Lord Ralph Harris

My attention was today drawn to the late Lord Ralph Harris:


An economist, and director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and founder of the Bruges group, he also became chairman of Forest.

He was chairman of and the prime mover in Forest (the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), and a member of the Lords and Commons Pipesmokers Club. He was seldom seen without a pipe clenched between his teeth – “You’ll like this,” he would assure non-smokers around him as he lit up, “it’s a meerschaum” – and usually had a couple more in his pockets, in case of emergency.

When in 1995 Network SouthEast introduced a smoking ban on the London to Brighton route, a group of commuters commandeered a carriage and continued to light up. Harris was tireless in raising the subject in newspapers and in the Lords, and produced a 22-page report urging the company to reinstate a smoking carriage.

He then convened a meeting in a pub near Victoria station and heard evidence from both sides in the dispute. “BR is indicted in my view of skulduggery,” he declared, pouring particular scorn on a survey which purported to show overwhelming support for the ban.

He was equally sceptical of the claims of the medical establishment that passive smoking was a significant threat to health, publicly challenging the chief medical officer to produce any evidence of harm in a piece entitled Smoking Out the Truth. In 1998 he produced Murder a Cigarette, which was devoted both to extolling the joys of tobacco and casting doubt on the scientific evidence of its dangers.

With his centre parting and toothbrush moustache, Harris exuded a gentle, old-fashioned charm which made him excellent company, as well as proving an effective tool for promoting his beliefs. He was an accomplished amateur conjuror and was fond of bathing in the sea (he took regular dips off Eastbourne).

Harris’s favourite dinner was lamb chops with roast potatoes, followed by apple pie, and he always travelled with a portable pepper grinder, in case black pepper could not be found on the table.

Taking Liberties:

Those genuine freedom fighters included Ralph Harris who was chairman of Forest from 1987 until his death in 2006; Gian Turci; and Joe Jackson.

In 2005 Ralph (aka Lord Harris of High Cross) wrote a booklet published by Forest called ‘Smoking Out The Truth: A Challenge to the Chief Medical Officer’. It began:

Hardly a week is allowed to pass without some new scare story about the perils of ‘passive smoking’. One of the latest, based on an experiment in an Italian garage, is that tobacco smoke is more lethal than car exhaust fumes. Another was that ‘passive smoking’ is even more dangerous that direct smoking …

As a lifelong pipe man I have increasingly come to mistrust the dogmatic vehemence with which the stop smoking (SS) brigade recycle their denunciations of ‘passive smoking’. Certainly, smoke may be irritating or even upsetting to sensitive bystanders, as are popcorn, perfume and garlic on crowded tube trains. But lethal?

Despite a barrage of media publicity most non-smokers in my experience remained unmoved by dire warnings that tobacco smoke – massively diluted in the atmosphere – could actually kill them. It is this common sense implausibility that has goaded the tight network of anti-smoking lobbyists – ever more shrilly – to demonise ETS and brandish mounting estimates of its death toll.

Forestonline carries a link to this booklet – except that the link is dead. But I turned up another copy of it elsewhere online. It’s quite long, but one passage stood out for me:

AFTER MUCH anxious pondering I have come to the settled conclusion that what we are witnessing here is a variant of political correctness which I would call ‘collective conviction’.

I define this condition as a dogmatic shared sense of absolute certainty among a mutually supporting intellectual elite. It is not unique to the smoking debate, or rather non-debate. On other important topics, such as ‘global warming’, we have seen how a ruling consensus is first established by the conceit of a coterie of prominent, articulate pioneers.

The Big Idea then spreads by the contagion of novelty and fashion until it infects almost the whole intellectual class. Finally, as Hayek showed in his scholarly essay on The Intellectuals and Socialism, the pervasive influence of journalists and other ‘second-hand dealers in ideas’ completes the chain of collective conviction by establishing a new consensus which comes to dominate public discussion, opinion and, ultimately, public policy.

I witnessed this process at close hand in my own subject of economics after the last war when the novel theories of J M (later Lord) Keynes led to a radical school of thought that spawned powerful lobbies among trade unions, industrialists, academics and footloose political activists which came to dominate public thinking and policy on the central questions of unemployment and planning.

As with the issue of ‘passive smoking’, the broadcasting and print media largely fell in with the new ‘spirit of the time’ and it took some courage for a comparative handful of
independent, non-conforming economists, mostly associated with the Institute of Economic Affairs, to withstand the stampede and keep alive the classical tradition of free markets and monetary policy. The tables were eventually turned on the Keynesians not only by the superior logic of their critics but by the brute force of the resulting inflation and disorder which those critics had long predicted.

If the fashionable claims of those I might call ‘passive thinkers on passive smoking’ could similarly be put to the test of experience I have not the least doubt they would be equally discredited. As it is so much intellectual capital has been invested in this will of the wisp of ETS that, as we saw with the Royal Institution seminar, its practitioners fiercely oppose even the usual processes of civilised open debate with their equals who dare to disagree. Indeed, dissent is taken to disqualify sceptics from participating in serious public discourse!

I’ve added the pdf to my reference section under passive smoking.

And who would you see smoking a meerschaum pipe today? There used to be lots of them, but they don’t make men like that any more.

About Frank Davis

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28 Responses to Lord Ralph Harris

  1. Nicely done and great catch on finding the Prejudice & Propaganda booklet Frank! :)

    Any chance you’ve got a lead on that 22 page report done for the trains? Or know anything about what was done with the rebellious “smoking carriage”? I seem to recall a similar “smoking carriage” incident on the Long Island Railroad that travels 100 miles or so for the longest commuters who were evidently quite accustomed to spending an hour or two smoking and playing cards along the way to and from work. I *think* the authorities eventually called in the gestapo to haul them all off the train and plop them in an inconvenient station to wait for the next train and have to re-buy tickets or some such, but I don’t actually remember any details.


    • waltc says:

      I recall reading at the time that the LIRR was planting undercover agents (not sure if their own or actual PD) in bar cars to snare unsuspecting smokers. Recall a case where 4 guys in their 60s were busted on board –not for smoking but for “gambling”, ie, playing their usual game of penny-ante poker. It was also AMTRAK (long distance rail) stated policy to do as Michael says–even knock down the door of a private sleeper compartment in the middle of the night if a whiff of smoke was detected.

      OT: siegel is complaining about a CVS (major drug store chain that went bigtime anti-smoking) and the Lung Assn campaign titled “Anyone can get lung cancer” because it doesn’t mention that smoking causes it (though, lol, it apparently does mention ETS). Among other big things, he clearly misses their point which is an effort on their part to de-stigmatize lung cancer and those who get it and stop “blaming the victim.” It might be even nicer if he and they would also stop blaming smokers. Because. Anyone can get lung cancer.


  2. Peter Whittaker says:

    Wonderful little article. Hear hear! He’s my sort of man, Lord Ralph. What a wonderfully comfortable man he was, may that ‘spirit’ come back into the world.

  3. Andy Oakley says:

    Unfortunatley for this great man and his efforts to dispel scaremongring about smoking he died from an aortic aneurysm which 87% of those who get it are smokers or ex smokers

  4. Timothy Goodacre says:

    Why is Andy Oakley, a non smoker, on our site again ?

    • Frank Davis says:

      I don’t object to non-smokers. I don’t object to vapers either. About the only thing I can’t stand are antismokers. Or antismoking trolls.

      • Joe L. says:

        And this Andy Oakley fellow is all of the above. His true colors were vividly on display in his first appearance in the comments of your blog a month ago. He has since toned down his rhetoric and continued commenting here pretending to be more empathetic to the plight of smokers, but obviously he couldn’t keep up that charade for very long.

    • prog says:

      Give him a break, no one comments on his excuse for one.


      • Joe L. says:

        How strange, prog. For someone who claimed,

        Vaping is not smoking, I can understand why a tiny number of smoking activists want to attach themselves to the giant that is vaping lobbying and get carried along for the ride with the hope of changing smokers fortunes

        The lack of activity on Oakley’s pro-vaping blog combined with his increased presence here (a pro-smoking blog) would lead one to believe it’s exactly the opposite way around.

  5. Joe Jackson says:

    I met Lord Harris a couple of times and he was a great character – I felt he represented an older, gentler, more reasonable and relaxed England which perhaps you have to get to a certain age to appreciate. Anyway, fyi he (along with Judith Hatton, another great character) wrote a whole book about smoking, it’s called ‘Murder A Cigarette’ and is well worth reading, if you can find it. (You won’t find it in W H Smiths, that’s for sure).

    Re. Andy’s comments on Simon Clark: How about some constructive suggestions instead of just insults? I have issues with Forest myself, and tend to agree with some of the people on here who find them overly conciliatory or compromising. However, Simon is a good guy who works his arse off for smokers in the face of appalling hostility, and at least has some visibility in the media. It’s easy to slag him off, but we’d be damn sorry if he wasn’t there.

  6. Andy Oakley says:

    Constructive suggestions are probably the last thing Simon will allow, you have the honour of a link Joe.

    Most smoking blogs have no chance of a link to Taking Liberties including this blog, when infact it should be a gateway to more support and more inofmation on smoking lobbying.

    That should tell you everything about Simon’s censorship, its not just about bloggers being censored , not providing links to many blogs over the years is a disgrace when he claims to be the voice of smokers

  7. dear frank, i believe this andy oakly is dd or patroller in another online persona. must be either a paid anti-smoker troll or a avid antismoker. either way i find it foolish, pureile and most offensive.and i read all prochoice blogs. i personally do not encourage deviseness between smokers or vapers, i wish some vapers would quit throwing smokers under the bus.appeasement never works with antismokers. my father fought in both ww2 and korea.his take on the antismokers is that they reminded him of the nazi soldiers he and many american and british soldiers fought. when tobacco kontrol falls as someday it will(soon may that day come) their primary excuse will be i vas only following orders. I for one will not be listening. hang them all i say and quite rightly too.It is the same they would do to us smokers and vapers,after all. there i am done now rant over . thank you for your forbearance. best wishes, Raymond B.

  8. Andy Oakley says:

    Dear Raymond, the leading pro choice blog, the voice of the smoker Simon Clark has had many years to show support and unity to all pro choice blogs by providing a simple link to them.

    Tis no troll that causes this divisiveness but Simon himself.

    I provide links/tags to Taking Liberties and many other sites on my blog when stories arise, even though I am one of many who gets banned/censored by him, most blogs also provide links to Simon.

    Raymond the uncomfortable truth about the voice of the smoker Simon Clark are facts that can’t be denied, calling me a troll dosen’t hide them.

  9. Andy Oakley says:

    Just to spell it out for anyone who can’t see the obvious regarding Simon Clark.

    He wants to control the pro smoking angle/message to the media and everyone else by hiding other views on the subject, and hiding other potential dynamic/gifted speakers for smokers that could weaken his own position and see him become redundant.

    The 2 blogs that he chooses to link to are one based in another country, and one who uses an online identity only.

    Anyone ever think that odd? its not rocket science,

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