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Budget blues, but...

Well, the Budget has come and gone and I have some observations to make from the smokers’ perspective.

As my readers will know, I lobbied Minister Noonan beforehand asking him to consider a price drop of one Euro on the pack in an attempt to thwart the smuggling epidemic, if only slightly. He was in a difficult situation with that suggestion because, if he had listened to my advice, the very people he funds would have rounded on him savagely. He has seen them do so to many former Finance Ministers who have not done their bidding to the letter. They can be quite vocal, cutting and persistent, and certainly we have seen proof that every single Minister for Health fearfully does exactly as they instruct when they pronounce on Tobacco Control.

It seems to have escaped the attention of successive Ministers that all they need to do to quieten these extreme militant voices is to cut their grants substantially. But I digress. I am disappointed therefore that Michael Noonan lined up like so many before him and bowed the knee to these well-heeled charities by upping the price by ten cents. Given the already ludicrous price we pay for cigarettes, the reasonable smoking population might consider that they have gotten off lightly. But I disagree.

The tide might be turning in our favour, but smokers should remember that a bunch of lazy professionals declared war on us when we were not looking and they have been relentless in their pursuit of us for their own enrichment. In that context I am disappointed that Michael Noonan did not finally slap them down and declare: "Enough is enough!"

Instead, he made a gesture in their direction, most probably to lessen their ire in the aftermath of his budget.

But Forest Eireann will keep open the line of communication to this Minister and those that follow him. We will fight the creeping prohibition so desired by a minority in certain quarters and we will continue to fight for the right of consenting adults to enjoy a smoke in peace. Together, we can roll back many of the extremes imposed on us in recent years and return to normality in the future.


Lies, damned lies and statistics

If I said in an authoritative voice that 82.4 per cent of Irish people wanted abortion on demand, would you believe me? If I said the Gardai arrested and convicted 12,947 drug pushers already this year, would you be inclined to believe that ?

I made up those two by way of illustration. I have noticed over the last ten to fifteen years that politicians and "experts", as they are often christened, will begin a debate with a set of figures and these are never checked or queried as to where they came from. But as soon as they have spoofed the figures onto the table, the debate must centre around those numbers, whether they are falsifications or not. It is a trick as old as deception itself.

Yesterday in the Irish Times the retailers were again pressing the Government for more action on tobacco smuggling. It is all pretty predictable stuff, you would have to say, until you look at 'their' numbers. I just do not know anymore who is telling the truth.

Excise and VAT make up 80 per cent of the price of a packet of twenty, according to the Revenue Commissioners. This 80 per cent translates into €1,500,000,000 in actual money every year for the Government from the smoker. This is apparently an official fact and is available at The other 20 per cent must therefore translate into nearly another €500,000,000 in money for everyone else involved bringing the total value of the cigarette market in Ireland to around €2bn a year.

That is simple enough maths as far as it goes. However, it also means that the average smoker in Ireland smokes ten cigarettes a day, if the Government's statistic for the numbers smoking (29 per cent) is correct. To put that in perspective, the European average daily consumption is 21 cigarettes according to Eurobarometer. There is a bit of an anomaly there, you would have to think.

Now add the retailers’ figures to all of this. According to them "sales of illegal cigarettes are running at about 20 per cent of total cigarette sales, with a face value of some €900 million a year." If €900M is the value of 20 per cent of all sales, then total sales should stand at €4.5bn (including the smuggled ones) and not the €2bn the Revenue are claiming.

Before you dismiss this as some kind of nit-picking on my behalf, we are talking about a lot of dough here. There is a difference of two thousand, five hundred million euros which is either missing, or simply never existed at all.

If the retailers are right, then smokers actually pay €3,600,000,000 in taxes to the Government each year, besides all of the other direct and in direct taxes they already pay. That is ten million euro A DAY in tax, every day of the year! It values the tobacco market far larger than the combined drinks trade. The retailers’ figures also point to Irish smokers having the same daily consumption as their European neighbours, which again makes sense.

What baffles me, though, is that both the retailers and the Revenue Commissioners, having an important stake in the tobacco market, could disagree so completely with each other when it comes to the value of that market. Doubtless the Tobacco Control Racket, have yet another set of figures of their own to further confuse everybody.

So, in an effort to clarify things and get to the truth of the matter, here are the real facts.

1. Nobody knows for sure how many people in Ireland smoke or how many cigarettes a day they consume either.

2. Nobody knows for sure how many cigarettes are illicit or have not had Irish taxes applied to them.

3. Nobody knows for sure what it costs to treat smokers.

4. Nobody knows for sure how much the 'charities' get from the public purse each year, nor what they spend it on.

5. Nobody knows for sure how much the Pharmaceutical Industry pump into tobacco control to switch the smokers’ money over to their products.

But, there are statistics for all of the above that vary enormously depending on what you read and who you listen to!


Smugglers turn to booze

I have written about my local watering hole several times before.

The Cotton Ball in Mayfield is quite conveniently within stumbling distance of my front door. They also do their utmost to deliver low priced beer. For three years a pint of Fosters cost €3.00 there. Then Heineken bought the brewers of Fosters, Beamish & Crawford, and the price of Fosters shot into Carlsberg Country.

The hero in the Cotton Ball, tasked with responding to this, replaced the Fosters taps with Tuborg and the €3.00 pint returned. Starting early last spring I switched and it was surprisingly easy to do so. Then in September they raised the price to €3.10, to muted grumbles. In October they put it up again to €3.30 to muted growls. I was up there last night and the Tuborg is now €3.40, so I decided to find out why. The Manager of the Cotton Ball explained that the Brewery was getting their price hike in ahead of the budget. If Baldy Noonan listens to the puritans, I may be forced to switch to the €3.00 Carling option, still available up the hill.

Coincidence, then, as this morning the Irish Examiner reports that "a joint operation involving gardaí and customs officers has stopped nearly 30,000 litres of illicit alcohol from flooding the black market in the lead-up to Christmas." I have long maintained that high pricing equals big smuggling in the tobacco market and it appears this holds true for alcohol also. Indeed, perhaps it has a lot to do with diesel laundering also, don't you think?

As the fanatics from the Tobacco Control Industry make more money for themselves by falsely jacking up the price of cigarettes, the smugglers must be looking at an emerging market in booze as well. It looks as if it is going to be a very happy Christmas for the criminal gangs.


Tobacco tax refund

Earlier I wrote a piece about how the 'charities' are urging the Government to go after the profits of the ‘Evil Tobacco Companies’.

The purpose of this of course has nothing to do with your physical health. Faced with a Health Minister telling them sadly that the gravy train is slowing dramatically, the self-important in the Tobacco Control Industry are scampering about, frantically looking for money for Stubbs Reilly so that he can give it back to them. Addiction to the high life is difficult to fight.

To put it in perspective, Stubbs and his cronies already get 80c out of every Euro spent on tobacco in Ireland. This amounts annually to €1,500,000,000 in tax money each year. Of the remaining 20c in the Euro, this is shared between the retailers, transport companies, shippers, handlers and the tobacco companies themselves. It's the profit on the tobacco company's portion of this that the 'charities' have targeted for themselves.

I did warn that targeting the profits of multi-nationals sited in Ireland, regardless of the excuse, will send shivers down the spines of all of them. Smoke-free Ireland could quickly become Jobless Ireland. But then, bad and all as our legislators are with economics, I feel sure some mandarin in the Department of Finance is ringing loud warning bells in their ears about this one.

Interesting then that the ECJ, which is the EU's highest court, found itself hearing that the UK Government has been falsely taxing the tobacco companies for years and now it is in the frame for a seven billion euro refund to them. Incredibly, the EU court found in favour of Evil Tobacco!!!

It would appear then that far from going after the future profits of our cigarette suppliers, as the charities are urging, Stubbs and his cronies could be faced with their day in the Four Goldmines, looking at a bill that runs to millions for taxes already falsely stolen from these legitimate businesses.

So our supply of legal tobacco products are safe for a while yet.


A ray of truth

There was a retailer on Joe Duffy's Liveline on Wednesday who didn't seem to know what he was doing.

This lad owns a shop up near Croke Park and he spoke exclusively on the topic of tobacco and smoking. But I don't think he has ever been on the media before because, believe it or not (and I'd advise you sit down before I tell you this), quite incredibly and on live radio too ………… HE TOLD THE TRUTH.

Personally, I was off my perch and laid out on the floor from the shock of it. He said high prices caused smuggling, and you could hear Joe gagging in the background. He said plain packs didn't make a whit of a difference and smokers would just continue enjoying their fags. He even said he was going to start selling the E-cigs as well and thought they were a great way to give up smoking.

Researchers and sound engineers in the studio must have been trying to bring poor Joe around because he hasn't heard common sense like that in years. As for the old gent with such obvious wisdom, he'd best be careful because doubtless the uniforms from Customs & Excise will raid his place for such a blatant disregard for all the official lines. And the smoking police will arrest him on sight for any reason at all.

Still! For a few blissful minutes on the radio earlier, a ray of truth shone through the clouds of propaganda.

Normal service has now however, been resumed.


It’s all about the money

Where will the money come from to cover the lavish lifestyles of the important people in the Tobacco Control Industry?

I suspect the corporate pharmaceutical partners are disappointed with sales of their nicotine products in Ireland and are beginning to look at expenditure on marketing in this area. A lot of their big money spinners are now out of patents and the counterfeiters are cranking out similar drugs at a fraction of the cost. This must mean their generous sponsorship of, ahem, ‘charities´ is coming under some pressure.

Of course, for a pharmaceutical giant, marketing is done slightly differently than for conventional companies. Political lobbying and paid-for research results are their tools of advertising. They have a web of sponsorships on medical campuses around the world's universities, churning out highbrow justifications for why everybody should be hooked on their lotions and potions. Golf junkets for GP's in every country ensure compliant prescribers of their medicines, and pressurised politicians roll out legislation that suits their bottom line purposes.

Smokers are being coerced and herded towards a plethora of nicotine gums and patches by bad laws and restrictions, lobbied for by state sponsored charities. Endgame is the €1.5bn that smokers spend every year on tobacco and has nothing at all to do with health. Indeed, good health would put the pharmaceutical industry out of business.

Never mind that these replacement products don't work - that is beside the point. The task the charities have is to convince the government, Stubbs Reilly in particular, to put replacement products on the medical card and get the state to pay for them. This has already happened in the UK. You will know from past blogs here that Professor 'Looney Luke Clancy is being paid by Pfizer to help develop these products for them, while simultaneously advising the Irish Government on tobacco control. Now there is a man who could make the case to Stubbs.

But the portly Reilly has problems of his own. The HSE is €400m over budget this year, the consultants have effectively told him where to go on their salaries, and he had to resort to squeezing a reduced deal from the pharmas on the state's drug bill. As a result, advertising for replacement products has dropped off dramatically. Our new Government Troika has now told Stubbs to cut €800m off his annual health budget, so it's hard to see how Nicotette is going to find its way onto the medical card anytime soon.

This will be bad news for the ICS, the IHF and ASH Ireland, who must have been expected to achieve this goal by now. Reilly too may be hinting to them that they can expect far less from him next year as well. The war on smoking may be running out of its fuel, that of hard cash.
It would explain their latest moves, though. The 'charities' are back to Reilly with a proposal for a cost free initiative that will pay them their millions, without costing the state a penny. All he'll have to do is to get his sick Government to pass a law appointing a new tobacco industry regulator, preferably from their own ranks no doubt.

This 'Dirty Doctor' would be tasked with dipping into the profits of the tobacco companies for the funds needed to close them down. You certainly can't fault these bold boys for their route one approach. Dr Chris Macey (IHF) reckons they could get their eager mitts on up to €150m that doesn't belong to them and you could buy a lot of our politicians with dough like that. You could buy media opinion as well and think of all the researchers queuing up for their grants to prove anything the charities tell them to prove. Serious Irish medicos could continue to jet around the World first class, to enjoy the gravy train lecture circuit of International Tobacco Control. Stints at the World Health Racket beckon for the laziest of them too. Their self-importance would know no bounds.

There is a small problem, though, that the 'charities' may not have considered. Setting the precedent of stealing private corporate profits, regardless of the justification offered, will make every other corporate in the country very nervous indeed. The big IT companies, the pharmas themselves, and all of the other foreign multi-nationals will be very uneasy in a country where the government empowers itself to steal their money on a whim.

Low corporate tax rates on profits and light regulation attracted these big boys here in the first place. A move that sees intrusive legislation that permits the stealing of their profits would have all of them making provision for an orderly departure. These guys are not sentimental about ‘the 'ol sod’. Rather, Ireland Inc can sod off if it thinks it can just write laws for its home grown extremists. That is the kind of carry-on in places like Iran, and there aren't too many of the big boys working out of that hellhole. A lot of hot air about smoking deaths just won't cut it with these guys. Obama already wants them all to come home and he's going to make it worth their while too.

In its panic Tobacco Control (Ireland) Ltd may be biting off more than it can chew!


The state marches on

The early counts in the referendum on the rights of children in Ireland are showing that 60% are in favour with 40% against.

At first viewing, it certainly appears that all of the public money spent by the Government has had the desired effect. Ireland, then, is obsessed with its 'precious children'.

Or is it?

Well, firstly, only one-third of the eligible electorate actually bothered to vote yesterday. So the 60% in favour amounts to less than 20% of the total available voters. This raises the knotty question "what do the other 80% think or want?”

This is often the problem with democracy. Now that the final tally is in, the picture has remained the same. The motion is carried, as it were, and our 'precious children’ are now guaranteed to be protected or abused, depending on which if these you believe the state is most likely to do. And all it took was less than 20% of the available voters to ensure this.

One of my biggest worries at the introduction of the smoking ban here was the infringement on private property rights.

They have now positioned the state as the central character in the home and assumed the authority to override parental responsibility at a stroke. The new law means that a child can be removed from any home in the state by force and put up for legal adoption. This is a truly frightening development. The official text argues that it is only in extreme cases of child abuse. But, in this nanny state run by failed school teachers, smoking in front of a child has become extreme child abuse. Parents will no longer have the right to police their children's internet usage, and doubtless "childline" will be the first port of call for any teenager denied access to the bullying on the social networks.

Each month now, it seems to me, more of our rights are being taken away from us in the name of progress. We smokers have felt the wrath of the influence the vested interests vented upon us. There appears to be a mind-set evolving in government that they can get away with anything they like.

I'm a free man born into a free Republic. Our forefathers cast off the British to achieve our freedom. In my lifetime, we have cast off the Church to enhance that freedom. But, in a short few recent years, all of that has been mortgaged away to a faceless Europe who appears to want each and every one of us shackled for life in debt. Using that debt as leverage and the apparatus of a fawning state as a blunt instrument, we are being marshalled like some dumb herd into an aimless existence without rights or recourse.

The smoking ban started it and the twin vote on Lisbon showed it even more clearly. Socialising the private debt of the banks cemented it and our inability to respond has confirmed in the government's mind that they have actually got away with it.

But have they?


HSE waste

Since its inception the HSE has often been in trouble, usually on several fronts simultaneously.

As the old saying goes "follow the money and you will find the source of the problem" and it is no coincidence that the HSE's problems always seem to revolve around finance. It is the biggest recipients of our tax monies and boy, do they know how to waste it.

Smokers will already know that there is no shortage of funds from the HSE for anybody who wishes to demonise or coerce smokers. We saw an example recently when they decided to attack smoking in hospital grounds and a single sign in one area cost €11,000. Hundreds of these will be bought, despite the fact that it is perfectly legal to smoke anywhere outdoors. This means that smokers may simply ignore those signs rendering them a complete waste of money.

God alone knows how many millions they have channelled via ASH, the IHF and the ICS to support the war against smokers. Since they began wasting our money on this the numbers smoking have risen alarmingly.

And their scandalous waste continues.

An absolutely vital high tech machine, costing €1m five ago, still lies idle in Mallow Hospital because the HSE never budgeted for a trained operative to work it. Incredibly, no single individual accepted blame for this and the machine, still in its packing cases, will be obsolete fairly soon too.

Today we learn that our hospital consultants, who are struggling to get by on salaries over €200,000 a year, are being handed a further €43,000 to do a bit of hospital paperwork. And because they routinely make glaring errors (with nobody held accountable of course) the HSE finds itself a regular visitor to the Four Goldmines to defend the indefensible.

Yesterday a circuit court judge said it is amazing how the HSE claims to have funding shortages and yet has no problem in paying €800 an hour to legal teams to represent it in court. Well said M'lud!.


Sparring on the radio 

On Thursday morning, as I drank my second coffee (to get my heart started, naturally) I had a call from "Newstalk". They were inviting me to debate a call by ASH Ireland to increase (yet again) the price of twenty cigarettes in the forthcoming budget.

I was surprised to hear that the fanatics were not calling for €100.00 to be applied, but accepted the invitation anyway. That old pillar of intolerance, Professor Luke Clancy, was my sparring partner for the debate. I stuck to my beliefs on pricing that high price causes greater smuggling via the increased profit motive, unauthorised selling allows for easy access to children and the retail trade and the state are the big losers in all of this.

I am continually amazed that the Tobacco Control Industry persists in its denial that there is any link between price and smuggling. I suppose they would have to because otherwise, a case could be made that their lobbying was funding terrorism in some quarters. But, that kind of hysteria aside, high price is the first part of cause, course & consequence. Anyway, Looney Luke on the radio morning dismissed my concerns that pricing could be bad in any way and mis-defined it as "encouragement" instead of "coercion" which is what it really is. Coercion is a first cousin of force, as we know.

Interesting then that had a poll tonight with a question that said "an anti-smoking group is calling for an increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes in the budget. Do you think the price rise will force people to give up?" Amazingly, 2,246 people voted, of which, 407 declared that "yes, the price rise will turn people away from smoking". A further 629 said that "no, people will continue to buy cigarettes regardless of the price".

A staggering 1,210 people (or 53.8% of the respondents) said that "no, it will just force people to buy their cigarettes from illegal outlets". I rest my case.

In fairness to Looney Luke, he did say that my argument sounded intuitive.


A licence to smoke!

Check out this new study by a researcher at Oxford University and published in the Lancet.

It says that smoking is harmless up to the age of thirty, and almost harmless up to forty. What’s more, you can smoke as much as you like in your youth, it makes no difference.

Plus, ‘social smoking’ might be okay too at any age.

Good news for smokers, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the way this story is reported in the media and by the health lobbyists!


Where are the CAB?

The usual voices are raised in today's newspapers about the epidemic of smuggling in Ireland.

The articles are so predictable these days that even I could write them now. As usual the admission is that state revenue from tobacco products is the big loser. But what always brings a wry smile to my face is the statements of facts and figures that accompany these snippets of news. In this case we read that the illegal trade costs €860m a year. They may as well write €860,147,674 and thirty two cents for all the relevance it has. Figures like these are pure speculation and fantasy and the true numbers could be five times as much or even one fifth of the numbers quoted.

In terms of showing the way, Ireland truly set a standard way back in 1996 in terms of law enforcement. The problem then was illicit drugs and the resultant lawlessness around our city streets as gangs vied for territory. The Godfathers of the trade directed operations but never risked their own skins and the story was the same in terms of facts and figures too. It was still the era of common sense and relative truth and the Garda Siochana knew that whatever the figure was for drugs, it was huge. They also brilliantly surmised that the organised gangs were in it for the money (imagine that) and most of the profits went to the Godfathers. How's that for lateral thinking?

In a flash of pure inspiration they figured out that the Godfathers were taking the money and spending it on luxuries, flashing about in their big 'rollers' as they dispensed their largesse. Like Al Capone, though, they had not filed tax returns and some clear thinking mind came up with the idea of the "Criminal Assets Bureau" (CAB). Instead of wasting police time chasing around the country trying to defeat the smugglers’ ingenious schemes, they concentrated on their profits instead. The CAB was given the powers to seize assets under suspicion and, to retrieve their goodies, the Godfathers had to show where the money came from to buy them in the first place. It took the fun out of drug smuggling for a lot of them.

As the authorities in the U.S. have admitted, the drugs trade will probably never be defeated, but the CAB in Ireland certainly got it back under some control with many of the more prominent Godfathers ending up in Spain or Mountjoy. But I suspect that many respectable people in positions of power are a little nervous of the CAB. Their insistence on a credible paper trail to justify every penny might expose everyone from a Health Minister to an ex-IRA gunman to the kind of scrutiny that could see them lose everything. The CAB lads have a simple formula. "Have you a receipt for that?" followed by "Where did you get the money to pay for it?" followed by "Prove it". Scotland Yard had the CAB boys over to show them how to do it, it was that effective.

As is often the case in these things, the CAB people probably know the major figures behind tobacco smuggling now. Strange then that your favourite "charities" are not jumping up and down and demanding that these uniformed accountants are let off the leash in the border counties. Could it be that an examination of their own books might unearth some ah, irregularities? Certainly, their end-of-year figures shed no light on where their money comes from, nor where it all goes to. The fact that some venerable accountancy firm signed them off is pretty meaningless as we learned from the banks.

Instead, the charities are demanding more 'plod' on the ground around our ports to seize the illicit tobacco goods as they arrive, much like the unsuccessful attempts with the drugs trade before the CAB arrived.

The CAB are no respecters of a ministerial threat either, particularly if they smell a rat. Michael Lowery famously discovered this to his cost. But do they make the quango charities in the Tobacco Control Industry nervous as well? There is one sure way to find out.


Cash point bullying

If you are an Ulster Bank customer and you want to persecute smokers further, it has now been made so easier for you to do so.

Users of the banks ATM's can give directly between €1 and €250 to the Irish Cancer Society or the Irish Heart Foundation using the 'donate to a charity' option on screen at these machines.

You can use the eighty/twenty rule, (or the ninety/ten rule for charities), to estimate how much of your donation will actually go towards your chosen persecution. With eighty or ninety per cent of it going towards "costs" you can figure that between ten and twenty per cent of your donation will go to actually harming smokers’ rights. The balance will ensure that a variety of professors, doctors, lobbyists and researchers will remain in the comfort they have become accustomed to.

However, the few coppers that do get through will go towards dividing society by making lepers out of a third of the population at your behest. In time, if things progress as they are going, these 'charities' may make it even easier for you by deducting your money at source.

It's up there with paying for Bertie Ahern's generous pension for all he did for us.


Deadly apps

As of 2012 the number of 'apps' available for your iPhone (if you have one) is heading for 500,000. But beware! Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia have issued a dire warning about some of these apps.

Apparently, these white coats were given hard cash by somebody (I wonder who?) to rigorously examine these apps for any mention of smoking and associated unhealthy behaviour. They have discovered that there are 65 apps (out of 500,000) that actually refer to "smoking", "smoke", "cigarette", "cigar" and "tobacco", and it appears that these magical words have people dropping everything and rushing out to buy cigarettes. None of the other 499,935 apps available can induce such an instant reaction.

That is what the article in today's Examiner suggests at any rate. It must be said that, as usual, we are not told how much this academic exercise cost or who paid for it, and there is no opportunity for the reader to see the actual research documents either.

So for all we know they may have discovered that these harmless app references have no effect at all. But, by reading the article as published by our newspapers (the Indo carried it as well) it becomes apparent how all of this was done.

Firstly, a simple word search was run on the App Store to find the few offending apps. This is the work of two minutes. Having found sixty five instances, these were looked at individually for, say, a couple of hours. A few were then picked and looked at more closely, probably taking the researcher up to lunchtime that day. In the afternoon the team must have sat down and spun the rest of the story to produce ‘shock and awe’ from incidental, innocuous facts.

The last paragraph explains why they might do so when it suggests that "individual countries could also include monitoring of app stores when enforcing tobacco control policies, as the current technical infrastructure of the Apple and Android app stores could be used to apply local laws and regulations."

So, this research team is in favour of tobacco control polices and from that you can deduce that a) they set out to find a specific thing and avoided objective research, and b) the funding came from some state-sponsored 'charity' or its pharmaceutical buddies.

The important point from the researchers’ point of view is the suggestion that individual countries should be paying ‘monitors’ (i.e. researchers) a sum of money every year to update the search for new apps. The sponsors of this garbage from Australia will, no doubt, lobby the local state governments with the suggestion that fines they can impose on their citizens will pay for the monitors.

Public Health has become very sick indeed!


Pre budget thoughts for Michael Noonan

Are we Irish just a nation of shysters and smugglers?

When the vehicle registration tax was introduced, the yellow registration plates began to pop up everywhere. Does anyone remember that? Even today I know of a guy who brings in all of his cars from the UK and somehow sells them on again after a few months.

A retired publican told me about the glory days during the 'Troubles' in the North. Lorry loads of cheap booze were nightly coming down South over unapproved roads and pubs all over the country were slyly adding to their bottom line.

The diesel heists have been going on at the border for years now and Customs & Excise are stopping articulated trucks everywhere and dipping the tanks. They could authorise pink diesel with yellow stripes and it would make no difference.

Illegal firearms were also imported and sold to the kind of people who wanted to use them. In order to pay their debts, these likely lads simply robbed banks. One famous importer was a TD and government minister and he had the help of a senior army officer. Even the clergy had an interesting line in tax free income, picking up unwanted babies here and selling them in the USA for adoption.

Oddly too, the period of the Celtic Tiger saw a huge business in Irish people taking their teeth to Eastern Europe to be fixed and filled, coming home hundreds of Euro better off despite the travelling costs. And, who can forget the suitcases packed with prescribed medicines, bought at a fraction of the Irish price during Mediterranean holidays?

Illicit drugs, of course, have always been coming in through our long and porous south coast. A city docker explained to me that packages were thrown off the huge weekly banana boats from South America near the coastline and then local small boats would home in on the bobbing buoys to pick up the stash. In that case, I recall the docker explaining that our government had handed over the fishing grounds to the then E.E.C. and the local lads had nothing else they could fish for except these bales of promised joy. When we learned that seven million euros worth were found in one operation alone, it begged the question "how much actually gets through"?

Last week the Irish Independent reported that "Drugs to fight impotence, weight gain and anxiety accounted for the biggest haul among the 121,000 imported tablets which have been seized in a new crackdown". In this case, the haul came to €375,000 worth.

But who would have thought in the old days that cigarettes would ever need to be smuggled? In my own lifetime I can remember bringing two hundred cigarettes with me to training courses in England as they were expensive over there at the time. Now any chance I get I will organise to bring in duty-paid tobacco (for my own consumption) from literally any other EU Country and be guaranteed to save money.

For as long as I can remember we Irish have been a reasonable people. We know that we have to pay a premium for things we can't make or grow ourselves, and as an island nation we accept that transport costs will always be higher for us. Added to this, our small population means that we cannot take advantage of volume discounts either. But it seems to me that when the legal variety of anything becomes 25 -30% higher than the illegal variety, some enterprising group will see the opportunity and start a business on the wrong side of the law.

Tobacco now is up to 600% more expensive here than say, Belgium, and yet the tobacco control industry see no 'correlation', never mind 'causation', and those are terms that are in their daily vocabulary. Put simply, they have created the problem with their constant lobbying.

In these straightened times their actions have created two major problems. Firstly, revenue is falling now for the legal tobacco products sold through the shops, while costs are rising to fund efforts to battle the illegal products flooding into the country from abroad.

So, Michael Noonan, if you are reading this here is an economic problem you might consider for your next budget. Your Government funds so-called ‘charities’, or quangos as the rest of us call them. That is our money that you're giving them, and according to your laws they do not even have to tell you what they spend it on.

But they certainly lash out some of it on expensive professional lobbyists who push you to increase the price of tobacco. Inevitably when revenue from tobacco falls and smuggling reaches epidemic proportions, they send their lobbyists back to you to demand you spend more of our money combatting the problem they forced you to create. Maybe while they are with you they also take the opportunity to lobby for an increase in their own funding as well. Who knows?

And guess what, Michael? If you do not do what they order you to do they will publicly criticise you all over the media after the budget.

They are obviously not your friends, Michael, and they most certainly don't care about the rest of us either. Besides, you are not the Minister for Health but rather your responsibilities cover our economic health. So the question you must ask yourself is, can you resist the emotional blackmail of the health lobbyists and do the right thing for the economy this time?

The average price of twenty cigarettes around the EU is five euro and, as you may know, it is twice that price here. Have you got what it takes to address that problem and ignore the hectoring of the vested interests from the medical world?


3 blind mice

Three smoking related stories are all I have from the last little while. Are we all getting bored with the whole scam? Is it possible we may have a few more pressing problems?

Anyway, according to the Indo, teenagers are smoking to lose weight. That is hardly news. When the ban came in, doctors were on the radio weekly, warning that smoking suppressed the appetite and resulted in weight loss. From the horses mouth, so to speak.

The usual nonsense from researchers at a university are reported online too. In this case, a set of questionnaires gave the white coats all they needed to proclaim proudly that ETS causes memory loss in non-smokers. Mind you, no such so-called study would be complete without "we hope our work will stimulate further research in the field in order to gain a better understanding of the links between exposure to second-hand smoke, health problems and everyday cognitive function.” In english, this would read as "we sincerely hope we will get away with this sensationalist bullshit this year and some deep pocket will pay us to do even more of it next year".

Then, there's a weird one, in the Indo again. A publican (and journalist) called Billy Keane makes an impassioned plea to have smoking banned outright. As usual the writer has known friends who have died. They were smokers or may have smoked at one time and he therefore attributes their deaths solely to smoking. On this basis of emotional blackmail, then, he confidently demands an outright ban. For a journalist cum publican it is a flimsy, badly written piece and I was sorely tempted to write a full blog on it, tearing it apart. But, I checked him out to discover that some time ago he had decided to take his own life. I am currently engaged with an outfit to train me to spot and talk to people with such thoughts about themselves, so my sympathies go out to Billy.

Suffice it to say though, I utterly refute what he wrote about smoking.

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