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Friday
Jun022017

Forest EU launch party

For years I've been told it would be difficult if not impossible to host a Forest-style event in Brussels.

What I mean by a 'Forest-style' event is one where smoking is a normal and unremarkable part of the evening, where smokers are accommodated without fuss or obvious segregation, and no-one cares a hoot or complains if guests light up.

On Wednesday night we gave it a go and over 100 people attended the official launch of Forest EU, 100 metres from the European Parliament.

The venue, The Staff 42, was an excellent choice. With a capacity of 120 it was neither too big nor too small.

We dressed it with Forest banners, one featuring the slogan 'Smoking. Let's Reignite Freedom of Choice'.

Every table had copies of the Forest EU manifesto, a ten-page concertina design the size of a packet of cigarettes.

On one wall a large widescreen TV displayed dozens of images of smokers on a rotating loop.

Guests included journalists, permanent representatives to the EU, parliamentary assistants, consultants and lobbyists and, most important, consumers.

Epicenter, Students for Liberty and SFL's new campaign Consumer Choice Center were also represented. 

Brits rubbed shoulders with guests from Ireland, Romania, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands (to name a few).

Complimentary drinks included mojitos (on arrival), red and white wine and a choice of Belgian beers. (I started with a mojito, moved on to red wine and finished the evening with one or two thirst quenching beers. Perfect.)

The food was better and more substantial than I expected - and it kept on coming.

Thanks to the warm, balmy weather most chose to eat, drink and smoke on the outside terrace which was separated from the indoor area by floor to ceiling glass doors and windows so it felt like an extension of the bar, not a separate area.

Our trio of jazz musicians sensibly moved outside too and played on the terrace.

In that type of environment long-winded speeches are the last thing people want to hear so we gave our guest speakers two minutes each and, by and large, they stuck to the brief.

I said a few words before handing over to Guillaume Perigois, director of Forest EU, who introduced Jonathan Siksou, a journalist and author of Le Tabac Passionnément; Dick Engel, former executive member of Smokepeace, the first (and only!) pan-European smokers' rights organisation (now defunct); and Benjamin Patock, owner of Noblego, an online tobacco shop in Germany and author of the cigar guide Das Zigarrenbuch für Einsteiger.

It was great to see Dick who had travelled from the Netherlands with Ton Wurtz who continues to be spokesman for Stichting Rokersbelangen, a Dutch smokers' rights group.

I hadn't seen Dick (a former policeman who now works with refugees) and Ton since they attended a Forest event at Boisdale in London almost ten years ago. We first met at a conference in Seville in 1999 that was largely organised by Mark Dober, a Brussels-based public affairs consultant.

I hadn't seen Mark – who has twice been voted 'European Consultant of the Year' – for 17 years so imagine my surprise on Wednesday when a man sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Remember Seville?" 

It took me a few moments to realise it was ... Mark Dober.

Mark, Ton, Dick. What a thrill to be reunited with the old gang. In all my years of working for Forest Seville is still one of my favourite memories.

Anyway, Forest EU's launch party was a success, I think. It began at 6.30 and was due to finish at 9.00 but a substantial number of guests stayed long after that, which is always a good sign.

At 10.00, for licensing reasons, we had to ask everyone to vacate the terrace. The last guests left half an hour or so later.

This is how Politico EU, the leading political news organisation in Brussels, reported the event yesterday:

Over cigars and mojitos at a Brussels restaurant (with terrace, for smoking), smokers rights’ campaigners vowed on Wednesday evening to revive the fight against anti-tobacco rules. “We accept and we totally understand the health risks of smoking, we embrace harm reduction products such as e-cigarettes, but we are passionate about freedom of choice and personal responsibility,” said Simon Clark, director of the Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest), which launched its EU wing on Wednesday.

Clark deplored the disappearance of a dozen smoking rights groups across Europe in the last decade due to lack of funding. He hopes that Forest EU will galvanize support again to oppose smoking bans in public spaces such as parks, or the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive. Helped by a €150,000 grant from Japan Tobacco International, Forest EU wants the European Commission to justify any future measures against tobacco.

Below: The terrace (smoking allowed!).

PS. Dan Donovan, who was filming a video of the event, drove to Brussels with the Forest EU banners (six in all) and manifestos.

As we were tidying up on Wednesday night he calmly told me he couldn't find his car keys. After he got back to his hotel he sent me a text:

Keys were in the back seat of the cab we took to the venue. They've just brought them back to me. Phew.

Below: Forest EU director Guillaume Perigois being interviewed by RTL-TVI before Wednesday's launch party in Brussels, plus more photos of the event.

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Reader Comments (2)

Nice event! I'd like to see Forest-type events in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as a counter to their rampant antismoking hysteria.

Monday, June 5, 2017 at 18:05 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Sadly they are trying to denormalize smoking on patios in Brighton again. Of course it is the Brighton and Hove Council trying to impose this voluntary "ban" in a "bid to spread a public health message to encourage people not to start smoking in the first place."

See "COUNTY NEWS: Plan to cut smoking outside pubs and restaurants" at: http://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/news/county-news-plan-to-cut-smoking-outside-pubs-and-restaurants-1-7997230

This type of social engineering from above needs to stop.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at 21:03 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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