Thursday, 23 September 2010

Guest Post from Juliette Tworsey: Life in LA

Life in Los Angeles -

My friend Rich White asked me to write a bit about what life is like living in Los Angeles, from the perspective of a tobacco smoker, a musician, and a resident. I moved here from my hometown of Chicago a few years back with the intention of breaking into the music industry with my band FireBug. To be honest, smoking was never an issue that I really gave much thought to, because it was basically a non-issue; it was just something that, as a musician, I was used to being around, as well as something that I enjoyed partaking in, especially when writing. After moving to California though, I began to realize that smoking was fast becoming a political, as well as an economic, issue. Arriving in California post-ban, I began to notice the crowds of people standing outside of the clubs, rather than inside the clubs. The clubs that ignored the ban never had this issue and they were always hopping as a result; there was no mass exodus from the venue(s) as soon as the known band with all of the friends hit its last chord; no, people hung around to check out the new and unknown bands, rather than bolting out to the nearest private party. Concurrently, venues with large and accommodating smoking patios still are the clubs with the most regular customers who are willing to hang around to check out a new act. In Los Angeles, you see, patios are somewhat of a more workable solution (although prohibition still hurts), due to the fact that the weather is mostly temperate and it rarely ever rains. With that said, there are some venues that are making it increasingly difficult to draw a crowd. In the last few years, I have witnessed an increase in vitriolic hatred towards smokers, due in large part to the never ending barrage of anti-smoking adverts that we are subjected to almost daily, thanks in large part to the voter-approved prop 99. [more information on prop 99 here]

The advent of the citizen bully….and the control freak…

Seemingly almost overnight, there is a new class of bullies in town who think that it’s within their every right to harass anyone who smokes; like the bouncer who goes out of his way to yell at me when I’m outside smoking before going on stage to perform (“the smoke might wander in through the door”); this particular place is no longer home to many of the local bands that were beginning to play there, as no one wants to go there. Other venues, with more accommodating space and staff, have picked up where others have lost customers. Oh, and then there’s the doorman with the rather Stasi like demeanor who works at a rather well known venue downtown who thinks that he personally owns the city sidewalk, and thus has taken it upon himself to self-aggrandize his own “authority” by berating me (and other smokers) for smoking out on a city sidewalk; a city sidewalk, mind you, that is fit for rats and skid-row, but not for smokers. …Twas the most stressful Patti Smith concert that I had ever been to, though she rocked. I vowed to never patronize that venue again, and I haven’t been back since. Oh, and what to say about the guy who sat across from me and my boyfriend out on an outdoor patio at a local restaurant (it’s byob!) that we frequent. You see, even though we were outside, and seated nowhere near the man, it was simply just too much for this creature to even SEE someone smoke a cigarette. Did I mention that in addition to being nowhere near him, my little plume of smoke was going in the opposite direction? He felt that he had the moral superiority, being a non-smoker, to tell me to put my cigarette out. I did not. He, the poor and feeble minded creature, was simply stunned by my resistance. I am not an unreasonable person you see, if my smoke really was going in his direction, the solution would simply have been to move. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions when one is dealing with rabid, anti-smoker bullies. Of course, when this man got up with his significant other to exit the premises, he proceeded to rev up his old Volkswagen that gassed us all into oblivion with diesel fumes; everyone on the patio began gasping, for real this time. Go figure.

The latest fad…not having to see a smoker as an excuse for outdoor bans, the misappropriation of funds, the misalignment of priorities when it comes to public safety, and the danger to local businesses…

This rather new phenomenon of not having to see a smoker has begun to take hold at an increasingly alarming rate. We now have politicians who use this very premise as a reason to ban outdoor smoking, even though it has absolutely NOTHING to do with health or public safety. When I leave my place of residence daily, I (along with my boyfriend and smoking neighbors) am now treated to the pervasive and over-bearing no smoking signs that have recently been placed outside in the park (which everyone has decidedly chosen to ignore, much to my delight at giving the finger to the “man”) which sits directly in front of my house. The city, of course, had money for the placement of no-smoking signs, whilst at the same time telling our neighborhood watch coordinator that it did not have enough money to post neighborhood watch signs. I suppose that the message of anti-smoking is more of a pressing issue than actual public safety. Priorities are priorities you know, especially in this time of recession, furloughs of public safety personnel, and empty storefronts. As a result of the recent onslaught of outdoor smoking bans, there are now many towns in and around the Los Angeles area that I and many of my friends no longer frequent; Burbank, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills are but a few. This in turn means that many of us Angelinos are not spending money to support many local businesses, such as restaurants and bars; and when less people spend money at local restaurants and bars, that also means that less money is spent at local retail shops as well, as is evidenced by the many empty store fronts that now litter the Southland.

Bullying backed by the law…..

A friend of mine recently received a $250 ticket for smoking outside on a sidewalk in Burbank. He was standing outside of his work, presumably following the “law” by not smoking inside, when he was approached by not one, but TWO police officers on bicycles. Failure to pay the fine in Burbank results in a warrant for your arrest. At one local neighborhood watch meeting that I attended, our local L.A. City Councilman was more interested in berating smokers for sitting on park benches than on discussing the recent onslaught of robberies and hate crimes in my neighborhood. That moment, I had an epiphany of sorts.

Hatred towards smokers becomes “acceptable”……

I then realized how deep the hatred went, and how screwed I am as a smoker in California. I realized that what once was merely a tiny seed of hate, to be brushed off as a mere nuisance, had now grown into something that had the potential to morph into a full-blown hate campaign, backed by our government and our taxes. Suddenly, my previous comparison to the Stasi doorman above seems almost reasonable. For example, this is a poster on the side of the road that I encountered in Hollywood on my way back from band rehearsal recently:


This, having been the second time that I have come across such an advert (the last one encompassed the entire wall of a building), has me thinking that it can’t be long until hate crimes against smokers follow. Now the anti-smokers think that it’s ok to literally berate smokers in public, unchallenged.

So, are people still smoking in Southern California?

The irony is that I have never seen so many smoke shops open in such close proximity to one another as I have witnessed in the last couple of years. This would seem to imply that, despite anti-smoking statistics, people are now smoking MORE, not less. The real irony here, of course, is that the more anti-smokers push on with increased draconian legislation, the more that people seem to want to smoke. Ah, but what would I know…I’m only someone who actually lives in the city.

Is there really “public support” for such extreme measures, such as outdoor bans and smoke-free housing?

If you read the press release of any grant-seeking anti-smoking “non-profit”, one would be greeted with a resolute “yes”; However, if one were to ask the opinions of people who live in the real world, the answer would emphatically be “no”. A few months back, I decided to embark upon my own little survey (to see if my suspicions had merit) when I walked all around several neighborhoods in Los Angeles with fliers about the proposed outdoor smoking ban (which passed) in L.A.. What I encountered shocked me: about 90% of the people that I approached thought that the anti-smoking movement had gone too far, many of whom were angry with the new proposed restrictions; and when I say angry, I mean angry; I even got yelled at by some people who thought that I was an anti-smoker, and one guy even grabbed the flier out of my hand and said “give me that, I’ll make copies and make sure that all of my friends know about this” (this was in hipster Silverlake, btw). I even encountered a couple of anti-smokers (that owned upscale businesses) who themselves thought that an outdoor ban was going too far, “Well, I certainly don’t have anything against smokers…or businesses that choose to cater to smokers…” was a response that I got from a few people whom I would have deemed to be “pompous” in nature and societal stature; much to my surprise, they were quite reasonable folks without the slightest hint of pomposity about them; which is not to say that those types don’t exist here in California, what has become quite obvious to me though, is that they comprise a very small minority that seems to be mostly confined to grant-seekers, politicians in ivory towers, insecure control freaks, and hypochondriacs.

There is hope for peace…

Alas, there is hope: most people in California are decent people who have no desire to bully smokers, or anyone for that matter. I know this because I actually got out of my house and off of my couch and talked to some of them.

California is a beautiful place with many problems, which include a soaring deficit, one of the highest un-employment rates in the country outside of Detroit, an un-affordable housing market, and an infrastructure that is crumbling. Still, there are many things that I love about California, like its coast, its mountains, its deserts (a soulful place of inspiration for me), its creative people in the film and music world, its diversity, etc... It has however, become a very stressful place to live if you are just a person or a business owner just trying to go along making their way in life. We’ll see what happens in November here. Maybe there will be some real change at the ballot box, maybe there won’t. If you decide to come to California for a visit and you’re a smoker, just know the places to avoid and plan accordingly. Also know that it is not personal, as most of us here are quite reasonable and tolerant of others’ lifestyle choices, it’s just that we’re currently ruled by fanatics. Look at the bright side though, there’s a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana that voters are going to vote on this November and that can only be good for the rest of us smokers, as we’re all going to have to band together to find/demand a place to smoke; and if the ballot measure fails this time around, maybe we’ll see a new coalition formed that represents freedom of choice for all

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Radio 2 Interview

Yesterday John from Freedom2Choose kindly offered me the chance to appear on Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show to discuss two Bournemouth hospitals overturning their smokefree policies and erecting smoking shelters. For the full story, read here.

For my short stint on the show, you can listen here from about 1 hour 30 mins into the show

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Didn't people die for freedom?

The anti-smoking brigade is developing frightening speed lately, winning legislation after legislation to ostracise, demonise, denormalise and alienate smokers. Note that's "smokers", not "smoking". They work from the premise of being anti-smoking, but it's nothing more than a ploy, similar to their cries that it's all for public health. Anti-smoking wouldn't mean banning tobacco products from being in possession, that resides solely under the anti-smoker banner.

Hot on the trails of the news that Vancouver has banned smoking on all its many acres of beaches and parks comes the news that it is now illegal to have tobacco products on state owned outdoor properties in Orange County, Florida. This includes parks and pavements and, bewilderingly, the legislation includes a limit for state employees that they can smoke only four cigars a year. In their own time. On their own property. Otherwise their salary loses $650.

Pretty baffling isn't it? That means if you attend 5 weddings in a year, you need to prioritise which ones you can smoke a cigar at. If after the fourth one you feel a bit stressed later in the year, tough. I'm not sure if this is per ever 365 days, or calendar year, but it doesn't make any difference.

Is there any justification for this, anywhere? Because if there is, I'm damned if I can see it. The state has no right to dictate what people can do in their own time or on their property so long so long as it remains within the confines of the law. It strikes me as worrying that America allows its citizens to own guns and shoot trespassers on their property, but certain grown adults can't smoke a legally purchased and taxed cigar. The next step will be "we won't emply you unless you eat salad for lunch and run 6 marathons a year".

Hearing this story instantly reminded me of this:

If you have time, here's an episode that pretty much perfectly sums up the hypocrisy and bullshit of the anti-smoking movement

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Toddler Goes to Rehab to Break 40-a-day Habit

Some of you may remember this two-year-old with his 40-a-day habit.

True to form, the health puritans, having a misguided view of themselves as some sort of cavalier muskateers, here to rid the world of health threats - perceived or real - had to get involved for him to stop the habit.

Actually I don't think it's really such a bad thing, having a two-year-old weighing in at 4stone (or 56lbs for you Americans reading this) and smoking two packs a day is a pretty big red flag for lack of parental control or concern, or both. How serious the health risks are of his habit, I don't know; after all, the Semai children start smoking at two and it was found, of 12,000 adults studied, none had lung cancer.

Well the puritans got involved, predictably (what better way to strengthen their mantra of 'for the chiiiildren'?), and the kid went to rehab for a month. Oh, and it was all filmed...

They then showed him the next day as he rolled around on the floor screaming and crying as he threw a fit at being refused a cigarette.

I can understand why they'd want a toddler to stop smoking, but doesn't this reside under psychological abuse? I'm a little confused why they couldn't wean him off instead of cold turkey. The e-cig would have been perfect, but no prizes for spotting that wasn't used. Instead, he underwent "play therapy" to take his mind off smoking. I'll repeat that: play. Therapy. I'm beginning to wonder if that psychologist's degree was bought on eBay. I have no doubt he enjoyed playing with toys, and they probably helped distract him, but this is known as a diversion tool, not therapy.

THe report can be read in the Daily Mail.

This probably isn't the end of this saga, as we're also told

'This year, we found that there are baby smokers, who start from a year old,' admitted Aris Merdeka Sirait, CEO of the National Committee of Child Protection in Indonesia, stating that more than than 30 percent of children there smoke a cigarette before the age of 10.

As shown from the link above, this isn't a new trend at all, but as usual these 'protection' groups either relish dwelling in ignorance, or love a good scare story:

'Unhealthy children will be the future generation of our country. It is genocide.'

How's that for a moral panic?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Be Afraid, be Very Afraid. Vancouver Takes Things to the Next Level

Vancouver isn't the first to pass outdoor smoking bans. Nova Scotia has one, Halifax has one, and parts of California have them - although some of those have ditched all pretence and openly admitted 'hey, we just don't wanna see smokers, ok?' How they get away with that I don't know. Actually I do, it's because it's against smokers, not protected minorities. So everyone reading this, if you want to make a quick buck, influence politics and get your name in the news without any fear of repurcussions, jump on the anti-smoking bandwagon. Everyone else, well done, you still have your integrity.

Outdoor bans are slowly creeping through. Calgary has a bylaw that states smoking by doorways isn't allowed. I'm not actually too against that, provided the distance you have to be isn't stupid. It can be intimidating to walk through a crowd of people, and, fair enough, the smoke can be irritating to some. But let's not get the cart before the horse on this - if smokers hadn't been kicked out in the first place, they wouldn't be crowding doorways. It's nonsensical to all of a sudden proclaim 'well now we can't get to the door without breathing toxic smoke!' because if you'd been a little tolerant and sensible in the first place, smokers would peacefully enjoy their tobacco in a separate room, or a ventilated communal room, indoors. So excuse them while they brave the weather huddled together in the only place there's shelter - the overhang above the door. OK? OK. So while I can understand the argument against smokers gathering in doorways, I'm not at all in favour of 'shunting them further down that way'. No, treat them like human beings, put a roof over their head while they enjoy their legal product that they bought and paid for, and we'll all be happy. In the UK, the tax from tobacco provides about a quarter of the health services, so no one can afford to lose sight of the true cost of penalising smokers to such an extent.

What's this post about? The Vancourier has released an article explaining how nauseatingly low the anti-smoking campaign has got there:

It's official. Vancouver is a no-smoking zone. Butt them out on your shoe and fall in line.

A new bylaw takes effect today--in every Vancouver park (all 224 of them) and beach (except for Wreck) and along the entire seawall, smoking is prohibited. Anyone caught smoking will be fined up to $2,000.

Pretty sweeping huh? The anti-smoking lobby must have worked really hard to pull that one off. Actually, no. What makes this story even worse is the staggering fact that a handful of people have this sort of power:
This new bylaw, which outlaws a legal activity in a city of 570,000, was crafted and enacted solely by the seven-member park board--an entity few Vancouverites know anything about.

Wow. Seven people, controlling 570,000. As most Vancouverites don't know the board even exists, presumably they're an unelected body, so what right do they actually have to pull this off? Probably none. As for the reasoning behind this insanity (brace yourself):
According to [park board commissioner, Aaron] Jasper, the park board heard from "health care professionals" who claim secondhand smoke--even on a breezy beach--represents a health hazard. He noted the "environmental impact" of cigarette butts, and most bizarrely, went all Smokey the Bear on us. "Forest fires," said Jasper, "are a grave concern."

Forest fires? In Vancouver? Have there been any forest fires in Vancouver lately? Like since 1886?

"Well, this year there has been nothing I've been made aware of."

Got that? Picked yourself up from the floor?
Secondhand smoke, which poses no threat indoors, is now a health concern now only outdoors, but along the coast with a strong sea breeze that barely lets you keep your hair and clothes. The serial killer of smoke can easily withstand such a gust of air though, and still find victims. I'd love to know who these "health care professionals" are that he's been talking to.
Environmental issues of cigarette butts? Um, Jasper? There's these things called bins, and people, well, put things in them that they are done using. And most of them have these other things called ashtrays on the top of them, used for, well, putting cigarettes in. These 'bins' and 'ashtrays' actually stop the cigarette butts winding up on the floor and thus remove the 'environmental issue' of discarded butts. Now you're up to speed, can you review this policy?
Forest fires in Vancouver... I'm not even going to bother touching that one.

The bylaw gets worse, by the way (not that you expected anything less, no doubt):

Penalties not only apply to smokers but smoking accomplices. For example, if you light a cigarette for your 83-year-old grandfather who stormed the beach at Normandy but now resides in a wheelchair with limited use of his trembling hands, you can be fined up to $2,000.

And if, despite permission from the driver, you light up inside a taxi that happens to be on park board land, you're subject to punishment. Up to $2,000 worth.

This is actually quite tragic. Many members of the elderly generation enjoy nothing more than sitting on the coast, and many enjoy their pipes, cigars or cigarettes too. But they can't do this, they have to remove themselves from the beach, smoke somewhere else, then totter back. This is inconvenient for everyone, but when we're talking about a demographic of people which has a large number of wheelchair users or people generally unsteady on their feet, it's disgraceful. They're probably wondering what liberties they actually fought for back in the day. But, they're also the one generation in society you can depend on to not give a damn and continue regardless, and thank God someone is doing that, because the 'rebellious youths' are nowhere to be seen.

But of course, this is done for our own good:

"This isn't about punishing people, it's about educating people," said Jasper. "Your personal habits are your personal habits and as long as they're not infringing on the peace and enjoyment of others and the health of others, continue whatever you're doing. It's not my place to tell people what they should do."

It never ceases to amaze me, truly. Smokers can't infringe on the rights of others, yet, as a legal product, smokers do have the right to smoke tobacco, so these rules and bylaws are affecting their own rights and freedoms. And as we all know, smoking on the beach or park isn't affecting the health of anyone else, much less their enjoyment - and peace, peace?! I have no idea what he even means. The only way smoking disturbs the peace is when one of those omnipresent self-righteous fuckwits creates a scene by taking it upon themselves to cleanse the population, leaving it devoid of smokers. Smokers are pretty content and quiet when they're puffing. Tobacco has that effect, you see.

"Our job is to make sure that everyone can have enjoyment of our parks and public spaces."

Except smokers.

If this was a TV drama, I'd be enthralled, anxiously waiting for next week's installment to find out what unbelievable plan will be unveiled next. But somehow, unbelievably, this is real. We can't decide whether burkhas should be allowed in schools because we don't want to offend anyone, but there's not even a second thought to treating smokers like second-rate citizens. It's like selling kids ice-cream and saying 'oh, but you can't consume it. No, it'll kill you. Use it as an ornament, or go way out into the woods where no one can see you'.

I might just go live in the mountains.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Youths Want Landlords to Decide Smoking Status

According to a survey by Freedom 2 Choose, teengers think landlords should have the choice of whether an establishment permits smoking or not. The Morning Advertiser reports:

Members and supporters surveyed 1,312 under-25s in five different areas of England and found 99.7% think pubs and clubs should have the choice about whether people can smoke inside.

And 98.4% think pubs and clubs should be allowed separate smoking rooms.

Just 1.8% said the smoking ban deterred them from smoking, although 85% said it had affected their social habits.

Meanwhile, 85.2% agreed that second hand smoke does not pose a health threat.

What's most interesting about this is that it's young people, i.e. the generation brought up hearing the scare stories of smoking and passive smoking, the generation that has been PC'd, the generation that has always been accustomed to anti-smoking reports and legislation. So despite a lifetime of anti-smoking propaganda, the vast majority believe passive smoking doesn't pose a threat to health and believe smokers should be allowed to enjoy their legal habit under a roof. Perhaps all is not lost.

This begs the question that if the public is not in favour of a ban, why do we, a supposedly democratic society, have one? How can we, in this age of technological advance and proposed tolerance to others, not allow separate smoking rooms or proven ventilation to combat the annoyance of smoke?

Older generations were never in favour of the ban, either. In fact, they were predominantly the ones smoking in venues like pubs or bingo halls, had grown up in smoky environments and smoked most of their lives. I'd bet any money that a similar poll of adults and the elderly would find similar results, because people are generally tolerant and smart enough to realise that they're not going to get struck down with cancer by a night in a smoky pub. Not until we're given a single name of a person who died from secondhand smoke exposure.

The public have spoken. We don't want a draconian ban, and we don't want our liberties removed.

Finally Recognised: Smoking Ban Main Cause of Pub Closures

This isn't news to most people, we knew before July 2007 that the ban would have a negative effect on trade. How did we know this? Because we, paying, smoking customers, said we'd stop going places we weren't welcome. We didn't need a degree in economics to be aware of the fact that if paying customers stop turning up and spending money, the profits of the establishment will dwindle.

Oddly, a lot of other people seemed to think less paying customers would have no effect on profits or trade. Naturally, Stanton Glantz and his band of merry men knocked up a report or two claiming to prove that smoking bans had a positive effect on trade, but it's pretty much a given these days that if Glantz says something, the opposite is true (bear that in mind for future reports). Never trust anyone who resorts to science by press release, because you can be sure the actual facts will be the opposite - otherwise they wouldn't need to rely on press releases in the first place.

We were told that the recession was responsible for pub closures, bingo hall closures and basically all closures within the hospitality trade. I've never had trouble agreeing that the recession had some effect on it, however I was also always aware that pub closures had a very obvious pattern after any smoking ban around the world. We have the benefit of bans being enacted at different times around the world, Wales enforced theirs before England, parts of America had it before that. What we could always see, no matter what country and what year, was an immediate and predictable effect on trade.

Yesterdays Morning Advertiser acknowledged that we were right:
CGA data has been manipulated by CR Consulting to reveal a striking correlation in the rate of closures in England, Scotland and Wales following the smoking bans in each country.

Previously, the different start times of the ban have obscured the similarity of the decline across Britain, causing commentators to look to other reasons for pubs closing.

Now, the report says “the smoking ban is demonstrably the most significant cause of pub closures”.

“While there is significant variation in the trajectories of the pub estates before the ban there is an almost total correlation between the three GB lines after the ban. This indicates that they are affected by a strong common factor ­— the smoking ban.

“The correlation is in fact so close that the trend line for the three countries is identical.”


“With smokers being moved outside, the price premium [in pubs] can no longer be justified [by drinkers] so more people drink at home,” it maintains.

“This has a cumulative effect — as fewer people use the pub it becomes less of a social draw.”

Vindication sure is sweet. It's pretty disgraceful that this needs to be printed in the news before people believe it, but as they say, common sense isn't all that common