Delighted to report that our Pleasure Zone event in London on Wednesday went rather well.
A packed house (above) enjoyed a hugely entertaining evening that fully justified our decision to shoehorn two events into one.
The first was a presentation by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research and lead author of a recent report, 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers'.
The second was a balloon debate on the subject 'The Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'.
I first met Neil at a conference in Bologna in 2015. A few months later our paths crossed again – this time in Chicago – when we shared a taxi to the airport and spent a couple of hours chatting before our flight home.
Neil is extremely amiable and not a bit stuffy but I did wonder whether a presentation summarising the results of an academic study might be a little dry for an audience several drinks to the good before it even began.
Not a bit of it. Abandoning his Powerpoint presentation in favour of a more ad hoc approach, Neil struck just the right note. He was affable, humorous and, most important, interesting.
Dick Puddlecote has posted an excellent review of his presentation here. All I'll add is that Neil proved fearless in addressing several contentious issues.
In fact his very presence at the event, and his refusal to be intimidated by critics of his decision to work with Forest on 'The Pleasure of Smoking' report, says a lot about him, and them. (I'll return to this issue in another post.)
Anyway, after a warm round of applause from an audience that appreciated both his honesty and his integrity, it was time for the balloon debate.
We'd managed to engage the services of six speakers to advocate the following products – cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snus, heated tobacco (aka heat not burn) and e-cigarettes.
Each contestant had three minutes, give or take a few seconds, to make their case for the 'Best Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'.
I'll summarise the debate as follows – funny, engaging and enjoyable.
Andy Stewart, who has smoked a pipe for 35 years (he began when he was 17), kicked things off. He was followed by Ranald MacDonald (advocating cigars), Chris Snowdon (snus), Mark Littlewood (heated tobacco), Angela Harbutt (cigarettes) and, finally, Judy Gibson (e-cigarettes).
I don't remember much of what was said but I do remember plenty of laughter. I wish we'd had more time, especially for Q&As, but the format worked pretty well.
When we went to the first audience vote the three products with the fewest number of votes were ejected. In no particular order they were:
Heated tobacco, pipes and, surprisingly perhaps, e-cigarettes.
That left three contestants – Chris Snowdon (snus), Ranald MacDonald (cigars) and Angela Harbutt (cigarettes) – to battle out a final round (one minute per speaker).
The audience then voted for a second and last time and the winner was ... the humble cigarette!
"What did you expect?" I hear you cry. After all, it was a Forest event.
Truthfully? I really didn't expect cigarettes to win. Forest is a broad church and our events attract an equal number of smokers, non-smokers and, increasingly, vapers or dual users.
The public has been saturated with anti-smoking propaganda about smoking. Most smokers, we are told, are addicted and want to quit.
The consumption of cigarettes, in particular, is described as a dirty, disgusting habit.
Cigars are sexy, snus is cool, pipes are less harmful (you don't inhale), heated tobacco is the future, and e-cigarettes are, well, safer, fun and groovy.
Combustible cigarettes? Meh (or so we're led to believe).
On Wednesday night Angela Harbutt won the debate by a convincing margin, attracting more than two-thirds of the final vote.
So in 2017 it's official:
Cigarettes are the 'Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'!
Update: We've received many nice comments about the event. Here's one:
That was a great evening. I think it was one of my most pleasurable Forest events. Neil McKeganey was polite, humble and direct and a nice genuine guy.
The balloon debate was hilarious and very natural. A great platform for Forest and it showed great character. Being a smoker with strong views is increasingly difficult but humour always wins hearts.
See also: Fun in the Pleasure Zone (Freedom to Vape).
Below: Angela Harbutt with her prize, a jeroboam of wine courtesy of our event partner, Boisdale of Belgravia, presented by Dr Neil McKeganey.