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« Now for something completely different | Main | Conservative conference diary part two »

Greetings from The Greenbrier

Greetings from West Virginia.

I'm staying at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs (above). For 30 years it housed a top secret nuclear bunker where US Congressmen could go in the event of nuclear war.

I arrived on Wednesday – direct from the Conservative conference – and one of the first things I did was join a tour of the declassified bunker. We were shown the kitchens, dormitories, break out areas and meeting rooms.

Incredibly the bunker was maintained (and the communication systems checked every day) until 1992 when it was exposed by the Washington Post.

The hotel itself is enormous. I've been here three days and even now I'm discovering facilities I didn't know existed or, if I did, couldn't find.

Thankfully my room is a short walk from the restaurants, bars, shops and central lobby otherwise I'd spend most of my time seriously out of breath.

Other delegates attending GTNF2014 weren't so lucky and reports suggest some lost souls are even now wandering the long labyrinthine corridors searching for their rooms.

For the uninitiated GTNF stands for Global Tobacco Network Forum. Organised by Tobacco Reporter, the first one took place in 2008.

I was invited but didn't go because the invitation (petite blond woman at Forest party: "Would you like to go to Rio with me?") seemed too good to be true.

I didn't make the same mistake again.

This year, having spoken on various panels in Bangalore (2010), Antwerp (2012) and Cape Town (2013), I was promoted and given a solo plenary session in the main auditorium.

Needless to say I missed various deadlines (the first on September 18) to deliver my Powerpoint presentation and I was still working on it in the early hours of Friday morning.

Thankfully an agreeably good-natured technician agreed to meet me at 6.00am so he could download my files to the AV equipment in the theatre.

They included a new video created by Dan Donovan specially for Forest. It features a pounding track from King Kool's new album Scuzz Bombe and it looks and sounds great.

The song is called 'Buzzin Me' and it did give me a buzz to see the video – which I had previously seen only on a laptop – on a large screen in a small but perfectly formed theatre with the volume turned up LOUD!

The title of my presentation was 'Forest: Voice and Friend of the Smoker, 1979-2014' and I am indebted to Dan who worked long into the night to send me slides such as these:

I began the presentation by saying:

Good morning. If there is one group that is under-represented at GTNF it’s the consumer and its representatives. Having attended previous conferences I have been struck by how few people within the tobacco industry know that consumer groups such as Forest exist. Delegates express surprise and want to know more about our work.

I talked about our history, campaigns, events and media work before making this announcement:

For years we have wanted to run a campaign that would extend our concerns about excessive regulation to other areas such as food and drink. Next month in London we will finally launch Action on Consumer Choice – the aim of which is to defend consumer choice in both those areas.

We will also use it as a vehicle to campaign against excessive regulation with regard to e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Ultimately we hope Action on Consumer Choice will become the voice and friend of the vaper in much the same way that Forest is the voice and friend of the smoker.

I finished however with this message for the tobacco industry:

Embrace developing trends and products but don’t forget your core customers, millions of whom enjoy smoking and have no wish to quit. They – and Forest – need your support.

I'll post the 'Buzzin Me' video here tomorrow before I leave The Greenbrier and head for Washington. I think you'll like it even if it did leave some delegates at GTNF a bit bemused!

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