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ASH criticised for trying to stifle open debate

Tue 5th July, 2011

The anti-smoking group ASH has been ridiculed by a leading online magazine after an attempt to stifle debate about smokers' rights went pear-shaped.

The magazine, spiked, reported that "attempts by anti-smoking zealots to smear a report on civil liberties reveal just how bankrupt their arguments are".

"Yesterday," wrote deputy editor Rob Lyons, "I received an email from Amanda Sandford, research manager of the anti-smoking organisation ASH UK: ‘We understand that a report published by the human rights “watchdog” organisation Privacy International has been released today. Please note that this is a tobacco industry-funded report published over a month ago in association with the tobacco manufacturers front group, Forest.’

"Phew! Not only has ASH long been a guardian of the nation’s collective health, protecting us from the nasty smoke spewed out by cigarette abusers, but now it is stepping up to the plate as moral guardian, too. Many easily led people may simply have checked out the report, Civil Liberties: Up in Smoke by Simon Davies, and fallen into the trap of judging the arguments within on their merits. Never fear, because ASH has saved us from that. Some money from Big Tobacco helped to fund the report, so there’s no need to read a word of it or engage in any debate about it.

"Such is the nature of the discussion today about smoking, where anti-smoking campaigners seem to take the jokey name for tobacco - the ‘evil weed’ - quite literally, and regard anyone who has a good word to say for cigarettes and smokers as somehow infected with the evil, too."

After reviewing the report, Lyons concluded that:

"Smokers have been foolishly thinking that give-and-take, the normal process of sorting out interpersonal relations, would be enough to resolve such disagreements. That sort of sane and sensible response is no use when zealots like ASH are on the march, and every busybody and jobsworth is emboldened by this anti-smoking mania.

"Perhaps what is required is a more muscular defence of personal freedom. Don’t like my choice to smoke here? Go somewhere else. Offended by me sitting in the park quietly drinking with friends? Tough.

"Above all, we need an uncompromising defence of open discussion and free debate, something ASH seems allergic to. As the examples in Davies’ report show, smokers and non-smokers alike should be mightily worried about the authoritarian trends that anti-smoking campaigns create and reinforce."

Source: The fag end of the argument (spiked, 5 July 2011)

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