Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Meeting With Peter Black AM

It had been a long week. I had been working up in London throughout that week and only arived home the previous night at 11.45pm due to yet another massive delay on the First Great Western rail service from London to Swansea. But here I was, bloodshot eyes and all, travelling the short distance into Swansea city centre - Tom Petty blasting away on the stereo - to meet with Peter Black AM in his Walter Road office.

As I drove to the meeting, I was in full knowledge that Peter opposes the ban on the use of eCigs in enclosed public spaces. I follow Peter on Twitter and read his blogs. He has blogged on eCigs and I invite you all to go and read his views on eCigarettes for yourselves on his blog.

So it was that I entered into his offices to be greeted by Peter and his secretary for our meeting.

I started by thanking Peter for meeting with me and for his ongoing support against the eCig ban. I then went on to explain why I was there (to help with his understanding of where to find the scientific evidence) and to answer any further questions that Peter may have on the subject.

As with my meeting with Mark Isherwood, I went prepared by taking copies of the response to the Welsh Government White Paper that were submitted by both Ash Wales and the RCP. It turned out that Peter had seen the Ash Wales response, but had not seen the RCP response, so he accepted both copies from me.

I also presented copies of the critiques of the WHO position that had been prepared by both Prof Gerry Stimson and Clive Bates. It turns out that Peter knows Clive Bates very well from his time at the Welsh Government and has a very high regard for Clive.

I also presented Peter with a copy of the guest blog that Louise Ross wrote for Clive's website and explained what Louise's background was and of the success her pioneering work with eCigs as part of the Leicestershire Stop Smoking Services. I also pointed out how other SSS around the country were now following Louise's lead and also adopting similar stances. To say that Peter was impressed by Louise's work would be an understatement.

We chatted casually on various aspects of eCigarettes and the law. Peter stated that he had fully supported the smoking ban because he had been able to follow the evidence around the world. However, when he tried to follow the evidence against eCigarettes, he found there was none. Indeed, all of the evidence he found were in favour of eCigarettes as an effective stop smoking tool and that there was no evidence of harm from eCigarettes. This is the core of why Peter vehemently opposes any proposed ban on eCigarettes.

We discussed the merits of the smoking ban and why it was in place. But when I pointed out that Drakeford's proposed ban on eCigs would force me outside with the smokers and thus expose me to the dangers that the smoking ban was supposed to prevent, Peter agreed that was something that he had not thought of and was a very good point to take forward into the next debate in the Senedd.

We talked about what Drakeford had said in the last Senedd debate and of the fact that Drakeford commented on the fact that the Liberty & Millennium Stadiums, First Great Western and Wetherspoons had all banned the use of eCigs on their properties. I commented that it is their right as private companies to do so, but that due to such bans being taken out personally by private companies there was no need to legislate on banning eCigs. Furthermore, I proposed to Peter that what should happen is that the decision should be left to each individual business as whether they allow eCigs on their premises. I also proposed that what could happen is that pubs (for example) should be able to put stickers on their doors to the effect of 'Vaping Welcome Here' if they chose to allow Vaping on their premises. Therefore, anyone entering the premises would know before they entered that Vaping was allowed and could make their own decision as to whether they then wanted to enter the premises. Peter agreed this was a reasonable position.

As in my meeting with Mark Isherwood, I discussed with Peter about the 'unintended consequences' that would happen if a ban was brought in on vaping in enclosed spaces. That eCig businesses would not be able to show their potential customers how to use their eCigs or help them to find the right combination of device, flavour and nicotine strength. I also brooched the subject of whether any ban on eCigs would be a violation of our Human Rights given that there is no evidence of harm from eCigs. Peter thought about this but did not commit to an answer.

We discussed the position of each of the Political Parties in the Senedd on the subject on eCigarettes and Peter agreed that what is really needed is intensive lobbying of Labour AM's as he too believes that all the parties fully oppose any proposed ban on eCigs by Labour. To my surprise, Peter also let it be known to me that a substantial proportion of the Labour AM's are actually smokers. This surprised me given Labour's appetite for banning everything that somebody might actually enjoy doing. Peter reinforced the advice imparted to me by Mark Isherwood in that Vapers in all Welsh constituencies should attend surgeries of Labour AM's (if they won't meet with us) and Lobby those Labour AM's very hard. Make them feel uncomfortable in supporting a ban on eCigs.

Peter agreed with my observation that many Labour AM's do not feel comfortable in banning eCigs, but that when a vote comes they are generally 'whipped' into line by the Labour hierarchy. But he also agreed that this is something we can play on and that many Labour AM's could be swayed to 'rebelling against the whip'.

Finally, we discussed the whole White Paper Consultation process and this where Peter gave me something of a revelation.

Before the White Paper can be passed into law, there will be a call for evidence. The call to evidence is not limited to Politicians. The Public can also have a say in this. Peter suggested that when the call for evidence comes about, if people like Clive Bates, Prof Gerry Stimson, Prof Robert West & Prof Peter Hajek would be prepared to present their evidence to the Senedd, then it would have a dramatic effect. Peter is well aware that many of the studies into eCigs have been conducted by such people and believes that the input of the above's standing would hold a great deal of weight and sway many AM's who are currently against such bans.

I know that Clive Bates would be well up for such a presentation. Now I need to talk to Profs Stimson, West and Hajek to establish if they would also be prepared to make such presentations/statements to the Welsh Assembly.

Peter stated that he will try to keep me up to date as to the progress of the Bill and also when the call for evidence comes in.

In closing, I would like to formally thank Peter Black for his time, knowledge, advice and support in our ongoing battle against the preposterous eCig ban.

Peter, you are a Gentleman. Thank you very much :-)