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Reilly gets a dose of his own medicine

Well, I'm shocked, shocked and stunned.

You see, Irish Health, that bastion of all things healthy and decent in Ireland, asked site visitors how they rated the performance of Dr Reilly, who has now been Minister for Health for two-and-a-half years.

I have said here for some time now that when Stubbs Reilly sniffs a problem or a brewing scandal anywhere in his portfolio, he quickly averts public attention by announcing a new round of persecution for we smokers. But he won't fool anyone with this damning verdict on his tenure to date.

In offering very luke warm plaudits for, as Irish Health puts it, "Some success on the public health front in trying to push through tough anti-smoking, anti-alcohol abuse and anti-obesity measures, and he did help to to steer through the abortion legislation", the actual result of the poll would have any normal human being scrabbling for a resignation letter.

Effectively, this is his peer review of his time in office from the medical and health communities, and 83 per cent of them "Rated the Minister's performance as poor". This is not a poll done by Forest Eireann. This is on a highly respected and hugely popular website, subscribed to by anyone who's anyone in the caring professions.

And if you think that's bad, only 3% rated his performance as 'good.' Three out of every one hundred persons he presides over can only drag themselves to a soft defense of the bearded one. That has just got to be the ASH faithful.

But his litany of disgraceful failures and botch-ups is catalogued in black and white at Irish Health, for your further enjoyment.

It does pose the question though when this bully inevitably steps aside, as he most surely must, who is there among the shrinking violets in Leinster House who would be capable of facing the real health issues without condensing every issue there down to smoking?


Charities: review of tax status is a start but it doesn't go far enough

Scanning the headlines this morning, one of them hopped off the page and hit me squarely between the eyes: 'Tax status removed from 651 charities', it read.

Wow! I thought, I wonder if the Revenue boys have finally copped on to the smoker-haters masquerading as caring charities. Sadly, though, a list of 651 – ahem – 'carers' with their names at the top did not materialize so we do not learn who got the chop.

But what did turn up was the staggering fact that there are 8,000 registered charities in this country. If you were to pledge €5 to each one of them for a year it would cost you €40,000. There is one charity for every 560 citizens in the State. We are either a very generous people or the most stupid in the world.

Registered charities in Ireland are exempt from income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax, DIRT tax, capital acquisitions tax and stamp duty, according to the tax code. While required to keep annual accounts, these are not automatically checked by the Revenue Commissioners but must only be available on request.

Most surprising of all, according to the Revenue website, "There is no legal framework for the registration of charities in Ireland". Once charitable status is granted (for whatever reason), a charity does not even have to apply for tax exemption. They can assume that they have it and just carry on. In fact, some faceless civil servant decides who gets the lolly and who does not. With the millions in public money, given to these charities each year by Government, and the further millions they collect from the public directly on the streets, it is shocking that such secrecy and lack of transparency can be given to these faceless charities.

The larger more prominent charities are simply tax-free vehicles who front vested interests by lobbying ministers on their particular cause. That many of these ministers use Department money to fund the charities in the first place is the real scandal here. Smokers in Ireland are all too familiar with this ruse because the minister in question is taking your huge tobacco taxes and giving some of it to a 'charity' whose sole purpose is to persecute and alienate you for smoking. The top people on these gravy trains are paying themselves in excess of €100,000 a year.

The Irish Times article hints at the possible appointment of a 'Charity Regulator" to address the problem. I respectfully suggest that a political appointment such as that would be as effective as the bank regulator once was. But doubtless the lucky lady or man who is handed this job will also receive a lofty title that means nothing and €100,000+ a year to do absolutely nothing.

If they gave it to me I would immediately cancel all 8,000 charitable status designations and start again. They could all re-apply of course and I would look at each one on its own merit. My benchmark would be, "An organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need", Lobbyists need not apply of course and all future funding to any newly registered charity would be strictly performance based.

Taxpayers out there would start to get value for money in return for their generousity. Any objections to that?


Is Champix a cause for concern?

I have written before about the conflict of interest between the Irish Cancer Society, their financial assistance from Pfizer, and their appointment to run the Smokers Quitline on behalf of the Government.

In this context it would be difficult not to imagine that employees of the Quitline are encouraged to tell callers to buy the Pfizer drug Champix as the ideal aid to quitting smoking.

However, I have read many reports from around the world, from Canada in particular, about the severe side effects of this drug with the instance of suicides and psychotic episodes being widespread. As always with the internet, we need to be careful as to the truth about much of the postings.

For example, this report makes chilling reading. It's from a survivor of Champix and at first reading it seems genuine enough. Yet another, closer to home, is the account of a person in Ireland who takes the Champix course. Though successful this time, the account of the experience is nevertheless harrowing.

Both are enough to make one wary of trying this particular Pfizer cocktail, but neither is definitively damming. However, the proceedings in a courtroom in Birmingham, Alabama, certainly does show something is seriously amiss.

The report of the case shows Pfizer has settled 2,700 lawsuits against it pertaining to the use of Champix, (traded as Chantix in some markets). For the drug maker to pay out $273,000,000 without contesting the claims is tantamount to an admittance of the high levels of risk in using their product.

But the upstanding charity that is the ICS continues serenely to dispense the advice that Champix is the wonder drug of the new century. That's charity for you, I suppose!


Captain Reilly and his crew

Smokers might be glad to know that the incredibly inefficient HSE has been successfully re-shuffled at the top as of last week.

Stubbs Reilly made his announcement in a rambling speech that included his intention to get rid of smokers here by 2025, that old fictional smoke-free society charade. He also announced his new board of directors for the re-vamped HSE.

But lest smokers' glee gets them thinking that now the health services will turn their attention to the myriad of pressing problems both caused and faced by the HSE, I must sound an unfortunate note of caution to you all.

This all-powerful board will report directly to 'Herr Reilly' and if his comments today are anything to go by, he has set a date in his mind for the first act of prohibition in the free world since the prohibition of alcohol caused so much death and misery back in the twenties and thirties.

The war, as he calls it, against us smokers will end in twelve years time when doubtless we will all be wiped out, all one million plus of us. Discussing this with me on Newstalk, Matt Cooper asked how I would feel in twelve years time if I was still alive, given that I was a smoker. How's that for impartiality?

But, what of the new board? Perhaps they will re-direct the Minister back to providing first world health care? Well, firstly, the Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Director General is none other than Laverne McGuinness. This strikingly attractive woman comes from an accounts background and may not be a fanatical anti-smoker at all, though she might be. Her task will be oversee the biggest financial drain on the state, the HSE itself.

Tom Byrne, the new Chief Financial Officer, is not quoted as being an anti-smoker anywhere that I can find, so perhaps he will simply be the chief bean counter and nothing else too dark. Ian Carter however, in his previous role as Chief Executive Officer of St James’s Hospital, was behind their move to make the grounds smoke-free, and though this is naturally ignored for the most part, it points to where Ian might be coming from.

Pat Healy, the new Director Social Care, made it into the news when an internal e-mail from the HSE was accidentally sent to the Irish Examiner. The whole horrible mess is reported here. But Pat doesn't crop up anywhere else suggesting that smokers be gassed or hung, so perhaps he's another decent skin.

You won't find the usual antismoker rhetoric from either Stephen Mulvaney, the new Director Mental Health or indeed from Stephanie O’Keeffe, Director Health and Wellbeing, either. So what of the Regional Directors for Performance and Integration, I hear you ask with a yawn?

Well, strangely, none of these four characters have been high profile in their condemnation of the humble smoker either. David Walsh (HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster), Angela Fitzgerald (HSE Dublin North East), Gerry O’Dwyer (HSE South), Gerry O’Neill (HSE West), have not appeared in the mainstream press calling for the lynching of those caught in possession of tobacco!!! Now I also caution that the above lot could all be card-carrying hooligans from ASH who sign themselves variously as Joe Smith or DadDiedfromFags etc...

Strange though that the bankrupt crusader should man his bridge on the good ship smoke-free Ireland with eleven of the kind of officers that would appear not to share his love of the sea. Of course, these five year directorships, while being well paid, are merely a stepping stone to the eternal gravy train. A good yes-man or woman might expect to be richly rewarded by the bearded one for doing what they are told. That's if Reilly doesn't trip over the next election and wake up in a debtors prison instead.


Tobacco control's hidden agenda

As with all else involving the tobacco control industry, everything has a hidden agenda.

So far, they have only piously voiced concerns about the safety of e-cigarettes, hinting darkly at some hidden danger. No problem there you might think.

But the move by Stubbs Reilly to control the sales of e-cigs through pharamacies was, I believed, based on the power to change them so much as to render them ineffective and unpopular. Then when sales dropped off the bearded one could simply shrug and say, "The market decides".

But if the e-cig companies, which are small independent entities, are forced to have their products vetted by the Irish Medical Council to get passed for sale through the pharmaceutical outlets only, then they simply may not be able to afford the high cost of these tests. Were that to be the case, then e-cigs would simply not be available anywhere in Ireland, you just would not be able to get them legally.

If these small companies could afford the 'rigorous' testing process, then the testers could insist on so many changes that it would not be viable to make them, and they may even designate a watering down process that would remove the attraction of the e-cig for smokers.

Even then, to get your top-up for them, you would have to visit your GP should they decide to make them prescription only. And as you might expect, the price will shoot up also. Alternatively, the Irish Medical Council could decide to take ten years to do the testing and existing availability would be suspended until that was completed. They might simply decide to ban them on some spurious grounds, why not? The possibilities are endless.

This, I thought in my innocence, was the usual hidden agenda. The tobacco control industry is global and what crops up in one country will pop-up elsewhere soon afterwards. If some stunt is pulled in the USA then you can expect it over the Atlantic shortly afterwards. So reading the accounts in one Country will indicate what you can expect here.

I'm grateful then to Dr Siegel in America for this piece of information. Tobacco and alcohol products are currently subject to VAT and Excise duties whereas there is no Excise due on e-cigs. This makes them cheaper to sell. As the article points out, the real agenda is about the official designation of the e-cigarette and thereby the revenue that will yield from that. If Excise can be added then they double in price to you.

Many times in the past I have alluded to the direct relationship between the revenue from tobacco and the level of financial aid that the tobacco control industry get from governments. You can be pretty sure also that the revenue they receive from the pharmaceutical industry is tied directly to their sales of patches and gums as well. E-cigs threaten both of these.

So the charade of dark hints about the safety of e-cigs and the feigned concern of the Minister for Health for the smokers' welfare and his attendant duty of care to them is merely a smokescreen while they figure out a ruse to get more of your money through excise duties and to hell with your health. As pointed out before, Reilly pays the charities to hire lobbyists to lobby him to get more money from you, simple as that. The money he pays the 'charities' is dependent on you smoking and if you buy an e-cig instead they are all out of pocket.

They haven't hidden that agenda too well, have they?


Hospital smoking policy - breath of fresh air or height of hypocrisy?

Due to a friend being seriously ill, I had cause last month to visit the Cork University Hospital many times.

At all three entrances when you arrive, a loudspeaker warns you not to smoke (outside). According to this message, delivered in serious doctor tones, we are told that our smoke is drifting upwards and somehow in through the windows above, where precious children no doubt, could fall victim to a single fatal wisp of tobacco smoke.

I looked up and noticed that none of the windows above were open. It was cold and threatening rain on the days that I was there but even on warm days, hospitals are loathe to open the windows and I have been told that it is down to insurance. Apparently, anyone could simply fall out an opened window. Sigh.

Recently I read that "One in every 19 patients will pick up infection in our hospitals" and the operative word there is 'in'. The account goes on to explain that, "The main infections affecting Irish patients are pneumonia and lower respiratory tract infections, which accounted for one in five of the patients." So, you run an unacceptable risk of infection from breathing the air inside a hospital and their main worry seems to be that tobacco smoke from the great outdoors could somehow seep through a closed window.

While I was there at least four people were smoking within ten yards of the entrance door. Your high profile writer did not wish to risk an unnecessary scene and instead I went down to the main road, where I chatted happily with two smoking nurses, about to go on duty.

Our hypocrisy and double standards know no bounds.


Time to try an e-cigarette

I tasted my second electronic cigarette today and I tried it at my desk, in the office. I was 'vaping' or creating water vapour.

There are several things to know about e-cigs. When you smoke a normal cigarette there is no sensation of taking in nicotine. This is true of the NRT products too, except their chewing gum tastes like shit.

Bu you don't feel nicotine 'going in' as it were, and that's where I thought these e-cigs would fail. Without the unique taste, the individual flavours and all that lovely smoke that comes with a real cigarette, what would be the point of them?

But I was wrong. When you inhale one of the damned things you get the bang, the taste, the flavour, and you even get to blow out what looks like a tiny bit of smoke too. So what's the story here then?

They were invented by a Chinese lad ten years ago and they are really clever.

You buy two of these heavy cigarettes and a pack of seven nicotine cartridges and it all comes with a recharger like a mobile recharger. The battery is the power source for the heating coil in it.

When you inhale the heating coil draws a charge and heats the vaporizing chamber which in turn draws in a tiny bit of the nicotine fluid and vaporizes it. The inhalation is what activates the thing and it's off when you are not inhaling. A little LED light comes on at the tip to round it all off nicely.

There's no smoke without fire, of course, no carcinogens to annoy your fellow worker or drinker, no danger to anybody, in fact. As I have written here before, nicotine is neither toxic nor dangerous. It naturally occurs in the tobacco plant but concentrations are found in tomatoes and potatoes too. Like everything else the dose is the poison. These yokes are riskless smoking.

The economics are interesting too. A nicotine cartridge is the equivalent of 20 cigarettes in capacity but there is a whole other consideration. When you light any cigarette it burns all the way down before it is finished. With an e-cig you take one puff and put it away if you want. I had three puffs today, for example.

As well as that, at point of purchase the vendor should ask what you currently smoke. This will determine what cartridge best suits your needs. Then there are the flavours to consider like method, chocolate, coffee, brandy etc.

The woman who offered me a go today still smokes cigarettes in her own home. She has the e-cig in a pouch around her neck for everywhere else. In her seventies now, she is not too pushed about giving up smoking but her necklaced companion avoids hassle in public and satisfies her needs too.

So I have promised myself a treat and I'm going to buy a full set-up of these e-cigs soon. Give me a month with them and I'll be back to you with the economics of it all.


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.

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