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Another fine mess

You could dedicate an entire blog to the mess the HSE is making of its brief.

While it is always ready to have a go at smokers and has endless funds for our persecution, the hospital waiting lists continue to lengthen and the delays in A&Es throughout the country have become the stuff of legend.

But in response to these crises the HSE sprang into action. Two years ago they drafted in outside advisors to tell them what they should know themselves anyway. Under the heading, Outside advisers to HSE received €1.5m, we are told they were hired to cut hospital waiting lists and A&E delays.

Dr Martin Connor, a UK expert, has been paid €544,520 since he took up the post in 2011. But he retains his position as a special adviser despite spending half of every month in California where he is doing research at Stanford University. The Manchester native, who is a former NHS manager, recently indicated he is to leave with nearly one year of his three-year contract to go.

And what about the company PA Consulting who got €429,241 for analysis of waiting lists while another UK expert Lis Nixon has been paid €253,166? They pocketed the dough even as the Indo reports that:

From December to the end of April the number of patients waiting longer than six months for hospital treatment jumped from 6,038 to 11,348. The number of patients waiting longer than 12 months for treatment went up from 36 to 653 during the same time. Those on waiting lists for treatment between nine and 12 months increased from 71 to 3,062. The entire waiting lists went up from 40,047 to 47,943 and the average delay extended to three months, compared with 2.5 months at the end of 2012.

It only makes you wonder what kind of fortunes these guys could have made if they had solved or even eased the problems they were hired to address. But as a wit said to me recently, "We are in the business of rewarding failure in modern Ireland." He may have a point there too!

So your humble scribe will now inform the HSE exactly where their problems lie. It begins with every GP in the country treating the local hospital as a free service to his practice. Visit any one of them with the slightest twinge and they will refer you to A&E for tests or X-rays. This re-directs almost every GP visit to the hospital.

Add to this the advertised scares about every little thing with the constant advice to "see your doctor" whether you have it or not, and you can quickly see where the deluge originates. The consultants have never been confronted properly and a hospital can come to a halt if they are all away at a pharma-sponsored conference.

Allied to this, each successive government continues to close wards and even whole hospitals. And sitting atop this unholy mess are the senior managers of the HSE itself, unaccountable, arrogant and incapable.

For a small fee I am prepared to expand on each of these problems and I even have solutions to each and every one them. And I'll even do it for half of what the HSE gave the part-time English guy.

I can't say fairer than that!


Have I got news for you

If you didn't know it already then the proof that we have the highest priced tobacco products has become public.

Irish "tobacco prices are a full 99 per cent higher than the average price paid around the EU", according to a report in the Of course our home-grown smugglers will still sell you cigarettes at or below the that EU average, regardless of age or any of that.

And it's not only the fags, the booze and our food that is more expensive than elsewhere. The Irish Times reports that drugs are more expensive here as well – fancy that! We learned also that NRT products are more expensive here than they are just up the road in 'Norn Ireland'.

The Irish Cancer Society says it cannot recommend electronic cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco until they are regulated in Ireland. What they didn't say was that they have a vested interest in keeping e-cigs out. They are paid by the Government to run the quitlines whose sole recommendation is that you buy nicotine replacement products from their suppliers' list. Those pharmaceutical suppliers just must be full of gratitude to the ICS for all that free advice.

Staying on all things smoking, the Journal asked its readers if plain pack cigarettes will ‘save lives’ and prevent child smokers and they got 3,345 voters interested enough to offer an opinion (right).

'Good Lord," I thought, coughing and spluttering, someone is telling the truth for a change. I was fighting the urge to take a stiff drink at that stage, so I switched to the Irish Independent for the lighter side of the news. There in big bold black and white I read that Stubbs Reilly wants us all to go back to the pub if we want a drink. Before you think the Grizzly One wants us to have a break and you feel a heart attack coming on, he's softening us up for drink price increases in the cheaper spots.

But, the madness goes on. 'The Irish smoke as much marijuana as the Dutch' a headline screamed, and you begin to wonder do the ICS not want that stuff 'regulated' and will the Publicans permit it being smoked inside the boozers with Reilly's blessing.

Yvonne McNulty then asks, "We have warning labels for tobacco – why not other cancer-causing substances?" Why not indeed, Yvonne. Her piece makes a good argument for it too.

Then I read that 'Your BBQ might give you cancer' to which I can only add, so does almost everything else according to some research somewhere and they have the 'facts' to prove it, so there.

And, finally, an Indo columnist asked the question, "Was Reilly ever really a smoker?". The veritable Stubbs has claimed publicly that he smoked for 50 years. All I can say is that quitting hasn't improved the lad too much, has it?


Now they want to ban menthol cigarettes!

The smoking restrictions in Ireland go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Our Government now appears to believe that the reason we all started to smoke was because the boxes that contain the cigarettes are just too nice. Some subliminal force draws us to the Benson & Hedges box as if we might somehow believe it is real gold.

They have now put forward the theory that menthol flavoured cigarettes are irresistible for our youth and Reilly has convinced our European neighbours to ban them by 2015. This had me on RTE's Drivetime last Friday sparring with Dr Angie Browne of the Irish Heart Foundation. The last time she and I had words she was gainfully employed by ASH, the horrible lovechild of the IHF and the ICS.

Her promotion appears to have smoothed some of her more brittle edges though the lies and falsifications still flow from her with ease. She used the line much favoured by Kathleen O'Meara of the Irish Cancer Society when she said, "We have tons of evidence that shows ..." and in this case she didn't. They have no such evidence and it always annoys me that journalists let them away with this each and every time. Their whole point on every occasion is based on some alleged evidence that simply does not exist.

As with much else from the tobacco control industry it was fabricated nonsense and I said so. She spoke about the sneaky advertising and marketing from the tobacco companies and though Mary Wilson countered that there wasn't any as it too was banned, she ignored this as if she hadn't heard it.

I had an interview with Rachel O'Kane from the Irish Sun as well on the same topic and when I dismissed this latest move as just so much nonsense, she agreed with me. I pointed out to both that menthols were a tiny minority and they would just switch to another brand, as you would do with any other legal consumer product when it becomes unavailable.

Again the losers are the stupid Irish taxpayers who will shell out yet again for hours of legal time to draft the bill and pay also for the time it takes to go through the Dail when other immediate problems are put on the back burner.

And like everything else the idiots have done sine 2004 it will only make matters worse, which they will vehemently deny.


No winners and losers on Prime Time

Sharp eyed readers may have noticed that my silver head popped up on Prime Time this week. Work colleagues, fellow patrons of the local boozer and the woman in the shop certainly did.

Their reactions were similar too. After the usual chat along the lines of, "You have a point", all but one wanted to know how I got to be there.

I have been campaigning against restrictions on smokers since just before the ban in 2003. At that time it was a letter writing campaign to the newspapers. When Forest approached me to act on their behalf I had to extend my activities to radio interviews, most of them live. As the 'voice of the smoker' began to be heard on more and more outlets the television studios beckoned.

In fairness to radio and television, when they cover any topic they do try to have representative opinions from both sides. There is a veritable queue of experts on one side of the smoking debate but I challenge you to name one on the smokers side. That is where I come in.

So in answer to the many questions, I was contacted by RTE's Prime Time via my mobile number on this site. Yes, they were very keen that I should show up and speak, and no, they do not pay for me to be there.

For those of you who asked what it is like to be there it is not actually too difficult. It was my third time on RTE and they are very professional and slick. Pat Kenny, Richard Crowley and Miriam O'Callaghan are just intelligent, normal people and there is no need to feel intimidated by any of them, and they wouldn't want you to be either.

The smoking debate has moved from evidence-based science and the good of the citizen into some kind of quasi-religious belief in good and evil (where I am representing evil) and the fervent and vitriolic hatred that is sometimes directed against me can be quite unsettling.

Far from an exchange of views where both parties respect the integrity of the other, there is a 'shoot-the-messenger' policy in the tobacco control industry that will accept no opposition. Down through history in every corner of the globe this attitude has ended in anger and wars.

I don't for a second believe that I am always right. I am prepared to be convinced otherwise on many topics including smoking. But I am not prepared to be undermined or bullied and I have been guilty in the past of becoming angry and adopting those same tactics myself on live radio. It is counter-productive.

The point of shows like Prime Time is to air the issues of the day followed by honest debate. Last Tuesday many observers hinted darkly that the retailers were selling an evil product with the sole motive of making filthy money. This depiction alone was supposed to render any opinion they held null and void.

But their accusers in the main came from the pampered sector, paid for by the State and guaranteed their big packages and pensions. The retailer is on the coalface, dealing with reality every day. If he does not make a profit he has to let staff go and finally close up shop. So of course he is in it for the money. It's the same with every other product he has on his shelves and you would be doing the exact same thing too given the opportunity.

In day-to-day life I have often said that I enjoy a smoke and the reactions to this can vary. But when you utter those words live on the air it can cause consternation in some quarters, and that is just one difference between reality and television.

The more important difference is time. On TV, in particular, you get a very short time to cover a lot and that is frustrating. Politicians typically arrive with three soundbites they will repeat regardless of the question. When you know that you also know that you will not be having a debate at all. He will shout one thing and you will shout another and he who shouts loudest gets heard.

So in terms of debate it is a bit of a waste of time. There are no winners and no losers. But if I wasn't there the other side would freely announce what smokers think and want without a dissenting voice raised against them. (Before I began to contest the issue live on the media, a regular mantra was that smokers wanted to see the price of cigarettes go up and I have rubbished that so often that no longer use that idiotic line.)

Perhaps my prime use is to slow down this 'inquisition' and let the rich and the mighty know that we are not just sheep to be herded at their whim.

See ya on the telly!


Smoking by numbers

Most interviews about smoking begin with a barrage of statistics that is designed to position me as defending the indefensible.

Throughout my tour of Ireland's radio stations I took the time to explain where the statement "Half of all smokers will die from their habit" came from. It came from an American Surgeon General who failed to back up his claim with any kind of evidence based science. Instead it was a soundbite that has stuck. During an interview with Matt Cooper on Newstalk he quoted it and I note he used it again in his Examiner column on June 2.

To test the veracity of his claim in an Irish context is simply a matter of numbers. It becomes legal at 18 years of age to buy tobacco products and the average age of death is now 70. That means an average 52 years' smoking life. You may ignore those who begin earlier. What we are looking for here is a best case scenario.

Official estimates suggest that there are 1,300,000 smokers in Ireland currently, so if half of those were to die over the 52 years of their smoking lives we would have 650,000 deaths from smoking during that 52 year period, as the Surgeon General claimed.

But that translates to 12,500 smoking-related deaths each year which is nearly two and a half times the official estimate of 5,200. But, and this is where the real numbers get interesting.

If you reverse this calculation then a totally different picture emerges. Take the official claim of 5,200 smoking-related deaths a year and multiply it by the 52 years of a smoker's life. This would show 270,400 deaths over that long time period and amounts to just over 20 per cent of those who smoked for 52 years.

To use the Surgeon General's expression, "One-fifth of those who smoke will die of their habit". Or to put it another way, four-fifths of those who smoke all of their lives will eventually die from something else.

It becomes even more interesting when you factor in the absolute numbers from the Central Statistics Office. Each year in Ireland 29,000 people die from all causes. On average, then, 8,410 of these will be smokers. Far from being alarming in any way, it is simply the cycle of life. In that annual figure is some 20,590 non-smokers who succumb also. Remember too that 4,471,000 of us will continue to live onto the next year and the rate of fresh births will swell the population further.

The hard numbers, then, do not support the wild claims about smoking. This is not to deny the risks associated with the habit and I strongly support efforts to educate the young on the dangers of smoking. But I also strongly oppose the vilification of those adults who do choose to smoke a legal product for their own enjoyment.

I am appalled also at those from the tobacco control industry who use falsification and exaggeration as tools to marginalize and isolate smokers in an effort to bully them into compliance. Sometimes I think it is having the direct opposite effect.


Plain packaging? Let the people speak!

The big breaking news as my Road to Prohibition tour ended in Dublin the other week was the proposal to force the sale of cigarettes in plain single colour boxes.

Those who support this move are suggesting publicly that there is huge support from the general public for this and that the allure of the colorful boxes simply overwhelms ordinary people to the extent that rush into the shops and buy loads of boxes of cigarettes because of the wrapping. To this latter piece of nonsense I would counter that beautifully designed petrol pumps would have little effect on what petrol you buy and those same decorateive pumps would not induce children to part with their pocket money in return for a can of diesel.

But it's the claim that the public support the move without ever asking the public what they think. You might expect that if 71 per cent of the population don't smoke, then 71% of people would say they supported the move if asked. That level of a majority should welcome plain packs, but are the general public being asked that question?

In the absence of a vote on the matter, the Journal did just that yesterday. Following a report on the story they asked the straightforward question, "Do you welcome the introduction of plain pack cigarettes?" Incredibly they got 3,345 voters and, even more incredibly, 52 per cent were against the plain packaging idea with only 29 per cent in favour.

How's that for the will of the people?


Road to Prohibition – part three

The more we change the more we remain the same.

In the Midlands a Polish barmen said to me, "How are ya?" Are they becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves? Happily I can report that the average Irish, new and old, are as nice and friendly as they always have been.

But the big news last week was a meeting that took place between our Taoiseach, his Finance Minister and the representatives of three tobacco companies. What could that have been about?

Reports suggest they discussed illicit trade. Noonan may have told Kenny that they might have to hit the ordinary Joe Soap for a further five hundred million euros if the revenue from tobacco continues to fall and Kenny has his eye on re-election next time out.

Of course Stubbs Reilly and Senator John Crown have no such worries as they stamped around insulting the tobacco companies. Neither of those two unlikely lads have a problem because Reilly hasn't a hope of re-election and Crown was never elected in the first place.

But Kenny and Noonan have responsibilities to the electorate and so they must deal with the realities. Those realities are that 1.3 million people in Ireland wish to smoke and four manufacturers supply the products, in the time-honored way of commerce.

Despite the protests of ASH, the ICS, the IHF and all of the other prohibitionists, the Government must get the money in. How else can they afford to sponsor the activities of the sale same prohibitionists?

Amid this storm in a tea cup I continued to warn the innocent electorate about the blueprint for prohibitions that is being snuck into the public arena. Those who relish the discomfort of the common smoker right now may soon find themselves the victim of de-normalisation and public outrage for something they now enjoy as part of a balanced life.

The lads over at 'public health' must be raging to hear so much common sense spoken, and by a smoker at that. Their sneaky plans for control over our way of life are being exposed by a genuine voter who is sincerely worried that our very fabric of society is being twisted and perverted out of shape by them.

And I'll be doing it again this week, and for the rest of the year too for that matter!


Road to Prohibition – part two

Yesterday on Radio Kerry I pointed out to the charming presenter that there was neither a medical nor scientific reason to restrict smoking outdoors.

I added that there was simply no evidence that it harmed anyone but the smoker.

Then this morning, the Irish Examiner (who else?) cheerfully reported that Cork County Council is considering a ban on smoking in all playgrounds. They maintain the move is "in a bid to discourage adults from lighting up in front of children".

The Council proposes a €75 on-the-spot fine to discourage smokers from lighting up and warns darkly that "Failure to pay the €75 on-the-spot fine could result in a day in court where the ‘offender’ could end up being ordered to pay a fine of up to €1,904.60."

I suggest that instead of a penalty they should offer smokers a €75 reward to 'encourage' them not to light up. Indeed they also offer smokers a further €1,904.60 for not taking the Council to court on the grounds of discrimination and persecution.

Alternatively, since moves like this are where our property taxes allegedly will go, maybe they should offer a property tax discount to smokers for making them unwelcome in their parks. After all, you are to pay for services they provide which they now wish to exclude you from.

If you read the piece it is clear that these phobic councillors object even to the "sight of a smoker". How dare they insult us like that. It is another case of incitement to hatred while trying to raise (steal) money for their much-loved overseas junkets.

What are they truly saying? Their message to decent smokers appears to be, 'Rather than take your child out in the fresh air to play with them, stay inside your own four walls and smoke away with the child there.'

These are draft proposals now and Cork County Council is seeking submissions from the public that object to them. I urge you all to write to the puritans now, before it's too late.


Road to Prohibition – part one

The theme of this year’s tour is 'creeping prohibition'.

Like very many of you I am heartily sick of the vilification of smokers, based as it is on exaggerations, falsifications and outright lies, for our own good, of course. So the purpose of the trip is to show, by putting all of the anti-smokers actions together, that prohibition is the goal, as Senator John Crown has already stated.

My first few days took me to Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Offaly for radio and newspaper interviews.

Any kind of prohibition is an anomaly in a free democracy. Prohibition is more associated with fascism or communism and is a tool of oppression. Equally, denormalisation as a political policy is nothing short of incitement to hatred. While the attack on tobacco consumption is almost ten years old now, and failing in all of its ever changing aims, the tobacco control industry is turning its eye to other lifestyle issues. What is truly worrying, if you have not been following this, is that the exact same tactics, as used for justifying the nasty attack on the ordinary smoker, are now being turned against the alcohol drinker and the obese. Who is next for condemnation, I wonder?

At my age I can honestly say that society, and what passes for 'normal' today, is almost unrecognisable. The private debt of the banks was socialized, dipping into your pocket to save the wealthy ones responsible for this reckless and criminal behavior. Twenty years ago they would have been tarred and feathered. The sole purpose of the gardai seems to be to apply fines for everything. Our politicians now openly lie and show no remorse or shame when caught out. Our health minister has appeared in Stubbs Gazette while several serving or former TDs are under investigation for feathering their own nests from the public purse. We are threatened daily with paying this new levy or that new tax, and like turkeys voting for Christmas we comply, even though we know the whole charade is unjust.

Well, I started ten years ago, publicly opposing restrictions on our freedom to smoke and, whether you like it or not, I am not giving up that fight. But don't think for one moment that I feel it is the most important challenge we face. It is, though, the thin end of the wedge of what, as a people, a society and a nation, we are being subjected to.

On WLRFM on Thursday I said truthfully to Billy McCarthy that I was a more free man at 21 years of age than my son is now at the same age, and he knew what I was talking about. When you support restrictions on my freedom you are actually encouraging the lawmakers to put manners on you also at some other time. That is how we end up with the likes of Phil Hogan threatening us to “pay up or else”. He’s doing it because he believes he can get away with it.

And have you noticed it’s all about money? Justice, fairness, respect, decency, tolerance and civil rights take a back seat now to the wealth of a tiny minority. That is precisely what the smoking ban is about. Some misguided folks think it has to do with health but when you look at how the HSE is run you must know that your health is your own problem.

When you understand that the tobacco market in Ireland is worth two thousand million euros a year, you can clearly see why odd things are happening. I have said before that the attack on smokers is merely a precedent for controlling the citizen. The template is simple enough too. Divide and conquer is the chosen strategy and propaganda is released showing that one section of society is harming the other or costing them money. As the two sides trade insults with each other, draconian legislation slips through. You have already been encouraged to badger and look down upon the smoker by use of these tactics. Soon it will be the turn of anyone who enjoys a drink and certainly the overweight are in line to painted as a burden on society.

This week, on Tipp FM and again on Midlands 103, I made these points and the response was encouragement from some quarters and insults from others. One text said that they couldn’t care less if I kill myself as long as I didn’t harm them. The policy of divide and conquer has worked well with that person. Another lady complained bitterly that whenever she entered or left a pub nowadays she was assaulted by the “smell of tobacco”. I had to point out that those smokers she encountered were not there because they wanted to be. They had been bullied outside the door. But I also added the choice of preferred odours is quite subjective and as such, the lady in question might look to become more tolerant, rather than being so judgemental of her fellow citizens. That same woman may find herself the object of scorn soon enough for going to a pub in the first place, as the policy of denormalising drinkers develops.

The natural outcome of the war on obesity would be to make it illegal to be overweight. Given that money is at the root of all of this you could also expect fines based on how many pounds overweight you have become. As a blueprint for this, don’t forget that the fine for lighting up a cigarette in a pub is €3,000. Some media outlets are already positioning themselves for the attack on obese people. Today blogger Frank Davis has written a good piece on this very topic.

Last Wednesday I did a long interview on creeping prohibition with a journalist from the Irish Examiner. The man wrote up the piece, including my observations on the attacks on other lifestyles, but the editor decided no to publish it and instead, this weekend, that paper’s editorial screams, Tobacco saga must inform obesity war. Inside a report is headlined, 10% tax on junk food to tackle obesity and elsewhere another article informs us that, Foods marketed as ‘healthier’ could lead to weight gain: study.

The point of my tour and my continuing opposition to smoking restrictions is that if the legislators believe they can get away with it they will go ahead and do it. The tobacco, food and drinks companies may try to make their own case to government, but the real power lies with the people.

Forest may be making the case for the rights of the smoker but we need the customers of the drinks industry to lobby for their own rights also and fight price increases by way of taxation. The obese need to make their voices heard as well before their persecution gets under way. If you like your food, enjoy a tipple to socialise and like to smoke tobacco as well, you are going to have to fight for the right to continue to do so.

The time is now, before your likes and preferences are heavily restricted, priced beyond your means or simply made illegal. That is what 'creeping prohibition' has in mind for you. If you think I am exaggerating or that it could never happen, just remember that you are paying for the debts of the banks now every day, without ever once sharing in the profits. You did nothing wrong and yet you are to blame and you are there to be judged and penalised for the life you choose to lead. The final irony is that you are also paying the rich and powerful for doing this to you.

Next week, I am covering the West from Kerry to Donegal.


Bad week for tobacco control

It's been an interesting week in tobacco control.

First, the UK dropped the stupid idea of plain packaging and then problems appeared at EU level.

In all the clamour here in Ireland to demonise smokers and tobacco companies, people forget that smokers pay over €1.5bn in excise and taxes each year, more than the estimated cost of treating any health problems due to their habit.

Now an EU cpmmittee has cast doubt on the whole Tobacco Products Directive that has been the crowning glory of the tobacco control industry. Were the revised Directive passed it would permit the final step towards prohibition based on its many parts.

Making smoking illegal has always been the endgame of the puritans but it couldn't be done in one single move. Hence, creeping prohibition, or the addition of retrictions, fines and price rises coming bit-by-bit. Each move has been pushed through on the merit of the propaganda that accompanied it. Each was a step in the master plan.

A point in time then would come when all of the restrictions taken together would combine to make smoking nigh impossible anyway and that is when the final stroke is planned to be applied. One country in the EU (guess who) will declare a date on the calendar when it will become illegal to light a tobacco product anywhere in its jurisdiction. There will follow the domino effect.

But that plan has run into a commercial snag. The EU Committee on Legal Affairs has savaged the draft Tobacco Products Directive on a number of points. Commercially, they point out that you cannot simply decide to ban a private multi-national company from displaying their logo and trademarks because such action is an infringement of intellectual property rights.

Amazingly they go on to point out that you cannot ban marketing a product as being safer, which is the proposal regarding e-cigs. I suppose it would be the equivalent of banning car companies from suggesting that with airbags in their cars, you have a reduced risk of dying. You could hardly justify banning that.

But the EU Committee on Legal Affairs has raised objections to the large health warnings with their graphic disgust built in. It sees no case for banning slims or menthol cigarettes, and even goes so far as to remind those behind the Directive of  "the freedom to conduct business".

To quote the Velvet Glove Iron Fist blog on this:

The committee also recommends that the section of the Directive which authorises the European Commission to reduce nicotine yields in cigarettes be deleted. It also opposes the pointless and bureaucratic regulations about the dimensions and size of cigarettes and their packets.

But don't just take my word for all of this. See EU committee savages Tobacco Products Directive.


Almost 4,000 lives "saved" by smoking ban? Take a closer look

It was reported this week that 3,726 lives [were] saved by introducing the smoking ban in 2004.

This is due, we are told, to the absence of second hand smoke in public places. At first glance this seems to be a positive development but such a stunning success surely deserves a closer look, if only to discover how we got something so right for once.

Explaining the study and its methodology, Dr Luke Clancy, former chairman of ASH Ireland, warned that it was “complex” and indeed readers can log on and read the full complexity at the PlosOne website. While it is not easy fodder it includes a simple graph that would appear to dramatically undermine the findings of the study.

The graph shows that since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004 rates of heart disease, strokes and, to a lesser extent, cancers have been falling steadily over nine years. But it also shows that this was the case in the twelve years leading up to the ban. It clearly demonstrates that, ban or no ban, death rates from those three illnesses were falling anyway. One can speculate that better medical interventions and treatments are responsible for this, along with greater awareness of health among the general population.

The government body responsible for compiling the official statistics, the Central Statistics Office, shows that, year-on-year, we are living longer. So the reported drop in the most common diseases, as reported in this research, fits perfectly with the real facts on the ground.

Where the research departs from the facts is when they attribute this natural fall to the absence of ‘second hand’ smoke. Complex conditions such as heart disease, strokes and cancers are multifactorial. That is, it is very difficult to attribute the disease to any one factor. Contributing causes may be stress, alcohol, diet, lack of exercise, hereditary reasons, viral infections and smoking, amongst others.

For this research to have any validity then all other contributing factors must be ignored. Added to that, the natural falls in the various named diseases before 2004 must be ignored too. The research does not explain why, when public areas were full of tobacco smoke before 2004, rates for heart disease, strokes and cancers were already falling.

Neither does it address any of the other contributing factors, many of which have been positively addressed in the last 20 years. It dismisses better overall health education and awareness, improved interventions and treatments and chosen healthier lifestyles in favour of demonising smokers. As such, it appears selective and skewed. A cynic could accuse the authors of beginning with a conclusion and looking for the proof.

Chris Snowden, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit at the renowned Institute of Economic Affairs in London, has already commented on this study on his blog. The online magazine Spiked published an article on studies similar to this one and it illustrates the difficulty with this kind of investigation.

There are some other interesting facts to ponder. Dr Clancy’s study is an epidemiological study and the first law of epidemiology is that while it may show correlation it doesn’t show cause. Yet in this instance he claims to have discovered cause. The Central Statistics Office doesn’t list a single death from passive smoking in this country, nor has any other country officially listed it as a cause of death. It seems strange to claim that almost 4,000 lives have been saved by the absence of ‘passive smoke’ when it cannot be proved that anyone died of passive smoking in the first place.

The largest study ever on passive smoking and its effects was conducted by Dr Enstrom & Dr Kabat and published in the British Medical Journal in 2003. They studied 118,000 people over a 39-year period and analysed exposure to second hand smoke relative to heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The study failed to find any significant link between passive smoking and these three conditions.

Another problem with Dr Clancy’s study is this. When research like appears in the public domain we have to ask, why were mortality rates falling long before the smoking ban and why hasn’t its introduction made them fall more dramatically? Were we simply getting things right all along without any help from the nanny state?

I would suggest that politicians take this study with a pinch of salt but, some might argue, that might be bad for you too.


High price of government policy

It was reported yesterday that nearly 30 per cent of all cigarettes sold in Ireland last year were sold illegally.

These would be the ones we see everywhere for sale in every part of the Country. The non-plain packaging ones.

Personally I think that is a conservative figure but let's accept it for the moment anyway. The official figure for illicit sales is 14 per cent and now a tobacco company (JTI) has said it is double that at 28 per cent. Also, the official figure for tobacco brought in legally without local taxes being paid here is six per cent. I certainly think that it is at least double that.

Either way though, that it means is that 34 per cent of tobacco smoked in Ireland is free of local taxes and Excise and it could be as high as 40 per cent. "Good Lord," I hear you think, "what in the world could be causing that?"

I've given these numbers some serious consideration and I am beginning to wonder if our having the highest priced tobacco products in the EU could in some way have anything to do with this lawless phenomenon in Ireland.

But surely not! We are all in full-time well-paid employment, are we not? We have plenty of disposable income every month, don't we? We even have the highest per capita house ownership in the EU also, haven't we? So, it could not possibly have anything to do with the 80 per cent taxes and excise that is added to the real price of tobacco in Ireland, now could it?

No, no, no, of course it couldn't. High prices are good for us. They are so good and have worked so well with tobacco, the Government and Stubbs Reilly are now turning their high priced attention to alcohol, sugar and fatty foods too!!!

See: ‘Nearly 30 per cent’ of cigarettes sold in Ireland last year were illegal (The Journal)


The story no-one wants to tell

'A third of tobacco smuggling convictions imposed on international criminals' the Irish Times reported last week.

The report insinuated that this is some sinister new development but this is far from the truth. To put it in perspective, there were 55 convictions for smuggling in 2012 in in total and, apparently, one-third of these people were non-Irish. Eighteen foreign nationals, then, were stopped coming into this country and found to have an amount of cigarettes in their baggage that suggested they were for re-sale.

On this blog over the last three years I have reported on court cases all over the country involving foreign tobacco smugglers, most of them from the former Soviet block. A flood of these people were permitted to enter and work in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger frenzy and you might remember the reports back then that claimed they were doing the jobs the Irish wouldn't do.

While their earnings were higher than that might get at home, the cost of living was far higher in Ireland. One big expense was the cost of cigarettes, the most expensive in the EU. A 50 gram sachet of Polish rolled tobacco in Warsaw costs €3 while a 50 gram pack here costs €20. It's nothing short of ludicrous.

Anecdotally, from members of the Polish community in Cork, I have heard that Poles visiting their homeland are often given cash by friends in Ireland to buy them a supply so it easy to understand that on their return here they may have one suitcase dedicated to tobacco products. Again anecdotally, I believe the airport customs officers are especially vigilant around incoming flights from Eastern Europe so it is no great surprise that a few of these intrepid foreign johnnies got nabbed.

But a few suitcases of cheap fags for their friends is a mere drop in the ocean of the epidemic that is Irish tobacco smuggling. Dare I say, a shipping container full of cigarettes holds more than the average suitcase. The difference is that one is in the hand of a manual worker at an airport, the other is more likely to be consigned to a member of some army council.

The real story then is that no-one has the stomach for poking that particular beast, no matter what they may claim otherwise. We have enough problems on this blighted isle at present without re-visiting the spectre of the gunman all over again !


Plain packaging will come at a price

Over on the Taking Liberties blog my colleague Simon Clark has a piece on plain packaging.

The fact that neither plain packaging nor gruesome images will make one jot of a difference to the buying decisions of smokers is overlooked by tobacco control campaigners. But the bigger issue is the lawlessness that this will promote.

To remind you of the logic of it all, currencies all over the world are heavily decorated. They feature difficult to copy silver stripes in the notes and have watermarks built in. This makes it difficult for counterfeiters to copy paper currency. Cigarette packets also feature embedded logos, specific pantone colors, decorative markings and intricate designs.

The proposed move, if it should ever become law in Europe, will see every cigarette box in some drab colour with only the name to differentiate one brand from another. The idiotic proposers of this measure claim that branding and attractive packaging are what entices smokers to begin in the first place. Like much else that has gone before, this errant nonsense may soon be accepted as fact.

The reality, of course, is quite different. Only a third of the population in Ireland smoke and the major manufacturers all vie for this market. The biggest issue they have is market share of that existing buying power. The name, brand and packaging are the ways they differentiate their cigarettes from those of their rivals. The gold Benson and Hedges box is clearly different from the red and white Marlboro one, and so on.

Tobacco products have been banned from view in shops since 2008 so smokers have to state to the shop assistant which brand they wish to buy in advance of seeing the actual box. Common sense might inform the thinking individual that should the drab box with its gruesome image offend a minority of smokers then the cigarettes can always be transferred into an attractive tin or cigarette case. Problem solved.

This new proposal is the equivalent of suggesting that the colour of lager and the gorgeous pint glass are forcing children into the pubs in droves. The natural solution in that case would be to make all beer puke-green and serve it in a tupperware mug with a diseased liver plastered all over it.

But I can predict what will actually happen with tobacco. Plain packaging will be introduced, smuggling will increase hugely, and black market cigarettes will be even cheaper causing the income from legal products to fall dramatically. This drop off in legally declared sales will be pointed to by the puritanical fanatics as proof of the "success" of plain packaging.

I was about to write that you heard it here first but you knew it already, didn't you?

See: Pot kettle black, APPG accuses tobacco industry of propaganda (Taking Liberties)


Crown's junkets

I have been on the receiving end of nasty comments from John Crowne, the famous senator and oncologist, on more than one occasion.

On TV3 one morning he suggested that my smoking may have been the cause of my son's asthma. Several times in print and on radio he has accused me of being a stooge of "Big Tobacco" because Forest in the UK is partly funded by them, as is clearly stated on their website.

Normally the weight of evidence lies with the accuser, but it appears the bold John feels he may simply sling the shit about him, without regard for the ‘Four Goldmines’, such is his arrogance. So, accusations recently that he was the recipient of generous largesse from "Big Pharma" naturally caught my eye.

By his own admission he was flown to nearly 50 conferences on two continents, was wined and dined and had his conference fees paid by a selection of Pharmaceutical Companies. The fact that Luke Clancy, Fenton Howell, and a number of other high profile haters of the ordinary smoker were similarly treated over the last ten years has never been widely reported in the media, though. There is huge money and power to be had in the vanguard of the "Tobacco Control Industry". The paymaster is often either government or the private pharmaceutical companies. So it is a bit ironic for these lads to accuse me of anything.

In Senator Crown's case, such conferences like the ones he attended would usually be held in the best hotel in town and include accommodation, flights and conference fees. It might not be unusual for the round trip to cost about €5,000 per delegate over the duration of it. Fifty of those, then, would come to a cool quarter of a million euro - nice work if you can get it. While I have mixed feelings about his ability as a senator, I have no doubt that John Crown is a brilliant oncologist and can understand why the Big Pharma's would want him at their sponsored conferences so badly.

As a senator, John has chosen to waive his salary, though he may still avail of the generous expenses on tap. But I checked up on what an oncologist might expect to earn, and I was staggered. "Half of all oncologists, regardless of their experience level, earn between $217,286 and $352,307 each year, according to". Given that our medico's here are among the highest paid anywhere, you could probably change the dollar symbols for euros. Thirty-thousand a month is big bobs in any man's language. John could have easily paid for his own junkets if he wanted to remain neutral. But good luck to the portly doctor, I say, that is until he becomes the poster boy of my persecutors for my smoking habit.

None of these pharma-sponsored cancer conferences would be complete without condemning smokers and drawing up yet more sneaky plans to marginalize them. We know that the biggest financial beneficiaries of the Tobacco Control Industry in Ireland are the pharmaceutical companies. Smokers wishing to quit are pointed firmly to their nicotine replacement products, an expensive option at best. But John's costs on any such trip are a small price to pay to get him to influence and lobby our Government to switch the annual two billion euro tobacco market over to their pharmaceutical products instead. Simply put, flying John to a luxurious location and treating him like a king is an investment in a new market for Big Pharma.

But it does subject the man to the accusation of a conflict of interest when he pronounces on Tobacco Control back here, both as a senator and an oncologist!

Incidentally, the last time I claimed vouched expenses from Forest was last year. The occasion was an RTE TV interview and my train trip to Dublin, one hotel night and taxis to and from the station cost €280 from memory. About the same amount as John Crown's duty free at some foreign airport! The devil is in the detail, isn't it?

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