Tuesday, 27 February 2018

How Your Taxes Are Spent

I picked up on a quite breathtaking tweet of hypocracy today by those known tax-spongers over at ASH. It was the following:

Can you see the fatal flaw in their logic above ?

Yep, ASH are (once again) making the claim that all smokers want to quit (ignoring the pleasure principle) and that is a 'powerful justification' for high taxes on cigarettes and smoking bans in public spaces and the workplace.

Actually, they have probably missed a trick there because 'Love Island' is a reality TV show (as I understand it) and therefore technically all of the contestants in Love Island are in a  work environment so should not be smoking as it is a workplace. But I digress....

Anyway, back to the subject matter. Looking at the picture in the tweet above, it would seem that all the participants are quite young (though technically anyone under 50yo is 'young' to me), but certainly adults, and so I think it is pretty safe to conclude that they are all well aware of the supposed dangers of smoking and yet choose to do so anyway. Why ?   Because they enjoy it (something that the likes of ASH simply cannot get their heads around). So, given they know the dangers but still choose to smoke, I cannot see why it is any business of ASH to go around criticising them for that choice. Especially as Love Island supposed to be a REALITY TV show.

In REALITY, people smoke, get over it. Why shouldn't the programme makers not feature a NORMAL and LEGAL activity like smoking ?

However, the real breathtaking hypocracy comes in the article they refer to in the tweet.

First of all, the headline of the article:

Love Island sends out 'dangerous message that smoking is somehow harmless and innocent'

Really ?   Now I admit that I have not watched Love Island (not am I ever likely to watch such reality TV dross), but I am pretty sure that no such message was transmitted. No, what the show did was to feature several young adults who happen to enjoy smoking, enjoying smoking. All while having what I am sure they considered to be meaningful conversation and, dare I say it, FUN !!

But then when we read further into this article, what we find is that 'researchers' (which means busybodies with a preconceived agenda) from the Universities of Bath and Nottingham 'conducted a study'. Yep, here is your hard-earned taxes being spent meaningfully by a bunch of 'researchers' spending hours and hours watching Love Island and being paid for it (nice work if you can get it - and if you happen to like Love Island I suppose).

So what did their 'research' discover ?

  • The 21 episodes included 204 intervals of tobacco related content - 20 per cent of the total across series 3.
21 episodes ?    Assuming that each episode is at least 1 hour in duration, that means these 'researchers' spent at least 21 hours (each) watching Love Island (all paid for by yours, and mine, taxes). Of course we can also assume they were making copious notes and pausing/rewinding various parts during viewing so can easily add on a few extra hours on top of that. Plus of course, they still had to write it all up at the end of their 'research'. Enjoying how your taxes are being spent so far ?

  • Actual tobacco use appeared in 66 (7 per cent) intervals, and usually involved cigarette smoking by one person; smoking by several people occurred in 10 intervals.
Wow, the gall of these young people. They did normal everyday things that normal people do everyday, not just by themselves, but they actually had the audacity to do it in groups - and probably enjoyed it too. I can imagine these 'researchers' positively wetted themselves in apoplexy

  • Implied tobacco use occurred in 104 (10 per cent) intervals, and paraphernalia in 143 (14 per cent). This last most often involved plain white cigarette packs (117 intervals), with up to eight visible in any one interval.
How the fuck does one 'imply' tobacco use ?   You either use tobacco or you don't. The implication from the 'research' is that very soon they will lobbying for a law prohibiting people even discussing smoking. Anyway, surely the fact that there were 'plain white cigarette packs' on display is a cause for celebration for the likes of ASH as that is something they actually wanted ?

  • Branding was visible in 16 (1.6 per cent) intervals, and involved just one brand, which was clearly identified from the logo on the cigarette as Lucky Strike Double Click, a brand that is not widely available in the UK.
Branding was visible on the cigarettes, 'a brand that is not widely available in the UK'. Oh the shock and horror that Tobacco Control had to have evidence, on the TV no less, that there is a thriving black market for tobacco out there. Tobacco Control keep telling us that black market does exist and that is why their calls for further increases in tobacco excise duty are justified. The last thing Tobacco Control want is for clear evidence of the black market to be shown on prime-time TV. Oh the horror !!

  • Following widespread media criticism of high levels of smoking in the June 19 episode, tobacco content fell significantly from 12.4 intervals per episode to 8.4 and actual tobacco use from 4.9 intervals to 2.3.
Now call me cynical, but I bet the 'widespread media criticism' came from Tobacco Control themselves, using their contacts in the media to highlight this. I am willing to bet that very few members of the public actually bothered to complain or criticise any episode on this matter. The simple fact is that the majority of the public just do not care. Especially so when said smoking is on the TV and therefore not likely to impinge on anyone.

  • When all the data were combined with audience viewing figures and population estimates, the researchers calculated that the 21 episodes delivered 559 overall tobacco ‘impressions’ to the UK population, including 47 million to children under the age of 16.
 Erm, isn't Love Island considered an 'adult' reality TV show and surely it is therefore shown after the 9pm watershed ?   So what were 'children' under 16 doing watching the show ?  Furthermore, I would bet most children under 16 regularly see normal people smoking every single day of their lives. Smokers are not difficult to find. You can find them gathered together, often in groups, outside just about any public building, but especially outside of pubs which is where Tobacco Control sent them all as a result of the 2007 smoking ban. So seeing somebody smoking on TV is hardly likely to add to that as it is already 'normal' in their eyes.

  • Tobacco impressions were highest among the 16-34 age group, averaging 6.95 per head, and twice as high among women as they were among men. The episodes delivered 44 million impressions of branded tobacco products, including 4 million to children.
How do you do an 'impression' of tobacco ?   Did the contestants on Love Island stand around painting themselves bright white while setting fire to their hair in front of the camera ?   To do 44 million such impressions must have hurt and therefore anybody who is happy to go through such an ordeal deserves admiration for their dedication to the cause.

  • The evidence clearly shows that a link between young people’s exposure to on screen tobacco imagery and starting to smoke, emphasise the researchers.
Oh FFS. We have heard this argument before. The problem is, the 'evidence' does NOT show such a link. Tobacco Control already tried to convince a court of law on this matter with their evidence in a Law Court in California recently when they (Stanton Glantz et al) tried to take the film industry to task over smoking images. They failed abysmally as the Court Judge saw straight through the flawed 'evidence' and rejected the claims.

Really, in these days of constant carping about how much extra funds are needed to fund the NHS, why is tax-payers money allowed to be wasted on such pointless 'research' ?

Tobacco Control really are disappearing up their own arses. They waste millions of pounds on such pointless and worthless research and then have the gall to come cap-in-hand to Government to ask for more millions of pounds to waste on further pointless research.

Listen Tobacco Control. Smoking IS normal. You can try to airbrush it out of TV, film and even history, all you like. But it still won't go away. Millions of people CHOOSE to continue to smoke regardless of what you do or say. That means that smoking is normal. If a 'Reality' TV cannot show smoking, then it is not really a Reality TV show then is it ?

Muppets !!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Vapour Trails

I read, with interest, the article over on @Dick_Puddlecote’s page discussing ‘Vaping Etiquette’. On the one side, we had Dick’s view that ‘cloud-chasers’ are ruining the vaping scene and handing ammunition to the prohibitionists. Giving the opposing view was Dave Dorn’s opinion in the defence of ‘cloud-chasers’.

What struck me about this ‘conversation’ on vaping etiquette was how the vaping community is being split on such a polarising viewpoint. I would think that any of the puritans reading the article would be delighted to be reading such a thing. I have little doubt that already such people are excitedly sending emails and memos to other in their clique on ways they can exploit the situation to drive a further wedge between vapers. ‘Divide & Conquer’ is the phrase we are discussing here.

I have to admit that this whole debacle on ‘vaping etiquette’ seriously pisses me off. On the one hand we have plenty of good people out there campaigning and advocating for tolerance to vapers, but on the other hand we have many of those same people screaming intolerance towards vapers who prefer to cloud chase. This simply has to stop.

When I sat on the board of the NNA, the first rumblings of this so-called ‘vaping etiquette’ came to my attention. I made it clear at the time that I had my reservations about developing an etiquette around vaping, but I was in the minority. I left the NNA in the Summer of last year, but keep on following (and supporting) the excellent work they do for vaping advocacy. Since that time, the NNA have put out posters around vaping etiquette. I couldn’t get behind it when I was a part of the NNA, and I still cannot get behind that campaign now. It makes me uneasy and, in my humble opinion, is unnecessarily alienating large portions of the vaping community.

I will admit it. I am an unashamedly proud cloud-chaser. It has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the ability to blow mahoosive clouds of vapour (I can do that quite easily and have many ‘drippers’ that I can build to make clouds that would make even the biggest cloud-chasers jealous). No, the reason I am a ‘cloud-chaser’ is because that is how I actually enjoy my vaping. These days, I rarely build any drippers, preferring instead to use one of the plethora of sub-ohm tank devices that I can easily buy the coils for online. It is easier and so cheap that there is little point in building coils these days. I still occasionally build a coil and ‘drip’, but that is more for keeping my hand in on my ability to build coils. And there is the whole point. All vapers have different preferences, be it flavour, nicotine content, VG/PG mix, power or cloud density. There is no right or wrong way to vape. You vape because you enjoy it and you vape because you have chosen to use an alternative to smoking.

I happen to enjoy filling my lungs up with enormous amounts of vapour and blowing out huge clouds. I don’t do it to annoy anyone. I do it because that is how I enjoy the vape. I could not give a single shit about impressing anyone with the massive clouds. It is just a cloud and, more to the point, it is harmless to me and harmless to anyone around me.

Do you really think the puritans care about whether you are blowing massive clouds or small wisps ?

Of course they don’t. All they see is a ‘filthy nicotine addict’ enjoying himself and, in their eyes, circumventing the smoking ban. Even when you barely blow out any vapour at all, such puritans will still ‘tut-tut’ in their corner and give you disgusted looks. Many of them, emboldened by prod-noses like ASH, will even pluck up the courage to get in your face about it. It is what our world has become in that regardless of what you do to enjoy yourself, there will always be some curtain-twitcher who will disapprove of your habit. Maybe even emboldened enough to start (yet another) campaign group which will campaign to lobby politicians to take away yet more of the freedoms that we used to take for granted in this country. We have fought wars to protect such liberties many times in our past, only to now slowly give away more and more of our liberties to the permanently offended. You can see it most clearly in all the campaigns against tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt, fast-food etc. The list is ever growing and if we are not careful there will be a future where everything you eat, drink or choose to do will be carefully regulated by the State.

It really is that simple. A vaping etiquette that disapproves of a vaper that blows out larger vapour clouds makes as much sense as pub alienating spirit-drinkers because beer drinkers are a nicer crowd (or vice-versa). The only way that tolerance will come back to the general public is to make people realise that vaping poses no threat. By toning down the vaping habit/choices all you are doing is pandering to, and reinforcing, the already entrenched view amongst many of the general public that vaping is dangerous.

I will end this blog with an anecdote (yes, I used that ‘much abused’ word).

Many of you will know that I own a caravan that is situated by the sea down in sunny West Wales. When I first bought that caravan, I would frequently be found in the early evening at local bar near the site. When I first started going to that bar, the weather was gloriously sunny and I was quite content to sit out in the beer garden with my pint of Strongbow and a vape. As it turned out, there were lots of other caravan owners on the same site as me who also frequented that bar. As often happens, when vapers identify other vapers, we all started graduating toward each other and chatting because we all had something in common – we all vaped. The age-range of this group was startling. We had some guys (and gals) in their early twenties, right through the age range to the oldest of us who was 85. We dominated the beer garden as a large group. The range of devices we used showed great variety too. Some were using simple cigalikes, some box mods and/or MTL devices, whilst others (like me) preferred to use high-powered cloud-machines. Anyway, after several weeks, the bar owner approached us in the beer garden and informed us that he had no issue with any of us vaping inside the bar itself. You see, he had seen the trade we were bringing in because we had become an informal group (which was attracting more and more), meeting up as often as possible to chat and drink (and vape) . Anyway, this went on for several months, until one day we discovered that the bar owner was selling up and that new owners would soon be in place. The new owners were not at all vape-friendly and we were immediately exiled to the beer garden – just as the weather began to cool as Autumn crept in. Not wanting to sit in a cold (and wet) beer garden to chat, drink and vape, we all stopped going the bar and instead started meeting at each others caravans to chat, drink and vape instead. The bar had instantly lost a huge proportion of its best customers. Last month, I discovered that the bar had closed down after the Christmas period had failed to save their dwindling profits. All that happened because they alienated their best customers – the vapers.

Closing Comment

The vaping community has come a long way over the last couple of years. We have successfully fended off many bans and made our voices felt in the corridors of power in  the European Union, USA, Australia, New Zealand (and many others) as well as closer to home in the UK. To spoil that progress by dividing the vape community now would be a disaster. Do not alienate other vapers just because they enjoy vaping in a different way than you do. That is simply showing the same intolerance towards fellow vapers that you have accused the Public Health community (and Government) of showing towards vaping in general. It is counterproductive and WRONG. Most vapers I have met consider themselves to be libertarians. 


Thursday, 8 February 2018

Bringing In The Old For The New

I was reading the Head Rambles blog earlier, as I do every day, and reading about the right fuck-up that has occurred in the city of Dublin since they introduced the 'Daniel Day Luas', or Dublin City Tram System to the rest of us.

It made me think about the scramble that seems to be happening everywhere to reintroduce old technology. It seems that City planners everywhere, in their rush to free up the clogged roads of the Cities, are introducing Trams all over the place. You can find them in Croydon, Manchester, Edinburgh, Sheffield - even Cardiff may well have a brand spanking new Tram system soon if the plans I have seen publicised by the Welsh Government come to fruition. And I am sure there are many more examples.

The thing they all have in common is that every one of them has cost eye-watering amounts to introduce, and every single one of them completely screwed up the Town/City centre arteries (roads) they were supposed to be relieving when they were first introduced. Then of course, they cost a similarly eye-watering amount to remedy the problems they caused in the first place - all paid for by the tax-payer naturally.

But it is not even new technology. If you look at most of the Cities mentioned above, they ALL had perfectly functioning Tram systems a 100 years ago. You can easily find pictures of them online with a simple Google search. Even my home city - Swansea - had a tram system at one time (there have even been suggestions to reintroduce trams in Swansea - despite the major failure of the so-called bendy-bus system that was aborted 3 years ago). I am sure that most of the major Towns and Cities of the UK had trams systems  a century ago.

What they all have in common is that they were all scrapped because they were old technology and the Towns and Cities were (supposedly) looking to the future. The same thing happened with the railways, though at least some of those survived into the modern age.

The irony is that we are now looking to the future in our major Towns and Cities by looking to the past. Or at least we are at the moment. Who is to say that in 10-15 years all these Tram systems will be being scrapped again as the same urban developments look to the next 'new' thing - which is probably from the past. I wouldn't be surprised to see Trolley-Buses making a comeback at this rate.

While we are talking about it, what is it about all these Towns & Cities that they have to name new things after famous people from those Towns/Cities/Country who, the moment they became famous, fucked off to live somewhere else. As far as I can tell, the majority of famous Irish people leave Ireland as soon as they become famous and settle down in the UK or USA. Meanwhile, famous people from the UK seem to leave to live in Ireland or America. It also seems to be a common theme amongst famous Americans these days too.

Anyway, to get back to the original subject, what is it about Town/City planners that they cannot come up with anything more innovative than to return to a system that was scrapped a century ago? 

Technology moves on at a staggering pace, yet transport seems to be going backward at a staggering pace. It is not just the trams. 50 years after Beeching ripped the guts out of the Railway Network, there are massive projects underway to reinstate or restore defunct railway lines all over the country (except in Wales because here you can only get funding for a Transport solution if it benefits Cardiff).

The proposed Swansea Tram system seems to have been kicked into the dust because the pen-pushers reckon there would not be the footfall. I am not convinced by that argument as the Swansea area has a population of around 220,000 people and the current road system in the centre of Swansea is attrocious and even if you get into the Centre it is hard to find somewhere to park and bloody expensive if you do. 

Personally, I would rather they had looked into introducing a monorail system in Swansea. It would have had the advantage of being elevated, so not interfering with existing transport and could have been developed as a loop system that feeds off to different surburbs at each end. The other advantage of the monorail system would be that the elevation would provide breathtaking views of Swansea Bay and be a tourist attraction. It would be the perfect replacement for the long-lost Mumbles Railway (the oldest passenger railway in the world) that was scrapped by an act of sheer vandalism by backward thinking Councillors 60 years ago. But nobody could ever accuse Swansea Council of being imaginative or innovative and I very much doubt anyone in the Council has the nous or the daring to take on such a project.

Yep, progress into the future seems to always be fuelled from the past.