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!