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A week in bed

I asked my Doctor what was the difference between the flu and a viral cold, or just a bad cold, or maybe just flu-like symptoms. The occasion, of course, was when I presented at his surgery on Tuesday with a death wish.

I don't know about you, but I ‘resent’ being sick. I take it personally and feel hard-done by if I am not feeling physically normal. The Doc did not differentiate or name which ailment was responsible apart from establishing that my temperature was "fierce high." There is no doubt in my mind though - it's full blown Man Flu! Since last Saturday then, I have not been as vigilant as usual when it comes to keeping tabs on the vested interests ranged against we smokers.
I was invited to appear on last Monday night's Frontline and had to turn down the offer due to an essential appointment I had here in Cork first thing on Tuesday morning. That essential appointment gave way to essential steroids and antibiotics with an absolutely essential date with the bed. I have only crawled out in the last few hours, and still feel most peculiar.
I took the precaution last Sunday, though, of asking a supporter of ours to scan the media for stories that are either about us or of interest to us smokers. It appears that I have missed a whole week of news, so I will condense it into the following:

On Monday, we learned from the Examiner that, "Seizures of illegal tobacco fall by 56%," leading them to surmise that the numbers smoking are on the wane. The real story might be the very opposite, though. It may just be that the smugglers and gangsters are getting more devious in their methods. There is certainly no shortage of the cheap variety on the streets, where we know that the legal products are hidden by law and the illegal ones are visible to all. And indeed, the Government is playing their part by increasing tobacco prices and sending business straight to the bad-lads in the smuggling trade.

On Monday also my attention was drawn to an article in The Scotsman which stated that "The bald truth is that smoking rates have been coming down gradually for years – but all the efforts of the tobacco haters of this world have made no perceptible impact. They might well have not bothered." The author, Brian Monteith, points to what I have been saying on this site for two years now - the Tobacco Control Industry is a leech on society. Remember when reading his article that the bans in Ireland, England, Scotland & Wales are the most restrictive in the World.

On Tuesday the Independent reported the comments of our fit looking Health Minister as follows: "Minister James Reilly said there is a real job of work to be done in educating people in lower income groups about the risks of smoking." He might also have added that there is a real job of work to be done by him, in explaining to those same people why their children are not wanted in the better schools or jobs and are discriminated against and marginlised in almost every situation they find themselves in.

But the portly Stubbs was on a bit of a roll. "Commenting on fears expressed by the ICS chairman, Dr John Kennedy, that some poorer people could suffer delayed diagnosis because they could not afford to go to the GP, the minister said he did not believe proposals to take 40,000 medical cards from people this year would exacerbate this." Is that right Minister? Well then, given that your Department has such budget overspend problems, why do not just cancel all medical cards at a stroke? Using his logic, it should not make a difference at all. The poor would simply find wads of cash lying around on the streets, I suppose, and rush directly to their GP with it. The man is so out of touch with reality that it is laughable when he pronounces on the lower social orders.


Unpopular packs

The asked the simple question last week: "Do you think the strict rules on cigarette packaging will make any difference?”

As usual, they cut through the political nonsense and propaganda and posed a straight question to the very people affected by the move, the ordinary citizen.

I have mentioned before that a paid for poll of 1,000 people is considered significant. I am reliably informed that this is just the method used to make the claim that 70 per cent of smokers want to quit. That is a mantra you hear very often now.

But, back to the Journal. They got 3,000 responses to their poll of readers and only 10 per cent of those thought the proposed moves would make a difference. I suggest that should they ask whether a ban on smoking in cars with children present would make a difference, they would get the same answer.

Several times last week on live radio, that was our Forest message. It won't make any difference and is therefore unnecessary. I added that if you applied a €3,000 fine to speeding for example, it would cut down on road deaths overnight. But, there would be uproar over that, wouldn't there? "What about our right to speed if we own a good car and we want to ?" A €3,000 fine would be disproportionate wouldn't it?

Too right it would!


The Divine Doctor

I had a hot tempered run in with a young Doctor the other day.

The reasons or context are unimportant, but suffice it to say the young whipper-snapper hinted that if I did not immediately give up my "smoking addiction" she would have a right not to treat me.

I have heard anecdotally that this kind of behaviour has begun to happen, but it is quite shocking to be confronted by it personally. One wonders, were this young woman to find herself in a M.A.S.H. unit on the front line, how she would react to wounded soldiers. Would she admonish then for getting shot and warn that if they do not stop playing with guns she might consider leaving them unaided?

What I am trying to fathom, though, is when did the medical profession decide to start playing God with people? These ‘caring professionals’ are tasked with treating us when we are ill, and the oath they swear upon qualification does not include ifs or buts. And I did find my Doctor's lecture pretty ironic, given what I read about Doctors generally in a recent edition of the Irish Times.

Under the heading ‘Addiction among doctors rises’, we now learn that, “alcohol and drug addiction is on the increase among doctors, with more than 70 per cent who attended a Medical Council health committee suffering addiction problems, a Medical Council annual conference was told yesterday." That is a lot of Doctors with a lot of problems. Seven out of every ten Doctors has a problem with drink or drugs. Unlike my smoking though, their addictions are behaviour-altering too. That would certainly account for the unwarranted verbal attack on me yesterday.
Now, lest the reader think that I have no sympathy with the white coats, nothing could be further from the truth. I honestly do not know where they get the courage, confidence and resilience to do what they do every day. It is one hard, lousy job and it is my personal belief that the good doctor is one who truly has a vocation for it.

But, if it is likely that you have addictions of your own, then do not start lecturing or threatening me about mine. To the little girl in the white coat of the other day, I respond well to reason and encouragement, but I can become very unreasonable with a bully. And if your only assistance to those who want to quit smoking is pharmaceutical nicotine, then you are not qualified to intervene in the first place.

Finally, I am an adult and make my own decisions on my own life. I can be convinced, but I cannot be forced. That is why your anti-smoker rhetoric falls on deaf ears. I suppose though, when you are playing God, only your opinion counts!


Goodbye free speech?

The latest scam to divert our attention from private debt having being socialised is an effort to charge websites for linking to newspaper articles.

See the following (for now of course).

If this comes into law, I will no longer be able to reference information or opinions voiced in our national dailys on smoking or anything else for that matter.

Worse than that, Alan Shatter is attempting to invest himself with the power to decide what is right and decent in our papers and he plans to introduce a law covering all media, including the internet, in Ireland. His supporters in political circles are citing the negative attitudes now apparent in the general populace towards the political classes, and are blaming free speech for it.

Supporters of common sense have long argued that we ceased to be a democracy or a republic years ago, which begged the question, "What are we"? If Shatter gets his way, we are heading for tyranny, make no mistake. Any pretence to citizens’ rights can be driven through with a carriage and four.

Of course, the first problem about linking to newspaper stories would disappear overnight, because there would simply be nothing worth linking to!


Cessation costs

Greg Harkin had an article in the Independent last week that showed smokers in the South pay far more for cessation products than those in the North.

Meanwhile an editorial in the Examiner included the line, "the Department of Health estimates that it costs €1bn a year to provide health services for smokers". The combined Excise & VAT from tobacco purchases here amount to €1.5bn a year because we have the most expensive tobacco in the EU. Now, bear in mind that smokers are just ordinary Irish citizens who pay all of the usual taxes and charges that everyone does and have the same entitlements also. In all, they not only cover all of the costs associated with their habit, they pay in a further five hundred million year extra each year to help to treat others who do not smoke.

These then are the smelly disgusting addicts that you like to look down on as they stand outside in the rain. These are the very people you would like to see hounded and coerced, marginalized and eventually criminalised. It has always annoyed me that otherwise nice people will invite me to their homes with the proviso that I do not smoke while there. The honest approach is that you are welcome, but your shitty habit is not. These same people would be offended if you were to decline the invitation too. By implication then, they are perfect themselves and feel empowered to sit in judgement of you because you enjoy a smoke and they do not. There are very few people I know that do not have their own annoying little habits, myself included.

But back to the numbers. We already know that we pay the highest price in the EU for our tobacco and now we learn that we probably also pay the highest price for cessation products. But, on tobacco products, 80% of what we pay goes in revenue to run the State. It would be informative to find out what percentage of the Pharmaceutical cessation products contribute to our common welfare also, wouldn't it? Oh, and incidentally, cessation products have been shown not to work!


Smoking in cars to be banned

At a time when Garda numbers are being reduced, stations all over the country are being closed and the budgets for overtime being hit, the Government now sees fit to introduce yet another bad law for the Gardaí to enforce.

The Government has warned that this new law, which covers smoking in your private car with children present, will carry a disproportionate fine of €3,000 upon conviction. This is in stark contrast to the tiny minority of wealthy individuals who have cost this country billions of euros without arrest or conviction.

While Forest Eireann urges all responsible parents not to smoke in their cars with children present, we object strongly to this proposed legislation because it is unnecessary (few people smoke with children in the car) and draconian.

Its proponents, including Senator and oncologist Professor John Crowne, refer to the law as "education," whereas in reality it is nothing short of State bullying, disguised as "caring."
And to further demonstrate the lopsided hatred for smokers in some quarters, this law can be enforced by the simple mechanism of allowing for Gardaí to rely solely on visual evidence if cases come before the courts. This means that any Garda can stand in the witness box and say they thought they saw a cigarette, and the plaintiff is hit with a fine of €3,000.

Any citizen attached to the ideals of democracy should be appalled by this proposed move. Regardless of your opinion on smoking, laws like this should be opposed. The danger is that while tobacco is in the spotlight now, a collection of precedents are being set to attack anything that is deemed politically incorrect by certain wealthy influential cabals. Similar tactics can equally be applied to most of our freedoms as we move further away from our democratic principles.


Bar sense

I actually went out for a pint yesterday, and I can't say enough about the pleasant atmosphere in my local, The Cotton Ball in Mayfield.

As I sat relaxed on the high stool, a reasonable book taking me effortlessly to the sands of Saudi Arabia, the owner Jack appeared before me on the other side of the bar. As always with him conversation is interesting, informative and refreshing.

Discussing his plans for the pub in the coming years, he mused that the business of being a publican had always come and gone in waves. He summarised this as, "Change comes and then it changes back". I was intrigued by his observations as he has been in the business for what seems like a thousand years.Listening to him talk about the old days, you can almost imagine that he was serving Republicans in the front bar and the Black and Tans in the back bar.

Today, he says, the habit of just going to a pub for a drink is dwindling. His plans then include extending his menu to feature something novel in the food line. He suggested other changes, looking for feedback on the desirability and feasibility of each. But his earlier comments on things changing back, were still in my head, so I asked about those in light of his plans.

His humane and intelligent observation was that, possibly a war or an extreme weather event, will completely change public perspectives and the pub as a location or destination, will revert to how it has always been, and that included smoking too. In the meantime, he will play along with the politically correct nonsense that passes for society today.

It has been a long time since I have heard plain common sense talked so well.


New Year numbers

At the beginning of any year, the previous year’s activities appear in numbers.

The informs us about some of these. "Revenue officials seized a total of €49.3 million worth of drugs in 2012. Cocaine and heroin made up the vast majority of the drug seizures, accounting for €33 million worth of seizures. Just over €50 million worth of illegal tobacco was seized throughout the year, including 95.6 million cigarettes".

The ridiculous irony in those numbers is that the illegal substances were outdone by the legal substances. What is even worse from the Government's point of view is that only about ten per cent of smuggled goods are apprehended. It would suggest that the market for illegal tobacco in Ireland stands at around €500bn per annum.

I respectfully suggest that ten years ago, before the start of this unnecessary war on smokers, the illicit trade in tobacco was probably worth less than a million a year. Simply put, the so-called war included falsely driving up the price of tobacco to the point where the smugglers flourished.

That particular genie will not be easily put back in the bottle and I confidently predict that revenue from tobacco products for Michael Noonan will now begin to fall, leading to ward closures by the HSE. Meanwhile, the fat charities will announce that the fall in revenue is due to their hate-filled messages finally getting through.

Crazy, isn't it ?


Now it's the drink

An article in the Irish Independent last week suggests that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

Even a pint of beer is too much, they say, and in support of this they rattle off a list of cancers whose risk is increased due to contact with the booze and your good self. We are only a short step away from second hand alcohol or environmental alcohol fumes ("EAF").

The "they" behind this bad news are, of course, an array of doctors and researching white coats who are playing with numbers, not actual people. These same people thrive on their own inaccuracies and are capable of torturing any data set to suit a pre-determined outcome. We have seen this with the hysteria they created around the humble tobacco leaf.

But even as they struggle to become the white coat that sets the official level of drinking, they have a dissenting voice. In 2007 Richard Smith, one of the members of the group and a former editor of the 'British Medical Journal', said it could not say what a safe limit was because of this lack of data. "Those limits were really plucked out of the air," he said. "They were not based on any firm evidence at all."

For the trusting citizen then, you need to understand the difference between scientific research and propaganda. One is biased information designed to mis-lead you, the other is an honest attempt to present the truth to you. What this Independent article shows is that all of the so-called warnings on safe levels of drinking to date have been false because they just don't have enough information to know for sure. Nevertheless, this bullshit has already filled decent ordinary people with guilt and dread and has also made them far easier to control en-masse.
And that, folks, is what propaganda is all about. It is the power to control the stupid masses. It is the power to impose crippling austerity without a peep of opposition and critically, those in power who make those decisions, ensure they themselves are never affected. So you should be deeply suspicious of any kind of propaganda you read on any topic in 2013.


New Year's Resolutions

If you are reading this then you have got through the Christmas holiday, one way or another.

The traditional Christmas gives way to the traditional New Year resolutions and these always entail self-denial in one shape or other. We Catholics love that, don't we? As night follows day, then, smokers are under extra pressure to quit smoking at this time of the year, and I want to address that here.

Dr Fenton Howell, that old warhorse and smoker-hater, is in the news this week to announce yet another HSE sponsored campaign aimed at marginalizing us even further. Public money, which is in short supply everywhere else, is being lavished on an on-line assault on smokers’ freedom via Facebook.

While any of you out there who are actually thinking of quitting have my full support, and I sincerely wish you well in your quest, I will also continue this year to defend the rights of those of you who freely choose to smoke instead. Shortly after Christmas Day I did review things with an eye to a New Year's resolution of my own. The question I had to ask myself was what would I attempt to give up or deny myself this year?

My conclusion was rather simple and may apply to you also if you think about it. With four years now of continued austerity, I have already been forced to give up much of what I enjoy and want, as you will have also. Indeed, in response to austerity, I made a pledge to myself three years ago not to buy anything that I wanted, but rather to only use my dwindling resources on paying for what we need. So, I will not be trading my Fiesta for an Aston Martin in 2013. I paid one Euro for the Fiesta (it's a long story), it passed its NCT and critically, I need it. The Aston is desirable, but I don't need it.

I have already severely curtailed my alcohol intake week-on-week and patrol that quarter closely. As I patrol my eating habits too, that just leaves smoking then. Fenton Howell tells me that 70% of smokers want to quit, which places me squarely in the 30% category. Five years ago now I switched from packets to 'rollies', saving a fortune in cash every day by that move alone. Shortly afterwards, I switched from rolled tobacco bought in Ireland, to the same bought almost anywhere else in the EU, reducing the cost of smoking drastically. I am not even half way through the stash I brought in legally from Spain last June. So, smoking for me is a mild luxury and now it is the only real one I have left.

Therefore, my New Year's resolution is that the Government and the EU have made all of my resolutions for me already, and they have taken care of the next ten years of them too.



The money spinners

Our friends in the Irish Cancer Society are in the news a lot this week and the subject of all the coverage is money, that root of all evil!

The story begins on a high note for them when a donor left €2.5m to the Society. That donation allowed it to increase its revenues by 21.5% last year from €17.5m to €21.2m. Excluding the donation, the society managed to buck the recessionary trend by increasing revenues by 7%. They also have fixed assets to the tune of €6.4m.

We learned that Daffodil Day brought in €2.4m after costs, the Shave or Dye campaign run by Today FM raised €1.3m, and the figures for the Movember campaign numbers are not in yet. Throw in revenue from their string of shops and their corporate sponsorships, and you can see that this "charity" is a right old money spinner.

The bad news for smokers is that they are earmarking an additional €1.5m of the mystery donor's money for 'additional research' into cancer, and we smokers know what that means. Chosen researchers will send out loads of questions to the general public, feed the answers into their computer and then politely ask the Irish Cancer Society what answers they want to hear in return for their generous grant to them. "Would you like us to show that smoking causes road-rage?" I can hear them ask.

Continuing on the theme of money for themselves, we learned that the ICS is a member of the Charitable Lotteries Scheme, who are in line for a big injection of compensation should the Government offload the National Lottery. Many years ago at the inception of the Lotto draws, our home grown charities jumped around protesting that they also ran their own lotteries and they would lose out to "the big one". It is one of the perks of charitable status that the 'Gaming Act' is waived for these quangos. Anyway, as a result of their protests, the Government earmarked even more money from the Lottery profits and the ICS found itself once again at the public trough.

Now, fronted by REHAB, the combined charities are attempting to prevent the sale of the National Lottery going through, apparently seeking to protect their free money. The real reason of course probably has more to do with kicking up enough of a stink now so that they will get a big one-off payment when the sale actually takes place. As far as these clever cancer lads are concerned, charity begins at home!!!


New 'health' warning

I’m tickled by an idea proposed by John McDarby in a letter to the Irish Times.

Instead of cigarette packs displaying gruesome images of sick people, they should carry photos of plump politicians with a caption warning the smoker that much of the money they have spent goes to the man in the picture.

That might really get people giving up!


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.

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