Enemies of choice

"Off to Canberra today to help make smoking obsolete!" Attila Danko, President, New Nicotine Alliance Australia, February 14, 2017

2016 concluded with an excellent article by harm reduction expert Carl Phillips on his blog Anti-THR Lies and Related Topics.

The title, 'The year tobacco control officially came to own e-cigarettes', says it all but I urge you to read it and draw your own conclusions.

Not only does it reflect many of my own views, it confirms (intentionally or not) my belief that vaping advocates are increasingly pawns in the long march towards a nicotine-free world.

Worse, some aren't pawns at all. They are enthusiastic soldiers in the war on tobacco who are more than happy to throw smokers under the bus if it suits their agenda.

I don't know if Carl shares that view but, like me, he's been an interested and occasionally quizzical observer as vapers and their representative bodies have climbed into bed with tobacco control in the hope that e-cigarettes will be excluded from the regulation tsunami that awaits any product that is associated, even tenuously, with smoking.

Sadly the people who should have read 'The year tobacco control officially came to own e-cigarettes' almost certainly didn't because it's not what they want to hear.

In fact, not only are some vaping activists beginning to mimic many anti-smoking campaigners, it would seem that dancing to the tune of tobacco control is now de rigueur for many vapers who are terrified of alienating their perceived allies in public health.

The reason this is noteworthy is that choice is anathema for most public health campaigners. They claim to know what's best for smokers (and the population generally) and their target is a 'smoke free' society in which smoking has either been prohibited or relegated to the underbelly of society, out of sight and out of mind.

To achieve that they will support or promote almost any policy – smoking bans, punitive taxation, standardised packaging, legally-binding" smoking cessation targets – that 'helps' smokers quit.

Much has been written about the EU's revised Tobacco Products Directive – including the bans on ten packs and smaller pouches of rolling tobacco (the ban on menthol-flavoured tobacco is still to come) – and the primary impact is on choice.

TPD2 is having a similar impact on vapers – who are being denied larger bottles of e-liquids, for example – but the idea that it might have been better to form a broad coalition dedicated to defending and promoting consumer choice rather than harm reduction escaped most vaping advocates.

Instead they hoped that anti-smoking groups like ASH would ride to the rescue, and what happened? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. ASH stood by and let TPD2 go ahead complete with restrictions on nicotine concentrations and reduced volumes for cartridges, tanks and nicotine liquid containers.

Plain packaging can also be expected to reduce choice. Some brands may disappear completely and the chances of new brands appearing must be slim to say the least.

But who cares? The mindset of tobacco control is that the only smokers who matter are those who want to quit. If you enjoy smoking and don't want to stop you're effectively invisible.

Your views are considered worthless – hence the refusal of anyone in public health to comment on 'The Pleasure of Smoking' report, a silence shared by almost every vaping advocate (with the exception of Dick Puddlecote), even though it contains some interesting insights about the attitudes of confirmed smokers to e-cigarettes that are both positive and negative.

As Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, put it last week:

“It's the predominant view of smoking that the health consequences of it are so catastrophic that why on earth would one continue to do it, therefore what’s the point of even asking anyone who is doing it why they’re doing it, because they’re so irrational that they’re not going to tell you anything that approximates to rational thought.”

Sadly it's not just governments, public health campaigners and the World Health Organisation whose goal is a 'smoke-free' society and the eradication of choice for those who enjoy smoking.

Some vaping activists are equally committed to a Utopian smoke-free future in which two billion smokers switch to e-cigarettes. A billion lives will be saved and we'll all live happily ever after.

Two weeks ago Dr Attila Danko, president of the New Nicotine Alliance Australia, posted the following comment on Facebook:

"Off to Canberra today to help make smoking obsolete!"

Let me repeat that. A leading pro-vaping advocate declared that he was going to "help make smoking obsolete".

Far from being a throwaway line on social media, Danko repeated the sentiment in an article published two days later on the Nicotine Science and Policy Network website which has close links with some of the leading vaping advocates in the UK.

Headlined 'Momentum building to legalise nicotine for vaping in Australia', he wrote:

The idea of tobacco harm reduction and the huge public health benefits of making smoking obsolete are gaining traction. We have politicians now who are committed to pushing this forward and increasing numbers that are supportive.

To put this in perspective, Attila Danko enjoys an almost heroic status among some vapers. Two years ago at the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw he gave a speech that was so passionate (or messianic, depending on your point of view) he received a standing ovation and ecstatic applause.

To be fair to him, he has been fighting a very difficult battle in a country that is far more hostile to vaping than the UK. It's understandable therefore that his emotions sometimes get the better of him.

Nevertheless I have a serious question and it's this. Does his crusade "to help make smoking obsolete" represent the New Nicotine Alliance worldwide or is it simply the war cry of an excitable campaigner carried away by the thrill of the moment?

I ask because those who 'liked' Danko's comment on Facebook included a trustee and two associates of the New Nicotine Alliance UK, plus Martin Dockrell, an anti-tobacco campaigner formerly employed by ASH who now works for Public Health England.

Whilst I admire and respect a lot of the work the NNA has done, I couldn't help feeling a bit nauseous when I read Danko's comment because it's hard to swallow if you believe that freedom of choice should apply to all consumers, including those who enjoy smoking tobacco and don't want to quit.

The NNA's refusal, when given the opportunity, to condemn hospital smoking bans – which is one of the cruellest examples of the genre because it targets the weak, the elderly and the infirm – is pretty sickening too.

Their policy of refusing to comment on smoking-related issues may be understandable and politically expedient now, but have they never heard of the slippery slope? Apparently not. Then again, check out their trustees and associates and see how many have links with tobacco control and public health.

What is becoming clear is that relatively few advocates of vaping are genuine champions of choice (as I know it) and those that are are slowly being sidelined in favour of activists like Attila Danko who wants to "help make smoking obsolete".

Last week in London Forest hosted a talk by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow and lead author of 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers'.

A few months ago Neil told me he had been criticised for conducting the study which was funded – very transparently – by Forest. I wasn't surprised. What did surprise me, a little, was that vapers were prominent among the dissenting voices.

Neil was told he would "lose credibility" if he worked with Forest. Affable man that he is, he replied that he had "no credibility to lose"!

I kept the information to myself but Neil mentioned it again at last week's event so I guess he's happy for it to be public knowledge. According to Dick Puddlecote:

I learned that he had received condemnation about embarking on [the report] from academics - which you'd expect, of course - but also from some vapers, which was disappointing. He was refreshingly unfazed, though, saying that the people criticising were "unimportant" and that if he was receiving criticism he felt that he was doing a good job.

As it happens the balloon debate that followed Neil's talk featured advocates for six nicotine 'devices' – pipe, cigar, cigarette, snus, heated tobacco and e-cigarette.

The subject of this light-hearted event was 'The Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World' and the winner – surprise, surprise – was the cigarette.

Frankly, I didn't care which product won. The point was, all these products are pleasurable to someone. Some have mass appeal, others are more niche, but consumer choice is paramount.

I don't care if you smoke, vape, use snus or don't consume any nicotine product. That's your decision and I'll defend your freedom to choose all day long.

Unfortunately it's clear that many advocates of vaping, like tobacco control, support choice but only on terms that will benefit one group of consumers while discriminating against another.

Finally, let me demonstrate how the tobacco control industry is actively embracing e-cigarettes in its quest to force smokers to quit.

On Monday I was on BBC Three Counties radio discussing Public Health England's plan for a "tobacco free NHS". Also on the programme was Amanda Sandford of ASH.

In response to my argument that smoking is a comfort to many people, especially in a stressful environment like a hospital, Amanda argued that people didn't have to smoke because alternative nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and NRT, are available in hospitals.

Adopting the usual tobacco control mindset, she clearly hadn't read 'The Pleasure of Smoking' report. If she had she would have known there are many reasons why committed smokers – even those that have tried vaping – don't want to switch to e-cigarettes or any other nicotine device.

The reasons are stated very clearly in the report so I won't repeat them here. The point is, those perfectly legitimate reasons are being ignored not only by the likes of ASH but also by vapers, one of whom tweeted yesterday:

Yes, I always enjoy a cigarette in the hansom cab on my way to the magic lantern show. #WeHaveBetterTechNow

This was in response to my previous post (Why cigarettes are the real deal), a light-hearted summary of last week's balloon debate, but it sums up the attitude of some vapers.

In their opinion vaping is the future, smoking is the past – and some, like Attila Danko, want to make it history.

Having actually studied the views of confirmed smokers, Neil McKeganey takes a rather different view. "It's hard to imagine a time when there will be nobody smoking," he said last week.

And I agree with him. Yes, vaping is the future, but smoking is the future too.

Thanks to population growth worldwide there are more people smoking today than ever before in human history.

Even in the West, where smoking rates are in long-term decline, millions of adults continue to smoke because many of them enjoy it and they're not going to stop just because tobacco control campaigners and born again vapers dismiss their habit or make sneering comments about the product they consume.

As the name Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco suggests, Forest's primary purpose is to defend the interests of those who enjoy smoking tobacco. In practice however we try not to discriminate between different tobacco/nicotine products or consumers.

Whenever we're asked to defend the consumption of e-cigarettes, or criticise unnecessary or punitive regulations designed to restrict both their sale or use, we speak out.

Unfortunately tobacco control and some vaping advocates are increasingly singing from the same prohibitionist hymn sheet. There are exceptions, of course, and I would give an honourable mention to Judy Gibson, who runs the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations.

Judy was a contestant in our balloon debate and was a spirited advocate of e-cigarettes. Off stage she emphasised she supports freedom of choice for all and I didn't doubt her for a minute. I do question some aspects of the INNCO's agenda – which I will write about another time – but I suspect they are beyond her control. Kudos though to Judy for engaging with us last week and giving as good as she got.

Another honourable mention goes to Andrew Allison, who runs the Freedom Association's Freedom to Vape campaign. I've had my differences with the campaign (see Pro-vaping campaign leaves me speechless) but Andrew's review of last week's event (Fun in the Pleasure Zone), and the fact that he took the trouble to attend, suggests we're probably closer in outlook than I thought.

I stand by my earlier post but it was nevertheless encouraging to read:

The purpose of the evening was, as Simon Clark said, not to tell people what device they should use, if indeed they want to use any. It was about freedom to choose.

Indeed it was, which is why the absence of so many vaping advocates who might have been expected to be there spoke volumes.

Together with a handful of other vaping activists, Andrew and Judy strike me as genuine supporters of choice but they need to have a word with campaigners whose goal is "to help make smoking obsolete" because that, as we know, is the antithesis of choice.

Defend and promote choice for all consumers, including smokers, and you have a clear, distinct message. Pick and choose in the name of harm reduction and you're playing with fire (no pun intended).

Carl Phillips touched on this when he queried the benefit of the claim that e-cigarettes are "95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes". The gist of what Carl was saying, I think, is that if we believe everything tobacco control says about smoking, a product that is "95 per cent less harmful" than combustible cigarettes still represents a risk.

Put it like this. Even if you believe the worst estimates of deaths allegedly caused by 'passive' smoking, and the worst estimates of deaths caused by primary smoking, environmental tobacco smoke represents a relatively small risk in comparison. Despite that the alleged risks of 'passive' smoking have been used again and again to justify one of the most illiberal post Millennium laws we've seen in this country.

The battle cannot therefore be focussed on harm reduction alone. The heart and soul of this debate must be about choice and personal responsibility and if you're ambivalent about either concept the only logical step is to adopt the precautionary principle and support significant restrictions on the sale and consumption of any recreational product that is potentially harmful or addictive.

Turn your back on those who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit and you're no better than the tobacco control campaigners who seek to denormalise millions of consumers, or the politicians who implement – with very little evidence or debate – their increasingly restrictive ideas.

You are, in short, an enemy of choice.

In contrast, to demonstrate Forest's unambiguous support for choice, here's the press release we issued to the media in Ireland – where it's National No Smoking Day – earlier today.

Key to smoking cessation is education not coercion say campaigners

The smokers' group Forest Ireland has welcomed a call by Vape Business Ireland for the Department of Health and the HSE to publish information about vaping as an alternative to smoking on the website.

Speaking on National No Smoking Day (1st March), Forest Ireland spokesman John Mallon said tobacco control policies should focus on education not coercion.

He said: "Smokers must be given as much information as possible about alternative nicotine products, including e-cigarettes.

"Vaping is popular because it mimics the act of smoking and enables smokers to cut down or quit smoking on their own terms.

"In contrast policies likes plain packaging are a deliberate attempt to denormalise not only the product but also the consumer and that's unacceptable."

He added: "The key to smoking cessation is education not coercion.

"Adults who enjoy smoking and don't want to stop should not be ostracised or demonised for their habit.

"Tobacco is a legal product and a significant minority of the population enjoy smoking and have no intention of giving up.

"Whatever the merits of alternative nicotine products like e-cigarettes, that choice must be respected."

Can you imagine tobacco control or any vaping organisation issuing a similar statement?

No, nor can I.


Why cigarettes are the real deal

As readers know we hosted the first and possibly last Forest Balloon Debate last week.

The subject was 'The Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World' and our contestants were Andrew Stewart (advocating the pipe), Chris Snowdon (snus), Ranald MacDonald (cigar), Mark Littlewood (heated tobacco), Angela Harbutt (cigarette) and Judy Gibson (e-cigarette).

See the video above or click here to watch it on YouTube.

Ranald, Chris, Mark and Angela are familiar to regular readers of this blog. Andy Stewart has smoked a pipe for 35 years (he began at 17) and is a member of the Pipe Club of London. Judy Gibson, a former smoker who now vapes, is steering coordinator of the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations.

Each contestant was given three minutes to speak and those contributions are all featured in the video.

We didn't film the short Q&A that followed or the final round in which the three speakers with the most votes were given a further 60 seconds to plead their case. However as I reported last week the finalists were Chris Snowdon (snus), Ranald MacDonald (cigar) and Angela Harbutt (cigarette).

In the second and final audience vote Angela was a clear winner, attracting more than two-thirds of the vote from an audience of about 60 people.

Give or take a few ad libs (and an unintended but very funny malaprop) here's her winning speech:

Tonight we are arguing for 'The Most Pleasurable Nicotine Device in the World'.

Not the safest, cleanest, funkiest; not the cheapest – the most pleasurable. And on that measure there can surely be only one nicotine device in this race ... the elegant, slim, beautiful cigarette. No wonder several trillion cigarettes are smoked every year.

Let me take this away from nicotine just for a moment. As a driver, if I cared about safety I may make the case for a Volvo. If I was worried about the cleanest car I might choose a Prius.

But when it comes to pure unadulterated pleasure it's my Porsche that wins - the sumptuous leather, the thrill of the mid-engine thrum, the raw acceleration power under the pedal.

And when I'm out on the town on a Friday night, or even just putting my feet up at home, it's not the zero alcohol beer or the low calorie organic beetroot juice that gets my pulse racing. It's the pure effervescent joy of champagne that makes my heart sing.

And so with nicotine. I have tried all of the devices competing for your affection tonight - the safer alternatives on one side, and the niche products on the other.

Each has its merits and ultimately it's personal choice that should be king. But as we are in a balloon debate let me tell you why, for me, the cigarette is the real deal.

The snick of the lighter, the touch of the soft yielding filter on your lips, the crackle of the first inhale, the taste of the tobacco on your tongue and, joy of all joys, the immediate kick of the nicotine to the brain.

These are pleasures the imitators have yet to replicate. I'm sure they will one day but until they do please vote for the cigarette this evening.

Andrew Allison, who runs The Freedom Association's Freedom to Vape campaign, had his own take on why Angela (and combustible cigarettes) won:

In the end, cigarettes won. I suppose this was always going to happen at a Forest event, although cigars came a close second. However, the case for cigarettes was helped enormously by Angela Harbutt who gave the most seductive pitch you could ever want to hear that left most of the non-smokers in the audience wanting to light up!

See Fun in the Pleasure Zone (Freedom to Vape).

PS. I know I've spoiled the suspense by revealing the winner but do watch the video. It's very entertaining.

Update: Dick Puddlecote has posted a review of the balloon debate here. Worth reading, especially if you don't have time to watch the video.


That's entertainment

Email received last night.

Good evening Mr Clark,

For many years I have listened to your passionate defence of smokers 'liberties'.

Rather like being amused by the drunk at the bar and having just a little sympathy for his wild eyed defence of whatever extreme position he is defending, I have always found your arguments entertaining.

Now however you have lapsed into seeming madness with your ridiculous defence of smoking outside hospitals.

Of course I don't care about the idiot mothers who insist that their little 'angels' wear a cycling helmet but don't care enough to stop smoking while they are having their brats in the first place.

Natural selection helps in that regard and that is one area where smoking assists the general population by killing off just a few of the morons who will decide to smoke in the first place.

It is certainly the case that the gene pool is improved while the less intelligent in society continue to smoke and a very good reason why smoking should not be banned across the board.

I care about two things only:

1. The absolute filth that is left by inconsiderate smokers who cannot be bothered to dispose of their disgusting cigerate ends and just throw them on the floor.

2. The 5.2 BILLION pounds that is being spent by the NHS on smoking related problems. [Actually it's £2.5bn, allegedly, and smokers contribute £12bn in tobacco taxation annually.]

You have to decide which positions to defend and which to fight. You have made a sad lapse in judgement in trying to fight this possible ban.

Do keep up your entertaining work. We need some eccentrics to fight ridiculous battles to keep us entertained.

Reading this you might think that my correspondent is a trifle eccentric himself.

However he and his wife run what appears to be a delightful and very successful bed and breakfast in the south of France so he can't be a complete fruitcake.

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest that February must be a quiet month and he's got too much time on his hands.

That said, I'm delighted my "passionate defence" of smokers' rights hasn't gone unnoticed, even in the ex-pat community.


Weasel words and bully boy tactics

The "tobacco free NHS" story rumbles on in several of today's papers.

Last night I was on the Stephen Nolan Show on Five Live, which neatly bookended the interview I gave to Five Live Breakfast at the start of the day.

I was also on Sky News although I was stood down from the live interview I was booked to do because they wanted to stick with Jeremy Corbyn who was speaking at the Scottish Labour conference.

Instead they recorded, via Skype, the briefest of soundbites for use in the evening news bulletin.

One interesting thing about this 'story' is that it isn't 'news' at all. The media is reporting that Duncan Selbie, the CEO of Public Health England, has written to all NHS trusts asking for their help to implement a smoke-free policy across all hospital sites.

Selbie's letter was actually written, sent and widely reported in November (see Health boss says hospitals should ban all smoking on their grounds).

Yet three months later the same story is doing the rounds and getting a similar amount of coverage.

Selbie was at pains yesterday to emphasise that "This isn’t about forcing people [to stop smoking], it’s about helping people."

These are the usual weasel words we've come to expect from prohibitionists.

By all means assist smokers who want to quit by offering them help, advice or some form of smoking cessation aid, but banning smoking across every NHS site will affect all smokers, including those who don't want to quit.

Even if you choose to ignore the 'No Smoking' signs the very fact that you are doing something 'wrong' and could be asked to stop at any moment will itself be stressful at a time when all you want to do is to have a quiet smoke – and a break from the hospital ward – outside and in the open air.

I don't think that's too much to ask yet the bully boys in public health don't see it that way. Whatever it takes, they are determined try everything to persuade or force you to quit.

The press coverage has been one-sided (we knew nothing about the story until late Saturday night so we missed the boat in terms of issuing a response) but the reaction from listeners to Five Live Breakfast ("so many messages") was far more polarised. For or against, people had "very, very strong views".

Btw, if you want to listen to the interview I eventually did with Five Live yesterday morning, click here.

Update: I'm on BBC Radio Oxford at 10.30, followed by BBC Three Counties at 10.45.


Today's battle with the Beeb

I've written many times about my battles with the BBC.

The routine rarely changes.

An anti-smoking campaign or policy is reported with several supporting quotes but not a single opposing comment.

So I pick up the phone – sometimes late at night or early in the morning – and find myself speaking to a news editor who agrees to include a comment from Forest.

This is duly inserted, sometimes within an hour of the original report appearing, but it can take longer – several hours or, very recently, six days!

This morning I've had to fight on several fronts which I didn't expect because last night it was going so well.

Shortly before 10.00pm I got a call from a Five Live Breakfast producer. Sunday's programme was leading, he said, with a report about a campaign by Public Health England to ban smoking on all hospital sites.

They were interviewing Duncan Selbie, CEO of PHE, after the 8.00am news bulletin. Could they interview me on the back of that?

Yes, I said.

I was sent the PHE press release and told that BBC News online would probably be running the story after midnight.

I emailed our response to Five Live Breakfast thinking they might include a soundbite in the news bulletin.

The next step was to speak to the BBC News online newsdesk to ask if they too would quote Forest.

I spoke to an editor at 22:36. My quote was sent at 22:46 and acknowledged ("Many thanks, Simon – much appreciated") at 22:52.

This morning I got up at 6:30, made myself a coffee, and checked the BBC News website. There was no mention of the PHE campaign.

I turned on the radio to listen to Five Live Breakfast. The campaign for "tobacco-free" hospitals was the top story. It led the news bulletins but there was no opposing comment.

At 7:05 the programme interviewed a senior nurse from London's Maudsley Hospital who talked at length about the need for a comprehensive smoking ban.

At 8:05, as promised, the programme interviewed Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, who is driving the campaign.

A few minutes before I was due on air I got a call saying the programme no longer needed me. Apparently a nurse opposed to the policy had rung the programme and they were going with him instead.

I listened with interest and what I heard was an NHS employee who was clearly intimidated to find himself on national radio with the CEO of Public Health England.

PHE is doing a great job (or words to that effect) is all I heard him say before the red mist descended (on me, not him).

I rang the Five Live Breakfast office and complained.

"The editor can't speak to you now," I was told. "If you want to make an official complaint someone will call you back after ten."

I didn't have to wait that long. At 8:46 I got a call from another producer. He admitted the nurse had not said on air what they had expected him to say.

Would I come on the programme in the next few minutes? Yes, I said.

And so at 8:50 I found myself talking to presenter Sam Walker.

(To Walker's credit she had done her best throughout the programme to play devil's advocate with interviewees as well as reading out texts and emails from listeners opposed to a ban.)

But that wasn't the end of it. I had also complained about the news bulletins that had repeatedly promoted PHE's campaign without a word of opposition.

At 9:07 I got another call from the programme. The news bulletin was being amended, I was told, to include a clip from my interview with Sam Walker. The clip was duly broadcast at 10.00am – and then dropped.

But I'll leave the best till last.

At 9:15 this morning a report appeared on the BBC News website. It was headlined NHS 'tobacco free' campaign launched by Public Health England and, you've guessed, it contained not a single dissenting voice.

With a heavy heart I picked up the phone (again), spoke to the newsdesk and, lo and behold, an hour later the report was updated to include our response (which you can read here).

So that was my morning (and all before ten o'clock). What was yours like?

PS. I'll be discussing the same issue on Sky News (via Skype) at 1.30. Tune in!

Update: To be fair to the BBC they're not alone. The Sunday Times ran a report today (NHS seeks ban on smoking in hospital grounds).

That didn't include an opposing voice either.

The ST report was written by the health editor while the BBC News report is credited to the Health desk. Spot the connection?


Dr Neil McKeganey: The Pleasure of Smoking

From our Pleasure Zone event the other night ...

Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow, discusses his recent report, 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers'.

Click here to watch it on YouTube. Warmly recommended.


The Pleasure Zone won hearts and minds

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.


The Pleasure Zone awaits ...

Final reminder that The Pleasure Zone, the first Forest event of the year, takes place tomorrow night (Wednesday).

Smokers, vapers, non-smokers and dual users are invited to join us for drinks at the Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, London SW1P 3LB from 6:15pm.

The main event starts at 7:00 with a short presentation by Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, who will discuss the CSUR's recent report, 'The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers'.

After that we are delighted to present the first Forest Balloon Debate in which six contestants try to convince you of their choice of the 'Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World'!

Speakers have three minutes to present their case. Members of the audience then have their say before voting three of the contestants off. A final round (one minute per speaker) will produce the 2017 champion.

Our doughty speakers are:

Judy Gibson, International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) advocating e-cigarettes
Angela Harbutt, founder of Liberal Vision, advocating cigarettes
Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, advocating heated tobacco
Ranald Macdonald, MD, Boisdale Restaurants, advocating cigars
Chris Snowdon, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit, advocating snus
Andrew Stewart, Pipe Club of London, advocating pipes

If you'd like to come – and haven't registered yet – email

It should be an entertaining evening.

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 245 Next 8 Entries »