The rise of vaping and a potential threat

I'll be on radio tomorrow talking about the rise of vaping.

ASH (the vapers' friend) published the results of its annual survey into the use of e-cigarettes and vapourisers last week.

This year's headline stat was the fact that, for the first time, more than half of UK vapers 'have given up smoking' (BBC News).

According to ASH:

In 2012, there were 700,000 vapers in the UK, now there are 2.9 million.

Some 1.5 million vapers are ex-smokers, compared with 1.3 million who still use tobacco.

The rest are mostly dual users. Only a tiny handful of vapers have never smoked.

More pertinent perhaps is the fact that the rate at which smokers are switching to e-cigarettes has peaked.

Some people, including ASH, seem to think a major reason more smokers aren't switching concerns the perception of harm:

A growing proportion of the public and smokers fail to recognise that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking.

That may be a factor. Personally I think there are other reasons why (to quote ASH CEO Deborah Arnott) "The rapid growth in e-cigarette use has come to an end."

First and foremost, the rate at which smokers were taking up vaping was unsustainable.

E-cigarettes appeal largely to those who want to quit smoking or those who want an alternative nicotine device in places where smoking is prohibited (dual users).

Sooner or later that market was going to be saturated because the number of smokers who want to stop isn't as great as tobacco control would have us believe.

In fact a significant number of confirmed smokers (95% according to one recent study) enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

A small majority accept they are addicted but it doesn't seem to bother them because the enjoyment outweighs other considerations, including the health risks.

Although the majority of vapers are now ex-smokers, a substantial number are still dual users who vape only when they're not permitted to smoke.

As vaping is increasingly banned where smoking is prohibited there is less incentive to switch (which is why the likes of the Royal Society for Public Health want smoking banned outside pubs as well).

Several generations on, e-cigarettes are not yet capable of giving the majority of smokers the experience they crave. For a variety of reasons many don't enjoy vaping.

Some of this information can be found in The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers which is based on a study of 600 smokers by the Centre for Substance Use Research.

But I'd like to suggest two more reasons why the rate of smokers switching to e-cigarettes is not what it was.

One, the more anti-smoking groups like ASH try to 'own' e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool the less attractive they will appear to the many smokers who loathe and detest the quit smoking industry.

And who can blame them? Tobacco control's latest proposals - a ban on smoking in social housing and a ban on smoking outside pubs - tells you everything you need to know about these despicable, puritanical bullies.

Two, if you read ASH's Smokefree GB survey in full (the name alone indicates the direction of travel) you'll stumble upon something quite interesting.

When asked what would prompt them to try an e-cigarette again, only 5% of smokers said, 'If I were recommended a specific product by someone I trusted.'

An even smaller number (1%) said, 'If I knew other people who used them.'
So when harm reduction campaigners talk about enlisting an "army" of vapers to go out into the world to spread the message, like a latter day temperance movement, I'm pretty certain they're barking up the wrong tree.

In fact I suspect that far from welcoming their evangelical advances millions of smokers - even those who want to quit - will react the same way most people respond when door-to-door preachers come knocking, with a polite but firm, "Thanks, but no thanks."

The same is true, I believe, of stop smoking services that try to 'educate' smokers to switch.

There's a reason stop smoking services are haemorrhaging clients - the number of smokers may be in long-term decline but so is the number of smokers who wish to quit.

The two are inextricably linked and there must come a point - very soon - when local government has to pull the plug on a service that few smokers want or need.

After all, if smokers do want to quit the overwhelming majority has always done so without state intervention - most recently by voluntarily switching to e-cigarettes, for example.

Which brings me to another point. Many advocates of vaping are so deeply engaged with the anti-smoking industry it's difficult to tell them apart sometimes.

Far from resisting tobacco control and excessive regulations some are effectively collaborators, happy to throw smokers under the bus if it helps their cause.

They deny it but their silence on anti-smoking legislation, including smoking bans, plain packaging and so on, speaks volumes.

It's indisputable too that many supporters of vaping are tobacco control activists whose anti-smoking agenda is well known and over-rides, I think, the harm reduction argument.

In terms of tobacco they are prohibitionists, pure and simple (albeit creeping prohibition). So can you blame smokers if they view their promotion of e-cigarettes with suspicion and mistrust?

Having been stigmatised and denormalised for years by tobacco control, why would you take advice from people who support more and more regulations to achieve their Utopian goal of a 'smokefree' (sic) world?

And why would you listen to those who, by virtue of their silence, are effectively collaborating in your denormalisation?

The simple fact is, the rapid growth of vaping, like the rapid decline in smoking which reached its peak between the mid Seventies and early Nineties, took place when there were relatively few regulations.

Education and increasing understanding of the potential health risks of smoking led to fewer people doing it.

It didn't need a tsunami of repressive laws or an army of anti-smoking evangelists to convince millions to stop. They made an informed decision to quit (or not start) all by themselves, just as it should be.

Smokers must also be allowed to decide for themselves whether to cut down or quit by switching to e-cigarettes. Millions have already done so; some are now ex-smoking vapers and others have decided to continue smoking. If that's their choice good luck them.

What they don't need is unsolicited lectures, well-meaning or otherwise, on the pleasures of e-cigarettes. If smokers genuinely want to quit and are curious about vaping they'll make that discovery for themselves.

More counter-productive still would be outdoor smoking bans designed to force smokers to switch. Even the most cursory understanding of human nature can predict how that will end.

In short, one of the biggest threats to vaping, beyond excessive regulation, is an unholy alliance between tobacco control and advocates of vaping that enlists vapers as foot soldiers and deploys e-cigarettes as weapons in the war on tobacco.

Nothing, in my view, will damage vaping more than the perception that, far from being a recreational product in its own right, e-cigarettes are merely a quit smoking tool, 'owned' and regulated by the public health industry as part of a long-term plan to outlaw smoking and, ultimately, any use of nicotine.


More events

Forest has three public events coming up in the next six weeks.

If you're in Brussels on Wednesday May 31 (World No Tobacco Day) do please join us for the official launch of Forest EU.

Venue is The Staff 42, a bar restaurant yards (or should I say metres?) from the European Parliament.

The event is from 6.30-9.00pm and features a live jazz band, one or two short speeches, plus (most important) FREE food and drink including a choice of Belgian beer.

Back in London our annual boat party, Smoke On The Water, takes place (post election) on Tuesday June 20.

Last year, despite some pretty miserable weather, 150 stoic guests still turned up and seemed to enjoy themselves. Fingers crossed it will be a nice warm, balmy evening (like 2015, below).

Friends, family and work colleagues are invited to join MPs, parliamentary researchers and think tank wonks.

Tickets are free but you must register in advance. Email to attend.

And finally don't miss The Freedom Dinner, our annual event at Boisdale of Canary Wharf.

This year's dinner takes place four days before the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the smoking ban in England so if you want to voice your opposition to that (and other anti-smoking regulations) this is the time to do it because guests invariably include MPs and other decision-makers.

I should add that there's a connection between The Freedom Dinner and the smoking ban because on June 26, 2007, we hosted Revolt In Style: A Freedom Dinner at The Savoy hotel in London. Almost 400 people attended and the guest speakers that night were Antony Worrall Thompson, Claire Fox and Andrew Neil.

We also had film crews from 12 countries including the UK (Newsnight), Russia, Greece, Germany and France.

It was quite an evening and The Freedom Dinner, it's little brother, isn't bad either.

Rod Liddle (below) was a guest at the Revolt In Style dinner in 2007 and his speech at The Freedom Dinner last year was so well received we've invited him back to speak again!

In 2016 we also launched the Voices of Freedom Awards and this year we'll be presenting more trophies to the great and the not so good.

Tickets for The Freedom Dinner cost £110 (single) or £990 for a table of ten. To book online click here.


Burning Issues: An Evening with Claire Fox

Pleased to announce the launch of a new initiative hosted by Forest.

Burning Issues is a series of private dinners to which we will invite a small but eclectic group of consumers, opinion formers and decision-makers to address a topical issue.

A guest speaker will kick start the debate which will be followed by a roundtable discussion.

The first Burning Issues dinner takes place in Dublin next month when our speaker is Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, author of 'I Find That Offensive!' and a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze.

Topic for the evening is 'Is health the new religion?' Attendance is by invitation only and Chatham House rules apply but I'll give you a flavour of the debate (without mentioning names) after the event.


Labour wants to address the demise of the British pub - hypocrites!

I was in Brussels this week when I heard that Labour's leaked manifesto included a section about smoking:

Labour will implement a Tobacco Control Plan, focussing on issues of mental health and children smokers, along with groups in society, such as BAME and LGBT communities, with high prevalence of the use of tobacco products.

More interesting perhaps was the commitment to set up a National Review of Local Pubs "to examine the causes for the large-scale demise of pubs."

Seriously, you could have heard me laughing back in London as I scribbled a quick statement and sent it to the usual suspects plus the Morning Advertiser, the pub trade journal:

"We support the idea of a review but it's a bit late for the thousands of pubs that closed as a direct result of the smoking ban that was introduced by the last Labour government in 2007.

"The party ignored warnings that the ban would have a devastating impact so it's stunning hypocrisy to make the plight of pubs an election issue ten years later.

"The smoking ban isn't the only reason for the demise of Britain's pubs but it is a significant factor.

"In recent years polls have consistently shown majority support for allowing well-ventilated designated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

"If a review is to be more than a PR exercise it must take public opinion into account and consider an amendment to the ban that would meet the demands of all customers, smokers and non-smokers alike."

The Morning Advertiser reported the manifesto policy but ignored our response. Instead they quoted several pub trade spokesman including the saintly Bridget Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association.

Typically they all banged on about business rates as if this is the sole cause of thousands of pubs closing over the last ten years.

I'm sure it is a factor - together with cheap supermarket beer and changing social trends - but to ignore the impact of the smoking ban is downright perverse.

As I've pointed out before, the data is clear. In the 12 months after the introduction of smoking bans in Ireland (2004), Scotland (2006), England, Wales and Northern Ireland (2007) there was a significant increase in pub closures that cannot be attributed to anything else.

The recession struck in the second quarter of 2008, making a bad situation even worse, but the damage had already been done (see Smoking gun: is the smoking ban a major cause of the decline of the British pub?).

Subsequent research in 2010 (The British smoking bans: stubbing out the urban pubs) demonstrated that the pubs that suffered most were landlocked inner city pubs, most of them in Labour constituencies.

The irony wasn't lost on us nor is the hypocrisy of a party that pledges to investigate the damage they accelerated when they enforced the smoking ban - against public opinion - in 2007.

Anyway, it's completely academic. Labour have absolutely no chance of winning the election so they can promise whatever they like and it will make no difference to the result on June 8.

Instead we must try and persuade Theresa May's government to commission its own review of the decline of the British pub, examining every factor and what can be done to resuscitate this endangered institution.

Sadly I fear the smoking ban has done to Britain's pubs what the Beeching cuts did to the railways. Hundreds of stations were closed and thousands of miles of track were torn up. Fifty years later people still question whether that was the right decision.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in England it's not too late to save the traditional pub (by which I don't mean the gastro, child-friendly establishments that have become so ubiquitous) but the patient is in intensive care and needs urgent life-saving measures - including the option of comfortable smoking rooms indoors and out - if it's to survive.

Update: As part of their policy to legalise cannabis the Lib Dems have announced they would allow small "cannabis social clubs".

That seems reasonable to me.

What's odd is that the Lib Dems support the smoking ban and there's no mention in their manifesto of amending the legislation to allow, for example, small social clubs where people can smoke tobacco.

Doesn't seem very logical to me but that's the Lib Dems for you.


The smoke police 

A 79-year-old man in Ontario, Canada, received three tickets for smoking in his own vehicle.

According to the Mail Online, which got the story from the National Post:

He was fined more than $1,000 for smoking in an enclosed workplace, failing to have a no-smoking sign in his SUV, and failing to properly supervise a workplace.

Arguing that the vehicle - a Porsche SUV - was never used as part of his cleaning business, Harry Kraemer took the case to the Provincial Offences Court and won, with all three tickets being overturned.

Describing some of the "smoke police" as "overzealous", Kramer said:

"Very soon, they'll keep coming and coming and coming at us and pretty soon we can't have a smoke except in the middle of some farmer's field."

Kraemer believes he was 'unfairly targeted as part of an ongoing dispute with the anti-smoking officers':

Last year, he was fined after an officer found an ash tray and cigarette butt in his private second floor office ...

He says he smokes with the door closed, window open and fan blowing.

But he was slapped with two tickets for workplace smoking which sparked a huge row.

"I verbally told him to get the hell out of my office and I said some very nasty things maybe, I don't know," said Kraemer after he was handed the ticket.

The officer, Kraemer said, told him, "We'll be back."

A year on, and an enforcement officer, working on what the claimed was an anonymous tip off, had approached him in his Porsche and handed him the ticket.

'An anonymous tip off' is exactly what I had in mind when I asked how a ban on smoking in social housing might be enforced:

It could create a snooper's charter allowing people to snitch on neighbours, especially those they don't get on with.

The Mail added that:

Ontario's anti-smoking team investigated 100 complaints of inappropriate smoking [my emphasis] last year.

Anyway, the Canadian connection and references to 'smoke police' brought to mind a song by the semi-professional Toronto band The Intended.

Back in 2004 the band recorded a song called 'The Smoke Police' with lyrics by poet Eric Layman. You can read them here, together with this comment by Eric himself:

I wrote this because I wanted to attack 'the smoke police' and have fun doing so. There's too much preaching already, without my tying more 'should-nots' around people's necks.

Before The Intended recorded it, I used to drop copies off in restaurants and bars. Several times, the owners told me they liked it. People who don't want to inhale smoke are free to patronize a smoke-free locale.

A smoker has the right to smoke anywhere that permits it - with the owner of each bar, etc. having the right to say Yes or No. My right to smoke in a bar is an extension of the owner's property rights. That the government has the power to ban smoking, does not give them a moral override.

Recently, I quit smoking for health reasons; but I continue to support freedom of choice. An attack on the rights of one person is an attack on every other person's rights.

Most people, including free-enterprisers, support the idea of the 'nanny state' in some areas. I don't. Government does not have a right to outlaw behavior which doesn't infringe on others' rights. But if you want government to take care of you like a child, don't be surprised if they order you around like a child.

I met Layman when I was in Toronto in 2005. We were introduced by Matt Finlayson, founder of The Intended, who had sent me a copy of the song and the album on which it featured.

Sadly Eric Layman died a few years later, aged 64.

Meanwhile the 'smoke police' is no longer the title of a wry protest song. It actually exists in the form of a team that investigates "inappropriate smoking" and prosecutes people for smoking in their own private offices and vehicles.

Harry Kraemer's convictions may have been overturned but that won't stop the smoke police harassing other smokers. Globally, this is only going to get worse.


The Curse of Forest: Stephen Williams

The Curse of Gnome is a long-running gag in Private Eye that records the subsequent misfortunes of anyone who has taken legal action against the magazine.

For years I considered something very similar – a series of posts chronicling the demise or bad luck of anyone Forest had done battle with.

In a nod to Private Eye I intended to call it The Curse of Forest.

There were no shortage of subjects but the idea remained in my head because I thought that revelling in others' misfortune might be in bad taste.

There comes a point however when the temptation to mock our opponents becomes too great, and I reached that point this week.

Stephen Williams is a name that will be familiar to many readers. He was the Lib Dem MP for Bristol West from 2005-2015 but it wasn't until 2010 that he came to our attention when he was nominated (by ASH) to take part in a video Rod Liddle was filming for the Sunday Times.

Prompted by Brian Binley's EDM that was designed to gauge support for a review of the smoking ban, Rod wanted to interview Brian, me and someone from ASH.

In the event, as I wrote at the time, "and after a lot of waiting", a spokesman from ASH failed to turn up.

Instead they put forward Stephen Williams, a youthful-looking Lib Dem MP, who declared that the reason he couldn't support the use of extraction fans (and therefore an amendment to the smoking ban) is because - wait for it - they are too noisy and drown out conversation!!!

Well, that's what Rod said he said so it must be true. I was out of earshot.

Williams was nominated by ASH because he was chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, a faux parliamentary body run and adminstered by, you guessed, ASH.

A few months later Williams came to our attention again when he voted against David Nuttall's ten-minute motion that sought to amend the smoking ban to allow separate smoking rooms.

But it was his prominent role in the launch of Plain Packs Protect, a taxpayer-funded campaign that supported plain packaging, that finally brought us into direct contact.

I won't bore you with every detail because I wrote about them at length at the time and the relevant posts are featured in Hands Off Our Packs: Diary of a Political Campaign, which you can download for free.

These headlines however give a flavour of our relationship with this "dull but worthy" man:

The hypocrisy of ASH, Stephen Williams and Peter Hain (January 6, 2012)
Only one word to describe Stephen Williams – pathetic (January 18, 2012)
Stephen Williams, "the forces of darkness" and Chris Snowdon's vagina (May 12, 2012)
Medal for Stephen WHO? (May 5, 2013)
Stephen Williams wants to be public health minister (June 14, 2013)
Stephen Williams: ASH to the rescue! (September 11, 2013)

Finally, in a series of posts written shortly before the 2015 Election, I wrote:

Former chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health (run by ASH), Lib Dem candidate Stephen Williams is one of Britain's most committed anti-smoking politicians. On a personal level I quite like him. Against that he's a strong advocate of plain packaging and helped launch the Plain Packs Protect campaign in 2012. In 2013 his enthusiastic support for smoking bans and other tobacco control policies was recognised by the World Health Organisation which presented him with a special award, at which point he declared he'd like to be public health minister! Stranger things have happened.

2010 majority: 11,366 (20.5%)
Estimated number of smokers in Bristol West: 16,500
Closest opponent: Labour
Friend or foe: Foe
Target rating: Not impregnable but should hold on

As it turned out, I was wrong about that.

Appointed a junior minister in the Coalition Government, Williams' Westminster career came to a juddering halt when he lost his seat to Thangam Debbonaire (Conservative).

Worse, he came third behind the Green candidate. From 26,593 votes (48 per cent of the votes) in 2010, his support fell by more than half to 12,103 votes (18.8 per cent), a staggering defeat.

Determined to bounce back, however, Williams set his sights on becoming the West of England's first metro mayor.

In February, following his nomination, the Lib Dems declared him to be the favourite to win the mayoral race.

In April Williams himself was a little more cautious, suggesting he was neck and neck with the Tory candidate but well ahead of Labour.

So, how did it go?

The result, announced on Friday, saw Williams come third (again!), behind the Conservative candidate, who won, and Labour, who came second.

The full result was:

Tim Bowles, Conservative – 53,796
Lesley Mansell, Labour – 43,627
Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat – 39,794
John Savage, independent – 29,500
Darren Hall, Green Party – 22,054
Aaron Foot, UKIP – 8,182

Where this latest rejection leaves Williams, I've no idea. His blog has gone strangely quiet, although he's been active on Twitter, retweeting comments about his "fantastic", "spirited" campaign.

Have we heard the last of him? Probably not. After all, anyone who still includes the letters 'mp' in his Twitter handle (@swilliamsmp), two years after losing his seat in Parliament, is either in denial or deluded.

Curiously however I can't find the name of the 2017 Lib Dem candidate for Bristol West anywhere so it's not impossible that it's still to be announced and Williams could yet rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of a once-promising political career.

Or perhaps he could get a job with ASH. They owe him one.


Anti-smoking campaigners target smoking in the home

The president of the Faculty of Public Health wants smoking banned in all new council houses.

Professor John Middleton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said adults smoking in the home damaged the development of children’s lungs and put babies at risk of cot death.

"Housing associations and councils are looking at smoke-free housing buildings. Where children are involved I think there is a real case for it,” Middleton said.

The Sunday Times has the story here, although it's behind a paywall.

ASH, naturally, support the idea without being quite so explicit. Nevertheless the meaning behind these weasel words is clear:

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said the anti-smoking charity (sic) had a call last week from a woman whose granddaughter had cystic fibrosis and had never been able to visit because neighbours’ smoke from communal areas drifted into the grandmother’s home.

Arnott said people were often "frustrated by councils’ and social landlords' failure to take action".

I'm quoted as follows:

Simon Clark, director of the pro-smoking (sic) campaign group Forest, said that a ban “would penalise unfairly those who can’t afford to buy their own homes”.

The full comment I gave them (not used) read:

"Banning smoking in social housing would set a very dangerous precedent. Not only would it be a gross invasion of privacy, it would penalise unfairly those who can't afford to buy their own homes.

"How would the policy be enforced? It could create a snooper's charter allowing people to snitch on neighbours, especially those they don't get on with. Children might inadvertently give their parents away, resulting in possible eviction.

"It's not second hand smoke that's making people's lives a misery. It's puritanical bodies like the Faculty of Public Health who, having campaigned to ban smoking in every pub and club in the country, are now trying to dictate how people behave in their own private space as well."

Middleton is one of the public health 'chiefs' who has been pressing the Government to publish its new tobacco control plan without delay (Doctors urge May to publish anti-smoking strategy).

By calling for what many people will think is fairly extreme action, I imagine the strategy is to force ministers to introduce other policies that can be presented as less draconian.

The long-term goal however is clear and thanks to the Obama administration the US now offers governments worldwide a model when it comes to smoking and social housing.

What disgusts me is how shameless anti-smoking campaigners are. Social housing or not, it's still someone's home. As I told the Sunday Times, why should people be discriminated against just because they can't afford to buy their own house?

Whether it's taxation or smoking bans, the likes of ASH just love giving the less well-off a good kicking.

Ultimately though policies such as this are just a Trojan horse to ban smoking in all housing, regardless of wealth.

The 'good' news, if you can call it that, is that it might put 'passive' smoking back on the agenda.

One of the problems we've had since public smoking bans were introduced a decade ago is that no-one, least of all the media, wants to talk about the impact of 'secondhand' smoke in enclosed spaces, public or otherwise.

As far as journalists and politicians are concerned it's yesterday's news. Passive smoking kills (allegedly) and there's no more to be said. The debate, in their eyes, is over.

By putting smoking in the home up for discussion it means there's an opportunity to reassess the impact of 'secondhand' smoke.

Perhaps (and I don't say this with any confidence) we may be able to persuade ministers to revisit the evidence and reconsider the extent to which smoking should be restricted.

If the anti-smoking industry wants to have that battle I'm all for it.


Location, location, location

Just back after 24 hours in Dublin.

I caught an early flight out yesterday and was home by eleven this morning.

My mission was to locate a suitable venue for a series of dinners Forest is organising in the city.

The initiative is called Burning Issues and each dinner will have a different theme. The plan is to invite 12-16 people for a roundtable discussion kick-started by a guest speaker.

There's nothing original about the idea. I attended a very similar event in London a couple of years ago. It was organised by the Institute of Ideas and the format worked rather well.

By coincidence the speaker at the first Burning Issues dinner in Dublin next month will be Claire Fox, director of the IoI and an old friend of Forest.

Finding a suitable location isn't easy, though. There are plenty of restaurants with private dining rooms but we wanted to find somewhere with a smoking terrace adjacent to the room.

The size and shape of the room have to work too, and the location can't have too much background noise.

One restaurant on our shortlist would have been ideal except for the fact that the private dining area was only 'semi-private'. All that separated it from the main restaurant was a thick velvet drape.

It reminded me of a restaurant I went to in Rome ten years ago. The legislation in Italy allowed proprietors to have a separate smoking room as long as certain fairly strict conditions were met.

For example, smoking rooms had to be equipped with automatic sliding doors to stop smoke spreading to other areas.

Not in the restaurant I went to. The smoking 'room' was separated from the rest of the establishment by a simple curtain.

Above our heads however was a ventilation system with enormous pipes that resembled the engine room of a ship.

The set up seemed to work, though, and everyone was happy.

Anyway, in the brief time I was in Dublin I think we've whittled the shortlist down to two.

The first is one of the best restaurants in the city. It has two private dining rooms. One is next to the kitchen so guests can watch the chef at work.

The other is on the first floor and offers greater privacy. It has air conditioning and, most important, direct access to a covered smoking terrace.

The downside is the shape of the room. It's long and narrow, which isn't ideal for a roundtable discussion.

The location of the second option on our shortlist has three dining areas for hire. One is a room on the ground floor off the small and rather dark public bar.

It's the right shape and an adequate size but it doesn't have air conditioning. In June, even in Ireland, it could get a bit hot and you can't open the windows because there would be too much noise from passing traffic.

On the top floor there's a bright, typically Edwardian room with views over St Stephen's Green. There's even a small smoking area, although it looked and felt more like a fire escape to me.

There were three or four round tables seating 4-6 people per table. For a roundtable discussion however that wouldn't work because everyone has to sit together, not be seated on separate tables.

Which brings me to the most intriguing option – a small wooden 'lodge' at one end of the outdoor smoking terrace, complete with its own bar and a fully retractable roof.

It can accommodate 16-20 people, seated in a square. Weather permitting the roof can be opened allowing guests to dine al fresco.

The safer option is the first one. The restaurant has a good reputation and enquiries suggest people enjoy going there.

The second is a bit of a wild card but that can sometimes be more fun.

We'll make our decision on Monday.