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Diary of a smokers' rights campaigner

Several years before I began writing this blog in 2007 I kept a ‘Forest’ diary.

I recently stumbled upon some entries from 2003 and 2004 and thought you might like to read them.

It was an interesting period for Forest, not least because we were struggling a bit financially.

We lost two members of staff - who we couldn’t afford to replace - and in 2004 we had to give up our London office and move to cheaper premises in Cambridge.

At the same time we faced what was perhaps Forest’s biggest challenge, fighting increasing demands for smoking to be banned in public places.

Flitting in and out of these entries are Joe Jackson, Antony Worrall Thompson and David Hockney who all made significant contributions to the national debate.

I’d forgotten the number of times Joe and Anthony in particular helped us out when we were overwhelmed with requests for interviews.

Another entry records a meeting Forest chairman Lord Harris and I had with John Reid, Labour’s Secretary of State for Health. At the time it felt like an important moment. Now it's barely a footnote in history.

Looking back, I’d also forgotten how much travelling was involved. These entries record meetings and interviews in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Plymouth, to name a few, but there were many, many more.

To say they stretched our resources would be an understatement. The meeting with John Reid, for example, took place in London on a Friday afternoon. That morning I’d also given evidence to a Welsh Assembly committee in Cardiff.

2003 also saw the appointment of Deborah Arnott as director of ASH, replacing Clive Bates. I had a few things to say about her too!

The full cast of characters who make fleeting appearances in these entries includes Lionel Blair, Edwina Currie, Bob Geldof, Allen Carr, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Tony Blackburn, Marcus Brigstocke and many more.

It’s a long read but if you’re interested do read on ...

Friday January 17, 2003
In all the years I've lived and worked in London I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have bumped into a famous face in the street or on the tube. Twenty years ago I briefly rubbed shoulders on an escalator with Richard Baker, the former BBC newsreader, but that was it until many years later I spotted his successor Peter Sissons in the ticket hall at Charing Cross.

Sissons was behaving very oddly, as if he had never been on the Underground in his life, which perhaps he hadn't. I was sorely tempted to act the good Samaritan and offer to take him to wherever he was going myself, except that he might have thought he was being abducted by a stalker.

Two years ago, walking rather too quickly round a corner, I narrowly avoided a nasty accident with Nick Moran, star of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. A few days later I successfully nabbed a taxi from under the nose of Harold Brown, the legendary former editor of the Sunday Times and husband of the even more famous Tina Brown.

What has this got to do with smoking? Well, my saddest celebrity story concerns actor and dancer Lionel Blair with whom I once shared a table while we were waiting for a train at Kings Cross. Clutching a plastic cup of coffee, Blair caught my eye and asked, very politely, if he could smoke. “Of course,” I replied.

Anyway a number of things went through my mind, one of which was to ask if he would care to donate a substantial sum of money to Forest, but I resisted the temptation. Instead I finished my drink, thrust my business card into the startled man's hand, and hurried away.

The following day I contacted his agent, explained what had happened, and asked if we might interview him for the Forest magazine Free Choice. (I had the headline already: 'Blair's Britain'.) “Sorry,” I was told. “Lionel feels guilty about smoking. He doesn't like to talk about it.”

All this happened three years ago. Lionel, if you’re reading this, please don’t feel guilty about your habit. Talk to us. Better still, write an article or make a donation and we'll never trouble you again. I promise.

Saturday January 25, 2003
I can’t quite believe it. Edwina Currie – author, former politician and host of Five Live’s Late Night Live – has just apologised to me live on air.

It happened like this. I was querying the effectiveness of all those anti-smoking campaigns when I remarked that that they couldn’t be that good because in the UK tobacco consumption has scarcely fallen since 1994.

“Nonsense,” said Edwina, in her usual forthright fashion. “Everyone knows there are far fewer smokers today than 30 years ago.”

Yes, I replied, but that wasn't what I was saying. For many years the number of smokers had indeed fallen. According to the Office for National Statistics, however, the figure hasn’t changed since, well, 1994.

“Rubbish,” said Edwina again.

This is fairly typical of the banter you get on late night radio so I thought no more about it. However, a quarter of an hour later, following the news headlines, Edwina astounded me, and no doubt her listeners, by saying (I paraphrase):

“I don't like doing this, but I must apologise to Simon Clark, director of Forest. He's right. The number of smokers in Britain has remained the same since 1994.”

Although both of her husbands have been smokers, Edwina (a former junior health minister) is a notorious anti-smoker so it took something special – the firm hand of her producer, perhaps – to admit her mistake. I’m still not a fan but she’s gone up a bit in my estimation.

Friday January 31, 2003
To LBC for an hour long phone-in. My fellow panellists are Jeanette Arnold, a member of the Greater London Assembly who chaired last year’s Investigative Committee on Smoking in Public Places, and Judith Watt, representing Smoke Free London. I need hardly add that both are anti-smokers. Add a presenter who claims he is so averse to tobacco smoke that he’s stopped going out in the evening (poor lamb) and you see what I am up against.

Jeanette reveals she would like to restrict smoking to the home, which is odd because, despite an exhaustive six-month investigation, the committee she chaired felt unable to recommend ANY further restrictions on smoking in public places owing to the lack of conclusive evidence about the effects of passive smoking.

Instead, her committee merely called for ‘more research’ into the subject – which will be good news for researchers and bad news (I suspect) for the taxpayer.

Friday February 7, 2003
Working for Forest is rarely dull. I have just spent three hours at the BBC where I was invited to appear as an ‘expert witness’ in a debate on smoking. The discussion, edited to 40 minutes, will be featured on See Hear, the BBC’s weekly programme for deaf people, on Saturday February 22.

With snow falling throughout the South East, recording was delayed until the afternoon. I live in Cambridgeshire, where some roads were completely blocked, but I’m glad I made the effort to travel to London because it was an interesting afternoon.

The director, the presenter, and most of the people in front of the camera, were profoundly deaf but it made very little difference to the recording process. In fact I was surprised at how quickly I forgot that everything I said was being translated into sign language, even though the translator was sitting inches away from me.

If there was a problem it was me. I got so carried away that I blathered on for well over six minutes, barely pausing for breath, which was double the time I had been allocated. (In the excitement I didn’t see the producer’s arm frantically waving at me to stop.) Normally my comments could have been edited. This time, because of the need for a seamless translation, they couldn't. So I had to do it all over again, this time without the waffle.

I was particularly impressed by the way the debate was conducted, a far cry from the usual debate about smoking in which people, especially our opponents, rarely raise a smile. On See Hear my principal interrogator could barely stop laughing, on screen and off, which made a change. It will be interesting to see whether the friendly ambience survives the editing suite.

Tuesday April 1, 2003
Thanks to everyone who responded to the launch of Forest Online, our new website, last month. It has been well received in many quarters, not least in America which is responsible for around 50 per cent of our visitors.

Among the plaudits there were inevitably some brickbats. In fact it never ceases to amaze me how worked up people can get over smoking. Even journalists, who you would think are fairly hardened to the work of lobby groups such as Forest, are not immune to the power of the weed.

I won’t name them (to spare their blushes) but consider the following responses which were all received from hacks working for national newspapers in the UK:

Journalist A: ‘Please don't send me any more emails about your ghastly organisation ... People are not 'victims' of 'health fanatics' but victims of a cynical, multi-million dollar industry that cares not a jot about anyone's health, as long as they're making money.'

Or Journalist B: 'Please don't send me any of your information. I'm an ex-smoker. I don't have a problem about people smoking but I do have a problem about the unsolicited rubbish you put out.'

Or Journalist C: 'Please do not send me any more of your propaganda.'

To put this in perspective I should add that we emailed information about the website to around 2000 journalists and broadcasters so these represent a tiny minority.

Nevertheless it amuses me that any journalist would reply in such terms. As a former journalist myself I am used to receiving unsolicited mail. Even if I don't agree with the contents or the cause, I wouldn't dream of being so high-minded.

If something is of no use to me, personally or professionally, I either ignore it or, if it looks like I am going to be inundated with stuff, I might send a polite note asking to be removed from the relevant mailing list.

On the other hand I have always been led to believe that knowledge is power and the best journalists are those who remain curious and open to information, even if they don't agree with it. Clearly there are some who are rather more narrow-minded.

Thursday April 10, 2003
To Plymouth for a Carlton TV interview about smoking in pubs and restaurants. The programme, Bendall at Bedtime, is broadcast at 11.30pm on Friday in the West Country. Last week, I am told, it attracted 37 per cent of the overall viewing figures for that time of night, a figure so impressive that even the production staff were a little dubious.

Each week the programme is pre-recorded in a different pub somewhere in Devon or Cornwall. Featuring 'special guests and pub regulars' it's hosted by genial Ron Bendell who has been presenting programmes in the West Country for the best part of 20 years.

Bendall, his producer Graham Smith and the rest of the production crew are a breath of fresh air. I knew I was going to enjoy myself as soon as I arrived and saw that half the team were busy lighting up and generally in good spirits.

This week's venue is The Distillery, a converted gin factory in the old Barbican district of Plymouth. I arrived at five in the afternoon and by the time every item has been recorded it will be gone ten. The crew tell me they're not allowed to drink alcohol before 9.30 but the same restrictions don't apply to guests and thanks to their generous hospitality I'm soon on my second pint of Murphy's.

The interview flashes by in what seems like seconds. Curiously, I don't remember ever being so relaxed in front of a camera. In fact the only presenter I have come across who makes his guests feel this comfortable is [former Radio 2 presenter] Jimmy Young. Afterwards Ron (fag in hand) and the team are happy to chat and they tell me that the programme has been so successful that there are plans to launch a dedicated website later in the year. All too soon my taxi has arrived and I am bundled in complete with enough food to feed an army. These people know how to keep their guests happy!

Back in London I reflect on an eight-hour round trip for a three-minute interview. Had I insisted I could probably have done it from Carlton's Millbank studio in London, a ten minute walk from the Forest office in Victoria, but it wouldn't have been the same. In fact, if I'm ever invited to appear on Bendall at Bedtime again I may even follow the example of another guest who, on the spur of the moment, decided to stay in Devon for the weekend.

Before the invitation from Bendall I was due to travel in exactly the opposite direction – to Edinburgh – in the hope of crossing swords with Stanton Glantz, co-founder of Americans for Non-Smokers Rights and one of the world's most active anti-smokers. Glantz had been invited by ASH Scotland to explain what Scotland can learn from America's experience of banning smoking in all public places.

It amazes me how the UK media largely ignores Glantz's true position in the smoking debate. He is variously described as a 'US health expert', an 'internationally renowned academic' and an 'American tobacco control expert'. What they don't tell you is how Glantz has devoted his life to the anti-smoking cause.

Co-founder of Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, he was responsible for the following, possibly seminal, comment at an anti-smoking conference in Austalia in 1990:

'The main thing the science has done [on the issue of environmental tobacco smoke] in addition to help people like me to pay mortgages, is it has legitimised the concerns that people have that they don't like cigarette smoke. And that is a strong emotional force that needs to be harnessed and used. We're on a roll and the bastards are on the run.'

Back home in sunny California, where smoking is now banned almost everywhere indoors, Glantz has more recently been quoted as saying that a ban on smoking in public parks (ie the open air) is the 'next logical step'.

The good news is that not everyone is taken in with his smooth-talking routine. Last year, prior to an investigation by the Greater London Authority, he was paraded in much the same way in a concerted attempt to influence the GLA into recommending further restrictions on smoking in public places.

Thankfully he failed. When the GLA Investigative Committee on Smoking in Public Places published its report in April 2002 it called for further research into passive smoking but declined to recommend any further restrictions on smoking because the evidence supplied by Glantz and his fellow anti-smokers didn't warrant it. This, despite the fact that chairman Jeannette Arnold is a confirmed anti-smoker and has stated that, personally, she would like to restrict smoking to the home.

Wednesday April 16, 2003
We were called this morning by a supporter staggered by what she regarded as the shameless bias of Fi Glover's Five Live phone-in on the subject of smoking in cafes and restaurants. Unaware that Five Live was discussing the subject I caught only the last 40 minutes of the 60-minute phone-in. As far as I could tell there was very little attempt at balance either in advance (through the selection of guests) or during the programme itself.

The two studio 'experts' were Dr Evan Harris, health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, who supports a ban on smoking in public places, and Aldo Zilli, a London-based restaurateur who – unlike most restaurateurs, including our own Antony Worrall Thompson – also favours a ban on smoking in places where food is being served. According to Zilli, you can tell if food has been prepared by a chef who smokes because the food tastes salty. The implication, which went completely unchallenged, is that chefs who smoke have damaged their taste buds.

Bizarrely, presenter Fi Glover (an ex-smoker) dismissed the idea that improved ventilation might help by arguing that all it does is to make smokers feel more comfortable which in turn encourages them to smoke more! Needless to say she offered no evidence to support this theory.

The programme discussed the threat of litigation by staff against owners who allow smoking on their premises. No mention of the fact that, to date, only two such cases have come to court in the UK and in each instance the plaintiff lost because of a lack of evidence that passive smoking was responsible for their ill health.

Listeners were even forced to listen to weatherman John Kettley regurgitate his own anti-smoking story. According to Kettley, he and his wife once sat next to TV chef Ainsley Harriott at Lords cricket ground and Kettley’s wife, who dislikes sitting next to smokers, had objected when Ainsley asked them if they minded if he lit up. Ainsley, we were told, was speechless when they said yes, they did mind. Ho, ho, ho.

Update: I have now spoken to Fi Glover's editor Rhian Roberts. Rhian, not surprisingly, denies that the programme was biased. Emails and calls, she says, reflected a wide range of opinion.

Representatives from Forest and ASH were overlooked as guests because she thought our opinions would be too “predictable”. Confusingly, she said that they did nevertheless try to get our patron, restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson, on the programme but he wasn't available.

It was their understanding, she added, that Aldo Zilli , the restaurateur who did appear, was against legislation to ban smoking in restaurants. The BBC, she said, cannot be held responsible if the views of guests turn out to be different to that anticipated!!!

Monday April 28, 2003
To East London to address 150 medical students at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. The subject: 'Public health versus Individual Rights'. My opponent: Amanda Sandford, research manager at ASH.

I have mixed feelings about speaking in public. In Max Hastings' absorbing book Editor, which I am currently reading, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph says he occasionally spoke at events if they served his own or the paper's interests.

'Delivering speeches,' he notes, 'is hard work – sometimes one wonders if hosts understand just how much labour is involved. It all seems worthwhile if an audience is sympathetic – and not, if not.'

I agree with the first point but disagree with the second. Of course it's nice to be loved but preaching to the converted is never as challenging, or as fun, as addressing an auditorium full of doubting Thomases.

My own rather limited experience of pubic speaking is a mixture of highs and lows. Many years ago, wearing a very different hat, I spoke at Chiswick Town Hall and for the first and only time in my life had the audience in the palm of my hand. Six weeks later I addressed another group with similar political views, gave the same speech, and bombed.

Two years later, my confidence still shaken, I was invited to Manchester by Granada Television to address 200 broadcasting executives, the majority of whom were extremely hostile to my point of view. I loved it. The sense of being Daniel in the lion's den was great and if the applause at the end was not even lukewarm I could not have been happier.

But I digress. Today Amanda has decided to talk exclusively about passive smoking. You can almost feel the students' eyes glaze over. It's not Amanda's fault. Her presentation is fine. It's simply that they've heard it all before. How much more fun to present them with something that, presumably, isn't on the syllabus, the heretical notion, for example, that a lot of people (including many doctors and nurses) actually enjoy smoking; that hospitals aren't doing themselves, their staff or their patients any favours if they ban smoking throughout the building; or that patients who smoke generally don't like being lectured about their habit, especially if their appointment has nothing to do with it!

My only faux pas (I am told later) was to ask the audience, which included a fairly substantial group of Islamic students, how many of them drank alcohol. Despite this it went rather well. Very well, in fact. I have already been invited back to address next year's intake. Hold the front page! After 24 years, Forest is finally on the medical map!

Tuesday May 6, 2003
To Sky News where I have been invited to appear on a current affairs show hosted by Richard Littlejohn, the Sun columnist and former Five Live presenter. Littlejohn is an ex-smoker whose journalistic hero was the late great Auberon Waugh, a great friend of Forest.

There are four items on tonight's show, each one given 10-12 minutes, with two or three guests per item. It's an eclectic bunch. In the green room are the Spectator's political editor Peter Oborne, Zimbabwean cricketer Henry Olonga, and Malcolm Starr, outspoken supporter of imprisoned farmer Tony Martin. Sitting next to me is Nick Griffin, chairman of the British National Party.

The programme, which goes out live, is relaxed yet pacey. The debate on smoking features me, Labour MP Gareth Thomas (who wants to ban smoking in cafes and restaurants) and, from a studio in New York, American restaurateur Anthony Bourdain, author of the bestselling Kitchen Confidential.

On my way home, my eight-year-old son rings to congratulate me. “You were great,” he says, “but you were a bit rude to that politician.” I didn’t think I was but perhaps the tone of my voice betrayed me. The truth is, I am 44 now and experience has taught me to view many politicians with a certain degree of contempt. (Eight-year-olds, in my experience, are much less cynical.)

There are notable exceptions in every political party but whether they are Labour, Liberal or Conservative it doesn't seem to make much difference. The majority like nothing better than to introduce (or support) an ever-increasing number of laws or regulations that are guaranteed to interfere with both our lives and our livelihoods. And for what purpose?

For example, what possible reason is there to introduce legislation to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants when the hospitality industry, under the guise of the Charter Group, has – voluntarily – made so much progress improving air quality?

OK, progress may be slower than the anti-smoking lobby would like, but that's the free market for you. If the overwhelming majority of people wanted smoke free pubs and restaurants it would happen because people vote with their feet.

What is currently happening offers a sensible compromise. Ventilation is gradually being improved in many establishments and smoke free areas are popping up all the time. I've heard of many restaurants (and one or two pubs) that are non-smoking throughout, which is fine by us if that's what the proprietor chooses to do.

So when I said to Richard Littlejohn, “I despair when I hear politicians like Gareth Thomas”, I wasn't being rude. I was being honest. Thomas may think he's protecting the health of the nation and therefore acting honourably. From where I'm sitting the view is rather different.

Eight weeks ago I'd never even heard of him. Suddenly his name is all over the papers, he's on television and radio, and government ministers are flattering him by saying they are “looking very carefully indeed” at his proposals.

Friday May 16, 2003
To a pub in Camden for a live outside broadcast on BBC News 24. I have been asked to comment on an American study, published today by the British Medical Journal, that suggests that passive smoking has an insignificant effect on death rates from heart disease or cancer.

The study, the largest of its kind, is being trashed by the anti-smokers because it was funded partly by the tobacco industry. In fact it had originally been funded by anti-smoking money until the plug was pulled, in mysterious circumstances, in 1999, forcing the authors to find an alternative source. Needless to say there is a strong suspicion that funding was stopped when the anti-smoking lobby saw the initial results and realised how damaging they might be to their claim that passive smoking harms non-smokers.

No-one can deny the sheer size of the database on which the study is based (118,000 adults, 35,000 of whom were never-smokers who lived with smokers), nor the fact that it has been published in a journal with a worldwide reputation whose editor, Dr Richard Smith, resigned his previous position at Nottingham University in protest at the university's decision to accept sponsorship from British American Tobacco!

While I'm in Camden other Forest spokesmen are on Sky News and Channel 5. We have also been on BBC1's Breakfast programme, Five Live and a host of local radio stations. Later I find myself on College Green, opposite the House of Commons, being interviewed for Carlton Television.

“This is a good day for you,” says the presenter. “You must be excited.”

“Yes,” I reply, trying hard not to look smug. “I am.”

Monday May 19, 2003
Imagine my chagrin when I read last Saturday's Daily Telegraph. In the middle of a typically adroit article about passive smoking, columnist Tom Utley described how 'chuffed' he was to win Forest's ‘Smoker-friendly Journalist of the Year’ award. Since then, said Tom, he had been 'waiting in vain to discover what physical form the award would take'. Unhappily, he concluded, 'The award seems to consist entirely of a sentence on an obscure website on the Internet.'

Sad to say, it's true. Our annual award ceremony ('among the best in diary land' according to Pandora, the Independent’s diarist) bit the dust last year due to lack of dosh. As for the traditional Forest trophy – a lighter in the shape of a hand grenade – the manufacturers no longer make them. Apparently they look too much like the real thing and they have consequently gone from being a novelty item to a security scare.

If you don't believe me, consider the fate that befell a previous winner, the Daily Record's Bob Shields. Awarded his trophy in front of 300 well-wishers at Little Havana cigar bar in March 2000, it was subsequently confiscated by an over zealous official at Heathrow airport. Seriously.

The good news is that Tom will definitely receive something. The bad news is we can't decide what to give him. A bottle of champagne and a Cuban cigar to the person who can suggest the most appropriate prize.

[Note: we eventually gave him 200 Marlboro Red, his favourite brand.]

Thursday May 22, 2003
To Brussels for a reunion with some of Europe's most doughty smokers. Smokepeace, a loose coalition of smokers’ rights groups across the continent, was set up in 1992. In 1995 a secretariat was established in Brussels and in 1997 and 1999 conferences were organised in Amsterdam and Seville respectively. Sadly the money ran out after that and little has been heard of the organisation since.

Today my colleague Jo Gaffikin and I are joined by the rump of what remains of Smokepeace – smokers’ rights activists from Belgium, Holland, Spain and Denmark. The news is mixed. Forest is alive and kicking; the Dutch group, led by Dick, the shaven-headed police detective, is in reasonable health; the Spanish group enjoys the fruits of a thriving retail magazine but has ceased to actively campaign; while the Belgians and Danes, denied the funds to operate, have largely given up.

Undeterred, Forest hopes to revive the concept of a European association under a new and less silly name. Our plan is to create an Internet-based group of European smokers who will swap news, views and strategies via the web. Forest Online will be central to the project that will bring together smokers (and tolerant non-smokers) across the continent. That's the theory. Watch this space.

Tuesday May 27, 2003
Earlier this afternoon I stood two thirds of the way up Cats Bells, a hill overlooking Derwentwater in the Lake District, when my mobile phone rang. It was my colleague Jo Gaffikin with the results of an independent survey highlighting the extent to which the hospitality industry has complied with its own Public Places Charter on smoking.

The news is good. The hospitality industry is making progress. The prevalence of smoky pubs and restaurants is decreasing all the time. The Charter Group has achieved all but one of the targets that were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Health in 1999. A great many pubs and restaurants now have signs on doors and windows highlighting their policy on smoking; many venues have introduced smoke free areas; others have improved ventilation or installed, at some expense, air cleaning systems.

Granted, progress is a slower than some would like but for ASH to describe the Charter Group's efforts as “pathetic” says more about Britain's illiberal and intolerant anti-smokers than it does about the hospitality industry.

Let's be honest, groups like ASH won't be happy until smokers are restricted to their own homes and then, no doubt, they will accuse parents who smoke of 'child abuse' or of selfishly killing their non-smoking spouses.

In today's urban jungle it’s crazy for people to talk about the 'right' to breathe clean air. What the hospitality industry is trying to do is find an acceptable compromise that will accommodate Britain's 13 million smokers without inconveniencing the non-smokers who object to breathing other people's tobacco smoke.

If the results of the new survey are correct it is succeeding. And if ASH's mouthy new director Deborah Arnott doesn't like it, I suggest she joins me on Cats Bells and pitches her tent next to mine. The air up there is bloody marvellous.

Wednesday June 4, 2003
To Notting Grill (proprietor: Antony Worrall Thompson) for a photo shoot. AWT has recently introduced a no-smoking area in his restaurant and we want to photograph him promoting the voluntary Charter on Smoking in Public Places that promotes the concept of choice, for proprietors and customers alike.

I still can't believe our luck that Antony agreed to be patron of Forest. Like us, he genuinely believes in freedom of choice and unlike 99.9 per cent of 'celebrity smokers' he's prepared to stand up and say so, which is highly unusual in these intolerant times.

Ask other celebrity smokers for a word of support and you'll be lucky to get past their agent or manager who will advise them not to get involved. Alternatively the agent may even pre-empt the situation and issue an apology for their client's horrible habit, adding that he/she doing everyone he/she can to give up. Yeah, whatever.

When we arrive a crew from Carlton is preparing to interview Antony for yet another programme about smoking so Yolande (our photographer) snaps away as quickly as she can.

After that she takes pictures of Forest press officer Jo Gaffikin and finally it's my turn. I may not be a smoker but we need some close-ups for the website so duty calls. But heed my advice. Puffing heavily on an empty stomach is not a good idea. I begin to feel light-headed, if not a little sick. Time to quit while I'm (just about) ahead.

Thursday July 3, 2003
To Millbank studios in Westminster for a live interview on Sky News. Like the British Medical Association two days earlier, the Chief Medical Officer is calling for a complete ban on smoking in public places.

Later, for PM (Radio 4), I record an interview with James Johnson, newly elected chairman of the BMA. Today's papers, I note, are reporting that the BMA is also calling for a ban on televised drink ads. “Is there anything the BMA doesn't want to ban?” I ask Johnson, who is speaking from a pub car park in Devon.

The comment is cut from the broadcast interview but my suggestion that the BMA are behaving like “tinpot dictators” survives the edit. Good, because I really mean it. Who do these jumped up twerps think they are? They certainly don't represent your average GP, many of whom drink and smoke.

From Millbank it's on to College Green for another interview with Sky News. While we wait I am approached by a familiar face I can't quite place.

“Were you at Aberdeen University?” the face asks.

“Glenda!” I cry.

Yes, it's Glen Oglaza, the once-bearded president of Aberdeen University Students Union (1979-80) who reappeared in the Eighties as a clean-shaven reporter on ITN and is now a remarkably tanned correspondent for Sky News.

“Whose side are you on?” he asks when I explain I am here to talk about smoking.

“The smoker,” I reply.

“Good,” says Glen.

Old hippies never die.

Moments later I am back at Millbank for Channel Five News and a threesome with Julia Hartley-Brewer (Sunday Express) and Matthew Taylor (Institute for Public Policy Research). Can this really be the same JH-B who wrote such a fair, balanced report on smoking in public places only a few months ago (quoting yours truly at some length)?

Today she can barely contain herself. Smoking must be banned, she splutters. Incredibly she claims not to know a single smoker who doesn't want to give up. Does that include her boss, Richard Desmond, who famously smokes cigars? I think we should be told.

Finally, to Doughty Street for the Spectator's annual summer party. Both the building and garden are heaving with guests. Tory MP Bernard Jenkin is one of many people I spy with a fag in hand. Alarmingly, when I introduce myself, the shadow defence minister looks a little sheepish and says, “I never smoke in my constituency.”

Despite this I may have discovered the Tories' new health spokesman. They certainly need one. If only Iain Duncan Smith would move the present incumbent, anti-smoking zealot Dr Liam Fox, the Conservatives might once again claim the middle ground in the health debate. In the meantime IDS and co are no better than Labour. Cradle to grave paternalists, the lot of them.

Monday July 7, 2003
To ITV’s South Bank studios for This Morning with Fern Britton and Philip Schofield. It's my first opportunity to meet Deborah Arnott, the new(ish) director of ASH. First impressions? Nice enough but, like her Scottish counterpart Maureen Moore, a tad po-faced.

I read an interview where Debs confessed to being an ex-smoker (20-a-day). She's well suited to ASH. Apparently she once campaigned for a ban on smoking in her own workplace even though she was still lighting up socially. Proof, if proof were needed, that turkeys DO vote for Christmas.

Later I am interviewed on LBC by a psychologist. Dr Pam comes from California and has what can only be described as a phobia about smoking. Only last week, she tells listeners, she was a guest at David Frost's summer party. There she was, in the garden, surrounded by so much “glamour”, when two people (TWO PEOPLE!!) decided to light up. Suddenly her evening was RUINED as whiffs of smoke curled in her direction.

“That's interesting,” I reply sympathetically. “I'm a non-smoker too and on the very same night I was at the Spectator summer party. Like you, I was in the garden surrounded by people smoking. And do you know, the only thing that spoiled it was the fact that the champagne ran out half way through the evening.”

Wednesday July 23, 2003
To Congress House, the London headquarters of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). We are here to meet representatives of Smoke Free Systems, a Swedish company that manufactures and installs 'smoking stations' in offices, airports and conference halls.

Ironically the TUC is currently lobbying the government to ban smoking in cafes and pubs, a move that will affect millions of working class smokers, not to mention bar workers and waiters who may lose their jobs if the hospitality industry is seriously hit.

In Congress House, however, the TUC has sensibly chosen not to banish smokers outside. Instead it has invited Smoke Free Systems to install three units that enable smokers to light up indoors without a trace of 'smoke drift'.

According to estates manager Karen Robinson, “The TUC is campaigning for all employers to introduce workplace smoking policies and provide suitable working environments for both smokers and non-smokers. The three smoking stations provide us with a smoke-free indoor solution for our smokers.”

My question is, if technology can offer a solution for Congress House, wouldn't it be more productive for the TUC to join Forest and lobby government to introduce tax breaks for companies that install these and other air cleaning devices?

This technology works (I've seen it for myself) so surely it's time to buck the modern trend of sending smokers outside?

Monday August 18, 2003
To Millbank studios, Westminster, home of all the major broadcasters. It's the silly season and Pizza Hut has decided to ban smoking in every one of its UK outlets. Is this news? Smoking has been banned in the majority of Pizza Hut restaurants for some time. This is merely tidying things up but someone has obviously realised that announcing the decision during a slow news period will attract a lot of publicity.

And they're right. Today Forest is invited to appear on four TV news programmes including ITN and BBC News 24, and no fewer than 16 radio stations. Is this the beginning of the end for smoking in restaurants, I am asked.

Not necessarily, I say. OK, so Pizza Hut has 500 'restaurants' but if you want a pizza, a pint and a fag that still leaves countless others (Pizza Express, Deep Pan Pizza and numerous Italian restaurants). And if you fancy something else – French, Chinese, Indian, whatever – there are tens of thousands of restaurants to choose from, so what's the problem?

Anyway, let's not be hypocritical. Forest has long argued that restaurants – like pubs, clubs and cafes – are private businesses and should be allowed to choose a policy on smoking that best suits their business.

The important thing, I tell presenters, is choice and market forces. If there is a market for non-smoking pizza restaurants (and there probably is, especially if you're going to be in and out of the premises within an hour), that's fine. The opposite, however, must also apply. If there is a market for restaurants that allow smoking (which there undoubtedly is) that too should be acceptable. Unfortunately anti-smoking campaigners don't see it that way. They want smoking banned in all restaurants, regardless of customer demand.

Which brings me to my old friend Amanda Sandford, research manager at ASH. On BBC Radio Wales this afternoon – after I had pointed out that the jury is still out on the dangers of passive smoking – Amanda called me a “liar”. Frankly, I've been called far worse in my time but it's interesting that ASH is so desperate to ban smoking in every corner of the country that their spokesmen resort to playground taunts if anyone disagrees with their jaundiced view of the world.

I don’t remember Amanda being as hostile as this last year. Since then, of course, PR-friendly director Clive Bates has moved on to be replaced by no-nonsense Deborah Arnott whose first move was to demand a public retraction from the editor of the British Medical Journal after the poor man had the temerity to publish the results of an American study that suggested that the link between passive smoking and ill health has been greatly exaggerated.

The study, which underwent a rigorous peer review process before publication in April, cannot easily be dismissed, especially since it follows last year's six-month investigation by the Greater London Authority that concluded that, given the state of the evidence on passive smoking, there is no justification for further restrictions on smoking in public places.

Today, in the wonderful world of ASH, anyone who dares to mention such uncomfortable facts is branded a 'liar'.

Friday August 22, 2003
To Birmingham to record an interview for Inside Out, a regional magazine programme to be broadcast on BBC1 (West Midlands) in September. A crew has already been to London to film Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson in his Notting Grill restaurant and my ten-second soundbite is taking well over an hour to record.

Producer Liam Tulley is a no nonsense Brummie who I sense is itching to interrogate me but he obviously has an artistic side because he wants every frame to look just right, which probably explains why we're filming on the balcony of a trendy smoker-friendly restaurant overlooking a Birmingham canal rather than a dirty backstreet pub.

It's a pleasant spot but I can see why some producers prefer the safety of the studio. Halfway through the interview my carefully considered words are drowned out by a family of ducks. A few minutes later a minstrel (I kid you not) can be seen (and, more importantly, heard) serenading customers on the balcony of an adjacent restaurant. Later still a sudden gust of wind threatens to blow us all into the murky water below.

Equilibrium restored, we go downstairs so I can be filmed walking into the restaurant. Needless to say it takes at least eight takes before producer and cameraman are satisfied. What they don't know (I am too embarrassed to tell them) is that five days earlier I pulled a ligament and badly bruised my foot trying to kick a football. (Don't laugh, I ended up in A&E.) In fact, I am lucky I can walk at all, so if I am walking without a limp it was achieved through gritted teeth and a determination not to look even more of a prat on TV than usual.

Wednesday September 17, 2003
To the House of Lords for lunch with Forest chairman Ralph Harris (Lord Harris of High Cross) and Clive Turner, now retired but formerly the principal spokesman for the Tobacco Advisory Council that was later renamed the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association.

I first met Clive in 1989 when I researched, wrote and published a 120-page report called ‘Smoke Out’. It analysed how the 'quality' press covered the smoking debate and was read by almost no-one, apart from Clive. Although it was another ten years before I began working for Forest, our paths continued to cross and I am pleased to consider Clive a friend because he is one of the most charming, public spirited men I have ever met. Unfailingly polite and good-humoured, he was more than a match for the po-faced anti-smokers he frequently faced on television and radio.

Take, for example, David Simpson, director of ASH in the late Eighties. “Simpson,” remembers Clive, “would never agree to any conversation with me, nor any sign of recognition. More often than not he would feign some pretence so he needn't be in the same room. Rather silly really. That someone could be so possessed of personal aversion and so totally consumed by zealotry made me feel quite sorry for him in the end.

“There were many other debaters across the country,” Clive adds, “all claiming that same single-minded monopoly of wisdom which so characterises the genre, and I very often wondered what they must be like to live with as partners or friends. It was some of their supporters who more than once sent me human excreta, used condoms, and death threats, all anonymously through the post.

“Extremism like this gave one pause for thought about the state of mind of people who are so engulfed and eaten out by hatred, intolerance, and imbalance, that they can turn to express their dislike of a legal product in such ways.”

Sadly for us but happily for him, Clive is about to leave Britain for Cyprus, a country where residents enjoy low taxation, very little crime and sunshine all the year round. I wish him well in his new life, which will no doubt be just as full as his old one.

Tuesday September 30, 2003
It was with great sadness that I read yesterday of the death of Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, a lifelong pipesmoker and founder of Forest. A veteran of the Battle of Britain, he was awarded the DSO in 1945, OBE in 1956, CB in 1966, KCB (a knighthood) in 1969 and GCB in 1973.

The idea for a smokers’ lobby group came to him apparently after he was confronted, on the platform at Reading railway station, by a demented old biddy demanding that he extinguish his pipe. For a man who took part in a bitter world war when, in the words of Forest chairman Lord Harris, “servicemen drew enormous comfort from their pipes and shared cigarettes”, modern day attempts to target and belittle smokers must have been both depressing and, frankly, incomprehensible.

The good news is that Sir Christopher's death has not gone unnoticed by the obituary columns. The Times reports that he was 'politically aware and was celebrated for his wit, independence of mind and sociability.' He believed in 'protecting individual rights against the pressures of outside interference.' The paper added that he will 'best be remembered as one of the most literate and humorous officers of his time'.

The Independent agrees: 'He possessed too that all-important quality, a sense of humour; although his reluctance to take himself or others too seriously sometimes ruffled feathers in high places. The engaging and light-hearted autobiography he wrote on retirement, ‘A Lighter Shade of Blue’ (1978), exemplified these qualities, as did his subsequent activities in the world of business, in the cause of the disabled, in contributing to the public defence debate, and in arguing for the nation's smokers.'

Forest was not a major part of his life. In recent years he was far better known as chairman of the Battle of Britain Association. Nevertheless, I hope and believe that many of the qualities exemplified by Sir Christopher are shared by everyone associated with Forest and, more important, by the nation as a whole.

Wednesday October 1, 2003
The Reading Evening Post rang last week. Apparently Conservative councillor Rob Wilson has tabled a motion, to be debated tonight, calling on Reading Borough Council to launch a 'vigorous campaign' to ban smoking in the town's pubs and restaurants. What, the local paper wanted to know, is Forest's response?

A couple of things come to mind, I say. One, this is gesture politics of the worst kind. As every local politician knows (or should know), councils do not have the power the ban smoking even if they wanted to, so motions like this are a complete red herring.

Two, what are the Tories actually for? Seriously, I'd like to know. I always thought the Conservative Party was there to uphold freedom of choice both for business and the individual.

But no. Shadow health secretary Liam Fox has long been a fervent anti-smoker and yesterday yet another Tory, Staffordshire MP Michael Fabricant, jumped on the bandwagon by demanding new legislation to protect people from passive smoking. Has he not read the recent study published by the British Medical Journal? Do these people ever check their facts? Any sympathy I have for the Tories is rapidly running out.

Tuesday October 14, 2003
To Ireland to take part in a debate organised by the Literary and Historical Society at University College Dublin. Subject: smoking in public places. My colleague Jo Gaffikin and I are following in some famous footsteps, including James Joyce and every Irish prime minister since 1921.

Although we lose the debate we don't disgrace ourselves, persuading a significant number of non-smokers to vote against the motion. It is nevertheless astounding to hear so many students support the political establishment on such a fundamental issue. Ironically, the vote in favour of a smoking ban comes at the same time that students at UCD are calling for a boycott of Pepsi Cola for some obscure reason that escapes me.

To be fair, the evening is more stand-up comedy than serious debate and some of the students are very funny. It's the guest speakers who let the side down. Jo and I do our best to enter into the spirit of the occasion (Jo’s boots, featuring a smoking cowboy, catch the eye) but the two public health speakers deliver such crushingly boring speeches, which they read line by line from notes, it's a miracle no-one is injured in a mass stampede for the exit.

Anyway, we're in Dublin for four days during which time we are going to meet a wide range of people including politicians and representatives of the Irish hospitality industry. Most important, we are here to carry out research into the effect the proposed smoking ban will have on Irish pub culture. I suspect

Tuesday October 28, 2003
To a secret location on the south coast to meet a Grammy award-winning musician who is currently in the throes of moving back to Britain from New York where he has spent the past 20 years. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music before he enjoyed several hit records in the late Seventies and early Eighties, he contacted us after discovering our website which he poetically described as ‘a ray of light in the gathering darkness’.

Although he is no longer a household name he is well enough known to elicit a cry of recognition from the researcher on Radio 4's PM programme who calls just as my train pulls into the station. The result is a recorded interview with the man himself which would been broadcast had it not been for the news that Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith is to face a vote of no confidence. Our new friend's identity will be revealed in the next few weeks. Watch this space.

Friday October 31, 2003
The news that London 'celebrity' restaurant Zuma is to ban smoking throughout prompts the Independent to ask six commentators, including me, 'Should all restaurants be non-smoking?'

“No,” I reply. “We're happy for individual restaurants to ban smoking, but we're against restaurants being forced by legislation into a total ban as it restricts consumer choice.”

Actually, what I really wanted to say was, who gives a damn about Zuma? Like Pizza Hut, this is just another example of a business using smoking to generate publicity. Anyway, Zuma isn't banning smoking throughout. You can still smoke in the bar before, during or after your meal, which is rather different to a blanket ban, although it may cause smokers a certain amount of inconvenience.

Oh well, we wish them well. There is no reason why there shouldn't be more no-smoking restaurants and if proprietors think it will be good for business, fine. Personally I'll stick to my local Chinese restaurant. Celebrity restaurants? Who needs them?!

Monday November 3, 2003
To Southampton to take part in a studio debate on the local BBC news. Or that was the message I received from my press officer. My train arrived with 15 minutes to spare.

“Take me to the BBC!” I urge a taxi driver, one of several hanging around outside the station.”

“Not worth my while, mate,” he says, “It's quicker to walk.”

So I hurry to the studio on foot and announce my arrival. The receptionist looks confused.

“We're not expecting you,” she says. “Are you sure it's the BBC? Have you tried Meridian? Or Southampton Television?”

Southampton Television? Now that rings a bell.

“Where are they?” I ask.

“See that flight of steps across the road?” says the receptionist. “Go up there, cross the square, turn left and look for the Institute. You'll find them there.”

Following her directions I arrived at Southampton TV with seconds to spare.

“You must be Mr Forest,” said the friendly trainee researcher. “Don't worry. We're running a little late.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I came to appear on a small television station broadcasting to the Southampton area. You can, apparently, tune your set to receive it – it’s somewhere between Channels 4 and 5 – but you have to live locally to pick up the signal.

Tuesday November 25, 2003
To Old Queen Street, home of the Labour Party, where I have been invited to attend a 'special health policy forum' chaired by Margaret Wall, a formidable and refreshingly open-minded member of Labour's National Executive Committee.

Guests include Tim Lord, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, and Brenda Warrington of the Tobacco Workers Alliance, but we are heavily outnumbered by health professionals and anti-smoking activists, several of whom are quite agitated by our presence.

The meeting begins with a short address by public health minister Melanie Johnson and a brief Q&A session before she has to leave. Reassuringly, Johnson confirms recent government statements that a blanket ban on smoking is not, at present, on the agenda. This, needless to say, is not what the antis want to hear. They want 'rapid progress' towards a ban and they want it NOW!

Ian Willmore, ASH's new public affairs manager (formerly with Friends of the Earth) struggles to come to terms with the nature of the meeting, a round table discussion of Labour's policy on smoking. Adopting the same aggressive tactics we've come to know and love since Deborah Arnott replaced PR-savvy Clive Bates as director of ASH in March, Willmore even tries to talk over Margaret Wall. Bad move. Using her vast experience of bolshie political activists, Labour’s public health minister wins by a knockout.

Few of the antis present do themselves any favours. While Tim, Brenda and I listen to them in respectful silence, our points are repeatedly met with muted cries of “No!” and barely concealed murmurs of dissent denoting both their impatience and their fundamental intolerance of any views that differ from their own.

It's unprofessional and, in my opinion, a form of bullying. It's also counter productive because it makes us even more determined not to let the anti-smoking lunatics take over the asylum.

Wednesday November 26, 2003
The Law of Sod has just been invoked. Media-wise it's been relatively quiet of late. Consequently I felt reasonably confident, when I confirmed a long-standing invitation to judge the southern heat of a national debating competition organised by the Academy of Ideas, that I wouldn't be needed in the office today.

Inevitably The Times chose today of all days to publish a letter by the heads of 13 royal medical colleges demanding a total ban on smoking in public places. As soon as I boarded the 8.07 from Waterloo my mobile phone started ringing.

“Five Live here. Can you do the nine o'clock phone-in?”

“News 24 here.”

“This is ITN. We need you for the lunchtime news. Oh, and ITV News as well.”

“Hi, Five News here. Can you ...?”

And so on and so forth.

Well, I wasn't going to break a promise to my friend Claire Fox so I continued with my journey. Thankfully, Antony Worrall Thompson (a hands-on patron if ever there was one) agreed to do the Five Live phone-in, our chairman Ralph Harris composed a response to The Times, and my colleague Juliette Torres (who was supposed to be on holiday this week) did most of the rest.

Me? I returned twelve hours later just in time to appear on Sky News. What a day!

Friday December 5, 2003
The Lancet is running an editorial calling on the government to ban tobacco and turn smokers into criminals. The Press Association has quoted Forest at length which is normally the precursor to a busy day. And so it proves.

The first call comes as I travel by train to our office in London. It's BBC Radio Cambridgeshire where I am known as the “local campaigner” due to the fact that I live in Cambridgeshire.

This morning the presenter (Trevor) calls me the “famous local campaigner” which would have bemused my fellow commuters, none of whom know me from Adam. I am “famous” apparently because I don't smoke, which goes to show how easy it is to become famous these days. I must remember never to light up otherwise my new found celebrity status will literally disappear in a puff of smoke.

As it happens I have a phobia about using my phone on a train so it was with some embarrassment that I had to do a live interview with BBC Cambridgeshire on my mobile surrounded by scores of early morning commuters. The situation became even more bizarre when another passenger left his seat, crossed the carriage, and said to me, mid interview: “Oi, turn it down, mate.” Charming.

The rest of the day raced by as I shuttled from studio to studio – Sky News, ITV News, BBC News, BBC Radio – as well as rushing back to the office to pick up messages and conduct further interviews by phone.

However the moment that best captured the madness took place at Bush House, home of the BBC World Service, where I enjoyed a lively debate with the presenter of News Hour.

Waiting to enter the studio I was watching a bank of monitors, each one showing a different news channel, when who should appear on Sky News but Antony Worrall Thompson, patron of Forest, and Deborah Arnott, the ex-smoking (but still fuming) director of ASH.

There was no sound but the pictures provided superb entertainment. I was transfixed. They were obviously having a fantastic ding-dong and I have never seen Antony, in my experience a fairly laidback character, so animated. Like all good arguments it ended in smiles (a first for Debs) but I must get a copy. If it sounded as good as it looked it will get pride of place on Forest's Greatest Hits, out soon on video, DVD and vinyl.

A less welcome feature of the day was the extraordinary reluctance of The Lancet to debate head-to-head with Forest or anyone else, which meant that at least two discussions – on BBC1 Breakfast and Channel 4 News – in which I was due to take part were cancelled.

A little bird later told me that the editor was abroad (fancy that!!) and his deputy (who actually wrote the piece calling for a ban on tobacco) was so exhausted after appearing on Five Live she decided not to do any more interviews. Bless.

Monday December 8, 2003
Encouraged by the support given to Forest by musician Joe Jackson who described the Forest website as 'a ray of light in the gathering darkness', I thought it would be a good idea to contact other musicians who smoke.

First port of call, because I’m a fan, is Ian Hunter, lead singer with Seventies band Mott the Hoople, composer of tracks such as 'All The Way From Memphis', 'Roll Away The Stone' and 'Once Bitten Twice Shy', author of the acclaimed ‘Diary of a Rock 'n Roll Star’ (still in print 30 years later) and a respected solo artist in his own right.

Like Jackson, Hunter has lived in America for many years, returning occasionally to Britain to tour or promote a new album. His website invites questions from fans so I posted this question: ‘What do you make of the NY smoking ban and would you be prepared to support our campaign?’

His reply, which has just appeared on his website, reads:

I am a smoker, but if I had to pick sides on this issue I could not encourage people to smoke. I don't think it's a clever thing to do and I feel somewhat stuck with it. I like Joe Jackson a lot, but I don't go with either him or you on this one. If I want a fag I'll always find a way to smoke one.

I don't like [the ban] any more than you do. Bars/restaurants in New York City are not the same and some of them are hurting. People are going to [New] Jersey to eat. However, if somebody sat next to me in a cafe and puffed away and I didn't smoke it would piss me off far more. Sorry.

No problem, Ian. We appreciate your response and to show there's no hard feelings I am happy to plug your last studio album (Rant, released in 2001) and your recently released DVD (Strings Attached: A Special Night With Ian Hunter) which includes a rare interview with the man himself, drawing heavily on a cigarette. CD and DVD are both available via Amazon and are warmly recommended.

Next stop, Bob Geldof, who I am reliably informed (by a Dublin taxi driver) is very strongly opposed to the forthcoming ban on smoking in Ireland.

Wednesday December 17, 2003
To Newcastle where I am a guest on the Daily Politics (BBC2) presented by the great Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times. It’s the morning after our Christmas party and I have been booked to appear on a live outside broadcast from the Metro Centre, one of the largest shopping malls in Europe, which is set to ban smoking in the new year and force smokers to light up in 'shelters' in the car park, miles from the actual shops.

To get there on time I have to catch the 06.15 from Kings Cross. When South West Trains ban smoking on all their trains next year, GNER will be the last remaining train company in Britain that still allows people smoke on board. Walking past the First Class smoking carriage – table lamps emitting a warm orange glow, coffee cups waiting to be filled by attentive stewards, smokers producing their first cigarette of the day and offering to light their neighbour's – is like gazing into a Brief Encounter type world that for most people no longer exists.

Which is a pity because a well-ventilated smoking carriage offers the perfect compromise. It allows people to indulge their habit without annoying other people. If we can have 'Quiet Coaches' don't see why we can't have at least one 'Smoking Coach' when there are another eleven to choose from.

Likewise it doesn't make sense for the Metro Centre to ban smoking completely. It's mid morning when I arrive and the place is filling up with Christmas shoppers, yet the number of smokers milling around can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There are a few more in the cafes and coffee bars but nothing that should concern anyone other than the most obsessive anti-smoker.

With the high roof and wide open spaces you would be hard pressed to notice any smoke at all. As for smell, you'd need the nose of a tracker dog to register anything untoward. So why fix something when it ain't broke?

Thursday January 1, 2004
Where were you at 8.00am on New Year's Day? For the record, I was driving through wind and rain to the BBC studios in Cambridge where I was a guest on Five Live's morning phone-in.

Presenter Eleanor Oldroyd and fellow guest Deborah Arnott (director of ASH) were in Five Live’s London studio and we all exchanged a cheery “Happy New Year!”. Sadly, any hopes that Deborah had mellowed over Christmas were quickly dashed. What a woman! She makes her predecessor Clive Bates seem like a well-trained puppy.

Actually, Arnott and Ian Willmore (her po-faced partner in crime at ASH) could be Forest's greatest asset in the year ahead. If there's one thing many smokers can't abide it's ex-smokers telling them how to behave. And yes, Arnott and Willmore are both ex-smokers.

Amazing, isn't it? It's like politicians sending their kids to grammar schools and then, when they've left, voting to abolish them. Oh, well, I guess they know best. People like that always do.

Saturday January 3, 2004
To Manchester where I am appearing on The Heaven and Earth Show (BBC1) tomorrow morning. It's a bit of a trek so the BBC has sweetened the pill by booking me in to The Lowry, the city's only five star hotel.

We don't get many perks working for Forest but this is one of them. The Lowry is 'part of the Rocco Forte Hotels luxury collection' and the city's 'most fashionable venue'. According to the brochure:

At The Lowry Hotel Health Spa you will discover a secluded refuge in which to relax and recharge. Surrender to this sanctuary of personal comfort and escape from a world that has a multitude of choices ... In this haven, away from the hectic pace of everyday living, you can pamper, reward and maintain harmony ...

I particularly like the idea of a 'personal fitness and wellbeing programme tailored for you by our wellness coach' but whether it will provide 'energy to life' remains to be seen.

Thoughtfully I seem to have been booked into a smoking room (I wonder what my wellness coach would think of that) but apart from the sculpted glass ashtray on the bedroom table you would never know. The air conditioning is superb and there is not a hint of stale smoke from previous guests.

The staff exude youthful enthusiasm and I am treated like a king, a far cry from yesterday when I was interviewed on BBC Radio London. Caller: “I hate that man [meaning me]. He's an absolute cretin.”

Monday January 5, 2004
I enjoyed The Heaven and Earth Show. It was relaxed and it was fun. I got to meet quit smoking guru Allen Carr, a strange little man, quite different from the smooth-talking salesman I had imagined. Although he gave up his 100-a-day habit 20 years ago, he's still addicted to smoking, albeit in a rather different way. Even in the green room he and his wife (they now live in Malaga) found it difficult to talk about anything else.

But the best thing was returning to London to find an email from an old friend I haven't seen in 20 years, despite the fact that we once shared a flat at university and even spent a month travelling around Europe together. The last I heard of him he had joined the Foreign Office and was in Uganda. Now he writes:

Simon, nearly choked on my cornflakes when I saw you on some God-slot prog this morning. Then checked your website to make sure it was you (and it was).

According to his note he is back in Britain and working for another organisation within walking distance of Forest’s HQ. Spooky. We're meeting for a drink very soon. If there are any more old pals who want to get in touch, drop me a line …

Sunday January 11, 2004
To Crawley to appear on The Politics Show (BBC1), a national programme presented by Jeremy Vine that includes a 20-minute regional 'opt-out'. Last year I went to Birmingham for what is called the West Midlands opt. Today I'm on the 'Southern opt' which is broadcast from Esporta, a health and fitness centre in the heart of Sussex.

Fellow guests include local Labour MP Laura Moffatt, a former nurse who believes that government intervention is needed to keep us fit and healthy, and Philip Duly from the self-styled Freedom Association. Philip, a decent man, agrees with Forest that people should be allowed to make their own choices about fitness and health but I know for a fact that this view is not shared by all TFA members, many of whom are, at best, paternalistic on social issues or, at worst, downright authoritarian.

Like many people TFA members are highly selective in the freedoms they are willing to support or even discuss. Smoking, I know from personal experience, is off limits, as is fox hunting and boxing, to name just three. This no doubt explains why, in some circles, the Freedom Association is known as the Intolerance Association.

Wednesday January 21, 2004
With the Welsh inching towards a ban on smoking in public places I'm off to Cardiff to take part in a televised debate on HTV Wales. It sounds a bit complicated but the format is as follows:

Together with another 'pro-smoker' I have been assigned to Room 2 where we will be filmed arguing our case, watched (on monitors) by a pair of anti-smokers in Room 1 who will already have had their say, watched by us. After a short break all four of us will be admitted to Room 3 for a roundtable discussion featuring several more speakers.

Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson has already been recorded adding his tuppence worth so it promises to be a lively programme.

Thursday January 22, 2004
How did my trip to Wales go? Well, having arrived in Cardiff shortly after lunch I was immediately whisked off to the HTV studios to be interviewed by Granada for a completely different story.

Liverpool, it seems, is the latest council to jump on the anti-smoking bandwagon and declare that it intends to become the first city in Britain to ban smoking in public places. Better still, it hopes to do so by 2008, the year in which Liverpool will have the title 'European City of Culture'.

Like it or not, smoking is part of European culture so it will be interesting to see what continental visitors will make of it should they arrive at Liverpool 'John Lennon' Airport and discover that the spiritual home of The Beatles has become, overnight, the European Capital of Intolerance.

Two hours later I was recording On The Edge, a late night discussion programme and the main reason I am here. Presented by the quick-witted, sharply dressed Mai Davies, the half-hour programme took two hours to record but nevertheless felt quite pacey.

Fair and well-balanced, it featured a wide cross-section of opinion from doctors, publicans and smokers (those who wish to give up and those who don't). My heart momentarily sank when they introduced, in the studio, a smoker who has been treated for lung cancer but this was no ambush, just a genuinely personal story that added to but didn’t dominate the debate.

Interestingly, when asked if a ban on smoking in public places would have made any difference to his smoking habit, the cancer sufferer thought not. For a second I thought I detected a hint of surprise in Mai Davies' voice. But I could have been mistaken ....

Sunday January 25, 2004
I rarely go to London at weekends but, as luck would have it, I was in Trafalgar Square when the call came. Sky News wanted to speak to someone from Forest for a report about the results of the London Health Commission's so-called referendum on passive smoking.

Dragging my nine-year-old son away from the Chinese New Year celebrations, we made our way to the Millbank studios in Westminster where I was to be interviewed in the park across the road. Mission accomplished, I was asked (quite innocently, I'm sure) if they could film the pair of us enjoying a stroll in the park.

Tempting though it was, an alarm bell went off in my head. I politely declined. Paranoid? Perhaps, but in this business you've got to be so careful. Defending smokers isn't child's play and I wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise. So thanks, but no thanks. I'll keep my family out of it.

Monday January 26, 2004
To Boisdale of Belgravia in central London for a recorded interview with London Tonight, Carlton's early evening news programme. The researcher wanted a smoker-friendly pub/restaurant and I suggested Boisdale because it fits the bill.

Although most pubs and restaurants still allow smoking, Boisdale positively encourages it. The Macdonald Bar, behind the main restaurant, is home to the Boisdale Jazz and Cigar Club, and the Back Bar, where we are filming, boasts a remarkable selection of 250 malt whiskies and more than 100 varieties of the finest hand-made Havana cigars.

As you know, I'm not a smoker but who could refuse owner Ranald Macdonald's generous offer of a Montecristo No 2 to while away the time. The Back Bar is a wonderfully cosy retreat and very soon there are at least six of us puffing away, producing great plumes of smoke. Nevertheless the ten-year-old air filtration unit in the ceiling copes admirably and even the most myopic anti-smoker would be hard pressed to complain about the air quality.

Best of all (better even than the menu, an enticing mix of traditional and modern British and Scottish cooking) is the sense of camaraderie. Boisdale feels so relaxed and civilised that what was supposed to be a ten-minute break from the office became two hours' 'rest and recuperation'. Warmly recommended.

Monday February 9, 2004
In her final article for the Forest website before leaving to work for the National Gallery, our former press officer Jo Gaffikin explained how working for Forest occasionally involved sitting cross-legged in her pyjamas in her bedroom in the early hours of the morning while conducting a long distance interview with some far flung radio station.

Well, I had a similar experience last night. Hong Kong's English-speaking radio station, RTHK Radio, wanted me to be a guest on Backchat, their breakfast debate. Hong Kong is eight hours ahead of the UK so it was well after midnight when I got the call.

My principal opponent was a Hong Kong based American restaurant critic who believes his right to breathe clean air while he works is being compromised by other people's tobacco smoke. I'm generally pro-American. However, imposing your politically correct, anti-smoking culture on a foreign country just because you have chosen to live there is the most blatant form of cultural imperialism I have ever come across. If an American restaurant critic doesn't like smoky Chinese-run restaurants, why the hell doesn't he work in California or New York?

The good news is that at the start of the programme a poll suggested that 43 per cent of listeners were in favour of a ban. By the end of our debate the figure had dropped to 38 per cent, a result definitely worth staying up for.

Friday February 13, 2004
Funny how stories break when you least expect them. I was in Cambridge when I got a call from BBC News: “What is Forest’s response to the news that the government is considering graphic health warnings on cigarette packets?”

As soon as I was off the phone I sent a news release to the Press Association then drove rapidly to the nearest railway station where I caught (by a whisker) the next train to London and before you know it I was enjoying some generous BBC hospitality (a large gin and tonic) while being filmed in a pub on Gray's Inn Road, a short walk from Kings Cross. The punters seemed a bit bemused but no more than me. It happened so quickly I barely had time to think.

Saturday February 14, 2004
It may be Valentine's Day but the smoking debate doesn't stop for all that romantic malarkey. It's business as usual. This morning, when I should have been making breakfast (at the very least) for my other half I'm actually at the BBC studios in Cambridge being interviewed for Five Live and BBC London where the graphic health warning story continues to trundle on.

Later, after I've watched my son play for his U10 football team, I abandon the family with friends in Watford so I can travel on to London to appear on BBC News 24 followed by Sky News.

It's a small world because at Television Centre I bump into a former MP who used to do some consultancy work for a PR company I once worked for. If I remember he was also a friend of the first director of Forest.

We exchange pleasantries, have a brief chat about Michael Howard's first 100 days as leader of the Opposition, and for a nanosecond I feel like I've met an old chum. So much so that when it's time to leave I hear myself saying "See you later."

Why? I haven't met this guy since 1982. He doesn't know me. When will I see him later? Next week? Next year? Honestly, this job does some funny things to you.

Sunday February 15, 2004
I’ve been interviewed in some strange places but never at a rugby match, until now. It happened like this. This afternoon I watched Saracens play Northampton at Watford football club. As the teams came back on the pitch after half time (Saracens were ahead 10-8) my phone rang. It was the Daily Mail wanting me to comment on a story in the Independent on Sunday suggesting that the government is about to give local councils the power to ban smoking in public places.

The teams kicked off. Phone clamped tightly to my head, I tried to ignore the noise by leaning forward, staring at the floor, and concentrating on the distant voice in my ear. Around me people were shouting, pointing, cheering and groaning. Occasionally they leapt out of their seats. I was oblivious to it all.

Five or six minutes later I looked up. "You've just missed two tries, two conversions and Northampton are now leading 22-10," said my mate Gary. My first professional rugby match and I had missed the most exciting action of the game! Warning: smoking can seriously damage your enjoyment of sporting events.

Talking of strange places to be interviewed, a tobacco industry spokesman told me that last summer, while on holiday in his Mediterranean villa, he was interviewed live on a UK radio station whilst standing, stark naked, on his balcony. Not a pretty thought, perhaps, but worth bearing in mind the next time you hear anti-smokers refer to the 'evil' tobacco lobby. Underneath their suits they're only flesh and blood.

Tuesday February 24, 2004
To Broadcasting House in central London where I’m being interviewed for Five Live's Breakfast programme. I am allocated Studio 1R, a so-called 'self-operated studio', from where I will speak to the presenters Sheila Fogherty and Nicky Campbell who are at Television Centre. Why they call it 'self-operated' I can't imagine. I've been using this and similar studios around the country for several years and I have yet to touch a single button. I wouldn't dare.

These days the majority of radio interviews are conducted not in a studio but down the phone. Local radio stations are reluctant to pay for a studio, even for five minutes. They prefer you to use an ISDN line (better quality) but will settle for a landline. Mobile phones used to be a no-no but reception is improving so even in outlying areas I find myself doing more and more interviews, live and recorded, on the move.

Today is a perfect example. After the relative luxury of Broadcasting House I later record two interviews using my mobile. The first, for a radio station in Cambridge, takes place in and around Victoria Station. Because of all the train announcements I keep walking - live on air - in search of a quiet spot, but without success. God knows what it sounds like to listeners. The presenters say they can hear me but I'm damned if I can hear them!

The second interview, for BBC Radio Wales, was even worse. The signal can’t have been great because this time the presenter signed off saying, "That was Simon Clark, director of Forest, in the back of a taxi."

Monday March 1, 2004
To mark the first anniversary of Forest Online we are publishing an exclusive interview with Grammy award winning musician Joe Jackson. After 20 years living in New York, Joe watched in dismay as bohemian New York disappeared under the weight of petty officialdom. The final straw, he says, was Mayor Bloomberg's smoking ban.

Forest Online, he says, was "a ray of light in the gathering darkness". Since returning to live in Britain he has joined our Supporters Council, written articles for the Daily Telegraph and the Independent on Sunday, and is currently writing one for another national newspaper.

Even better, Joe has put his money where his mouth is and recorded his own, very personal, protest at the NY smoking ban and the threat of a similar ban in the UK. ‘In 20-03’ is not available in the shops. Instead you can either download it as a high quality MP3 file ($0.99) or order it on CD ($3.99 plus p&p). Very generously, Joe has decided to share all proceeds between three pro-choice groups: Forest, Forces (our US-based counterparts) and NYC Clash, a group campaigning to reverse the New York ban.

"Hopefully it helps keep the issue alive and will help people connect with one other," says Joe. "If it achieves any of those things, that's great."

Tuesday March 2, 2004
It’s my birthday. I’m 45.

Wednesday March 3, 2004
To the BBC in Cambridge to take part in a 30-minute discussion on Radio Nottingham. En route, stuck in a traffic jam on the notoriously busy A14, I listen to Joe Jackson being interviewed on the Today programme. Ten minutes later I change stations just in time to catch him on Five Live Breakfast.

Both stations play the chorus from his new song. On the Today programme the presenter suggests that Joe's effort may represent the start of a "backlash" against threats to ban smoking in public places. I certainly hope so. However, even with the help of Joe and Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson, we can't do it alone.

Indeed, it doesn't take a genius to work out that our campaign to defend smoking in public places would stand a much greater chance of success if other high profile smokers got off their butts and joined forces with Joe, Wozza and the rest of us. But where are they?

Wednesday March 10, 2004
Bad start to No Smoking Day. My early morning train to Kings Cross, which normally runs like clockwork, is diverted adding 20 minutes to the journey. When we arrive I find the Underground in turmoil (the Victoria line is completely closed) and the queue for taxis is around the block.

Running through the traffic, I catch the eye of a friendly cab driver a couple of streets away and reach the office just in time to do a pre-arranged interview with BBC Exeter.

It was once said (by Alexander Chancellor in the Daily Telegraph) that Forest wouldn't exist if it wasn't for No Smoking Day. Not true. In an era when EVERY day is no smoking day, NSD (now in its 21st year) is pretty small beer in the overall scheme of things. Sure, regional radio stations are still interested and the usual quit smoking articles appear in local and national newspapers, but as a major event NSD is way past its sell-by date.

If you need proof, today's top tobacco story has nothing to do with No Smoking Day. Leeds University Students Union, having banned smoking in all its bars only a month ago, has been forced to reverse its policy after losing a staggering £26,000 in bar revenue in just four weeks! Having addressed students at University College Dublin only last year, and been genuinely amazed by their outspoken support for the Irish smoking ban, I feel this news is worth celebrating.

Later, after conducting a handful of interviews with radio stations in England, Scotland and Guernsey, I am about to leave the office for the pub (and a smoke) when an email arrives from Judith Watt, my old friend and sparring partner who runs Smoke Free London.

Wishing me well on No Smoking Day, Judith writes, "When are you going to do justice to your creative skills and apply your obvious talents to more worthwhile issues?" Cheeky sod.

Thursday March 11, 2004
Working for Forest, hate mail goes with the territory. Yesterday we received the following email:

I am appalled at your organisation. It is a vile disgrace - as is smoking and are smokers. You are an embarrassing scourge on modern society. I feel sorry you, your digusting organisation and your disgusting habit. I hope your supporters enjoy many unpleasant and fatal lung- and throat-related illnesses.

The author made no attempt to hide either his identity or the company he works for (one of Britain's most famous names). So I forwarded it to their press office, disguising our correspondent’s name but asking, in the sweetest possible way, if his views reflected those of the company.

Well, they were on the phone within minutes, wanting to know the poor fellow's identity. "This is a serious disciplinary matter," they said.

I didn't want to tell tales (I was more interested in their response and they passed with flying colours), but they said they would find out, even if it took them several days, simply by checking their computer records. Oh dear.

Thursday March 18, 2004
I forgot to mention we moved office last month. Audley House in Victoria, central London, had been our home for six years. Officially opened in March 1998 by Mary Turner, president of the GMB (a union that now supports passive smoking claims on behalf of its members!), the most famous visitor was probably comedian Jo Brand who came to collect her Smokers' Rights Champion of the Year Award.

Audley House also welcomed TV and radio crews from all over the world, many of them anxious to find out why we support smokers' rights. Meanwhile no fewer than eight members of staff came and went. A couple retired, others went on to bigger and better things, but they all played a valuable role in maintaining Forest’s work.

Finding cost effective premises is never easy (I was tempted to move to a building called Vigilant House for the name alone) but we have met the challenge by transfering our main office to Cambridge whilst maintaining a small base in London just yards from Broadcasting House.

In Cambridge our office is five minutes' walk from an area known as Quayside, famous for its punts and cafes. In the summer, armed with laptop and mobile phone, I fully expect to be writing this column from a sun-drenched piazza overlooking the River Cam. Perhaps we will hire a boat and go the whole hog, like the pirate radio stations of the Sixties. After all, if Cambridge goes no smoking, as the council is suggesting, the river may be our only sanctuary. Watch this space.

Wednesday March 24, 2004
To Ireland, courtesy of Sky News who want me to appear on Richard Littlejohn’s show (live from Dublin) to take part in a debate about the Irish smoking ban which comes into force the next day.

I decided to travel a couple of days early in order to experience the traditional smoker-friendly Irish bar for possibly the last time. Personally I have my doubts that the ban can be enforced and I intend to come back in six months to find out how ‘successful' it has been.

In the meantime my arrival is delayed because I managed to miss the plane!! I blame the BBC with whom I got into an argument after they published the results of an 'interactive' poll that suggested that 73 per cent of people want a ban on smoking in public.

According to the small print in the BBC's own press release it was a 'consultation' not a scientific poll. Needless to say this didn't come across in the way it was reported nor did it deter them from promoting it as a 'top story' on both BBC Online and Ceefax. Top story, my arse. This was a publicly gimmick, pure and simple, for a BBC programme about the NHS to be broadcast tonight.

Curiously the producers contacted Forest last week to see if we could suggest someone to take part in the studio debate. I offered to do it myself, even though it would have meant delaying my departure to Dublin by a day, only to be told that “We want an ordinary member of the general public.”

Oh well, I'm in Dublin now. Tonight I shall watch the Arsenal-Chelsea [Champions League] match in the comfort of an Irish pub and tomorrow I’m visiting a pub once frequented by Sir Walter Raleigh, the man who 400 odd years ago provoked the entire smoking debate. Well done, Walter, see the trouble you’ve caused!

Thursday March 25, 2004
To Johnnie Fox's, the highest and possibly the most famous pub in County Dublin. Founded in 1798, this traditional if slightly kitsch pub has played host to presidents, ambassadors, royalty, sports stars, tourists, "chatty locals" and even Salman Rushdie.

A stone-flagged floor ("daily strewn with sawdust"), ancient bric-a-brac, old dressers, open fireplace and crackling logs are just some of the attractions of this wonderful place. Investigate further and you'll find a penny farthing on one wall and, outside, a feeding pot said to have been used by up to 800 people daily during the potato famine.

Smoker-friendly? A simple glance at walls adorned with advertisements for long gone brands and slogans will tell you all you need to know: Craven 'A' ('smooth to the lips'), Gold Flake ('chosen by Aer Lingus'), Will's Flag, Capstan Navy Cut, 'Wild Woodbine', 'Player's Please' and, my favourite, 'Smoke Clarke's Perfect Plug'.

Next week, thanks to Ireland's ambitious, uncompromising health minister Michael Martin, smoking will be banned in Johnnie Fox's. With its reputation for great food, numerous beers and a good selection of wines and spirits, I can't imagine that business will be much affected. But it will be different, and in my view the poorer for it.

The good news is that Johnny Fox's is not abandoning smokers altogether. While other bars are busy erecting canopies and awnings with outside heaters so people can still smoke in relative comfort, JF has acquired an original 1952 double-decker bus, refurbished it, and renamed it the Happy Smoking Bus.

On Monday it will tour the streets of Dublin before returning to its final resting place outside the pub where it will provide a peaceful sanctuary for the pub’s many smokers. Effervescent business manager Fred Rainert tells me customers can smoke on the bus as long as it's not staffed. And the number plate? FU 2.

Friday March 26, 2004
To Dublin, via Kilcoole, to appear on Littlejohn (Sky News). Why Kilcoole? It's a long story. Suffice to say I was distracted by a radio producer who rang to ask if I would appear on Five Live on Sunday evening. I was on the platform at Greystones, a small town south of Dublin, and we were still talking when a train – the wrong train, as it turns out – pulled in to the station and I climbed aboard.

Ten minutes after the train set off a kindly ticket inspector confirmed my error but couldn't have been more helpful. "I'll tell you what," he said. "This is a non-stop train to Wicklow but I'll have a word with the driver and we'll stop at Kilcoole and you can get the bus back."

With hindsight it would have been quicker to stay on the train and travel back to Dublin from Wicklow. "You'll be waiting there at least two hours," a friendly voice called out to me as I stood at the first bus stop I encountered. "Keep walking till you find the main road. A bus should be along in an hour or so."

It was only lunchtime so I still had five hours to get back to Dublin via bus, train and taxi, check in to my hotel, shower and change clothes, but in the end I only just made it, arriving at the Shelbourne Hotel, where Littlejohn was being broadcast, with five minutes to spare.

Saturday March 27, 2004
Dublin is awash with kilted Scotsmen. According to the papers, 10,000 are in town for this afternoon's Six Nations rugby match against Ireland. What a pity the smoking ban wasn't implemented a few weeks earlier. The chances of it being enforced on big match day would have been nil. I look forward to 2005 when thousands of Galloise-smoking French supporters descend en masse on Dublin's bar and restaurants.

To read the papers and reflect on last night’s programme, I find a small coffee shop liberally sprinkled with soon to be redundant ashtrays. (The smoking ban is to be enforced from 6.00am tomorrow.) Littlejohn was a hoot. Broadcast live from the Shelbourne, one of Dublin's most historic hotels, the hour-long show featured over a dozen commentators providing a wide range of opinion about the smoking ban. Presenter (and Sun columnist) Richard Littlejohn made no secret of his views (a non-smoker, he's an outspoken opponent of blanket bans), but the programme as a whole was well balanced.

Split into groups of three, guests were seated on stools beside small round tables trembling under the weight of alcohol. To the disappointment of production staff, very few people were actually smoking. My contribution was limited to a brief verbal spat with Professor Luke Clancy, the genial spokesman for ASH Ireland, after which I retired to the bar for another pint of Guinness.

After the programme Tadg O'Sullivan, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, told me he thought 'our' side had won. I thought we escaped with a draw, thanks to Littlejohn himself and an extraordinary performance by an anti-smoking columnist with the Irish Sunday Mirror that was so melodramatic I thought she must be auditioning for the part of pantomime dame. Someone whispered in my ear that this was no act - apparently she's like this all the time. “God help her husband,” said another voice.

The antis scored a further own goal when a good looking young restaurateur said he supported a general ban because if he prohibited smoking and others didn't he would lose customers. Doh! Of course similar views have been expressed by some restaurateurs in Britain. The free market, they seem to be saying, is a wonderful thing unless it adversely affects their business, at which point they demand regulations to create a 'level playing field'.

Sunday March 28, 2004
Returning to the UK from Ireland I can't help noticing that Dublin Airport now has severe warnings by every entrance: 'NO SMOKING ANYWHERE IN THIS BUILDING: The Tobacco Smoking (Prohibition) Regulation 2003'. It's all rather intimidating, as if smoking poses as great a threat as terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

Far more civilised and welcoming are the designated smoking areas at Stansted and all major UK airports. If you're a nervous flyer who desperately needs a fag before or after a flight, airport smoking areas provide an oasis in the desert. Anyone who can't see that is not just being politically correct, they're being mean-spirited and vindictive, words that accurately describe today's obsessive anti-smokers.

Follow Ireland and ban smoking in all indoor areas? I'd like to think we've got more common sense.

Monday March 29, 2004
Early start to the day in order to catch the 5.30 train to London. While Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson is snuggled up on the GMTV sofa, discussing the pros and cons of the Irish smoking ban, I am live on CNN with Amanda Sandford of ASH.

Amanda and I cross swords again when we address medical students at Queen Mary's College in East London. The subject is 'Public Health versus Individual Rights'. We did the same thing last year. It went OK and we were invited back.

This year's intake seem older and more hostile. Only one person owns up to smoking and less than half admit drinking alcohol or eating fatty foods and dairy products. Amanda and I talk for 20 minutes apiece and then there's a long Q&A session that borders on an interrogation.

When the debate finally draws to a close I am in urgent need of liquid refreshment. Instead I have to rush back to the office to fulfill a series of interviews, including an uncomfortable grilling from Rick Nugent, a knowledgeable and highly articulate presenter with Belfast's City Beat Radio.

There are days, working for Forest, when you feel you've been mugged. This is one of them.

Tuesday March 30, 2004
Today is the first anniversary of the New York smoking ban, which is as good a time as any to remind you to purchase a copy of 'In 20-0-3', the song Joe Jackson wrote in protest at Mayor Bloomberg's draconian dictat. Please note that ALL proceeds from UK orders go direct to Forest so you'll be helping us as well.

Another song worth downloading (for free) is 'The Smoke Police' by The Intended, a Canadian band based in Toronto. Actually I'd go further and suggest you buy their album Route 101 which not only features 'The Smoke Police' but also some gloriously melodic folk-rock. The Intended would go down a storm in pubs and bars so if there's a British or Irish promoter who wants to help us set up 'The Smoke Police Tour' get in touch now!

Friday April 23, 2004
To Poole in Dorset where I have been invited to give evidence to a committee set up by the local council to consider a ban on smoking in public places. I had intended to travel down by train yesterday after work, check into a seaside hotel with panoramic views of the Channel, enjoy a good night's sleep and then indulge in a full fat fry-up with the day’s papers followed by a walk along the promenade before sauntering along to council HQ.

It didn't quite work out like that. First, I had to work late so there was no time to catch a train and organise accommodation. Instead I went home, set my alarm for 4.00am and drove the 150 or so miles to Poole before most people were up.

My presentation went quite well and there is lots of banter with members of the committee who seem like a decent bunch. The chairman later told Tim Lord, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, who gave evidence after me, that speaking to me was like dealing with a "raging bull". I assume this was tongue-in-cheek because I thought the session was conducted in rather a good spirit, far removed from some committee meetings I could mention.

Afterwards Tim and I retire to a local café. The sun is shining, it's a beautiful spring day and I’m thinking that if the smoking debate becomes a regional rather than a national issue we could end up doing this on a regular basis. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

Tuesday May 25, 2004
After months of planning, Forest's 'Fight The Ban: Fight For Choice' campaign is finally up and running. I spent the afternoon in a room with Nicola, one of our PR consultants, who has arranged interviews with a series of radio stations.

The most argumentative presenter (as ever!) is BBC Radio Oxford's Bill Heine. Bill and I have been locking horns for several years now. I never take it personally but today he's more irritating than usual, dismissing our independent poll (by Populus) as worthless. Even for Bill, that's below the belt.

Nicola, who sits beside me pulling faces, is amazed at how personal some of the questions can get. Fortunately the day finishes on a high, a live interview with LBC's Henry Kelly who is extremely charming.

Wednesday May 26, 2004
The 'Fight The Ban’ campaign has attracted good coverage in the regional papers but nationally it's a different story which is no surprise. The fact that an independent poll of 10,000 people nationwide can be overlooked by most of the national media – which just five days' earlier had given blanket coverage to a poll of just 1500 people by the research organisation Mintel – says everything you need to know about the anti-smoking bias we face every day in the media.

Are we disappointed? Far from it. In fact, we expected it, hence the decision to advertise the Populus results in a variety of regional newspapers and national magazines. Of course it blows a massive hole in our budget but it has to be done. This week we are ..

Thursday May 27, 2004
To Boisdale in the City for dinner with some of our leading supporters. Antony Worrall Thompson is a last minute absentee but guests include Trevor Baylis, inventor of the clockwork radio, Oscar-winning playwright Ronald Harwood and musician Joe Jackson.

To our surprise and delight, a late and unexpected arrival is David Hockney who I have never previously met, although he’s been an outspoken opponent of the New York smoking ban.

It turns out that he had flown in to London from Sicily that very evening. He was met at the airport by his agent who gave him a copy of our invitation, which I had sent to his California address, and he came straight to the restaurant.

Wednesday June 2, 2004
The Hockney bandwagon is gathering momentum. This afternoon a Newsnight producer calls to say that Britain's greatest living artist will tonight feature in a special report about smoking. I’m invited to appear in a live studio debate with Sam Etherington of the British Medical Association that will follow the item with Hockney has been pre-recorded.

I’m supposed to be catching a train to Liverpool for a pre-arranged interview with BBC Radio Merseyside but the opportunity to appear on Newsnight is too good to miss. I may have to cancel the former.

At eight o’clock just as I’m setting off for the studio, the producer calls to cancel. “We won’t need you after all,” he says. I watch the programme and while I’m pleased to see Hockney I’m less happy with what follows. Sam Etherington is the sole studio guest and there is no ‘debate’. He is simply given a platform to respond to Hockney, without challenge.

I phone the producer to complain and the response I get is that I was dropped because they felt that if I was in the studio as well there would be an imbalance of views opposed to smoking bans.

Thursday June 3, 2004
To Liverpool to do two interviews, one for BBC Radio Merseyside, the second for City Radio. After the shenanigans with Newsnight I missed the last train north and had to drive to Liverpool from Cambridgeshire, arriving at my city centre hotel, directly opposite the BBC, at 3.30am. Considering that I had been awake for 22 hours without sleep I think I drove rather well!

BBC Merseyside wanted to record their item in the local shopping centre, an old Seventies-style shopping mall where smoking is still allowed in one section of the rather cramped food hall, much to the annoyance of SmokeFree Liverpool which is campaigning to make Liverpool 'smokefree' by 2008, the year the city is handed the title 'European Capital of Culture'.

Personally I would have thought most Liverpudlians would want the city to be crime free rather than smoke free, and said as much.

Anyway, from St John's Shopping Centre I made my way to City Radio which broadcasts from Liverpool's answer to London's BT Tower. Like the former Post Office Tower, the City Radio HQ used to be a restaurant. I can't fault the panoramic view but I wouldn't like to work here. It’s quite unnerving to be this high up with nothing below you.

Friday June 4, 2004
A long chat on the phone with David Hockney. I congratulate him for having set the cat among the anti-smoking pigeons. He laughs. Incredibly he tells me he was "inspired" by our dinner last week which he describes as a "life enhancing experience" that "really turned me on".

I am finding this a bit hard to digest. In the space of a few days a living legend has agreed to support Forest's 'Fight For Choice' campaign, join our Supporters Council and attend a special event, later this year, to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We arrange to meet before he leaves for Bridlington, his Yorkshire base.

Monday June 7, 2004
Tony Blair's decision to go public with the fact that the government is considering a ban on smoking in public places continues to make waves. This morning I am invited to record some comments for Tonight With Trevor McDonald on ITV. At 11.30am a four-man production team appear. Our small London office, which we share with a media production company, is considered too dark. Our rooftop patio, on the other hand, is too bright.

Across the road there’s a bar that’s almost empty. Can we film here? No problem, says the manager. However he won't turn the music down. It attracts customers, he says. He's friendly but implacable so we return to the roof and hope it clouds over.

Afterward the interview we return to street level for those all-important tracking shots without which no interview is complete. "Go back as far as Caffe Nero," I am instructed, "then walk towards the camera, but don't look at it, then turn sharp left into the newsagent." Six takes later we are finished.

Tuesday June 8, 2004
To Edinburgh. The Scottish Executive has launched a public 'consultation' on smoking in public places but I am here primarily to give evidence to (or be grilled by, depending on your point of view) the Scottish Parliament Health Committee which is considering Stewart Maxwell's Prohibition of Smoking in Regulated Areas (Scotland) Bill.

Tim Lord, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, and I are being questioned at the same time. We meet in advance and wait to be shown into the chamber. Above our heads are monitors on which we can see Maureen Moore, director of ASH Scotland, giving her evidence.

At one point she is asked, "You could never see yourself supporting a ban [on smoking] in a picnic area?" "Why would we do that?" she replies, sweetly. I feel like shouting: "Because it's the next logical step!!"

Eventually it's our turn. Is it just me or do I sense a certain hostility from the committee? Mind you, what can you expect where the convenor chairing the session declares, "Meals and atmospheres are destroyed by cigarette smoking." Excuse me? Where have you been eating recently? Have you never heard of decent ventilation?

However the one really disgraceful performance (and believe me it is a performance) comes from Lib Dem Mike Rumbles. Two-thirds of the way through our session (with many more still to come), Rumbles intervenes to announce: "This evidence session has convinced me as never before that I will support the bill. Because of the strength of the evidence that we have heard, I waive my right to ask any further questions of these witnesses." Talk about showboating. What a plonker.

Afterwards I join my old friend (and former Forest spokesman) Brian Monteith in his office in the parliament building. Brian is now MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife but he continues to take a great interest in the smoking debate, which is just as well because most of his colleagues, with the honorable exception of Murdo Fraser, are pretty hopeless on the issue. (Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie, a cigar man, is virtually mute on the subject.)

While I am in Brian’s office David Davidson, a member of the Health Committee and a colleague of Brian's, marches in and, oblivious to my presence, starts criticising the evidence of the man from Forest.

“Don't you know him, Brian?"

“Yes indeed, David, and here he is. Let me introduce you.”


It's a short walk to the pub which is where Brian and I spend the next couple of hours. Several pints later my phone rings. It's the Guardian. Reception isn't good but if I understand my caller correctly, Health Secretary John Reid has said that for single mothers living on a run-down council estate smoking is one of the few pleasures left to them. It's going to be the paper's front page story and they want Forest's response.

Wednesday June 9, 2004
I’m scheduled to record a short interview for Scottish Television in a pub off Edinburgh's Royal Mile, but apart from that I was anticipating a quiet, relaxing morning. Instead I am woken early by LBC who want Forest to respond to the comments by John Reid in the Guardian. And that's only the start. Soon everyone wants to know what we think.

With my phone clamped to one ear, I scurry around Edinburgh conducting interviews for Grampian Television, Sky News, Reuters and many more. Unable to meet every request Joe Jackson agrees to speak to Five Live's lunchtime news AND write an 850-word article for the Daily Express (deadline 5.00pm).

I am determined to catch the 3.00pm train to London (for which I have a non-refundable ticket!) but ten minutes before departure I get a call from Scottish Television. They want a quick interview for their evening news programme but they don't have permission to film within the station, let alone platform 11 where I am about to board the train, so can they meet me at the station entrance where they can film me with the castle in the background?

With a sigh I agree. And miss my train.

Tuesday June 22, 2004
To Millbank studios in Westminster. Sky News want me to comment on a report by Professor Sir Richard Doll, the man credited with first discovering a statistical link between smoking and lung cancer. Doll’s latest report claims that long-term smokers die, on average, ten years prematurely.

I am booked to go head-to-head with a member of the medical mafia (not Doll, who I have a lot of respect for) but when he discovers that I’m from Forest he has a hissy fit and threatens to walk if he is forced to share a platform with me.

I should have taken a note of his name but everything happened so fast and the Sky journalist and I were both so taken aback by his attitude that I forgot. Sky eventually suggested a compromise and we were filmed separately. The honour of the good doctor has been upheld but what a grade one arse.

Thursday June 24, 2004
The new issue of Private Eye is out, minus Forest's 'Smoke Police' ad which has appeared without trouble in the Spectator, New Statesman, The Week, The Oldie and various regional newspapers. According to Private Eye’s advertising sales team, the decision not to include it was made by the editorial team on the grounds that it was "too emotive".

Monday July 5, 2004
Early start. The BBC want me to record a soundbite for their Breakfast TV programme which they can drop into the news bulletins. At 4.00am a car picks me up from my house in Cambridgeshire and drives me to Television Centre in west London.

We arrive 90 minutes later and the first person I see is newsreader Natasha Kaplinksy who 36 hours earlier had been crowned champion of Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC's hugely successfull celebrity dance show. She appears barely half awake and hardly notices me sitting in the corner of the green room.

The interview takes place outside and is over and done with before most people have woken up.

Sunday July 11, 2004
To Chelsea Arts Theatre in London for the recording of a pilot programme for a proposed BBC TV series called The Late Edition which is going to take a satirical look at the news. However, because it’s a pilot they’re not bothering with cameras. They’re recording it sound only.

I’ve been invited as one of two guests – the other is legendary DJ Tony Blackburn – but I’m under no illusions. Every professional instinct told me to turn it down. At best I will be the butt of some good-natured jokes. At worst – well, let's not go there. On the other hand it's an opportunity to take part in a comedy show in front of a live audience in a small London theatre. How could I refuse?

I arrive early at seven o'clock. Recording is not due to start until eight so I am taken upstairs to a rather scruffy dressing room where I can hear presenter Marcus Brigstocke rehearsing on stage. I’m alone for some time but I am joined eventually by Tony Blackburn (who is modest, self-effacing and friendly), an American scriptwriter (who claims to write "dark shit", whatever that is), the producer (who helpfully informs me that, yes, Brigstock will make fun of me but the best response is simply to laugh), and the rest of the team.

It’s Sunday night and the recording starts shortly after eight and takes a little over an hour. The small auditorium is full and by the time I go on stage – to a slightly bewildered round of applause (the audience is obviously wondering who I am) – the show is in full swing and the audience seem to be enjoying it.

It’s basically a chat show with Brigstocke interviewing guests (in this instance Tony Blackburn and me) plus a couple of sketches.

Sadly there's no time to hang about afterwards because I have to rush home to take part in a 60-minute debate on Hong Kong radio where it is already breakfast time but I enjoyed the experience.

For the record, Brigstocke did make light-hearted fun of me and I did just as the producer suggested. I said very little but laughed in all the right places and it seemed to go quite well. Surprisingly good fun.

Months later the show was commissioned by BBC4 and I was invited to appear as a guest in the first series. This time it was recorded in front of an audience at Television Centre.

Thursday July 15, 2004
To Gray's Inn Road, London, for a conference organised by the left-wing Social Market Foundation. Main speaker is Health Secretary Dr John Reid who outlines his philosophy on health and individual responsibility. As an exercise in fence-sitting it couldn't be faulted. Nor is he willing to take questions, which is a pity.

After lunch it's my turn. I am one of three speakers – another is Deborah Arnott, director of ASH – who are here to talk about smoking. I'm not the world's greatest public speaker but I have always enjoyed addressing people who disagree with me. It must be so boring working for ASH. Who wants to preach to the converted all the time?

In the seven or eight minutes I’ve been given I rattle through the usual stuff about government intervention, passive smoking and smoking in public places, but I also throw in some references to David Hockney and the 4,500 letters delivered to Downing Street by the BMA only the other week:

"Those letters," I explain to the audience, most of who are health professionals, "were from doctors and they claimed to provide evidence that thousands of people are suffering from passive smoking. Let me read you an example of this so-called evidence.

“One doctor wrote, 'A 29-year-old woman has been exposed to high levels of passive smoke inhalation during the course of her occupation as a restaurant manager. Her baby was born eight weeks premature. No one will ever know the extent to which passive smoking contributed to her premature labour, but in her own mind, it was the absolute cause of this and all the ensuing stress and worry caused by her premature delivery.' If this is the level of 'evidence' we can expect from doctors, then God help us."

Afterwards we field questions, the majority of which are directed at "the man from Forest". Despite being called a "liar" by one member of the audience, the most unsettling moment was when Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas, who was in the audience, tried to ask a question and was silenced by the chairman who demanded “Who funds you?” as if this made any difference to the point she was trying to make.

This is par for the course for Forest but now anyone who wants to support smokers' rights is going to have to reveal the secrets of their bank account. For the record, the anti-smoking lobby is funded largely by the taxpayer. Or, to put it another way, you and me.

Thursday July 22, 2004
To the Hilton Hotel, Manchester Airport, where I’ve been invited to address a group of businessmen about the perils of a public smoking ban. I arrive by car shortly after midnight only to find that that my room has been booked in for the following night. Fortunately they find a vacant room otherwise I’m facing a long night sleeping in the car.

The next morning I am joined by Oliver Griffiths who runs Atmosphere Improves Results (AIR), a group that promotes better ventilation as a solution to the issue of secondhand smoke. The group we are addressing is led by Rod Bullough whose cigarette vending machine business could be hurt if the smoking ban forces pubs to close.

Alongside Rod are people in similar positions, small businessmen who have worked hard for many years and probably expected that one day they would be able to retire and hand their business on to sons and daughters. All that is now under threat. To combat the threat Rod is launching a campaign, Freedom2Choose, which he is funding himself. He wants Forest's support and we are happy to help. The more people who speak out the better.

Freedom2Choose should not be confused with Freedom To Choose, a grassroots campaign that was set up in 2006 prior to the introduction of the smoking ban.

Friday July 23, 2004
To Cardiff to address a public meeting organised by local Labour MP Julie Morgan. Other speakers include Andrew Sallard of Cancer Research UK; Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, who is pushing a private member's bill that would give the Welsh Assembly the power to ban smoking in public places in Wales; Jane Hutt AM, minister for health and social services; and Sue Essex, another member of the Welsh Assembly.

Venue is Ararat Church Hall in Whitchurch, a suburb of Cardiff. The small hall is full and it's clear that I am heavily outnumbered by anti-smokers, most of them rather elderly members of the local Labour party who obviously believe in cradle-to-grave nanny statism. I don't expect them to agree with me but it is nevertheless sad how closed their minds are to opinions that differ from their own.

The one interesting point to emerge from the evening was the revelation, by a local BMA official, that the 4,500 letters handed in to 10 Downing Street the other day were not intended to be anything other than 'anecdotal' stories concerning the perils of passive smoking. Hard evidence? Who needs it?!!

Thursday September 9, 2004
To Westminster for a live interview on Newsnight Scotland (BBC2, Scottish viewers only). I have been invited to go head-to-head with Scotland's deputy health minister Tom McCabe.

Sitting in the Millbank studio waiting to go on I can hear Kirsty Wark in London giving health minister Melanie Johnson a fearful ear-bashing. Listening to Wark you would think the BBC is on a mission to save the nation from not only the perils of smoking but also eating and drinking.

Thankfully when it's my turn the BBC Scotland interviewer is Ann Macdonald, an equally tough but less confrontational interviewer. In London Newsnight has obviously taken an editorial decision to attack the government for not doing enough. In Glasgow the Scottish programme has chosen to criticise the Scottish Executive for doing too much.

Thursday September 16, 2004
To the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow where I have been invited by Nursing Times to take part in debate about public smoking. I was to have been joined by my old friend Brian Monteith, a former Forest spokesman in Scotland who is now MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife. A week before the event Brian's plans changed. His name had risen to the top of the list for foreign freebies and he has been offered the chance to fly to Khazakstan to 'monitor' the country's election accompanied, no doubt, by lots of caviare and champagne.

In Brian's absence I am joined by Scottish Conservative health spokesman David Davidson. Lined up against us are the terrier-like Maureen Moore of ASH Scotland and Stewart Maxwell MSP whose bill to ban smoking in all places that serve food is currently working its way through the tortuous Scottish parliamentary system.

If I envisaged a statesmanlike debate in front of several hundred delegates hanging on our every word, I was wrong. Our 'stage' was a small raised platform in the centre of the exhibition area. Surrounded by stands of every shape and size, we had to raise our voices (even with the help of a dodgy PA system) to make ourselves heard as delegates shuffled past.

The Q&A session that followed was little better. Having made his dislike of smoking very evident (even if he did oppose a blanket ban), it was clear I was on my own when it came to defending smokers. I made my excuses and left.

Monday September 20, 2004
Joe Jackson calls to say that Bob Geldof has agreed to add his name to the letter Joe has written calling on the government to reject a public smoking ban. Joe now has twelve signatories (plus his own), which equals the number of signatories on last last year's letter from the heads of 13 royal colleges of medicine that called on the government to ban on smoking in all public places.

Tuesday September 21, 2004
This afternoon and completely out of the blue I receive an email from the Department of Health inviting Forest chairman Lord Harris and me to meet the Secretary of State for Health John Reid. However the DH want us to meet in just two days' time when I'm supposed to be in Cardiff giving evidence to the Welsh Assembly Committee on Smoking in Public Places. The meeting in Cardiff is at eleven o’clock, the appointment with Reid is in London four hours later. I can't afford to miss either. OK, I say, fingers tightly crossed, I'll be there.

Thursday September 23, 2004
Arrived in Cardiff last night to find that every hotel within walking distance of the Welsh Assembly, where I am giving evidence to the Committee on Smoking in Public Places, was fully booked. At one point, before I eventually found a bed four miles away, I thought I might be sleeping rough.

At ten o'clock this morning I duly reported for duty at the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff Bay. There's nothing like a television interview to take your mind off things (one set of nerves replaced by another) so I was grateful to BBC Wales for keeping me occupied.

Another welcome distraction was provided by Ian Willmore of ASH. Like me, Willmore was there to give evidence to the Committee but he obviously didn't see me because I heard every word of his anti-Forest diatribe as the voice of this pompous, puritanical arse boomed across the foyer. I've rarely come across anyone so full of himself and with so little cause!!

As for the Committee on Smoking in Public Places, they were a huge improvement on the committee I faced in Edinburgh earlier this year. Unlike the Scots they hid any hostility they may have felt and asked some good probing questions which suggested they had actually read some of the evidence we submitted in advance. And unlike the Scottish committee there was no showboating for the benefit of the watching media.

Afterwards a taxi whisked me to the station and I was back in London in surprisingly good time for the meeting with John Reid and the Department of Health. Lord Harris and I were joined by four of Reid’s special advisers. Nevertheless it was as intimate as this sort of meeting can be and Ralph and I were extremely impressed by Reid who was as down-to-earth as any government minister I have ever met.

We were cheered to discover that he and his chief adviser, Julian Le Grande, agreed with us on at least major issue - passive smoking.

Less encouraging was the revelation that Reid had earlier received a delegation representing the nation's restaurateurs who were unanimously in favour of a ban on smoking. Had he spoken to restaurateurs like Antony Worrall Thompson or Boisdale’s Ranald Macdonald he would have received a rather different message but I’m pleased to say that we surprised him with the news that the Dutch government had come to an agreement with the Dutch hospitality industry to not ban smoking in bars and restaurants but to introduce a series of restrictions that will see an increasing number of no-smoking areas between now and 2009.

As we left the meeting it was impressed on us by Reid’s advisors that what had been discussed must remain confidential. Imagine our surprise, then, when, within minutes of leaving the Department of Health, my mobile phone rang. It was the Press Association who had obviously been tipped off about the meeting by a member of Reid’s team and were now inviting us to comment.

Friday September 24, 2004
Hold the front page! Chris Tarrant has just added his name to the list of artists, writers and entrepreneurs who have signed Joe Jackson's letter to The Times opposing a public smoking ban. The full list of 14 signatories now reads: Trevor Baylis, Simon Cowell, Felix Dennis, Stephen Fry, Bob Geldof, Simon Gray, Maggi Hambling, Ronald Harwood, Joe Jackson, Boris Johnson, Lisa Stansfield and Antony Worrall Thompson. Fingers crossed, the letter will appear in tomorrow's paper.

Saturday September 25, 2004
The Times has published the letter from Joe, Simon, Bob etc. The timing, a day before the start of the Labour party conference in Brighton, is perfect but it's important the paper's readers are not alone in being aware of its existence. So at four in the morning I get up and drive to our Cambridge office where I spend the next three hours writing and then emailing a press release to every contact on our mailing list.

Sunday September 26, 2004
To Brighton to attend a meeting organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research, an influential left-wing think tank that has commandeered – with Channel 4 – an entire hotel for the whole of this week's Labour party conference. Tonight's speakers include Health Secretary John Reid, Dr Richard Smith (former editor of the British Medical Journal) and our own Joe Jackson.

I can tell from his body language that Joe isn't enjoying the experience. He later compares it to visiting the dentist but it's important he’s here and afterwards he’s approached by several journalists. One of them, a medical correspondent for a leading national newspaper, reveals a healthy scepticism about the 'threat' of passive smoking. "So why don't you write about it?" asks Joe. "I can't," she replies. "I'm just a reporter."

By the time I finish recording an interview for a forthcoming programme on Radio 4 it's ten o'clock and I still have a five-hour drive ahead of me because tomorrow morning I’m due to be grilled by yet another committee, this time in Plymouth.

Monday September 27, 2004
To Council House in Plymouth to give evidence to a city council scrutiny committee which is considering whether or not to proceed with plans to turn the city into a smoke-free zone.

I am preceded as a witness by Simon Hill of the local NHS Trust hospital. A genial man, Hill explains in extravagant detail the time he and his colleagues spend devising and implementing a smoking policy: meeting after meeting after meeting. Oh, and he even spends part of each day shooing smokers away from the hospital entrance and into the shelters which the authorities have thoughtfully erected in the car park. Has he ever been threatened with violence, asks a kindly councillor. "After 35 years in the Royal Marines, no-one frightens me!" he blusters.

The latest weapon against smokers, says Hill, is a talking smoke alarm. That's right, light up in the wrong place and a voice from the heavens tells you to stub it out! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry so I laugh.

My own evidence takes a little longer. I suspect the committee see me as a bit of a curiosity. After all it's not every day that politicians are told, to their faces, that this whole anti-smoking lark has got way out of hand, that the arguments about passive smoking have been grotesquely distorted and that independent opinion polls show, conclusively, that the overwhelming majority of people do NOT want a blanket ban on smoking in pubs, clubs and bars.

My impression is that after listening to all those po-faced do-gooders lining up, one after another, to attack smoking, some people find what we have to say quite refreshing and a bit of an eye-opener.

Today though there is one committee member who will never be convinced that secondhand smoke is not a real and genuine threat to his health. He informs me that having grown up with parents who both smoked he is "addicted to passive smoking" and however many times I say that I have never heard of such a thing, he is adamant. Really, this debate gets more bizarre by the day.

Sunday October 3, 2004
To Bournemouth, venue for this year's Conservative Party conference. I'm here to attend the odd fringe meeting (and some of them are very odd) plus a reception or two, and I've also been invited to a couple of dinners.

The last time we were in Bournemouth we stayed in a rather grim b&b several miles from the conference centre. This year I was determined to find a good hotel within walking distance but left it too late. No matter. Surfing the Internet I found a room in the annexe of a local golf club minutes from the city centre. It doubles up as a health and fitness centre yet serves the biggest breakfast fry-up you have ever seen.

Needless to say it's not that easy to find and by the time I checked in I am too late for the Pfizer-organised 'debate' on smoking in public places which is a repeat of an event that took place at the Labour conference last week. As in Brighton, Pfizer invited three speakers: Deborah Arnott, director of ASH; Prof John Brittan, Royal College of Physicians; and Jane Curtin ... Arnott and Brittan support a blanket ban on smoking in public places while Curtin considers the Irish policy to have been a great success.

Despite several attempts to get a Forest spokesman on the panel at both conferences it’s clear that an alternative point of view is qunwelcome. Worse, I am told that one of the speakers actually demanded that "tobacco lobbyists" in the audience stand up and reveal themselves. Talk about McCarthyism. The good news is that only ten people turned up for this laughably one-sided event.

Far more popular is the TMA reception in the Royal Bath Hotel. You can criticise the tobacco industry as much as you like but their hospitality is second to none. For some people of course it's not enough to have a glass or two of champagne. One MP (who shall remain nameless) was spotted making a beeline for the exit with a full bottle hidden beneath his jacket. Oh, and I bet he'll vote for a smoking ban when the time comes.

Sunday October 10, 2004
To Norwich where I am guest speaker at the 13th Norfolk Open Pipe Smoking Championship organised by the Pipe Club of Norfolk. PCN has around 50 members but today they are joined by pipesmokers from as far afield as London, Birmingham and even the Czech Republic.

As you might expect, the majority of members are elderly and male but there are a handful of women and not everyone has qualified for his (or her) bus pass. The Birmingham group seem to represent a younger generation of pipesmoker and if they appear a little eccentric in their trademark green and yellow waistcoats, they bring a welcome a dash of colour to the occasion.

At the top table I am seated between Clive Humm who markets "hand-made, high-grade pipes at sensible prices", and Len Ellis, five-times winner of the PCN Open Championship. As well as being the current Open champion, Len has also won the PCN Briar Smoking Contest seven times and the PCN Clay Smoking Contest six times. The aim in all pipe-smoking competitions is to keep your pipe lit for longer than your rivals. It's not as easy as it sounds. Although the winner may keep going for hours, others can drop out in a few minutes.

In addition to local competitions there are national and international events. I detect that Len is less than impressed with some of his international rivals who are known as "ember chasers". What this means is that some contestants don't smoke their competition pipes as they would a normal pipe. Instead they do just enough to keep it lit and therefore manage to preserve their tobacco for much longer than our gallant British boys who prefer to compete within the spirit rather than the letter of the rules.

Following my ten-minute speech about smoking in public places I am interviewed in the hotel bar by a BBC reporter who is recording a “humorous” item about pipesmoking and the impact a smoking ban might have for the new series of Inside Out, a magazine programme on BBC1. It's easy to poke fun at some of the more eccentric pipesmokers but they don't do anyone any harm and a ban on smoking in public places will affect them far more than cigarette smokers.

As PCN Secretary Keith Garrard recently told BBC Online, "If there was a ban, a cigarette smoker could nip outside for a smoke because it only takes five minutes. But you can't do that with a pipe. The idea is to sit and enjoy it - and sometimes you can keep it burning for an hour-and-a-half. For me, if a ban was introduced there would be no point at all in turning up to the pub. I might as well sit at home with a bottle of wine. It would kill my social life."

Wednesday October 20, 2004
To Basingstoke to speak in a debate entitled 'Should Public Places Be Smoke-Free?' Organised by the council as part of its 'Local Democracy Week', the venue is the main council chamber and the audience consists of representatives from every secondary school in the area plus teachers and support staff.

Two speakers, one on each side of the debate, give a ten-minute presentation following which pupils are divided into working groups with a view to staging their own debate later in the day. The idea is that they will adopt some of our arguments, add a few of their own, and then vote on the motion. I have to dash back to London but I later receive the news that 'my' side lost the debate on a 2:1 majority. Two to one? In the present anti-smoking climate I'll take that as a moral victory.

Thursday October 21, 2004
Interviewed on the Today programme I tell presenter John Humphrys that the decision by Liverpool City Council to seek to ban smoking in public place was "crude gesture politics". I added, "It denies the concept of choice [and] ignores what local people actually want because ... a poll in Liverpool earlier this year found that 75 per cent oppose a [blanket] ban. Only 23 per cent are in favour."

Tonight I’m in Soho for the opening night of Floridita London, the largest smoking-themed bar in Europe. It's a wet night so we travel to Wardour Street by taxi. For a brief moment I experience what's it's like to be famous because when the cab pulls up outside we are surrounded by paparazzi, flash bulbs lighting up the night sky.

Needless to say, as soon as we get out of the taxi their disappointment is audible and they immediately disappear in search of more interesting guests. Nor did my humiliation end there because despite brandishing a personal invitation from Boisdale's Ranald Macdonald who part owns the joint, which is based on the original Floridita bar in Havana, we are forced to join a long queue, which doesn't seem to be moving, before we can enter the building.

As the minutes tick by I am tempted to give up and head for the nearest pub but I’m glad we stayed because when we eventually fight our way in (after 40 minutes) the atmosphere is great. Everyone (well, almost everyone) is smoking, drinking and dancing to live and very loud Cuban music.

Better still, having been introduced to Sir Terence Conran (the principal investor) I find myself in the VIP area being congratulated on my appearance, earlier in the day, on the Today programme. Forest may be lepers in some circles but in a smoke-fuelled bar and restaurant we're treated like heroes!

Ranald is here; so too is Simon Chase and Jemma Freeman from Hunters and Frankau, the sole importers of Cuban cigars to the UK, alongside Tom Assheton, an old friend of ours from Tom Tom Cigars. It’s a great night.

Wednesday October 27, 2004
To Brighton to take part in a debate about smoking in public places organised by the local primary care trust (PCT) which has just published the results of its Big Smoke Debate. Surprise, surprise, chairman Jean Spray informs us that 78 per cent of people in Brighton support a blanket ban on smoking indoors, with 43 per cent in favour of banning smoking outdoors as well.

Well, that's one interpretation. Another, which I put very politely to today's audience in the city's Corn Exchange, is that the Big Smoke Debate is a "travesty". Let's consider the evidence: (1) far from being a scientific or random sample of the population, respondents had to proactively log on to a website or complete a written questionnaire; (2) only 3,700 people (out of a local population of 250,000) bothered to do so; (3) by contrast, a random poll of 1000 people, conducted earlier this year by Populus for Forest, found that only 20 per cent of people in Brighton support a total ban; significantly, the Populus poll was later supported by figures from the government's Office for National Statistics which found that the percentage of the population who favour a ban on smoking in pubs is, wait for it, 20 per cent!

If the result of the Big Smoke Debate set the tone for this afternoon's Question Time style event, chairman Barbara Myers (presenter of BBC Radio 4's Check Up) added fuel to the anti-smoking fire when she made the extraordinary claim that the harm caused by passive smoking is "not debatable". Not debatable? So what the hell am I doing here?

Ian Willmore of ASH has cried off so my fellow panellists are director of health Dr Tom Scanlon and someone representing local businesses. As these things go it's quite enjoyable. The audience has to be one of the least hostile I have ever faced. Not that they are on my side, of course. I sense they are simply baffled that anyone can turn up at a PCT meeting and argue that passive smoking is not, on the evidence available, a serious risk and there is consequently no good reason to ban smoking in public places.

Tuesday November 16, 2004
We’ve been anticipating this day for months. Today, following a long drawn out public consultation, Health Secretary John Reid will finally publish the government's new White Paper on health. Speculation on what he will decide to do about smoking in public places has been relentless. No-one seems entirely sure but recent press reports suggested that pubs will be exempt from a public smoking ban. In the circumstances, taking into account what has happened in Scotland and Ireland, that wouldn’t be a bad outcome. Fingers crossed.

Update: The Secretary of State for Health John Reid has announced that smoking will be banned in all enclosed public places with the exception of pubs that don’t serve food. Not great but it could have been worse. To be fair to Reid, he has tried to find a compromise but he’s getting criticism from all sides.

It’s a huge story and we’re struggling to respond to every request for a comment or interview. So far I’ve been on BBC News, ITV News, Sky News, The Daily Politics (BBC1), Radio 4's Six O'Clock News, BBC Radio Wales and numerous local radio stations including BBC Radio Oxford, Berkshire, Northampton, Devon, Swindon, York, Milton Keynes and Three Counties.

This evening I was also interviewed in The Salisbury, a pub in central London, where I took part in a lively debate with Amanda Sandford of ASH. Needless to say Amanda still wasn’t happy that some pubs will be exempt from the ban. To make her point about the smoky atmosphere inside The Salisbury she kept waving her hand in front of her face. I had to laugh.

Tuesday December 14, 2004
To the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill, Surrey, for a debate organised by the local Labour party in conjunction with the Young Fabian Society. This involves quite a sacrifice on my part because it means missing the Tobacco Manufacturers Association Christmas party at the Reform Club in London which is always a highlight of the party season.

So instead of champagne I have to make do with bottled water and warm orange juice. Worse, my fellow guests are Deborah Arnott, director of ASH, and David Taylor MP, head of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.

Deborah is a bit cool but she says hello and shakes my hand. If I was in her shoes I would be cock-a-hoop at recent events but puritannical anti-smokers won't be happy until smoking is banned in every public space (indoor and outdoor) and then they'll complain that tobacco itself is still legal.

Taylor, who arrives late from the House of Commons, is typically pugnacious and after the departure of Arnott, who leaves early citing another engagement, we enjoy a fair old spat which at least keeps the audience awake.

It's a fair old trek to Redhill and I don't get home until 1.00am, which would be fine if I didn't have to get up four hours later to be interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's breakfast programme.

Thursday December 16, 2004
To Television Centre in west London. I’ve been invited to record an interview for a review of the year style show that is being made by BBC Entertainment and broadcast on BBC2 at New Year. There are five of us - four crew and me - crammed into a tiny room that is more like a broom cupboard than a recording studio. It takes ages to get the lighting right but eventually we start filming.

I am asked about 12 quick fire questions which I answer as best I can. It takes 20 minutes or so, most of which will end up on the cutting room floor (or its digital equivalent). I gather that it's one of those programmes that features a series of talking heads, some famous, some not, but the one thing we all have in common is that our contribution will never be more than 20 seconds.

Postscript: The programme was eventually broadcast on December 30. Entitled Winners and Losers of the Year (they never told me that!!) it featured a compilation of the top 25 'winners' and 'losers' of 2004. Watching it, it slowly dawned on me that I was about to be outed as a ‘Loser’ on national television. Thankfully that didn't happen because smoking wasn’t mentioned at all. Part of me was disappointed but the rest of me breathed a sigh of relief that my contribution had been cut. All things considered, a lucky escape.