John Mallon (above), Forest's spokesman in Ireland, has just finished his latest media tour.
Inspired by the The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, the study by the Centre for Substance Use Research, the theme was 'Smoking: Pleasure or Addiction?'.
Sometimes of course events take over and an interview swings in a different direction. That was certainly the case when John appeared on Ireland AM (TV3), Ireland's version of Good Morning Britain, but more often than not we were able to set the agenda.
Local radio is very important in Ireland, hence these tours which John has been doing since 2011. Here's the full list of interviews he conducted between 3-17 April followed by a guest post on the subject:
Monday 3rd April - Galway
Galway Bay FM - Keith Finnegan Show
Tuesday 4th April - Kerry/Tralee
Radio Kerry - Talk About with Deirdre Walsh
The Kerryman newspaper
Friday 7th April - Waterford
WLR FM - Deise Today
Beat 102/103FM - news report
Tipp FM - telephone interview
Monday 10th April - Athlone/Tullamore/Naas
Midlands 103FM - Midlands Today
Tuesday 11th April - Dublin
TV3 - Ireland AM
Newstalk - Pat Kenny Show
Thursday 13th April - Kilkenny
Tuesday 17th April - Cork
Red FM - Neil Prendeville Show
GUEST POST: JOHN MALLON ON TOUR
Forest Ireland remains the sole voice of protest for smokers in Ireland so it is incumbent on us to make that voice heard as much as we can. For that reason we try to mount an annual tour of radio stations around the country.
The theme this time was 'Smoking: Pleasure or Addiction?' which was inspired by 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers', an excellent study conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow and funded by Forest UK.
The findings were sufficiently interesting to justify a tour based on that report alone. After all, tobacco control campaigners love to argue that smokers hate smoking and 70 per cent want to quit. Well, 95 per cent of the 600 smokers who took part in the CSUR study said they smoked for "pleasure" and 77 per cent had no intention of quitting. That alone has profound implications for the Irish Government's target of a "tobacco-free Ireland" within ten years.
This year we began in Galway before heading for Limerick. Sadly Limerick couldn't accommodate us on the day so we continued to Tralee and then Waterford before moving on to Tullamore, Dublin, Kilkenny and, finally, my home city of Cork.
I appeared live on the Keith Finnegan Show on Galway FM and was also interviewed by the Galway Independent. I found Keith very down to earth and practical as well as welcoming. Deirdre on Radio Kerry is always a pleasure to speak to. She makes her guests relax and feel at home. Tadgh at the Kerryman newspaper was intense and serious and took studious notes. Eamon Keane at WLR in Waterford asked some hard questions but was fair and disinclined to judge the issue with observations of his own.
It's always refreshing to be interviewed by an impartial presenter. Speaking of which, Fran Curry on Tipp FM in Clonmel added humour to the debate as he and I speculated on which of us would end up paying the hospital bills of the other!
Will Faulkner on Midlands FM in Tullamore is an insightful guy who had the awareness that at least a quarter of his listeners were smokers and he was open-minded as a result.
Dublin began with an interview on Ireland AM TV3 at some ungodly hour of the morning. Joining me on the couch was none other than Dr Patrick Doorley, chairman of ASH Ireland. Although I've crossed swords with him over the phone I've never have the pleasure of shaking his hand, something I put to rights in the make-up room.
"Dr Doorley, I believe," said I, marching over with my hand out. This miserable looking suit is the chief voice of tobacco control in Ireland today.
I knew the chief presenter, Mark Cagney, from years ago and he gave me a huge welcome. When we went on set however it became clear that Mark's side-kick, Sinéad Desmond, would be doing the interview.
The previous day the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had announced to a breathless nation that there are now more ex-smokers than smokers in Ireland. She started with me and Forest's reaction to the HSE figures. Then Doorley had his say and trotted out the usual spin.
Then it was back to me which gave me the chance to highlight aspects of The Pleasure of Smoking report. Doorley got the last word, rubbishing the study as lightweight and contrived. Interestingly I offered him the hard copy I had with me but he said he had already studied it.
A tetchy interview with LMFM Louth followed. Once again I was debating with the good doctor. At one point while Doorley was making a point, he went into a prolonged coughing fit, something the listener might have expected from me instead. Naturally I had the good manners to remain silent.
After that I had to leg it to Newstalk, Ireland's leading independent national radio station, for an appointment on The Pat Kenny Show. Of all the presenters I have encountered over the years Pat is the most polished and professional of all. He has an analytical brain and is one of those people who makes you the absolute centre of his attention while you are with him. If you're honest and open with him Pat will guide you along but wo' betide the bullshitter. He has no patience with that.
The one and only time I was previously invited on KCLR in Kilkenny I was bullied and almost hounded out of the studio by a very, ahem, unsympathetic presenter. She's now retired and the new man in the chair is John Masterson.
John and I had ten minutes shooting the breeze before we went on air. During this intermission he told me that although he didn't smoke himself he had no objection to others enjoying it. Thus lulled into a false sense of security I was unprepared for his combative style. He gave me a hard time but did finish by observing that, "Well, I don't know how you do it, John, but I'm looking at a fine big healthy man opposite me." You never know what to expect, do you?
Though I wanted to keep The Pleasure of Smoking study as the focal point of each interview other issues inevitably came up including plain packaging, social exclusion and e-cigarettes. (As someone who smokes and vapes I have first hand experience of the merits of both.)
All in all I didn't sense quite the same hostility towards smokers that I have experienced in the past. Of course it's harder than ever to get a smoking room in a hotel, although I did manage it. But I used an e-cig where cigarettes were unwelcome and it occurred to me more than once that it's not illegal to puff on one in a studio either.
If I'd done that in Kilkenny I bet John Masterson would have required smelling salts to come round.
PS. My favourite pint of a week is on Sunday, 12.30 to 2.30pm, in my local. I usually meet up with a guy called Noel, a smoker and a big shot in the insurance industry. Noel and his mates love to hear me on radio and he told me last week that he'd heard me on a replay of Pat Kenny. He'd also heard bits of it on trailers promoting Newstalk.
Even better, Noel was listening to Pat Kenny interview some environmental public health guy and Kenny began a question with, "I had John Mallon from Forest in with me earlier and he said ..." Noel couldn't remember anything else no matter how much I pressed him but it's nice to have one of the nation's leading broadcasters quoting us, is it not?