What’s Your Vice?

Hello, what’s your vice?

“Belgian beer.”

Why Belgian beer?

“Tasty, strong, idiosyncratic.”

How old were you when you first drank it?

“About 30. A friend designed the Belgo restaurant in Camden Town and we started then.”

Under what circumstances do you normally drink it?

“When out socialising, when it’s readily available, when it suits others I am with, and when I want to.”

Do you drink from the bottle or a glass?

“Glass – it needs to be poured.”

What is your favourite accompaniment?

“Good company – the essence of enjoyable eating and drinking. I prefer not to have other people’s tobacco smoke as an accompaniment, but I usually put up with it.”

Have you ever got drunk on Belgian beer?

“It depends what you mean by ‘drunk’ – which is a continuum from light-headed to dead. I do exercise a free choice over how much I drink and when, and I know when not to get on my bicycle and get a taxi home instead.”

Do you drink at work or is it a private vice?

“Demands of work leave little scope for performance-impairing drug use. As we daily face about six tobacco industry front groups, plus numerous barmy fellow travellers, we do need to be on the ball.”

Are there circumstances under which you would give up it up?

“If I started to feel addicted and it was doing me some serious harm, then yes I would want to quit. Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency, like any addiction, is a terrible thing – an assault on your capacity to choose to stop. One really nasty thing about smoking compared to drinking is that it is much easier to get hooked and lose your free choice.”

As a public figure, do you have a duty not to encourage others to copy your vice?

“I hope that no-one is looking to me as a health role model – too fat, too stressed, too angry. I am not interested in telling anyone they mustn’t drink or smoke – as long as they don’t harm others it is up to them to decide on the best information and advice available.”

Do you think there should be health warnings on alcohol?

“Anyone who makes a dangerous product has a duty to be absolutely candid about the risks – that is a prerequisite to free and informed choice.”

Are you influenced by the Portman Group’s ‘Drink Wise’ campaign?

“Hmmm. Not sure I know of it. If it means drink better quality beer but not to excess, then I am with them on that.”

Do you have any other vices to declare?

“I support Manchester United.”

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Smoker’s Diary

smker-diaryI was reading Nicholas Farrell’s ‘Smokers Diary’ in the summer issue of Free Choice when some austere thoughts occurred to me. Farrell was boasting about how he paid only £1.50 a pack for his Camel. This was because he lives in Italy, lucky devil, where smokes are infinitely cheaper. He predicted that the single market throughout the European Union would produce higher prices in Europe, rather than lower prices in Britain, because all politicians are frantic for more money to spend on their own ridiculous and self-important purposes.

In my experience as a smoker, the price of a single cigarette has risen from under 1p to 20p – more than the cost of a packet of 20 as a young man. The increase, says Farrell, is not because the British government cares about people’s health but because it wants the cash.

This is obviously true, and is proved by the fact that Chancellors of the Exchequer in the good old days measured duty increases by the amount they reckoned they could get away with before people stopped buying cigarettes, or wine, or whisky, or whatever.

What Farrell omitted to mention is that nowadays we have a seriously goody-goody Prime Minister who actually wishes to stop people from smoking. His proposed ban on cigarette advertising, which will not bring the Revenue an extra penny, is designed, he says, to discourage children or ‘kids’ from taking up the habit.

How many ‘kids’ does he suppose read the Literary Review, of which I have been editor for the past 13 years? The only thing which gives it anything approaching commercial respectability is the tobacco advertising from such enlightened patrons as BAT, Gallaher and a few others. FOREST, God bless them, even pay for our monthly party for contributors and other literary folk. The magazine will almost certainly have to close. Is that a useful thing for Tony Blair to have achieved?

It is observable how politicians of every sex and persuasion always bring in some reference to ‘the kids’ when they wish to impress us with their sincerity. I imagine a special race of politician ‘kids’ who never smoke, never drink except in extreme moderation, concern themselves with voluntary activities and are passionately interested, above all else, in supporting racial equality.That is the idea, at any rate. In point of fact an amazingly high proportion of MPs’ children end up going to the bad, as criminals, idlers and social parasites. One pities them, of course. If only the little darlings had been allowed the occasional cigarette, when they wanted one.The reason our fellow Europeans are unlikely to increase their duty to within hailing distance of the British model is that they have a noisy and outspoken range of public opinion which will not let them get away with it. It is only in Britain that we defer, by nature, to the self-appointed goody-goodies, telling us it is in our own best interests not to smoke.

Since Mr Hague appointed Gary Streeter as his Shadow Environmental Secretary, it is plain that Britons have no democratic choice in the matter of smoking. Streeter not only supports restrictions on advertising, but also demanded, in a letter to the chief executive of BAT, that they should be extended to foreign countries.

Perhaps Free Choice is an unsuitable forum for urging my fellow countrymen to bloody revolution. But somebody has got to do it, somewhere.

One cannot help observing that among the great anti-smokers of history, from Hitler and Mussolini to Tony Blair, William Hague and Gary Streeter, it is only the later ones who have tried to spread their odious opinions and stop everyone from smoking.

Hitler and Mussolini, while forbidding anyone to smoke in their presence, never tried to ban it from government offices or forbid tobacco advertising. They were too sensitive to public opinion to try and stop it altogether.

Tony Blair and Gary Streeter seem to think they are in a stronger position. We shall see. We shall see. I would be surprised if the politicians of Italy and France succeeded in doubling or tripling tobacco duty as a consequence of the EU single market, although I agree it will be a miracle if the British government reduces ours.

It was Mrs Thatcher’s great objection to the single market – which she called a ‘nightmare’ – that it would involve drastic cuts in tobacco and alcohol duty.

In those days, it seemed inevitable that Britain would be required to reduce prices in line with the single market, and it was on that basis that I pledged undying loyalty to the European cause, the Euro, and everything connected with it.

Since then, the British government has got round the issue by keeping the same genocidal rate of duty here, while not preventing anyone from buying their cigarettes and alcohol in Calais. But who wants to cross the Channel in a ferry every time they require a packet of cigarettes at a reasonable price?

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ASH’s Next Line Of Attack

ASHThe anti-smoker group ASH has confirmed that, following the ban on tobacco advertising, it will now target smoking in pubs and restaurants. Speaking on BBC Northampton’s Breakfast Show, spokesman Amanda Sandford admitted, ‘That’s our next line of attack. Yes. I mean, we certainly will be stepping up the campaign now to get smoking restricted or banned actually in certain public places. We already have bans or restrictions in a number of places, you know, food shops and cinemas … But there’s nothing coming from central government and we want the Government to take a firm lead on this and protect people in their workplaces … I mean, what we call public places like restaurants and bars are also workplaces and the important thing is that the people who work there [are] protected from the effects of passive smoking, so we certainly think that’s the next area that the Government really has to focus on.’

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Smoking In The Home Is Huge Risk For Kids

smoking homeThe smoking debate is now moving into the home. Not content with banning smoking in public places, the anti-smoker group ASH Scotland claims that ‘There are real benefits for parents in keeping their homes smoke free.’ According to the Daily Record, ‘Children exposed to passive smoking have a 20 to 40 per cent increase in the risk of developing middle ear infection; there is a ‘significant’ and ‘causal’ relationship between cot death and passive smoking; one study found in households where the mother smoked, young children had a 72 per cent increased risk of lower respiratory illnesses in the first three years of life, compared with children of non-smoking mothers; research has found that children living with smokers are at an increased risk of contracting meningitis.’

According to Judith Watt, head of Smoke-Free London, an alliance of NHS trusts and other agencies, in London alone up to 650 new cases of childhood asthma were caused every year by passive smoking and five children under five were admitted to hospitals in London every day because of passive smoking.

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The Sun Launches ‘Armada to France’

In association with P&O Ferries, The Sun has launched a self-styled ‘armada to France’. ‘There are brilliant food, booze and tobacco bargains to be had both in France and on board which will save you a small fortune,’ says the paper. Apparently you can travel as a foot passenger from Dover to Calais for £1 return or £5 on Saturdays between now and Christmas Eve. All you have to do is, collect three of the four differently numbered tokens the paper is publishing over the next few days.

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A Reader Writes

Maintaining the pressure on Customs and Excise, The Sun has published the following letter:

“Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said the judiciary had a duty to prevent Government abuse of power. So why has the person in charge of HM Customs not been called before a judge to explain the contempt shown towards the recent High Court ruling on the personal importation of alcohol and tobacco? The judgement made it clear that Customs are acting illegally by imposing arbitrary limits and confiscating property when they had no proof of smuggling.”

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Customs Seize Tobacco Bought On The Internet

tobacco-seizeIn another item The Sun also revealed that jobless David Smith had become “the latest victim of Customs chiefs after buying cigarettes on the Internet – and having them confiscated. David, 32, ordered 800 fags and 800 grammes of hand-roll tobacco from a Spanish website for £137. But the goods were seized by Customs officers before he received them.”

None of this will come as a surprise to friends of FOREST which in November 2000 took legal advice and discovered that “It is currently illegal to import cigarettes into this country through the post without paying the relevant duty.” For the full summary of advice prepared for FOREST (which has been available on this website since March 2001) see “Buying over the Internet.”

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Cross-Channel Guidelines Increased

CigarettesThe Government has announced that the guideline for the number of cigarettes that can be brought into the country from the continent is to be increased from 800 to 3,200. “The move,” reports BBC Online, “follows recent criticism of Customs’ tactics in clamping down on travellers suspected of trying to evade tobacco duty by bringing in cigarettes to sell on the black market.” According to Economic Secretary John Healey, the new regulations will abolish the burden of proof on individuals to show that goods brought in are for their own personal use.

FOREST spokesman Juliette Torres said, “This is a step in the right direction but the guideline is still too low. It favours those who live in the south and can afford to travel to the continent every few months. It discriminates against those who live in the north and midlands, especially the low paid who can’t afford repeated journeys.”

The guideline, says FOREST, should reflect the fact that a 30-a-day smoker will smoke 5,000 cigarettes in six months. “Cigarettes are said to last at least 12 months,” says Torres, “so the guideline should be nearer 10,000.”

Torres said FOREST remains sceptical that the new guideline will stop the “harassment” of cross-Channel shoppers. “The problems of smuggling and the harassment of ordinary shoppers will only go away when the Government reduces tobacco taxation to a level closer to our continental neighbours.”

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