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« Reaction to the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban | Main | The Freedom Dinner 2017 »

Voices of Freedom 2017

A recent feature of the Forest Freedom Dinner is the Voices of Freedom Awards.

We began this year's presentation by re-visiting the 2016 awards. Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, left her trophy under her chair (alcohol may have been involved) and attempts to return it to its rightful owner over the last twelve months failed because I invariably forgot to take it with me when we met up.

We began the 2017 awards by inviting her to come on stage so she could be reunited with this valuable piece of plastic. That in turn led to Claire taking part in our first presentation, to Ella Whelan, assistant editor of Spiked.

Videos and citations, as read by me, below.

Ella Whelan
Our first award goes to someone I first became aware of 18 months ago. Suddenly she seemed to be everywhere - especially television and radio. It got to the stage where it seemed impossible to watch The Big Questions or the Victoria Derbyshire Show on the BBC News Channel without this person making another impressive appearance.

Today she's assistant editor at the online magazine Spiked. She also writes regularly for the Spectator and City AM on issues ranging from feminism to free speech and much, much more.
We are grateful to her too for being a staunch opponent of policies like plain packaging of tobacco, despite the fact that - to the best of my knowledge - she has given up smoking. Like the best liberal activists, however, she doesn't abandon her principles just because her own lifestyle has changed.

Ladies and gentlemen ... Ella Whelan.

Martin Cullip
Our next award goes to someone I have a lot of admiration for. He's been writing a libertarian blog for almost ten years now, which is some feat when you have a full-time job running your own company that employs goodness knows how many people.

Back in 2011 he took his activism a stage further when he organised a day of protest in a sleepy Buckinghamshire town called Stony Stratford. Some of you may recall that a local councillor had taken leave of his senses and proposed a ban on smoking throughout the town centre.

The protest was a great success. It attracted over 100 people and was featured on the local evening news and the idea was subsequently rejected by more saner heads on the council. Better still, the councillor concerned later lost his seat.

Since then our fearless warrior has maintained a steady stream of blog posts as well as attending all manner of conferences and events around the globe including, this year, the World Health Organisation's FCTC conference in Delhi where he took his life in his hands and braved the city's shocking smog, which puts the occasional whiff of tobacco smoke in perspective.

Today our award winner is an outspoken advocate of vaping but he still defends smokers' rights and is a persistent thorn in the side of the enemy, otherwise known as Action on Smoking and Health. Ladies and gentlemen .... Martin Cullip, also known as blogger Dick Puddlecote.

Guillaume Perigois
This next award goes to one of our own, which is only fair, I think. Last year we gave an award to John Mallon who has represented Forest in Ireland since 2010. This year we want to acknowledge someone who has been part of the Forest family for only a few months but has nevertheless taken on a daunting task with flair and aplomb.

He's French but he lives in Brussels. He's worked in the European Parliament and had a promising career but I am delighted to say he has given it all up to work for Forest. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please give a warm Brexit - sorry, British - welcome to Guillaume Perigois, the recently appointed director of Forest EU.

Elise Rasmussen
And now, the final award of the evening. I first met this person at a Forest event at Boisdale of Belgravia in 2008. As with all Forest events at Boisdale we'd had a few drinks and towards the end of the evening this person - small, blonde, female - approached me and asked if I'd like to go to Rio with her. The sad thing is, I am genuinely so cynical about almost everything that I didn't for one minute think she was being serious. And so I ignored her invitation and never went to Rio.

The good news is, I've made up for that terrible error of judgement and over the last seven or eight years I have followed this remarkable woman around the world to Antwerp, Bangalore, Cape Town, Bologna and West Virginia. These places were all locations for the Global Tobacco Network Forum, or GTNF, which is now known as the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum, and our final award winner is the person who organises that annual conference.

It's a huge undertaking but every year GTNF brings together just about every stakeholder including consumers. And that is why we want to present her with this award. A great many conferences on tobacco are dominated by industry or public health campaigners. The consumer, smokers especially, are often overlooked. In a world where everyone, including the tobacco companies, are quite rightly embracing harm reduction and products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco, it's very easy to forget that there are still millions of people who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

The organiser of the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum doesn't forget that. She is always willing to go that extra mile to accommodate a group such as Forest that defends the interests of adults who enjoy smoking. She bends over backwards to find hotels and venues that have - not just smoking rooms but glorious smoking rooms. Last year, for example, in Brussels, she did a deal with the hotel that resulted in an extraordinarily baroque room on the ground floor being designated as the smoking room for the duration of the conference.

We called it the Liberty Lounge and it's just one of the many reasons I am delighted to present Elise Rasmussen - a great friend of the consumer - with her very own Voices of Freedom award.

Ladies and gentlemen ... Elise Rasmussen.

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