Posts Tagged ‘cigarettes’

A Workaholic Saved Chrysler

July 25, 2018

Sergio Marchionne was bold and frank in a way that violated his industry’s norms.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in Balocco, Italy, June 1.
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in Balocco, Italy, June 1. PHOTO: PIERO CRUCIATTI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES



Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne had planned to retire next year. He had spoken to reporters about this soon-to-be deliverance from a job to which he devoted 24 hours a day, sleeping on planes, seldom seeing loved ones. It is likely that Chrysler wouldn’t exist today without his sacrifices.

Accounts are sketchy, but a surgery this month didn’t end well, leaving him in what reports bleakly call a grave condition. His untimely fate will send a shiver through workaholics everywhere, not to mention all who need multiple packs of Muratti cigarettes to get through their workload. Mr. Marchionne deserved better.

As Steve Rattner, the Obama auto czar, later said, Mr. Marchionne’s willingness and availability was crucial to a divided administration’s decision to give Chrysler one more roll of the dice: “If we had not had Sergio, actually we would have let it go right there probably.”

Mr. Marchionne had already shown his brilliance in turning around Fiat in 2004, but Chrysler was his masterpiece of industrial and political engineering. He won Fiat’s initial stake for nothing more than a promise to provide small-car technology to Chrysler. A credulous New York Times said at the time the big risk was whether Chrysler could survive long enough for these small cars to begin rolling off assembly lines.

Uh huh. Mr. Marchionne knew perfectly well Americans didn’t want small cars. Obama advisers had to “nail me to a condition” that served a symbolic purpose for the administration, he said. Those small cars wouldn’t be coming, except for a modest number of Fiat 500s from its plant in Mexico. The Fiat rescue of Chrysler that would soon become a Chrysler rescue of Fiat was built on big American cars sold to big Americans.

All this was plain enough this week with the naming of his successor— Mike Manley, who had been running its Jeep and Ram truck divisions. Also worth noting is the fact that GM and Ford have now copied Chrysler’s decision to abandon basic sedan production.

The Italian-Canadian Mr. Marchionne was not a product of Detroit’s temples of obfuscation, where executives are conditioned to elide awkward truths about what they do and why, under pressure from bureaucrats, green groups and mau-mauing politicians.

When pressed at a Brookings seminar on what had gone wrong with Chrysler, he pointed to the “unpresentable” bathrooms, unfit for workers who were expected to turn out “high-quality product . . . to compete internationally with the best of the best.”

Nor would he likely have achieved as much under a conventional board of directors. His high-risk, high-candor adventures were possible thanks to the almost mystical backing of his boss, John Elkann, the 42-year-old grandson of legendary Fiat patriarch Gianni Agnelli.

Yes, the company remains overly dependent on the U.S. market, missing out on China. Vehicle quality lags behind its peers in published surveys. Establishing Alfa Romeo as a new luxury performance brand in the U.S. remains a work without visible progress.

What’s more, his wooing of GM was as painful to watch as Donald Trump’s wooing of Vladimir Putin, though that’s where the comparison ends. If all your bets pay off, he might have said, you’re not making enough bets.

Mr. Marchionne knew that customers want more than just Toyota-like transportation. They want cars that mean something. “Nationalities of brands matter,” he said.

He was not the first to notice the untapped potential of Jeep, a name that sings the best kind of American can-doism. But under his leadership, Chrysler finally did something about it, tripling annual sales to 1.9 million vehicles in seven years.

If there was a Faustian element in his dealings with the Obama administration, it was electric vehicles, about which he was typically frank. Please don’t buy my Fiat 500e, he joked more than once, on which the company loses $20,000 per car.

He was equally and properly skeptical of self-driving vehicles, but also struck a partnership with Google’s Waymo unit. He recognized that autonomy would not be the competitive advantage of any single company. Self-driving features will eventually emerge as a package of capabilities that auto makers will buy off the shelf.

In fact, his recurrent theme was his industry’s penchant for wasting capital on duplicative under-the-hood differentiation that held no value for consumers. He also understood better than most why this must be so: Because in every country, politics abhors the downsizing of an auto company.

He came up as an accountant and entered the car industry late, but he understood a few things apparently. By the count of Morgan Stanley ’s Adam Jonas, Mr. Marchionne took $2.3 billion and turned it into $84 billion for investors. Speaking ahead of time for many of these shareholders today, Mr. Jonas said on a conference call in January, “God bless you, Sergio. We’re never going to see anyone like you again.”


Gucci Sorry for Warning to Hong Kong Funeral Offering Shops

May 6, 2016

The Associated Press

May 6, 2016

HONG KONG — Gucci and its parent company apologized Friday after drawing heavy criticism for warning some Hong Kong shops not to sell paper offerings for the deceased that resembled the fashion brand’s luxury products.

The brand and its Paris-based owner, Kering, also said in a statement that they regretted any misunderstanding caused by the letters, which were sent to six shops last month.

After meeting with the shop owners, “Kering and Gucci would like to reiterate their utmost respect with regards to the funeral context,” the statement said.

In Hong Kong and some other parts of Asia, people burn paper offerings at funerals and during grave-sweeping festivals for deceased relatives to “use” in the afterlife.

Specialty shops near funeral parlors sell a diverse array of paper offerings, including bundles of “hell money,” mansions, iPhones, cars, cigarettes and designer handbags, cans of beer and soda, mahjong tables and dogs and cats.

The letters, which were sent as part of the companies’ global intellectual property protection efforts, did not suggest legal action or compensation because they did not believe the shop owners intended to infringe on the Gucci trademark, the statement said.

Gucci operates 11 boutiques in Hong Kong and is one of the brands most coveted by shoppers, including many visiting from mainland China, where luxury goods are more expensive because of higher taxes.


BBC News

Gucci paper offering

Italian luxury goods maker Gucci has sent warning letters to Hong Kong shops selling paper versions of its products as offerings to the dead.

China orders Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol, cigarettes, to ‘weaken’ Islam

May 6, 2015


By Simon Denyer
The Washington Post

Maybe His Own Marijuana Abuse Made President Obama “Stupid” on Drugs, Cigarettes, Addiction

January 24, 2014



On the morning Fox News program “Fox and Friends,” this morning (January 24, 2014), former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy  John Walters said:  “Smoking pot makes you stupid. And we don’t need more stupid people. When talking about our kids and marijuana, I have two words, ‘Justin Bieber.'”


By  and

(CNN) – Earlier this week, the ongoing debate about marijuana legalization in the United States reached a new high: President Barack Obama’s White House.

“As has been well-documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama told New Yorker Editor David Remnick. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

The President is not alone in his past indulgences. According to an August Gallup poll, 38% of Americans have toked tried marijuana, 5% more than in 1985.

Obama thinks that what he called experiments in Washington State and Colorado – legalization of marijuana for recreational use, not medicinal use – should go forward.

But the President’s stance is contradicted by the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“The administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people,” the White House website says.

“I think like many people his age baby boomers and post baby boomers the president hasn’t kept up with what’s going on here,” said John Walters, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for the second Bush administration.

“Science over the last 15 years has shown us this is more dangerous, not less dangerous,” said Walters.

“For those of us who lived through this, we had a lot of friends who got stuck, had their lives derailed, maybe they got stuck longer. Now we have research that says sustained use from adolescent onward may cause you to lose IQ points permanently, can cause other health problems,” said Walters.

“The president is kind of living in a recollection that people his age have, which has not kept up with the facts, and kind of romanticizes youth,” said the former drug czar.

For more of our interview with John Walters, check out the video:


Bieber was one of eight people detained in the garage of his property while deputies executed their warrant on Tuesday morning.
Bieber during a recent run in with the police

For me, marijuana is a gateway drug — to an early grave

January 21, 2014


Marijuana is only legal in Colorado and Washington state, though it has been approved for medicinal purposes in 18 states. Photo: BOB PEARSON/EPA

By Richard Cohen
The Washington Post

On Jan. 1, Colorado began permitting the legal sale of marijuana. Even before that, the nation’s news media had swung into action, arguing just about everything — marijuana is dangerous or not dangerous, a gateway drug or just a lot of smoke. Nothing I saw mentioned why I, for one, will not smoke marijuana. I’m afraid it would lead me back to cigarettes.

Once I was addicted to cigarettes. (I suppose I still am.) I tried to quit numerous times — hypnotism, acupuncture, hypnotism again, willpower and shame and mortal shame — but for the longest time, nothing worked. I felt enslaved — sucking this poison into my body, soiling my lungs — and enraged at an industry that encouraged me as a youth to smoke and, despite all the health findings, continued to give me that encouraging wink: Smoke. Go ahead. Such sweet pleasure!Now the latest surgeon general’s report shows that cigarette smoking is even worse for us than we once thought. To all the usual diseases — lung cancer and heart disease — can be added diabetes, colorectal and liver cancers and, irony of ironies, erectile dysfunction. The Marlboro Man needs some help.Boris D. Lushniak, the acting surgeon general, tacked on some more horrors: vision loss, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, impaired immune function and cleft palates in children of pregnant women who smoke. Did I mention bladder cancer? How about cervical cancer? They, too, can be caused by smoking. Can you imagine anything more economical? Almost any disease you can name is in a single package.The managers and directors of tobacco companies must wonder at their good fortune. The nation is engaged in a great debate about marijuana — is it dangerous, addictive? — while tobacco is not only legal but widely available and not discussed. Smoking, the surgeon general says, is responsible for 480,000 premature deaths a year. That’s a bit more than the population of Kansas City, Mo. — dead, dead and very dead every single year.

About 18 percent of Americans smoke, down from 42 percent in 1965. The decline has leveled off, but with it has come an appreciation of just how unhealthy smoking is. Tobacco is about the only product you can think of that, when used as directed, can kill you.

To my knowledge, Karl Marx never considered tobacco companies in his criticism of capitalism. Yet almost 150 years after he published “Das Kapital,” these companies are selling a carcinogenic delivery system to what are, after all, nicotine junkies. How’s that for exploitation, Karl baby? What other industry can claim so many lives and so much misery? Beginning with its early efforts to suppress medical findings, what other industry has such a splendid history of lying to the public?

Yet the people who run these companies are not shunned, denied membership at the country club and appropriately reviled. Instead, they are welcomed and respected and, of course, well compensated. If you read the Web sites of the various tobacco companies, you would think that they are in the business of fighting smoking and that new smokers somehow materialize out of thin air. The word “responsibility” is a leitmotif. This is an outrageous restraint of trade; these companies leave little hypocrisy for anyone else.

I started smoking as a kid, 13 or 14 years old. After some years, I tried pipes and cigars as a cigarette substitute. No good. Pipes were impractical when I was in the Army — I couldn’t light them up or put them out fast enough to suit the average sergeant — and cigars were no improvement since I tended to inhale.

The truth is I loved to smoke. But now I can hardly bear to watch Bogie light up in some film-noir classic without seeing it as foreshadowing his death from esophageal cancer at the age of 57. And when I see kids on the street smoking, flipping off health concerns with the arrogance of youth, I want to slap them silly or, at the least, delay their walk with a lecture on what the surgeon general has found. But mostly I want them and everyone else to ask how we can have a national debate on marijuana and ignore the annual mountain of cadavers from smoking cigarettes. It, for sure, is a gateway drug — to an early grave.

Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.



Anti-drug advocates who have admonished for years that marijuana is a “gateway drug” may be on to something, according to a study by Yale University School of Medicine researchers. But the executive director of the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws dismissed the findings as “just another propaganda study.”

The Yale study, which appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were associated with an increased likelihood of prescription drug abuse in men 18 to 25. In women of that age, only marijuana use was linked with a higher likelihood of prescription drug abuse.

For years, researchers have looked at a connection between marijuana and hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, said Lynn Fiellin, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. But given the large number of people who abuse prescription drugs — particularly opioids (or painkillers) such as OxyContin and Percocet — Fiellin said it seemed worthwhile to examine whether there was a link between marijuana and use of these drugs.

“I don’t think the general population has a good idea of how serious the problem is with prescription opioids,” Fiellin said. “When they’re abused or misused, these are hard drugs.”

According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is done by the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 5 million people were current users of prescription painkillers.

In their research, Fiellin and her team looked at data from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 versions of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as those were the most recent surveys available at the time of their study. The Yale researchers focused on a sample of 55,215 18- to 25-year-olds. Of those, 6,496, about 12 percent, reported that they were abusing prescription opioids. Of the group abusing these drugs, about 57 percent had used alcohol, 56 percent had smoked cigarettes and 34 percent had used marijuana.

The study found that, among both men and women, those who had used marijuana were 2.5 times more likely than those their age who abstained to later dabble in prescription drugs. Also, young men who drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes were 25 percent more likely to abuse prescription opioids. However, the study didn’t show an association between alcohol or cigarette use in young women and later use of prescription drugs.

Erik Williams, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the study fails to make a strong link between marijuana and the use of harder drugs. NORML is a nonprofit, public-interest lobby that supports the removal of criminal penalties for possession and use of marijuana by adults.

“This is just another propaganda study that tries to turn a casual relationship into a causal relationship,” Williams said. “There’s no real conclusive evidence here.”

Fiellin conceded that more research is needed to prove a concrete connection between opioid abuse and marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes. However, Fiellin said, this study is a start.

“It’s a red flag,” she said. “It sort of highlights that there’s a potential association that’s important here.”

At least one area mental health professional said the Yale findings don’t come as a surprise. Susannah Tung, a staff psychiatrist at St. Vincent‘s Behavioral Health in Westport, said she works with people battling addiction and frequently sees how early use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana can open the door to harder substances.

“If you start using something, it easily and quickly worsens,” Tung said.; 203-330-6290;;

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bill Cosby: A plague called apathy

June 16, 2013

He was the New York City dad we all wish we had Cliff Huxtable, the strict, funny and understanding father on “The Cosby Show,” played for eight years by actor Bill Cosby. Now 75, Cosby continues to be a father figure, speaking out about the importance of personal responsibility. He’s on a concert tour (he comes to White Plains in September) and has a new book, “I Didn’t Ask to be Born (But I’m Glad I Was).” Last week, he met with reporter Stacy Brown to share his thoughts about Bloomberg’s health crusades, children without manners and parents who need to be more involved. But the biggest issue facing us today, he argues, is apathy.

Bill Cosby — Illustration by Dale Stephanos

In terms of health, two things stand out that Mayor Bloomberg has jumped into to find some kind of remedy that will help cut back on illness — the abuse of sodas and tobacco.

No 1: Smoking — and a big howl went up from people who want to smoke. But when you look at it, everything points to smoking as a problem; whether a person dies from cancer or not, it’s still other things — emphysema, all kinds of breathing problems, second-hand smoke onto the children, let alone minute things such as you smell like cigar, cigarette or pipe — it’s in your skin, it’s in your hair. Mayor Bloomberg jumped in on that and people complained. Restaurants complained, people complained, why did they complain?

Money. That’s why. People are greedy. It wasn’t about somebody dying, it is all about money, so they use something called choice, which makes no sense at all. I have the right to smoke myself to death, they say. I don’t know if you ever had relatives who are sitting there and mentally they are in a state of addiction and they say, “No, I want to have my cigarette.” They have a metal bottle and two things going up in their nose and they have a pack of cigarettes in their pocket or pocketbooks and they keep saying, “I know, I know,” and people push them around in the wheelchair to have a smoke.

No. 2: Diabetes. Children are not being taken out of harm’s way. And there are many things that we also can do, but one is you don’t want your child consuming too much sugar. That is what the mayor tried to do with the sugar in the soft drinks.

It is my belief — my BELIEF in big letters — when people don’t make good choices, you can yell as loud as you want to at me about this is my body and I do what I want to do with my body, so OK yes you can. But now you are spreading it along generationally so that your daughter and grandchildren have it and everybody’s doing it. It becomes a term of apathy because people say my father had it, my aunt had it. People then ask you, “What your mother die of?” “Diabetes.” “Grandmother?” “Diabetes.” These things don’t have to happen if you make the correct choice.

Cigarettes: Gateway to Marijuana and Then More Dangerous Drugs?

May 5, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – Teen smokers who rationalize their use of cigarettes by saying, “At least, I’m not doing drugs,” may not always be able to use that line.

New research to be presented Sunday, May 5, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC, supports the theory that cigarettes are a gateway drug to marijuana.

“Contrary to what we would expect, we also found that students who smoked both tobacco and marijuana were more likely to smoke more tobacco than those who smoked only tobacco,” said study author Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, FAAP, an investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.

Dr. Moreno and her colleagues randomly selected incoming college students from two universities — one in the Northwest and one in the Midwest — to participate in the longitudinal study. Students were interviewed prior to entering college and again at the end of their freshman year regarding their attitudes, intentions and experiences with substances.

Specifically, students were asked if they had used tobacco or marijuana ever in their lives and in the past 28 days. Researchers also assessed the quantity and frequency of marijuana and tobacco use in the past 28 days.

Results showed that prior to entering college, 33 percent of the 315 participants reported lifetime tobacco use, and 43 percent of lifetime users were current users. In addition, tobacco users were more likely to have used marijuana than those who did not use tobacco.

By the end of their freshman year, 66 percent of participants who reported tobacco use prior to entering college remained current users with an average of 34 tobacco episodes per month. Of these, 53 percent reported concurrent marijuana use. Overall, users of both substances averaged significantly more tobacco episodes per month than current users of tobacco only (42 vs. 24).

“These findings are significant because in the past year we have seen legislation passed that legalizes marijuana in two states,” Dr. Moreno said. “While the impact of these laws on marijuana use is a critical issue, our findings suggest that we should also consider whether increased marijuana use will impact tobacco use among older adolescents.”

Future work should involve designing educational campaigns highlighting the increased risks of using these substances together, Dr. Moreno concluded.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

In Britain, Working Taxpayers Getting “Resentful” of Benefits Claimants “Not Pulling Their Weight”; May Spark Welfare Reforms

April 7, 2013

In Britain, working people feel “resentful” because some benefits claimants are “not pulling their weight” and are being “let off the hook”, Harriet Harman has said in one of the clearest signals yet that Labour is prepared to tackle the benefits system.

Harriet Harman appears on The Andrew Marr Show

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Miss Harman gave the clearest signals yet that Labour is prepared to start reforming welfare Photo: BBC/GETTY
Rowena Mason

By , Political Correspondent

The Telegraph

Miss Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, said she is not surprised that “people feel very concerned about welfare”.

Her comments mark a shift in tone for Labour on the controversial issue of Britain’s benefits bill. The party has opposed many of the the Government’s welfare reforms, arguing they will hurt the poor.

However, it is under pressure to respond to concerns about the unfairness in the system, as the Coalition argues the majority of people back its efforts to make sure people are better off on work than on benefits.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Miss Harman gave the clearest signals yet that Labour is prepared to start reforming welfare.

“The difficulty is for people in work, seeing their standard of living pressurised,” she said.

“Understandably they feel very resentful to people who are not working. For the people who are looking for a job and can’t find work, it’s deeply frustrating. And then of course there are a small minority who don’t want to work, they’re let off the hook by the fact there is not a proper work programme.”

Her remarks came as Labour today set out its vision of a more “contributory” welfare system, where there is a balance between how much money pay in taxes and how much they get out in benefits.

She suggested that people could go to the top of the waiting list for council housing if they are working or help in the community, while those who do not would have to wait longer.

Miss Harman said one of Labour’s key policies is that people should take jobs offered to them after two years on unemployment benefits. She said there were three key principles being examined by the party.

“One is that work should pay, secondly, there should be an obligation to take work, and thirdly that there should be support through a contributory principle for people putting into the system as we all as taking out,” she said.

Opinion polls suggest that 67 per cent of voters back the Coalition’s efforts to reform the welfare system. From tomorrow, households will not be able to claim more than £26,000 each in welfare from the state.

The Coalition has also increased benefit payments by just one per cent this year, which is much lower than the rate of inflation.

This weekend, David Cameron said the welfare system had “lost its way”. Writing in The Sun, he said benefits have become a “lifestyle choice for some”.

“We are ending the crazy situation where people could have a bigger income by choosing to stay on benefits rather than work,” he said.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have been trapped on benefits this way, with little hope and not much prospect of getting on in life. To break these people free from this trap we are making sure that being in work really pays.”

The Prime Minister said the Coalition’s new Universal Credit system will be a simple, single benefit to ensure people are better off working.

“This is what real fairness is all about — not just giving people a welfare cheque each month and forgetting about them, but helping people to break out of poverty, giving them the dignity and pride that comes with being in work,” he said.


From 2 April 2013

Not since Isabella Beeton instructed mid-Victorian housewives on how to achieve gentility on a shoestring has such emphasis been placed on domestic budgeting. Claims by Iain Duncan Smith, a Mrs Beeton for our times, that he could survive on £53 a week have provoked a dispute over whether the author of the IDS Book of Household Management could live up to his boast.

True, the Work and Pensions Secretary has no taste for the booze, fags, Sky dishes and online poker which the poor are said, quite wrongly, to see as essentials of a civilised existence. On the other hand, he is reported to have spent £110, or two weeks’ worth of benefits, on a Bluetooth headset for his car. Even so, Mr Duncan Smith is better equipped for a life on lentils than, say, the Chancellor’s father.

Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms have come in for criticism, but where does Labour stand?

Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have come in for criticism, but where does Labour stand? Photo: Geoff Pugh

Sir Peter Osborne told the Financial Times’s How To Spend It magazine last year that he loved holidays on the exclusive island of Mustique, favoured Savile Row suits and was “eyeing” a £19,000 desk. Although he later made clear that this item was beyond his budget, his comments were noted by opponents of his son’s decision to reduce tax for high earners. While George Osborne has more modest tastes, even he might concede that £7.57 a day does not go far at Morrisons, to which he ventured yesterday to defend his welfare cuts.

So drastic is this package that the equilibrium of the state and of politics itself is deemed to have shifted. Multiple changes including the “spare bedroom tax” and council tax benefit reform amount to what Labour calculates as a £2.3 billion reduction on last year’s support to low-income households and a £16.5 billion overall drop on social security and tax credits since 2011.

Warnings from shadow ministers such as Karen Buck and Helen Goodman, who has tried to live on a food allowance of £18 a week to demonstrate the plight of some constituents, are now mainstream. Mr Osborne stands condemned from Easter pulpits and by charities, with his claim that nine out of 10 working families will be £300 better off countered by Labour’s argument that the average family is £891 poorer this year, according to data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

As the French media scrutinise Britain’s putsch on “les pauvres”, Mr Osborne’s defence smells of desperation. Writing jointly with Mr Duncan Smith in The Daily Telegraph, he claimed that the 50p tax is “going because it wasn’t working – revenues fell, as the wealthy paid less”. Paying less, as he did not add, is a luxury unavailable to low earners. When they can no longer meet their bills, then the bailiffs will be round.

That vision should terrify a Chancellor whose position is precarious and whose lawless party is so riven by in-fighting that one Labour front-bencher describes it as “a warlord Government”. Mr Osborne’s great gamble is whether voters will back him or whether a social intifada led by bishops will reject his welfare changes and his Government.

Mythology is Mr Osborne’s greatest ally. YouGov, which found that four out of 10 people think benefits too generous, says those least sure about the facts are most hostile to claimants. According to a recent TUC poll, for example, there is a belief that 27 per cent of welfare spending is claimed fraudulently, when the actual figure is 0.7 per cent. If those misconceptions are dispelled by scrutiny, then Mr Osborne will have only one potential lifeline – the Opposition.

While Ed Balls has condemned “Black April” as “appalling, immoral, shameful, a disgrace”, Labour has been less forthcoming about how it would reshape the welfare state. Unease at the timidity constraining the party erupted last week when 44 rebels voted against the Jobseekers Bill. Their rejection of a measure railroaded through Parliament with the help of Labour abstentions was billed as an uprising of the Left. In fact, it signified something more ominous for Ed Miliband.

Despite an attempt by Len McCluskey, the Unite leader, to capitalise on the revolt, this was the first show of rebellion by centrists who rightly believed that the Government, with Labour’s help, was flouting the rule of law. The Bill was hastily drafted after the Government was defeated in the Appeal Court for illegally forcing jobseekers to take unpaid work where directed or to face the loss of their benefits. With the Supreme Court due to give its verdict, Labour acquiesced in over-ruling judges and passing a retrospective law because it feared being on the wrong side of public opinion if the highest court sanctioned paying £130 million in compensation to jobseekers.

That reason did not satisfy many moderate MPs, who believe in benefit sanctions as long as they are fair. “Labour got everything wrong – principle, presentation and parliamentary tactics,” says one unlikely rebel. Other senior figures obeyed the whip with misgivings, telling themselves that Labour must do what it takes to win back power. “The Jobseekers Bill stinks,” says one such shadow minister.

With the Supreme Court still considering arguments that the Bill is non-compliant with the Human Rights Act, Labour’s sell-out may return to haunt the Opposition. In the short term, Mr Miliband has felt the wrath not of a resurgent Left but of his very own Squeezed Middle, whose anxiety reflects a broader uncertainty within a party beset by silent tensions.

Ed Miliband is said to favour more short-term clarity while Ed Balls is for waiting. The former speaks of redistribution and a living wage, while the latter talks up tax credits. MPs interviewed on the radio condemn Mr Osborne’s welfare cuts, yet Labour cannot say that it would reverse even the iniquitous spare bedroom penalty.

Although the vague consensus is for a more contributory welfare system, under which those who pay the most can expect to get most help, it is unclear what would happen to vulnerable people who had put in the least. Nor, as the Resolution Foundation warns, has either major party addressed the anomaly under which any gain from rising personal allowances will be clawed back in benefit cuts.

Welfare, once a measure of good fortune or prosperity, mutated into what Arnold Bennett wrote of in 1918 as “canteens and rest-rooms and libraries and sanitation, and all this damned welfare”. Long before that, Oliver Goldsmith laid out the counterpoint to a Britain where all fare well in The Deserted Village. “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey/ Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

This week the political landscape changed and will change again as the rich prosper and those for whom hope decays find it less simple than IDS suggests to subsist on £7 a day. Mr Miliband, whose decision to oppose the capping of benefit rises at one per cent was principled and widely accepted, should again dare to be so bold.

Although caution has generally served him well, a welfare crisis engulfing those whom Labour was created to defend demands more than rhetoric. The issue that the leadership cannot duck is what it would do for all citizens, not least low earners now at their wits’ end. As one senior Miliband loyalist says: “If we in Labour cannot say what a Labour government would mean, then the question is unanswered and unanswerable.”

Riot fears as cigarettes set to be banned from prisons in England and Wales

March 3, 2013

Prisons could be set to follow the rest of the country in introducing a smoking ban, leading to fears of unrest among inmates

  • Jails were exempt from 2007 ban but Prison Service to outlaw it ‘within two years’

Prisons could be set to follow the rest of the country in introducing a smoking ban, leading to fears of unrest among inmates

Prisoners are to be banned from smoking, sparking fears they might riot when they are stopped from lighting up, it was revealed today.

It is believed cigarettes will be outlawed from all 123 prisons in England and Wales within the next two years, according to the People.

The Prison Service is introducing the ban following a long campaign from staff, who have objected to breathing in the second-hand smoke of inmates.

Instead, the criminals will be offered electronic cigarettes or nicotine patches to satisfy their cravings but there are concerns this might not be enough and that some will react angrily to the ban.

With more than eight out of ten prisoners smoking there is also a belief contraband cigarettes could become valuable currency behind bars.

A source is quoted in the paper as saying: ‘It will happen. A pilot scheme will have to go ahead first but after that we will see it coming in at all prisons.

‘That has always been the aim since the Government’s smoke-free legislation came into effect in 2007. Smoking has been a huge concern among staff, who feel they are unfairly exposed to it.

‘But you have to fear for them when this does come in because it is unlikely to go down very well with the inmates.’


Jail bosses had hoped to ban smoking by January but the deadline has been pushed back after a planned pilot at jails including at Exeter, Devon was postponed, but they are confident of introducing it within the next 24 months.

It is accepted the ban must happen for health and safety reasons and to avoid officers seeking compensation claiming to be victims of passive smoking.

Wormwood Scrubs Prison in west London would be one of 123 jails in England and Wales to ban smoking.
Wormwood Scrubs Prison in west London would be one of 123 jails in England and Wales to ban smoking

Prisoners escaped the smoking ban due to a legal loophole which allowed cells to be designated ‘permanent or temporary homes’, but this is now set to be scrapped.

Some jails already ban the habit for bad behaviour.


Three years ago jailed rapist Jack Foster, 25, made an unsuccessful claim under the Human Rights Act after he called his smoking ban ‘inhuman’.

The Ministry of Justice would not comment on the timescale of the ban.

Health Advocates Ponder “Smoker’s License”

November 16, 2012

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – A public health proposal suggests that tobacco smokers should be required to apply and pay for a “smoker’s license” in order to continue buying cigarettes.

In this week’s PLOS Medicine medical journal, two leading tobacco control advocates debate the merits of the smoker’s license. Simon Chapman, a professor at the University of Sydney, proposes that users would have to apply and pay for a mandatory license in the form of a smartcard that would be shown when buying cigarettes.

Dr. Chapman wrote that it could discourage young people from picking up the habit.

A recent public health proposal looks at the pros and cons of enforced "smoker's licenses" to curb international tobacco use. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A recent public health proposal looks at the pros and cons of enforced “smoker’s licenses” to curb international tobacco use. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

In a controversial move, the smartcard would allow the government to limit how many cigarettes a smoker could buy. Professor Chapman suggests 50 per day averaged over two weeks to accommodate heavy smokers. The anti-smoking activist told the Daily Mail that the sale of tobacco is currently subject to trivial controls compared to other dangerous products that threaten both public and personal safety.

A 2009 study from the Pew Research Center found that for the period of January through June 2008, the share of current smokers in the American adult population was 20.8 percent. According to statistics on the PLOS journal’s website, tobacco continues to kill millions of people around the world each year and usage is even increasing in some countries.

Arguing against the smoker’s license in the journal is Jeff Collin, a professor at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Collin wrote that it would shift focus away from the real vector of the epidemic—the tobacco industry—and focusing on individuals would censure victims, increase stigmatization of smokers, and marginalize the poor.

Professor Collin believes that limits to personal freedom will doom such legislation.

“The authoritarian connotations of the smoker’s license would inevitably meet with broad opposition,” Collin told the Daily Mail. “In the United Kingdom, for example, successive governments have failed to introduce identity cards.”

Citing future scientific benefit, Prof. Chapman wrote that the information collected from smartcard applications could be used to formulate better smoking prevention strategies.

“Opponents of the idea would be quick to suggest that Orwellian social engineers would soon be calling for licenses to drink alcohol and to eat junk food or engage in any ‘risky’ activity,” Dr. Chapman told the Daily Mail. “This argument rests on poor public understanding of the magnitude of the risks of smoking relative to other cumulative everyday risks to health.”

According to its website, PLOS Medicine is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.