French driving schools fight red tape

Young drivers can wait years to retake a test if they fail first time


At Ornikar’s headquarters on Paris’s trendy rue Oberkampf, they have taken care to install a functioning DVD player.

No one will ever use it. Nowadays everyone studies driving theory at home, online. But it is “regulations”.

Regulations are proving the bane of Ornikar’s founders, Alexandre Chartier and Benjamin Gaignault.

It is eight months since they applied for authorisation to operate as a driving school.

They think they have devised a model which would cut the cost of getting a licence by half.

But there are legal challenges, and the licensing authorities are dubious. So they are still waiting.

“It is extremely frustrating,” says Mr Chartier. “We are renting these premises with no money coming in. In addition we have had to hire a lawyer to fight our case in the courts.

“The stress makes it very hard to focus on what we really want to be doing: which is improving the lives of people who want to take their driving tests.”

Everyone knows that the driving test system in France is banjaxed.

Young people pay up to 3,000 euros (£2,403; $3,900) to get through the process. If they fail at the first attempt, it can be months or years before they get a second go.

They are tied to a school system which is obsessed with keeping up the first-take success rate. As a result, less-gifted learners find themselves waiting interminably for an exam slot.

So laborious and costly is the process that it is reckoned several hundred thousand drivers in France have simply abandoned hope and are driving illegally – without a licence.

Ornikar represents the web economy’s first shot at disrupting the established modus operandi.

Mr Chartier and Mr Gaignault want to do away completely with bricks and mortar. They want to hire a network of freelance instructors who will take bookings online.

Learners will have greater flexibility about where and when they take their lessons, and be able to rate instructors according to their teaching skills.

In addition, Ornikar wants to bypass the existing system under which learners apply for tests via the driving schools, which each have a set number of slots.

Instead it wants to encourage a little-used dispensation for “independent applicants” and promises to help with the paperwork.

Mr Chartier and Mr Gaignault have some well-endowed financial backers, so they can afford to keep waiting. They knew there would be opposition.

Publicly, it came in the form of a lawsuit from the National Union of Independent Driving Schools (UNIC).

The union, which represents school-owners, claimed that Ornikar was breaking regulations that have been in place for the past 30 years, and demanded that it be shut down.

In July, the courts found in favour of Ornikar, on the grounds that it could hardly be breaking regulations if it was not yet allowed to function.

But UNIC’s president, Philippe Colombani, remains extremely suspicious: “I have nothing against Ornikar per se.

“But regularly there are schools that try to set up without fulfilling all the necessary conditions – for example by not having handicapped access.

“Why should they be refused permission to operate, and then Ornikar be given approval?”

According to Mr Colombani, Ornikar’s founders are playing a skilful media game, making sure they are portrayed as the victims of a backward-looking establishment.

“In fact their ‘disruption’ of the system isn’t that disruptive at all. In schools across the country, we do theory lessons online now. And their 1,000 euro [£800; $1,300] package is no cheaper than what we can offer too.

“When you look hard, the only people who will benefit from Ornikar are… Ornikar. They are the ones who will cream off their percentage.

“Learners won’t notice much difference, and the real losers will be the instructors who as freelancers will end up in very precarious conditions.”

Mr Colombani argues that the real villains in the system are not the independent driving schools but the state-paid driving-examiners.

“The blockage in the system is that there are not enough tests and that is because there are not enough examiners,” he says.

“They are typical public sector employees, unionised, believing everything must be done by the state, for free. The real answer would be to privatise the exam system, or else take on many more examiners. But that will never happen.”

Reformers in France see the driving-school example as a classic case of how entrenched monopolies come to dominate sectors of the economy, to the detriment of the greater good.

Gaspard Koenig, who heads the free-market think-tank Generation Libre, failed his test in France five times, and then passed it in the UK. He says the contrast could not have been starker: “In France, the driving schools treat you like a conscript in the army.

“In the UK, they treat you like a customer. The whole story speaks volumes about France and its failure to take on its special interests. There are other lobbies too: taxi-drivers, pharmacists, opticians, bakers, newspapers, legal clerks.

“Throughout history there have been calls for successive governments to take on these regulated professions. But they never do.”

Cricketers set Kilimanjaro record

Breathing and running is difficult at such a high altitude


A group of international cricketers has set a new world record for the highest-ever match by playing at the top of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, in Tanzania.

The teams included former South Africa fast bowler Makhaya Ntini and ex-England spinner Ashley Giles.

The game was played at a height of 5,730m (18,799 ft) in a flat crater just below the summit.

They played 10 overs each of a Twenty20 game before clouds stopped play.

“This is absolutely incredible! We are playing cricket on the summit of Africa!” Giles tweeted on Friday morning.

The current record for the world’s highest game is 5,165m, played in the Himalayas at Everest base camp in Nepal in 2009.

The “Gorillas” team, led by England women’s vice-captain Heather Knight, scored 82-5 to beat Giles’ “Rhinos” team, who managed 64-9, the AFP news agency reports.

Heineken rejects SABMiller offer

Heineken is the world’s third largest beer producer by volume


Dutch brewing giant Heineken has rejected a takeover offer from London brewer SABMiller saying the proposal is “non-actionable”.

Heineken said it had “consulted with its majority shareholder” before rejecting the approach.

It said the Heineken family, the founding family which still owns half of the firm, wanted to preserve the firm as “an independent company”.

Heineken said it was confident it would continue to grow.

“The Heineken family and Heineken N.V.’s management are confident that the company will continue to deliver growth and shareholder value,” it added.

The founding Heineken family owns just over 50% of the brewer via Heineken Holding. A further 12% is owned by Mexico’s FEMSA.

Heineken’s statement was prompted by a Bloomberg story suggesting SABMiller had approached the Dutch firm to protect itself from a potential takeover.

There has been speculation within the brewing industry, for months, that SABMiller has been targeted by the world’s number one brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Heineken is the world’s third largest beer producer behind AB Inbev and SABMiller, based on volume.

“Should AB Inbev choose to make a bid, which we think is likely, the chance of success has increased,” said Eddy Hargreaves, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity in London.

“SABMiller’s approach may cause some short term share price excitement, but we think Heineken’s decision is final,” he said.

SABMiller gained 5.3% to £35.855 per share in London, while Heineken rose 1.5%.

Apart from the namesake beer – Heineken, the company also produces Sol and Strongbow Apple ciders.

When contacted by the BBC, SABMiller declined to comment. The company is the second-largest beer maker in the world, selling about 21 billion litres of lager worldwide.

SABMiller’s beer brands include Miller Genuine Draft, Grolsch and Peroni Nastro Azzurro. The company also produces soft drinks, and it is one of the world’s largest bottlers of Coca-Cola drinks.

For the full financial year to March 2014, SABMiller earned $27bn (£17bn) in revenues.

SABMiller’s shares are traded on the London stock exchange. The company also has a secondary listing on the Johannesburg stock exchange.

LA police in money laundering raid

Boxes filled with cash were found at a number of businesses in LA’s Fashion District


Police in Los Angeles have arrested nine people and seized around $70m (£43m) in cash during mass raids on a series of businesses.

Officers said they suspected the money was being laundered on behalf of Mexican drug cartels

In the dawn operation, dubbed Fashion Police, about 1,000 officers searched dozens of businesses in the city’s Fashion District.

Police found $35m in cash in one warehouse alone.

Assistant US Attorney Robert E. Dugdale said that Los Angeles had become the epicentre of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses

The Fashion District in particular seems to be where this is thriving at the moment he explained.

But LA Fashion District Executive Director Kent Smith said most businesses in the area were legitimate.

“All of us are very surprised by this,” he told AP.

Agents searched around 50 businesses and found large amounts of cash.

Approximately $90m were seized in total, of which some $70m were in cash, a spokesman for the attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors alleged that one business had laundered $140,000 paid in ransom payments to secure the release of a US citizen held hostage by the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico.

Officials said Mexican drug traffickers were using US businesses as middlemen to get their illegally obtained US dollars converted into Mexican pesos.

In what is known as Black Market Peso Exchange, they use their illegal US dollars to buy goods in the US and export them to Mexico, where they receive clean pesos in exchange.

Through these means the traffickers can avoid carrying large amounts of US currency across border or having to channel them through financial institutions, which may attract the attention of the authorities.

The US is the main market for illegal drugs manufactured in South America and smuggled through Mexico.

Chan e sianail Gàidhlig a th’ ann am BBC ALBA

Tha an iomairt den bheachd nach e sianail Gàidhlig a th’ ann am BBC ALBA tuilleadh.


Tha tè a tha ag iomairt às leth na Gàidhlig ag ràdh nach e sianail Gàidhlig a th’ ann am BBC ALBA.

Chuir an sgrìobhadair Gàidhlig, Lisa Storey, iomairt air bhonn agus i ag iarraidh air MG Alba cuir às dha na fo-thiotalan agus a’ Bheurla a tha ri fhaicinn agus ri chluinntinn air an t-sianail.

Tha i den bheachd gum biodh fo-thiotalan Gàidhlig fada na b’ fheàrr do dh’fhileantaich agus luchd-ionnsachaidh agus gun tàladh sin daoine chun an t-sianail seach a bhith a’ cur cùl ris.

Tha mise air a bhith a’ faireachdainn airson bhliadhnaichean, nach toil leam idir na fo-thiotalan,” thuirt a’ Bh.Ph. Storey.

Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil iad a’ dèanamh milleadh air na prògraman.

Tha fhios agam gun do dh’fheuch daoine aig an toiseach ri stad a chur orra. Uell, an deach èisteachd riutha? Chan eil fhios agamsa an deach. Cha do thachair càil co-dhiù.

S tha iad a’ fàs nas miosa.

Ach ‘s e rud a bha buileach gam chur às mo rian, nuair a chuala mi mun phutan dearg a tha seo.

Dè th’ agad ri dhèanamh ma tha thu airson coimhead an rugbaidh air ALBA, ach mura bheil a’ Ghàidhlig agad ro mhath, no mura bheil Gàidhlig idir agad, ma tha thu ag iarraidh cluinntinn na tha na daoine ag ràdh mu dheidhinn a’ gheama rugbaidh, put am putan dearg, ‘s gheibh thu ann am Beurla e.

Dè tha sin ag innse dhuinn mun t-sianail Ghàidhlig

Ach ‘s e sianail Gàidhlig a tha seo, airson nan Gàidheal. ‘S e sin a bu chòir a bhith ann, ach chan e a th’ ann.

Tha mise a’ faireachdainn gum biodh ùidh mhòr aig luchd-ionnsachaidh ann am fo-thiotalan Gàidhlig”

Chan eil mise a’ smaointinn gu bheil iad a’ faighinn airgid gu leòr air a shon co-dhiù, ach am beagan airgid a tha iad a’ faighinn, bu chòir sin a bhith air a chur gu feum ceart a thaobh na Gàidhlig, agus a thaobh nan Gàidheal a bhios ag iarraidh a choimhead.

Bidh iad ag iarraidh a choimhead mura bi fo-thiotalan air.

Fo-thiotalan Gàidhlig, chuidicheadh sin daoine a tha ag ionnsachadh cuideachd.

Agus chuidicheadh e cuideachd daoine nach eil math air Gàidhlig a leughadh – sin Gàidheil fhèin a rithist, air ais dha na Gàidheil fhèin.

Chuidicheadh sin iadsan leis an leughadh aca, o chionn ‘s cha d’ fhuair iad a’ Ghàidhlig anns an sgoil ‘s dòcha

Ach tha mise a’ faireachdainn gum biodh ùidh mhòr aig luchd-ionnsachaidh ann am fo thiotalan Gàidhlig thuirt i.

Tha a’ Bh.Ph. Storey gu bheil i den bheachd gu bheil cùisean air ìre a ruighinn far nach e sianail Gàidhlig a th’ ann am BBC ALBA tuilleadh.

Tha mi a’ smaointinn gu bheil sin air tachairt, bho chionn treis a-nis.

Cha-mhòr gum bi mise ga choimhead a nis co-dhiù. Dh’fhàs mi cho seachd searbh den a h-uile rud a tha seo.

Tha mi a’ smaointinn gu bheil daoine eile an aon rud. Gu bheil iad faireachdainn an aon rud ach chan eil iad ag ràdh càil mu dheidhinn, tha iad dìreach ann an dòigh air dìochuimhneachadh mu dheidhinn

S e call mòr a tha sin thuirt i

Thuirt Dòmhnall Caimbeul bho MG Alba, gum feum fo-thiotalan a bhith air an t sianail.

Tha fo-thiotalan a tighinn mar fhiachadh air sianalan craolaidh sam bith,” thuirt e

Tha iad a’ tighinn air BBC ALBA mar dhleastanas bhon riaghladair Ofcom.

“Agus cuideachd tha iad mar inneal airson na prògraman fhosgladh a-mach gu daoine aig nach eil Gàidhlig. Tha an t-uallach a tha sin a’ tighinn air an t-sianail bho Urras a’ BhBC

“Tha e air a ràdh gum bu chòir dhan t-sianail a bhith a’ ruigsinn air còrr is 500,000 neach gach seachdain.

S e sin rud a tha BBC ALBA air a bhith a’ dèanamh, agus gu math soirbheachail.

Mar sin, bithidh na fo thiotalan ann, feumaidh iad a bhith ann mar sheirbheis chraolaidh. Tha iad uabhasach feumail dhan t-sianail agus do chliù agus inbhe na Gàidhlig anns an fharsainneachd.

Tha an t-sianail mar sheirbheis do na Gàidheil. Na daoine aig a bheil Gàidhlig, agus a tha ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig, tha e bunaiteach dhaibh, agus mar sin ‘s e gnothach làitheil a bu chòir a bhith ann dhaibhsan.

Tha e mar dhleastanas air an t-sianail fo riaghailtean a chaidh aontachadh le Urras a’ BhBC agus le Ofcom gum biodh na fo-thiotalan anns a’ Bheurla, airson na prògraman fhosgladh a-mach gu daoine aig nach eil Gàidhlig

Aig an aon àm tha sinn ag aithneachadh gum bu chòir, aig diofar amannan tron t-seachdain – chan e a h-uile prògram ‘s chan e a h-uile là ‘s dòcha – ach aig diofar amannan tron t-seachdain, gum bi cuid de na prògraman feumail no luachmhor dha na daoine a tha a’ fuireach ann an Alba san fharsainneachd, ma tha Gàidhlig aca no nach eil.

Tha sinn a’ cur roghainn de phrògraman a-mach a tha feumail san dòigh sin, gu h-àraid spòrs – rud a chì thu le do shùilean agus nach eil feum air mòran mìneachaidh ann an cànan sam bith – ceòl a tha thu ag èisteachd, agus a-rithist, chan eil na h-uiread de dh’fheum air mìneachadh tro chànan a thaobh ciùil, agus prògraman aithriseach, gu hàraid.

Tha ùidh mhòr aig muinntir na h-Alba ann am prògraman aithriseach. Agus ma tha fo-thiotalan Beurla fo na prògraman aithriseach a tha sin, faodaidh iad leantainn nam prògraman,” thuirt e

Ghabh Mgr Caimbeul ris gur e deagh rud a bhiodh ann roghainn eadar fo-thiotalan Gàidhlig agus Beurla a bhith air an t-sianail, ach thuirt e nach e rud a th’ ann a ghabhas dèanamh aig an ìre seo.

Mar a tha sinn an-dràsta, chan eil an teicneòlas againn air BBC ALBA a cheadaicheas na roghainnean a tha sin a bhith aig daoine.

A bharrachd air sin, tha e mar dhleastanas air an t-sianail fo riaghailtean a chaidh aontachadh le Urras a’ BhBC agus le Ofcom a-rithist, gum biodh na fo-thiotalan anns a’ Bheurla, airson na prògraman fhosgladh a-mach gu daoine aig nach eil Gàidhlig airson deagh adhbharan airson na Gàidhlig na lùib, ach cuideachd airson adhbharan craolaidh.

Agus feumaidh sinn a bhith a’ cuimhneachadh gur e seirbheis chraolaidh a tha seo do mhuinntir na h-Alba tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig.

Anns an t-saoghal cheart a bhiodh sinn ag iarraidh air fad, bhiodh roghainn againn dè na fo-thiotalan a bha sinn ag iarraidh – Gàidhlig no Beurla.

S e sianail Gàidhlig a th’ ann am BBC ALBA, chan eil teagamh sam bith mu dheidhinn sin. Tha na prògraman air fad air BBC ALBA tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig.

S dòcha gum bi corra phrògram an siud ‘s an seo a chaidh a dhèanamh anns a’ Bheurla a’ cur taic ri prògraman Gàidhlig

Ach tha sin a’ tachairt fìor chorra uair, agus mar sin, tha a h-uile prògram a tha sibh a’ faicinn air BBC ALBA, an ìre mhath ‘s e prògram Gàidhlig a th’ ann,” thuirt e.

Woman sues temple over explosion

The explosion took place at the Sri Guru Nanak Gurdwara temple on Nelson Street in 2011


A woman is suing a Sikh temple in Dundee after she lost part of her leg in a kitchen explosion

Kuljit Bahia suffered severe injuries in the explosion, thought to have been caused by a pressure cooker, at the Sri Guru Nanak Gurdwara temple in 2011

The 54 year old is claiming for damages against the Sikh community of Dundee as well as members of the Nelson Street temple’s operating committee

A civil action has been lodged at the Court of Session.

Police and firefighters were called to the temple following the blast on 9 October 2011

Mrs Bahia and another woman, who had been working in the kitchen at the time, were taken to Ninewells Hospital

Police concluded that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident

Woman raped by two men in Clydebank

Police are hunting two men who raped a 32-year-old woman on a canal path in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire.

The woman had travelled to the area from Glasgow city centre on Sunday night in the company of three men.

Two of them carried out the attack on the canal path, near Jellico Street, between 20:30 and 21:30.

The victim went to a nearby shop and police were called. She suffered minor abrasions but declined medical help. Police have appealed for witnesses

Two of the suspects are described as having shaved heads. One is said to be tall and the other noticeably shorter

Det Insp Douglas Wilson, of Police Scotland, said: The victim will be re-interviewed in an effort to establish the full circumstances of events on Sunday evening. At this time, we know she went to the area with the males prior to the assault

It is believed that they may have walked to the canal path having travelled to Dalmuir from Glasgow and I would ask anyone who remembers seeing a woman with three men walking in that direction to come forward.

I would also ask anyone who saw the assault, heard any sort of disturbance or witnessed the victim or suspects leaving the scene to telephone police

Det Insp Wilson said everything possible was being done to trace those responsible

He added Officers will be in the area and I would encourage anyone with information or indeed any concerns to speak to them

Would northern England look to Scotland?

Norham Castle, on the English side of the River Tweed, protected against raids from Scottish reivers


If Scotland votes for independence on 18 September, the north of England will have a land border for the first time in centuries and will face the challenges and opportunities of having another country on its doorstep. What might the consequences be for northern England?

A little over 400 years ago, the challenges were different from those of today.

The borderland back then was a law unto itself  literally, with its own system of law and administration both sides of the border – designed to deal with a brutal population of border reivers meaning raiders, whose way of life revolved around theft and violence.

The reivers, who were both Scottish and English, operated as far south as the Tees and raided almost as far north as Edinburgh.

I think we caught the first ripples of the waves of anti politics, which have grown since then

Back then, the complaint from English borderers was that they did not have the protection of their king against the Scots – and so they formed a common way of life with their cross-border neighbours.

Today the social links across the border endure and the gripe from many in the region is that the Westminster government does not give it the support and investment it needs to compete with Scotland, or with other parts of England.

Craig Johnston, who shares his surname with one of the great reiver families, is English but campaigning for a yes vote in Scotland.

He lives in Carlisle, the closest city to the border, where he used to be mayor and is now regional organiser for the RMT transport union for northern England and Scotland.

Scotland has better arrangements for transport, student tuition fees and an altogether better agenda he said.

He hopes independence in Scotland will energise debate about greater regional autonomy in England.

He cited underinvestment in infrastructure and the scrapping of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), which were used to help economic development, as ways in which northern England has not been well served by government

Scotland, meanwhile, already has a stronger set of institutions and could be further empowered by independence, Mr Johnston said.

What we need is one regional government across the North, including the North East, North West, Yorkshire and maybe areas like Cheshire he said.

But the North East was offered a regional assembly 10 years ago and rejected it in a referendum.

Prof John Tomaney led the campaign for a yes vote in 2004.

He said: “One of the most compelling arguments made against the regional assembly was that it was going to produce more politicians.

I think we caught the first ripples of the waves of anti-politics, which have grown since then

In contrast, he said politics was alive around the referendum” in Scotland.

An institution recently set up to give the North East a stronger voice is the North East Combined Authority, a coalition of councils that can bid for government investment in transport and development projects.

Its leader, Simon Henig, who is in favour of the union, said: “In Scotland, because they have the Scottish Parliament, there are bodies there arguing for more powers

But he said there was no public appetite for more politicians in England.

That’s why I think the current arrangement around a combined authority is the best way forward, because it uses the existing resources to make those same arguments he said.

George Beveridge, a Scot on the English side of the border, chairing the Cumbrian Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), agreed it was better to seek more powers for existing institutions.

The current attempts to give the North a greater voice are too fragmented

But he said he worried further powers for Scotland in the event of independence, or greater devolution following a no vote, would put northern England at a disadvantage

He said lowering corporation tax, an expressed desire of the Scottish government, could cause a flight of businesses across the border

Mr Henig, meanwhile, expressed concerns about a reduction in Scottish Air Passenger Duty sucking business away from Newcastle Airport.

However, some in northern England are alive to the opportunities of working with an independent Scotland.

Last year the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) commissioned a Borderlands report, looking at the pitfalls and opportunities Scottish independence might present to the North East and Cumbria.

It concluded there were a number of areas in which northern England and Scotland could work together, based on common economic interests.

The report inspired a Borderlands summit of councils either side of the border in April, hosted by Scottish Borders Council.

The Yes Scotland campaign has also suggested an independent Scotland might invest in high speed rail links with the North. But despite the suggestions of cross-border co-operation, a coherent, region-wide strategy has not emerged.

Every day, Julien Lake cycles five scenic miles from his home in the village of Paxton to his workplace in Berwick, on a road which overlooks the River Tweed and the Northumberland countryside beyond it

His journey starts off in Scotland and ends up in England.

Most people in the village travel to Berwick routinely, whether it’s to the supermarket, the doctor’s, or the bank, he said.

It’s a real mix of folk here. Some people identify as English and some as Scottish and there is also a sense of people being borderers.

Originally from just outside Sheffield, Mr Lake has lived in the borders for eight years and, because he lives a mile into Scotland, will get to vote in the referendum

It’s great here. It’s visually attractive, there’s low crime. Employment can be difficult, but I’m lucky in that regard said the 42-year old, who works for the Berwick Community Trust

He said his mind was firmly made up over the question of independence

Maybe it makes sense if you live in Aberdeen or Inverness, where life is different, but here where everything’s so integrated, it just doesn’t make sense

The report that spawned the Borderlands summit had a broad, strategic scope consulting with people from Teesside to Edinburgh

But the summit itself included only councils adjacent or in close proximity to the border, suggesting a narrowing of the initiative

Meanwhile the formation of the North East Combined Authority and Newcastle’s recent collaboration with cities in Yorkshire, Manchester and Merseyside over transport represent separate attempts from parts of the region to make their voice heard in Westminster

Mr Johnston said The current attempts to give the North a greater voice are too fragmented I don’t think they’re doing it anywhere near fast enough

If the North East and Cumbria do find a strategy to improve their political and economic clout, the question is whether they focus on getting more powers and investment from Westminster, or, like their borderer ancestors, they gravitate towards a potentially empowered northern neighbour

E-cigarette criticisms alarmist

Smoking an e-cigarette


(bursa escort) — Warnings over e-cigarettes are alarmist – and increasing their use could save many lives, researchers have said.

For every million smokers who switch to e-cigarettes, more than 6,000 lives a year could be saved, according to the University College London team.

Meanwhile another group of London-based experts has attacked criticism of e-cigarettes as misleading

Last week the World Health Organization called for e-cigarette use to be banned in public places and workplaces

The WHO said this was because they could increase the levels of some toxins and nicotine in the air

Its report also warned about the risk of e-cigarettes acting as a gateway by which non-smokers might start smoking real cigarettes.

But the UCL team said the numbers of non-smokers using e-cigarettes amounted to less than 1% of the population, according to the Smoking Toolkit study, a monthly survey of smokers in England.

Prof Robert West added that even though some toxins were present in vapour from e-cigarettes the concentrations were very low.

You have to be a bit crazy to carry on smoking conventional cigarettes when there are e-cigarettes available he said.

The vapour contains nothing like the concentrations of carcinogens and toxins as cigarette smoke

In fact, concentrations are almost all well below a twentieth of cigarettes

Using these estimates it would mean 6,000 lives a year being saved for every million smokers who exchanged real cigarettes for e-cigarettes he said

If all nine million UK smokers used them that would equate to 54,000 lives saved out of the current 60,000 premature deaths, Prof West said.

His concerns were echoed by researchers at the National Addiction Centre based at King’s College London and the Tobacco Dependence Unit at Queen Mary University.

They carried out an analysis – published in the journal Addiction – of the WHO research which contributed to last week’s report.

They concluded that some of the assumptions WHO had made were misleading

Lead researcher Prof Peter Hajek said: I think any responsible regulator proposing restricting regulation has to balance reducing risks with reducing potential benefits

In this case the risks are unlikely, some already proven not to exist, while the benefits are potentially enormous. It really could be a revolutionary intervention in public health if smokers switched from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes

So killing benefits, which are huge, for risks which are small is like asking people to stop using mobile phones and tablets, or restrict their use and further development, because of a one in 10 million chance that the battery might overheat in your device

The WHO has yet to respond to the criticisms of its work

Prof John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, which has been one of the bodies that has expressed concerns, said he did not want to see a ban.

But he added: “We do want to be sure that any benefits they may have don’t undo all the hard work that’s been done over decades to save lives by reducing smoking. We are particularly concerned that vaping may lead to young people starting to smoke cigarettes.”

And he added: At the moment, there is very little hard data about e-cigarettes: until we get some solid facts on their impact on people’s health, we need proper regulation

Shirley Cramer, chief executive officer of the Royal Society of Public Health, said the argument was not clear cut

Emerging evidence from the States suggests significant numbers of non smokers are using e-cigarettes, with the potential for them to get hooked on nicotine.

We need to curb the appeal of ‘e-cigarettes’ to non smokers  it would help if we stop marketing what is essentially a medicinal product as a cool or trendy fashion accessory

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Islamic State Who supports the jihadist group?

Islamic State outperformed all other militant rebel groups in Syria and continues to claim ground


Many Gulf states have been accused of funding Islamic State (IS) extremists in Iraq and Syria.

But as Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, explains, not all is clear-cut in war.

Much has been written about the support Islamic State (IS) has received from donors and sympathisers, particularly in the wealthy Gulf States.

Indeed the accusation I hear most from those fighting IS in Iraq and Syria is that Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are solely responsible for the group’s existence.

But the truth is a little more complex and needs some exploring.

It is true that some wealthy individuals from the Gulf have funded extremist groups in Syria, many taking bags of cash to Turkey and simply handing over millions of dollars at a time.

This was an extremely common practice in 2012 and 2013 but has since diminished and is at most only a tiny percentage of the total income that flows into Islamic State coffers in 2014.

It is also true that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, believing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would soon fall and that Sunni political Islam was a true vehicle for their political goals, funded groups that had strongly Islamist credentials.

Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam were just such groups, all holding tenuous links to the “bad guy” of the time – the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria.

Qatar especially attracted criticism for its cloudy links to the group.

Turkey for its part operated a highly questionable policy of border enforcement in which weapons and money flooded into Syria, with Qatari and Saudi backing.

All had thought that this would facilitate the end of Mr Assad’s regime and the reordering of Syria into a Sunni power, breaking Shia Iran’s link to the Mediterranean.

Islamic State’s goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate is certainly attractive in some corners of Islamic thinking”

Yet as IS began its seemingly unstoppable rise in 2013, these groups were either swept away by it, or deciding it was better to join the winning team, simply defected bringing their weapons and money with them.

Only al-Nusra has really held firm, managing a tenuous alliance with its more radical cousin, but even so it is estimated that at least 3,000 fighters from al-Nusra swapped their allegiance during this time.

So has Qatar funded Islamic State? Directly, the answer is no. Indirectly, a combination of shoddy policy and naivety has led to Qatar-funded weapons and money making their way into the hands of IS.

Saudi Arabia likewise is innocent of a direct state policy to fund the group, but as with Qatar its determination to remove Mr Assad has led to serious mistakes in its choice of allies.

Both countries must undertake some soul searching at this point, although it is doubtful that any such introspection will be admitted in public.

But there are deeper issues here; religious ties and sympathy for a group that both acts explicitly against Shia Iran’s interests in the region and has the tacit support of more people in the Gulf than many would care to admit.

The horrific acts committed by IS are difficult for anybody to support, but its goal of establishing a caliphate is certainly attractive in some corners of Islamic thought.

Many of those who supported the goal have already found their way to Syria and have fought and died for Islamic State and other groups. Others express support more passively and will continue to do so for many years.

The pull of IS, a group that has outperformed all others in combat and put into place a slick media campaign in dozens of languages to attract young men and women to its cause, has proven highly successful.

In every activity from fighting, to organisation and hierarchy, to media messaging – IS is light years ahead of the assorted motley crew of opposition factions operating in the region.

Islamic State has put in place what appear to be the beginnings of quasi-state structures – ministries, law courts and even a rudimentary taxation system, which incidentally asks for far less than what was paid by citizens of Mr Assad’s Syria.

IS has displayed a consistent pattern since it first began to take territory in early 2013.

Upon taking control of a town it quickly secures the water, flour and hydrocarbon resources of the area, centralising distribution and thereby making the local population dependent on it for survival.

Dependency and support are not the same thing, and it is impossible to quantify how many of Islamic State’s citizens are willing partners in its project or simply acquiescing to its rule out of a need for stability or fear of punishment

To understand how the Islamic State economy functions is to delve into a murky world of middlemen and shady business dealings, in which loyal ideologues on differing sides spot business opportunities and pounce upon them.

IS exports about 9,000 barrels of oil per day at prices ranging from about $25-$45 (£15-£27).

Some of this goes to Kurdish middlemen up towards Turkey, some goes for domestic IS consumption and some goes to the Assad regime, which in turn sells weapons back to the group.

It is a traditional war economy, notes Jamestown analyst Wladimir van Wilgenburg.

Indeed, the dodgy dealings and strange alliances are beginning to look very similar to events that occurred during the Lebanese civil war, when feuding war lords would similarly fight and do business with each other

The point is that Islamic State is essentially self-financing; it cannot be isolated and cut off from the world because it is intimately tied into regional stability in a way that benefits not only itself, but also the people it fights

The larger question of course is whether such an integral pillar of the region (albeit shockingly violent and extreme) can be defeated.

Without Western military intervention it is unlikely. Although Sunni tribes in Iraq ponder their allegiances to the group, they do not have the firepower or finances necessary to topple IS and neither does the Iraqi army nor its Syrian counterpart

Michael Stephens is Director of the Royal United Services Institute, Qatar, and is currently in Irbil