Mark Of Stupidity

When the debate around plain packaging was raging in 2012/13, there was one thing that was conspicuous in its absence; that being that there was no evidence whatsoever that it would work.

You may remember anti-smoking tax spongers telling us that they'd found out kids don't like ugly things, which is true but has nothing to do with whether they'll take up smoking or not at some point. They also said that smokers had said an ugly packet might make them ring a quitline, but not whether they would actually quit smoking.

The test case was always going to be Australia and - as I mentioned just the other day - it's been shown not to be working there just as it appears now not to be having any effect on smokers or retail sales in this country either.

Sadly for the anti-smoking cult, it just got worse Down Under. You see, new figures for Australia came out yesterday and, instead of trumpeting the huge success of plain packaging on World No Tobacco Day, the Aussie establishment chose to release them quietly without fanfare.

Hardly surprising considering the figures merely signal yet more disappointing failure.
12.2% of people aged 14 or over were daily smokers in 2016. While smoking rates have been on a long-term downward trend, for the first time in over two decades, the daily smoking rate did not significantly decline over the most recent 3 year period (2013 to 2016).
Oh dear. This graph from Sinclair Davidson of RMIT University makes it pretty clear that not only has plain packaging made no difference, if anything the decline in smoking has slowed since its implementation in December 2012 even in conjunction with three huge tax rises to try to chivvy it along.

Click to enlarge

Yet still you will hear tobacco controllers clucking away that plain packs has been a runaway success in Australia, despite there being not a shred of credible evidence in its favour.

It is increasingly the case that if you hear anyone saying "oh but plain packaging worked in Australia", their words can be taken as a mark of their stupidity.