Yesterday's E-Cigarette Summit in London provoked a minor spat on Twitter.
One or two vapers were shocked, apparently, by the strength of Pat Nurse's comment (on this blog) about the New Nicotine Alliance. One responded by calling her a "nutcase" who is "not worth the bother".
Now, I've known Pat for ten years and I don't always agree with her or the way she sometimes expresses herself online, but she doesn't deserve that.
Frankly, she deserves rather more respect.
Over the years Pat has put her career on the line by frequently speaking and writing about smoking-related issues. She hasn't received a penny for doing so yet she often appears on television and radio as the smoker who doesn't want to quit.
She doesn't do it for the publicity or the infamy. Quite often she'll moan and say "What's the point?" but after some gentle persuasion she'll almost always relent because she believes passionately in the cause.
By sticking her neck above the parapet, Pat has made herself a target for the most outrageous abuse, some of it of a very personal nature. As I say, I don't agree with everything she says but I admire her so much for sticking to her guns.
Anyway, I want to draw her detractors' attention to the following article, written by Pat and published in 2008. It was no longer online and I think it deserves to be.
Personally I think it's her finest hour because she's not fighting the world or using language and insults that, I think, can be counter-productive. She explains simply and without fuss the background that led her to smoke (she started at the age of eight) and puts it in a wider context.
Pat Nurse is as passionate and feisty about tobacco as some vaping advocates are about e-cigarettes. Most important, she believes in choice. If that makes her a "nutcase", what does it say about them?
Life and times of a dedicated smoker
Guest post by Pat Nurse
I am not proud of the fact that I began smoking so young, but I don't regret it either. It is a fact of life that some children will smoke whether we like it or not and it is certainly ingrained in my culture as much as in anyone else's religion, race or class.
Back then it was almost expected if not fully accepted. Doctors advised my mum to start smoking in her thirtes to relieve the stress of being left alone to bring up five children. Years later they advised that she gave up for her health. The argument was that each cigarette she didn't have extended her life by x amount of years. We worked out she should have lived to be 150. She died aged 75. If I live that long I will be happy. She was not as fortunate as a neighbour who began smoking in his teens, gave up aged 92, and lived to be 104!
My teachers told me that smoking would stunt my growth and give me cancer but so far it hasn't done either. My father told me he used to smoke with his mates during the war in stressful situations and I suppose the comradeship I shared over a cigarette with my friends behind the school bike shed, in between bouts of bullying from other kids, was also my reason for enjoying it.
The fanatical anti-smoking stance was not something that affected me until relatively recent years. We used to call these people 'health freaks' because of their unnatural obsession with the subject when we all know that none of us can live forever. If smoking was eradicated tomorrow the graveyards would still be full of people who die at the beginning, middle and end of each generation for a variety of reasons. We are missing the real health issues by concentrating on just one and hiding behind a smokescreen of abuse and false accusations towards smokers.
I remember the health warnings of the 1970s. Some people took these on board and gave up. Good for them but other people chose not to. The cost of cigarettes was the next big persuader to get people to stop smoking. The thought of putting away fag money for a nice little holiday at the end of the year appealed to some who gave up but not to others like myself who couldn't think of anything better to spend their money on.
Then came the social insults. I recall the TV ad campaign which suggested women who smoked were unattractive because they smelled. Some gave up, others didn't because in the scheme of things, smelling of smoke was not nearly so bad as bad breath, BO, mouldy clothing or cheap perfume - something that some smokers and non-smokers were, and still are, guilty of.
Recognising that this approach didn't work, the health lobby began to produce 'evidence' (which they are still trying to prove conclusively 30 years on) that smoking did not just hurt you but other people through passive smoking. This encouraged some smokers to quit but not others. Personally it had no effect on me.
I felt victimised because worse environmentally damaging factors were ignored such as traffic fumes which have been proved conclusively to cause lung cancer in pedestrians and still nothing is being done about banning traffic in public for the good health of 'innocent' people who choose to walk and not drive.
Bullying, misleading advertising campaigns and social exclusion seem to be the latest tactics used. I'm told by a health worker that the fatty cigarette is an untruth. Smoking does not cause that to happen. The smoking babies' ad is also false. You would not see that much smoke coming from a child's mouth unless it inhaled directly from a Jamaican bong!
I resent being made to feel that I am putting my children's lives in danger by smoking in another room of the house while there are no qualms about encouraging me to get my youngest child to walk to school and be poisoned by the huge amount of traffic fumes in the air that make my eyes water because they are so strong.
If I really had to sit and worry that I am going to die early and leave my children - three of whom are grown up - then I would never take a plane, a boat or a car again in the knowledge that I am more likely to die from a something like a car accident than smoking. I recently gave up horse riding because an accident meant a month off work and caused me to think how easy it would have been to break my neck instead of my arm. Time off work for a 'smoking related illness' is something that I have never had.
No smoking policies at work places, while not ideal, are something that I don't object to. It is an employer's right to choose as it should be my right to choose what I do out of work or whether I work for a firm that operates such a policy. I'm currently looking for a new challenge but dismayed by job adverts that wants 'non-smokers only'.
Outraged, I contacted the Equal Opportunities Commission to find that discrimination legislation does not cover this. Apparently, it is OK and perfectly legal to exclude this certain section of society. I'm sure that will go down well at the dole office as a reason why someone is unemployable.
But why bother being hypocritical and pretending we have a fair and equal society that offers the same chances for all if in reality it doesn't? If we cannot practice tolerance for smokers what chance have we got that others will tolerate people from different ethnic groups or religions because they are not shown the same kind of tolerance because they indulge in a habit that is unpopular in some circles?
I am not really the sort of person who visits pubs very often but I do love cafes. A cup of tea without a cigarette is like taking it without sugar or milk, or coffee without cream. I think when the war on obesity begins in earnest, banning cream and sugar and telling restaurants and cafes what they can put on the menu is only a step away.
Now there is smoking ban there is no point my ever visiting cafes again. On the one hand our Government moralises on the importance of social inclusion and then sets about socially excluding what in effect is a certain class of people because they smoke. And then they wonder why they can never reach people from such classes.
Despite the fact that I pay my taxes, I have only ever used the services of a hospital when I've had babies, and a broken arm, but I have been refused treatment in the past because I am not prepared to lie and say I don't smoke.
I recall a young women in hospital at the same time as me who gave birth to dead baby boy at eight and a half months pregnant. She was made to feel that it was all her fault because she smoked. This was despite the fact that she had four healthy kids and five Caesareans - when only an absolute maximum of three is advised and her womb just could not take the pressure.
The poor soul lost so much blood that she almost died. When she came round the only comfort she needed for her grief was a cigarette. The hospital had recently got rid of it's smoking room and she was wheeled outside into the cold air, half dead with blood bags and lines going into her arm. The local priest, who had been sent by her worried parents to read her the last rites, was appalled at the cruelty, lack of care and comfort offered to this 'anti-social pariah'.
One of the few issues I do agree with is the cost of smoking to the NHS but for very different reasons. I recently noticed that four smoking cessation posts advertised locally were offering £25,000 each per year salary. That is £100,000 in one county. Spread that across the whole country and you have a lot of money that could be better used for patient care.
Anyone who really wants to give up smoking can without too much difficulty because experience tells me that smoking is habit forming but not physically addictive. Such money spent in a bid to try and get people like me off cigarettes is being thrown into a black hole. Better still if that money was combined and pooled into providing drug treatment centres to help people who really need it like heroin and alcohol addicts who do cause huge problems to society because of their addictions.
Smokers like me will never give up. Any hope of that has gone because of the constant bullying, exclusion and pressure which only makes my resolve to exercise my right to choose even stronger. I would rather die than give in to the sanctimonious, biased, and prejudicial pressure heaped upon me by anti-smoking propaganda that often uses tenuous and exaggerated scientific 'evidence' while pulling figures out of the air that are never tested but have the desired dramatic effect.
Pat Nurse is a freelance journalist