How quickly the anti-smoking virus spreads

I didn't have time to comment on this last week but I don't want to let it pass without saying something.

According to the Guardian:

The French Socialist senator Nadine Grelet-Certenais has fired up a heated debate in France over the depiction of smoking in the movies. She wants it stubbed out, for good, on the basis that Gallic heroes puffing away on the silver screen makes the filthy habit seem cool and provides the evil tobacco industry with free advertising.

The story was first reported by a single French news source on Saturday November 18 but developed legs partly because the call was supported by health minister Agnès Buzyn who said she was in "total agreement" with the senator, and partly because it attracted so much ridicule online.

Before we knew it papers such as the London Evening Standard were running the story with headlines such as 'Smoking could be banned in French films' almost as if it was a fait accompli.

Nevertheless things may have ended there had it not been for a further comment by European Commission spokesperson Anca Paduraru who told

"The Commission welcomes all measures taken by EU countries that deglamorise smoking, and reduce uptake, particularly amongst young people."

Within the space of a few days therefore a single comment by an opposition socialist politician in the French parliament during a debate about tobacco price rises had escalated into a headline that read 'Commission backs French idea to ban on-screen smoking'.

A few weeks earlier a company in Japan announced that it was giving non-smoking employees an additional six days' holiday a year to compensate them for the extra time smokers allegedly take for smoking breaks.

Needless to say this 'story' went worldwide without a word from anyone pointing out that:

Smokers are as entitled to breaks as anyone else and if some are taking additional breaks to smoke it's a sign of weak management.

If some employees are taking unauthorised breaks to smoke they're not alone, they're simply more visible. Other employees may be spending time on social media, private emails, personal phone calls or an excessive number of coffee breaks, but that's less obvious.

Since relatively few people work on conveyor belts these days it's difficult if not impossible to judge a person's productivity through time spent at their desk.

We all know people who work longer hours but are no more productive than those who work fewer. As for creative people, we need thinking time and who's to say that a period of contemplation at your desk is more or less effective than a smoking break (if you're a smoker)?

The point is, both of these anti-smoking stories went global yet one began with a comment by an opposition politician in a debate about something completely different, while the other was prompted by a relatively small company (120 employees) based the 29th floor of an office block in Tokyo.

How quickly the anti-smoking virus spreads.


No time for complacency – where Scotland goes, England follows

It was reported this week that:

Increasing the cost of tobacco or setting a minimum price could be used as part of a campaign to drive down the number of smokers in Scotland.

Public health experts also say reducing the availability of tobacco and incentivising retailers not to sell it may help tackle health inequalities.

NHS Health Scotland and the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP) at the University of Edinburgh have put forward the ideas as part of a new national tobacco strategy.

They also want to see mass media campaigns to encourage smokers to stop, and reduce exposure to second-hand smoke.

See Increased or minimum tobacco price 'could cut number of smokers' (BBC News).

The story appeared on Thursday and was reported widely in Scotland. In response Forest commented:

"This middle class war on smoking has to stop. It's patronising and deeply offensive.

"Tobacco is a legal product and if adults choose to smoke knowing the risks that choice must be respected.

"Making tobacco even more expensive would discriminate against those who are less well off. It will also fuel illicit trade by encouraging more smokers to buy tobacco illegally.

"Spending money on mass media campaigns or incentivising retailers not to sell tobacco would be gross misuse of public funds.

"Most smokers who want to quit do so without the need for stop smoking services or other state-sponsored initiatives. In recent years a significant number have switched to safer e-cigarettes without government intervention.

"Instead of threatening smokers with further tax increases and other restrictive practices, which only breeds resentment, the government should embrace e-cigarettes and other harm reduction products and remove unnecessary obstacles to their use and promotion."

Edited versions of these comments were reported by BBC News, The Times (Scotland), the Scotsman, Herald, Dundee Courier and Aberdeen Evening Express.

All these reports were based on a press release issued by NHS Health Scotland. Only one journalist appears to have read the "study of expert views" on which it was based, hence this headline in the Scottish Daily Mail:

Now tobacco police want to swab your children to test for smoke

Kate Foster's report isn't online but it begins:

Children should be tested for exposure to smoking as part of a massive crackdown on tobacco, say health experts.

Routine saliva tests could be carried out to find out how much they were being affected by second-hand smoke in the home.

A panel has also called for a smoking ban in parks and universities, and says tobacco should not be sold to under-21s.

Responding to these proposals I told the Mail:

"Checking children’s exposure to second-hand smoke would be a gross invasion of privacy. What next? Could children be taken away from loving parents and into care just because their parents smoke?

"There’s no justification for banning smoking in parks. The inconvenience of being exposed to a whiff of smoke in a public park is minimal and poses no risk to anyone’s health apart from the smoker.

"If you are old enough to be considered an adult, you are old enough to decide if you want to smoke."

I'm sure there are readers who will have switched off at the mention of Scotland. What happens in Scotland matters however because evidence suggests that policies introduced in Scotland tend to be adopted by the rest of the UK.

The smoking ban is the obvious example and to this day I am convinced the Westminster parliament would not have voted for a comprehensive ban in 2006 had Scotland not led the way.

Most of the proposed measures are only ideas but next year the Scottish Government is due to publish a tobacco control strategy and they are currently considering proposals that will help achieve their target of making Scotland 'smoke free' (sic) by 2034.

The announcement in July of the UK Government's tobacco control plan was met with some relief by many people because, for once, there was no mention of further legislation.

I've warned people not to be complacent however because you can be sure the tobacco control industry will continue to lobby for further restrictions on smoking and the sale of tobacco.

The danger is that the Scottish Government will use the war on smoking as a convenient distraction from other, far more important issues including falling standards of education in Scotland.

That, in turn, will encourage the tobacco control industry in England which will use Scotland as a shining example of public health in action.

What is happening in Scotland is therefore of enormous relevance to the future of tobacco control in the rest of UK.

PS. After my appearance on Good Morning Britain on Thursday I later gave a short interview to Reporting Scotland (BBC1 Scotland).

On top of the Budget, it's been another busy week.


Tobacco control has created a generation of vaper haters

As some of you know I was on Good Morning Britain yesterday.

Following the implementation of a workplace vaping ban in New York State producers wanted to debate the issue on the not unreasonable grounds that what happens in New York (the smoking ban, for example) could be adopted in the UK.

The item was scheduled for Wednesday but on Tuesday it was pushed back 24 hours. During that time my opponent changed. It was originally going to be an occasional Channel 4 presenter I'd never heard of.

The following day I was told I'd be debating the issue with someone else – journalist Nilufer Atik who I discovered is an occasional guest on This Morning, the ITV programme that follows GMB.

There has been a lot of criticism of Atik on social media. Her anti-vaping, anti-nicotine stance was certainly extreme and – in the view of many people including me – wholly unjustified, but she did the job she was asked to do.

As she admitted to me after the programme, when I put jokingly it to her, she's a professional gob for hire.

Inevitably, and quite naturally, some vapers have also questioned why GMB didn't invite a vaper or vaping advocate to take part.

As it happens, when I was contacted on Monday my first response was to suggest they might invite a vaper instead of me but they were keen for me to appear and I don't like turning down such offers because you never know when they might dry up.

To put it in perspective their first choice was Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson but he was out of the country on holiday and unavailable. I was therefore their second choice.

As for the daily 'debate', the idea, I think, is to have a bit on a bunfight early in the morning so the more argumentative it is the better.

For that reason the producers are not looking for 'experts' or people with a direct vested interest. They merely want to kick start a discussion that will generate a response while the programme is on air and, later, on social media.

They would prefer celebrities but in the absence of a 'name' they want people who have a track record for being reasonably combative on air.

I've been on GMB several times and I probably fit that category. The nature of my job means I'm also easy to get hold of.

TV producers like that. It means they can confirm their schedule and the names of guests promptly and without delay.

Anyway it was made very clear to me that the GMB producers like "really strong, lively debates ... They like anything that gets people talking."

Unusually they went to some lengths to keep Nilufer Atik and me apart before we went on set. Instead of fraternising in the green room I was ushered away to a smaller hospitality area where I sat alone reading the papers and drinking a cup of tea.

The aim, it seems, was to keep our debate "fresh". To be fair there's some sense to this. Whenever I encounter Deborah Arnott before a head-to-head interview, more often than not she wants to debate the issues before we even go on air. By the time we get in the studio it's all gone a bit flat and our best bits are left, unloved and unrecorded, in the green room.

Yesterday, seconds before we went on set, I was told not to wait to be invited to speak. If I wanted to respond to or interrupt my opponent I should do so, hence my rather shouty performance.

More seriously it's very clear, reading the comments on social media in reaction to the GMB debate, that a lot of people do not like people vaping in public places.

It may be a small minority but it's a very vocal minority, similar to the minority that supported a public smoking ban.

What strikes me is that the online vaping community is failing to respond to these comments.

Instead vapers (and vaping advocates) generally restrict their comments to 'safe spaces' like vaping forums and blogs where they are preaching almost exclusively to the converted.

Alternatively they attend vape fests where, again, they’re surrounded by like-minded people.

In the 'real' world it's rather different. A vocal minority of the general public – driven by an irrational hatred of smoking that has been fuelled by decades of anti-tobacco campaigns and regulations – considers vaping to be the bastard cousin of smoking. Like smoking, they want to expunge it from normal society.

You can bang on all you like about vaping helping smokers to quit. The anti-smoking, anti-vaping minority couldn't care less. All they know is, vapers are exhaling something unpleasant and possibly toxic. At best it's anti-social, at worst it’s harmful. Either way it should be banned.

Those are the comments that are being picked up by bar owners, employers and local councils. Intolerance of smoking has bred intolerance of vaping.

I've been going on about this for years, explaining why vapers must oppose smoking bans and other anti-tobacco regulations, but too many have chosen to remain silent or, worse, condemn smoking as a dirty, disgusting habit they are proud to have given up.

The irony, as I have often pointed out, is that many vaping advocates are actually anti-smoking campaigners whose efforts to prohibit smoking is now fuelling a similar paranoia towards e-cigarettes and nicotine generally.

My advice to vapers is that it's not enough to surround yourselves with like-minded people on vaping forums or attend 'pro-vaping' conferences that allow you to bask in mutual backslapping and the knowledge that you've fought your smoking addiction and won.

A small but vocal minority of the public hates you. They hate you for the same reason they hate smokers so get out of your comfort zone, engage with them and fight back.

To win that battle however you must forget the narrative that works so well with public health and anti-smoking campaigners. You know, the personal stories of how vaping has "saved your life".

That argument doesn't wash with vaper haters. As far they're concerned you're still an addict exhaling "toxic" or obnoxious fumes in their presence.

You need to go on the offensive – and I mean that literally. You need to be as offensive about their intolerance as they are about your nicotine habit. You have to challenge them on their own habits and behaviour, their piousness and their ignorance.

Yesterday on the GMB Twitter feed vapers were bullied almost into silence by a flood of anti-vaping comments. Over many years that's exactly what happened to smokers. So my message to vapers is this.

It helps, obviously, to win the support of public health campaigners but it's not enough (and I would treat it with suspicion anyway).

Most important, you have to win the support of the public and that's going to be a far tougher battle.


The Budget, then and now

As a small child my heart sank on Budget day.

In those days we had a black and white TV that offered a choice of BBC1 or ITV.

We rarely watched ITV because to do so meant retuning the TV. To do this you had to get up and rotate a plastic dial on the front of the set.

Although this was simple enough there was no guarantee that the quality of the picture would stay the same, so it was best left as it was, permanently tuned to BBC1.

Anyway, I’d come home from school expecting to watch the usual children’s programmes only to find that BBC1 had been commandeered for extensive analysis of the Budget while the shows I wanted to watch had been moved to BBC2, which we didn’t have.

Every year the Budget is a reminder of the disappointment I felt as a child.

Today’s statement is of course the second one this year following Philip Hammond’s decision to move the Budget from March to November.

There has already been one hike on tobacco duty this year (inflation plus two per cent) and today could see another which would allow Britain to leap frog Ireland and reclaim its position as the most expensive country in Europe to buy tobacco.

Some are arguing it would be a third price rise following the EU-inspired ban on ten packs that forced smokers to buy the larger and more expensive packs of 20.

In advance of the new Autumn Budget Forest has been lobbying the Treasury to reject a further tax increase on the not unreasonable grounds that it would unfairly target the less well off, including those who, in the words of Theresa May, are “just about managing”.

A paper published by Forest last month revealed that tobacco duty costs the poorest households 2.3 per cent of their disposable incomes compared to 0.3 per cent in the wealthiest households:

Measuring expenditure on tobacco duty as a percentage of disposable income, in 2015/16 tobacco duty cost the average household in the lowest income bracket almost eight times what it cost the average highest earning household.

Although the average household among middle earners spent 38 per cent more on tobacco duty than the poorest households, as a percentage of disposable income the poorer households were still worse off.

A subsequent poll, commissioned by Forest and conducted by Populus, found that 76 per cent of adults thought the current level of tax (over 80 per cent on an average packet of cigarettes) is either about right (44 per cent) or too high (32 per cent). Only 24 per cent (one in four) thought it was too low.

A huge majority – 68 per cent – also thought that buying illicit tobacco was an "understandable" response to the soaring cost of tobacco purchased legally. Only 22 per cent found it "not understandable".

That’s not to say they condone it but it’s clear that purchasing illicit tobacco doesn't carry the stigma associated with most other offences. As a result many otherwise law-abiding people will happily buy black market tobacco without a care in the world and the evidence that they’re doing that is overwhelming.

According to a recent TMA survey, nearly three-quarters of smokers in the UK have avoided paying tobacco duties, some more regularly than others:

  • 72.5 per cent or around seven million smokers have bought tobacco from sources where UK taxes won’t be paid including illicit tobacco and from abroad
  • 41 per cent of smokers have bought tobacco from illicit tobacco sources
  • Smokers on higher incomes (over £60,000) were as likely to buy illicit as those on low incomes (under £6,000)
  • Smokers are stockpiling cheap or illicit tobacco with 53 per cent of cigarette smokers buying 200 or more when they buy from sources that won’t have paid UK tax.

As a result of its anti-tobacco policies the Treasury forfeits billions of pounds in revenue while the cost of combatting smugglers and criminal gangs continues to rise.

Children, of course, are particularly vulnerable to the sale of illicit tobacco, hence the rank hypocrisy of anti-smoking activists who lobby government to raise taxes further while shedding crocodile tears for children who smoke.

Equally nauseous is their persistent claim that smoking pushes people into poverty, ignoring the fact that a concurrent factor is the punitive level of tobacco duty that unfairly targets those who can least afford it.

(Tobacco control campaigners like to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand they say smoking is seriously addictive, on the other they want to punish smokers who find it hard to quit.)

If anyone is guilty of forcing more smokers into poverty it’s the truly despicable tobacco control industry.

We’ll find out later today whether the government intends to intensify the war on smokers or give them the smallest of breaks, as Forest has been calling for.

Before then, if the Chancellor has any doubts about the wisdom of a further increase in tobacco duty, he should read the tweets below. Nuff said.


Great speech but actions are louder than words

I was going to go to the E-Cigarette Summit in London on Friday but something cropped up and I didn't.

Instead I followed the nine-hour event online. This gave me a flavour of the main presentations without the aggravation of an additional four-hour round trip or listening to people I’ve heard many times before.

I've previously criticised the E-Cig Summit for becoming just another public health conference with consumers being marginalised or, worse, patronised and given the smallest possible roles.

I wasn't alone in voicing those concerns but this year the criticism appears to have been heeded. For the first time, I think, a consumer representative was given the opportunity to give an actual speech.

That said, when I saw that Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance had been given the late afternoon slot when many delegates would have been struggling to stay awake (I speak from experience) it seemed yet another case of the consumer being relegated to the fag end of an event in which they should be playing a leading role.

Credit then to Jakes for grabbing the opportunity and giving a speech that, if Twitter is to be believed, did more than wake delegates from their afternoon slumber. It threatened to light a blue touchpaper under public health.

To put this in perspective, I've not seen eye-to-eye with the NNA on a number of issues, notably their reluctance to acknowledge that many smokers don't want to quit and their silence on smoking bans and other anti-tobacco initiatives.

I've been unimpressed too that some members of the NNA have apparently succumbed to pressure from the public health industry to distance themselves from Forest. That struck me as a bit cowardly.

On this occasion though I can't fault most of what Jakes said and I admired the passion and directness with which she spoke. I particularly welcomed the unambiguous declaration that:

We are all ex-smokers and let me make this clear, we are resentful of the way that smokers are treated. We naturally rail against coercive methods of forcing smokers to quit, and detest the stigmatisation of smokers that always goes hand in hand with those methods.

Having spent a significant amount of time promoting The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, a report that includes valuable sections on smokers' attitudes to addiction and why more smokers won't switch to vaping, I also applaud her demand that public health campaigners engage with smokers as well as vapers:

Talk to vapers. Listen to and learn from their experiences. Get a better understanding of what motivates people to smoke and to vape (here's a hint: it’s not all, or evenly mostly, about addiction). Talk to smokers and find out what the barriers are to switching, and work out how to help them overcome them, if that’s what they want to do.

If Jakes' speech is the catalyst for a more open and honest discussion about smoking, nicotine, harm reduction and smoking cessation that involves all parties – smokers, vapers, public health campaigners, Big Tobacco, the independent vaping industry and government – I will welcome it even more.

Unfortunately the cynic in me suggests this won't happen. Why? Well, there are still far too many people in government, public health and even the independent vaping industry who are reluctant to engage with every stakeholder.

Hatred of the tobacco industry is one reason.

Another is a misguided commitment to Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that anti-smoking activists insist prohibits engagement with the tobacco industry when it does nothing of the sort.

A third reason is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that many adults enjoy smoking, know the risks and still don't want to quit. (There's nothing as off-message as hearing that so it's best to exclude the heretics from the conversation.)

I sincerely hope Sarah Jakes' speech makes a difference but I'll only believe it when I see the tobacco companies and what Sarah calls "pro-smoker groups" like Forest invited to share a platform with vaping advocates, public health professionals and the independent vaping industry at similar events and forums including, dare I say it, next year's E-Cigarette Summits in Washington and London.

In the meantime the New Nicotine Alliance could take the lead and invite all interested parties to a roundtable discussion or seminar. As good as the speech was, actions speak louder than words so let's engage.

Full speech: Sarah Jakes' keynote speech at the E-Cig Summit 2017 (NNA).

By the way it's interesting to note who 'liked' or retweeted links to Jakes' speech on Twitter and who didn't.

I haven't made a comprehensive list but if you have time it's quite illuminating.

For example, even though they were at the event (CEO Deborah Arnott was a speaker), ASH noticeably failed to endorse Jakes' speech with a 'like' or retweet.

Even more reason, in my view, to read it!


Noone the loon (her word not mine)

Final word (probably) on last week's Golden Nanny Awards in Dublin.

Writing in today's Sunday Independent Liam Collins (aka Zozimus) comments:

Although not a smoker, Zozimus would have enjoyed last week’s dinner organised by Forest Ireland (‘voice and friend of the smoker’) at which guest of honour Senator Catherine Noone was presented with the award of Ireland’s ‘Nanny-in-chief 2017’ by Keith Redmond, co-founder of the Hibernia Forum.

“In a country with so many politicians with a nanny state instinct Senator Noone has gone above and beyond the rest, raising eyebrows even among her nanny state colleagues,” he said. “She not only supports headline-grabbing policies like minimum price of alcohol, the booze burka and plain packaging of alcohol, but bans on fast-food outlets, price promotions for chocolate biscuits and even icecream vans.”

Admirably, Senator Noone had the good grace, not to mention humour, to turn up and accept the award from the assembled “libertarians, contrarians and barbarians”.

Other winners at the ‘Farewell to Freedom’ dinner in Suesey Street in Dublin were Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, inventor of the ill-fated ‘Beer Curtains’, and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, for his sugar tax.

Senator James Reilly got a well-deserved ‘lifetime achievement award’ for trying to cure us all of the joys of life. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, got the international award for his “puritanical” campaign against obesity.

Yesterday's Irish Times also had a piece about the event. Columnist Miriam Lord wrote:

The organisers of an awards ceremony held by a smokers’ rights group to “honour” people for their services to the nanny state were very surprised when one of the winners turned up in person on Monday night to collect her gong.

They were also absolutely delighted, in a sad kind of way, because they don’t usually get much attention.

Forest, an English-based pressure group funded by the tobacco industry, usually hosts the awards dinner in London but decided to relocate to Dublin this year because of the zealous approach taken by Irish politicians in trying to restrict what people can eat, drink and smoke.

The event, in Suesey Street restaurant on Leeson Street, began with a drinks reception on a smoking terrace, followed by a three-course dinner “with delicious wines and after-dinner entertainment” followed by speeches and the announcement of the Golden Nanny Award winners. (No shortage of money where this group is concerned.)

Guest speakers at the 'Farewell to Freedom Dinner' included Keith Redmond, cofounder of the Hibernia Forum think-tank - “a free market advocacy forum”, and Irish Independent columnist Ian O’Doherty.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar headed the shortlist, along with the likes of Minister for Health Simon Harris, former minister of state for health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Paschal Donohoe. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who introduced the smoking ban, and Senator James Reilly, who supported plain packaging of tobacco, were both nominated for a lifetime achievement award.

Senator Catherine Noone, nominated for her involvement in a number of health-awareness campaigns, won overall Nanny of the Year. She did a Halle Berry on it – Berry famously made an appearance at the Golden Raspberry Awards to accept the prize for worst actress for her role in the atrocious 2004 movie Catwoman – turning up to accept her honour and deliver a speech.

“As to some of the specific nannying I’ve promoted in the last year: the sugar tax, the sunbeds and the alcohol bill, I see neither mitching cider-swigging youths, wrinkled over-ripe bronzed oompa loompas nor energy drinking obese diabetics in the audience, so obviously you’re all enlightened,” she told her audience.

“Libertarians, contrarians, barbarians: I’m honoured to accept this award. You’re great sports! And I’m a loon, obviously ... ”

OK, Lord was a bit snooty (unlike the rather wonderful Catherine Noone) but if you add her piece to the full page report in the Irish Daily Star and another report in The Times (Ireland edition) I don't think we've done too badly.

That said (and I'm not talking about awards), the overall winner has to be Noone herself. Other politicians take note.

Now for a similar event in Scotland ...

Catherine Noone with Keith Redmond, co-founder of the Hibernia Forum


Claire Fox targets public health in “rollicking speech”

It's been a busy week.

Unfortunately there was a clash of events and I couldn't attend both the Golden Nanny Awards in Dublin and the latest Forest event in Brussels.

I therefore missed what Politico Europe described as a "rollicking speech" by Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, founder of the Battle of Ideas, a regular panelist on Radio 4's Moral Maze and author of I Find That Offensive!.

According to Politico, Claire delivered an "excoriation of public health devotees". Defending "the adult joys of smoking against the nanny state", she finished her talk with the provocative claim that "Anyone who has ever told you they're addicted to smoking is lying."

Her talk, at a restaurant close to the European Parliament, attracted a full house including European Commission and European Parliament staff plus journalists, NGOs and trade associations.

The format of these events includes a free burger (and several beers) in a private extension that opens on to a dedicated smoking area. As you can see below, it's proving very popular.

The next 'Burning Issues' event takes place in Brussels on Thursday December 7 and features another great speaker – Sinclair Davidson, professor of institutional economics, finance and marketing at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, and academic fellow at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance – who will discuss 'How to torture data to justify public policy’.

Given the proximity to Christmas there will also be free mulled wine. I definitely won't miss that – come and join us!


Charm offensive

Further to my previous post the Irish Daily Star published this report about Forest's Golden Nanny Awards:

A top politician has been named Ireland's "nanny in chief" for her zealous campaigns to save the nation from itself.

Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone received the tongue-in-cheek accolade at a ceremony on Monday.

It was to honour her committed campaign to highlight the dangers of cheap booze, cigarette packaging, fast food outlets, cut-price chocolates biscuits, mixed martial arts and even ice cream van jingles.

The 41-year-old turned up to accept the gong at a dinner organised by a smokers' rights group where she was the guest of honour.

The rest of the article was based largely on our press release, Senator wins 'nanny-in-chief' award.

Several people – here and on Facebook – have queried why Noone would want to accept such an accolade, even a tongue-in-cheek one. One described her as "arrogant" for even showing up.

I don't agree at all. Far from being arrogant or calculating her response to our invitation was refreshingly artless:

"Thanks for your email. Didn't know this was a thing. Where is it on? Is it black tie? I'll see what I can do. Think it'd be a bit of craic to be honest – I'm not afraid!"

The worst that can be said is that it was a shrewd move by an intelligent politician. By turning up and entering into the spirit of the occasion she charmed everyone, including some of her fiercest critics. By the end of the evening they were queuing up to have their photo taken with her.

At the Forest table there was a particularly amusing moment when she suddenly realised that the man she was talking to was one of her bêtes noires, journalist Ian O'Doherty.

"Oh, it's you!" she exclaimed. To the rest of us she wailed, "He hates me!"

That may have been the case before but it's not true now. A professional curmudgeon, O'Doherty subsequently began his own speech by proposing a toast to Noone for having the balls to turn up.

He wasn't alone. Similar comments were posted by others on Twitter and Facebook.

A smidgeon of charm goes a very long way and I'm amazed so few people in the public health industry use it to their advantage. The truth, I suspect, is that most public health campaigners are self-righteous bores who don't have an ounce of charm in their bodies.

There are exceptions, of course. Linda Bauld, of Stirling University and Cancer Research fame, is one of them and I must confess that having been met with a smile rather than a sullen scowl I do find it harder to be as critical of her as I once was. (And I know others who feel the same way.)

It's human nature, I suppose. You can still disagree but if you like someone it's more difficult to put the boot in, metaphorically speaking. Thankfully it's not a problem I have with most tobacco control activists, the majority of whom make little or no attempt to engage or be friendly on any level.

Catherine Noone understands this, I'm sure, but I don't think her appearance at the Golden Nanny Awards was driven by any ulterior motive. I think she genuinely thought it might be a bit of laugh and her subsequent tweets, including the one below, suggest a sense of humour that should be welcomed not used as stick to beat her with.

Meanwhile, what did Forest and the groups supporting the event get out of it? Rob Duffy (Students for Liberty) hit the nail on the head when he tweeted a picture of himself and Noone and wrote, 'Myself and the great sport @senatornoone at The Golden Nannies award ceremony last night. Let's build bridges!'

Belittling, insulting and attacking the opposition will get you only so far. More often than not the animosity it generates will entrench people's positions to the point of no return.

Long-term it's important to build bridges and engage. On Monday night the Golden Nanny Awards did precisely that.