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Alcohol concern

Excise on wine brought in around €231 million in both 2011 and 2012, according to Department of Finance figures.*

The take for the first nine months of this year was at €174.8 million. The expected boost in trade in the run up to December is likely to bring the final figure well above the €231 million figure by the end of the year. Interestingly, that extra euro on a bottle of wine has raised €45 million in taxes. It suggests that wine consumption here is forty-five million bottles a year. I suspect that the wine drinking population of Ireland is well under one million people, or maybe even as low as a half a million people. That's a lot of 'winos.'

Alcohol is cancer causing, a major contributor to heart disease and obesity, and it the single biggest cause of liver disease in humans. Alcohol which naturally evaporates from your glass is a known Class-1 carcinogen making second-hand alcohol, or the involuntary inhalation of these fumes a health hazard. It has always been known that alcohol can be addictive also. Alcohol Action Ireland estimates that the annual death rate from drink is 1,056. As such, there is certainly a clear case to ban the consumption of alcohol in all public places because of this.

AAI have some other interesting facts to consider. Alcohol-related problems cost Ireland an estimated €3.7 billion in 2007. That is nearly twice the estimate for smoking. Treating alcohol-related injuries and diseases cost the healthcare system an estimated €1.2 billion – around 8.5 per cent of the total annual healthcare budget. Every night 2,000 hospital beds are occupied for alcohol-related reasons. Ten per cent of all general in-patient hospital costs, seven per cent of GP costs and up to 30% of emergency department costs are alcohol-related.

It gets worse! An estimated €1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent on dealing with alcohol-related crime, including violence and vandalism. An estimated €527 million is lost on alcohol-related absenteeism and accidents in the work place. Beyond the immeasurable human costs, each fatal car collision is estimated to cost the state €3 million. In 2007, alcohol-related road collisions cost an estimated €526 million. A 30% reduction in alcohol-related harm would save taxpayers an estimated €1 billion a year, according to the Chief Medical Officer of Ireland

We read reports regularly that our consumption of alcohol has reached crisis proportions and then, often in the same week, there are other reports pointing to a fall in consumption of alcohol. So much for reports then. But there is no doubt that it is a health crisis and a massive financial drain on all of us. And it is all totally unnecessary, that's the stupid thing about it. The act of drinking alcohol is utterly senseless and unnecessary. Pure alcohol is a deadly poison that renders the drinker impaired after even one dilute glass of beer, according to the National Roads Authority. Why would any half-thinking adult ever drink a drop of it?

If alcohol were to be exposed to a single ray from the spotlight that is currently focussed on tobacco there would be some drastic changes. For example, a bottle of average wine in the off-license would cost about €50. The pint in the local would go for €12-15. Due to secondhand alcohol fumes your drink would come with a lid on it and you would have to go outside the door to take a sip. Extreme health fanatics would begin to complain that you should not be allowed to stand so close to the pub as well. Others would complain bitterly about the mess you make, hospitals might refuse to see you if you smell of it, and employers would be encouraged not to hire you if you drank. Drinking in front of teenagers would be denormalised and, of course, alcohol would ever be available on trains or planes either.

Has anyone got an appetite for all of that? Does Stubbs Reilly have a duty of care? Why are the ICS and the IHF so mute on the subject? How can Diagio be allowed the abomination of 'Arthur's Day?' What about our precious children etc etc?"


Political foreplay?

Sometimes it seems that even the most tenuous reasons are employed to force smoking into the news.

We know that Stubbs Reilly will cram some tobacco comment onto the front page if the brown stuff hits the propeller elsewhere in his kingdom at any time. But that diverting tactic alone cannot account for the daily diet of tobacco stories we are getting now.

The latest film-flam comes from UCG, an otherwise serious university. Under the heading 'Youth smoking falls from 20% to 12%' the nation learns to its relief that smoking is all but over in this country. Apparently another questionnaire was sent out to chosen teenagers and the results are just in.

Asked to self-report on their own smoking experiences, both of them, or maybe a thousand of them (we are not told), claimed angelically to be celibate when it came to the evils of tobacco. Of course there are always the bad boys who declared they smoked whether they did or not, just to annoy authority. Others probably had a laugh filling out this questionnaire and would probably have liked to put their religion down as 'Jedi' or maybe 'Shakira'.

What baffles the thinking mind is that this lightweight waste of research money should be taken seriously by the newsrooms. Does anyone over 25 believe a single thing those brats admitted to or denied? Are the white coats behind it so confident of getting on the news regardless that they have the nerve to put their names to horseshit like this? And what of the journalists, programme producers and announcers? Where do they see the sense in this story knowing, as they must, that it is a non-news piece of fabrication?

But maybe the heavy hand of Stubbs is behind it after all. Rumour has it that the HSE has overrun its budget by a cool billion this year alone and the portly one is going to need a hell of a diversion in the coming days running up to the Budget lest he finds himself promoted sideways.

Hints of an imminent re-shuffle must having him scampering wildly for a success story of his own and who better than the usual suspect, the smokers, as a juicy ass for him to kick. It will be big news after all when he does finally get drop-kicked out the front door of the Dail so maybe film-flam like this is just the political foreplay before the main event.

Politics is indeed a dirty business!


O'Meara gets away with it again

On Tuesday I debated live with Kathleen O'Meara of the Irish Cancer Society.

This morning she was on the air again promoting the idea of plain packaging as a benefit to society at large.

On Morning Ireland Kathleen maintained that the tobacco companies are "Recruiting 50 new smokers a day to replace those who have died or quit every day."

I wrote this down for a reason. The tactic always employed by anti-smokers is the use of fabricated figures to set the agenda for the debate. They do it at the very beginning to ensure there can be no defence. They appear to have settled on a mortality rate of 5,200 from smoking and they now all parrot this without interruption.

The tactic though is only effective when the figures are believed or accepted. This is particularly true in the media. It should be the job of a professional journalist to test the veracity of the figures given before allowing them to be a part of any debate but, sadly, this is never done.

HIQA, the hospital's admission system, doesn't record who smokes and who doesn't so the hospitals don't know if the dying patient ever smoked. No death certificate states 'cause of death' as smoking, either primary or secondary. The Central Statistics Office does not even have an illness category called smoking. So where does the uncontested number of 5,200 come from? And what about the numbers quitting? What is the ICS basing its conjecture on?

They are in a unique position to pronounce on this as they have been given the sole responsibility to operate the national quitlines on behalf of the HSE and the only treatment they recommend is pharmaceutical nicotine or NRT products which cost a fortune and have a failure rate internationally of 87 per cent. The 13 per cent success rate refers to anyone who can go off cigarettes for 30 days and if they go back smoking then it is still counted as a success.

This didn't stop Kathleen adding that the number of people smoking in Ireland is now 22 per cent, a fall of 91,350 smokers since the previous figure not four months ago. And yet her own figures this morning point to a fall that of size taking seven years to achieve. Typically, she was allowed to make all these wild claims without interruption, ensuring checkmate before the 'debate' even began.

Having set the scene with the above disinformation, Kathleen then attacked tobacco marketing in the guise of attractive packets and how plain packaging is working in Australia. What does "working" mean and how could they know after a few months anyway?

She cited some questionnaire they ran on 15 and 16-year-olds and their cigarette buying trends. Forgive me for bringing this up but it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18, unless you are a criminal already, of course. Put simply, there is not a single shred of credible evidence, anywhere in the world, that shows plain packaging makes one whit of difference to young people purchasing tobacco and conjecture or fabrication are no basis for legislation.

What struck me was the fawning subservience of the Morning Ireland presenter. If I had been on and contested even one of the above fabrications, that same presenter would have eaten me alive. So much for public broadcasting and balanced and even presentation.


How's that for timing?

Don't ya just love a bit of irony.

I've just got back from Dublin and this morning's TV3 interview and I read this in the Journal.ie:

Approximately nine million cigarettes with a retail value of €4.3 million were seized by gardaí and customs officials in Co Louth this morning.

How's that for timing? And we have to remember that this is only a single load that got caught. How much more of the illegal stuff is getting in? And, of course, if it was found in Co Louth you can bet your sweet ass that some group with IRA in its name is behind it. Can you also guess what they planned to do with the proceeds?

Another 60 cents on the shop price will delight these balaclavas and motivate them to double their smugling efforts. If Customs are right and this little lot originated in Malaysia, then the smugglers probably paid 30 cent a pack. If they sold them at €3 a pack here instead of the €10 price in the shops, they'd shift nine million of them in no time and bring in a cool €1,215,000 in profit (less expenses, arf, arf). Money like that would buy you a lot of mayhem if you were so inclined and there's plenty more where that came from.

It puts that silly girl in the TV studio this morning into perspective though, doesn't it?


Breakfast briefing

I was on TV3 this morning.

I was on Ireland AM debating with Kathleen O'Meara of the Irish Cancer Society. Her employers want the Finance Minister to put up the price of a pack of cigarettes by 60 cents in the forthcoming budget.

Over the last ten years these so-called charities have demanded up to two euro to be added on budget day, and with some success too. We Irish have the dubious distinction of having the highest priced tobacco in the EU, twice the average. A full 80 per cent of the price of any tobacco here goes to the government and the remaining 20 per cent is shared out between the stakeholders who do all the work. 

These debates tend to be firmly based on dishonesty, in my opinion. The core argument for high pricing is that it reduces demand and therefore the number of people who smoke. Over successive budgets, as the price has increased, so have the numbers smoking, from 23.5 per cent to 31 per cent in six years of price increases. But Kathleen always says that endless research shows the increased pricing policy reduces consumption.

That is intuitively true of any commodity, of course. If you slapped an 80 per cant increase on bread, for example, I daresay the sliced pan would become reserved for special occasions. What is omitted, though, is that crazy price rises encourage illegal activity by creating the profit motive for criminals. As a result of blind adherence to health tyranny we now have the biggest per capita incidence of smuggled tobacco in the EU. This is hardly news in any area in the country and yet the tobacco control industry constantly denies the truth of it.

With regard to our debate on TV3 this morning, it seemed straightforward. Kathleen would first make all the usual pints, which she did, then I would point to the counter-productive nature of it. That, you would reckon, was how it should play out and the viewers could make up their own minds. 

But while one side of the story was actively encouraged by what should have been an impartial presenter, I was constantly interrupted and baited. It became very difficult to make even the simplest point, but I kept my composure nevertheless.

It occurred to several times to say to the young lady, "If you want me to answer that question please allow me to do so." That approach, though, ran the risk of positioning the 'smoker's champion' as a cantankerous crank when the opposite is true! As a result, an argument that I should perhaps have won, ended all square.

But it takes the biggest anti-smoker I know to make sense of this morning's broadcast. The current Mrs Mallon wryly observed that even before I spoke the presenter was obviously in the other camp. When I got home she told me she knew I was in for a bad time before the cameras even turned to me. According to her it was a male-female thing, pure and simple. On the sofa in front of the presenter was a large hairy male and, next to him, a demure helpless female.

Click here and judge for yourself.


Denormalisation is unethical

Last month we read that:

People in Ireland are spending more money on alcohol despite the chronic financial crisis that continues to grip the nation, official figures have revealed. Figures from the Central Statistics Office showed around €6.36bn was spent on alcohol – up 1.2% from the year before.

What interests me is that I read somewhere else that the combined pub alcohol sales nationwide stands at about €3bn and if that's right then we drink more in off-sales than on-sales. Perhaps the smoking ban social engineering project is working after all.

However the article went on to say that:

While spending on alcohol, as calculated by the CSO at current market prices, increased each year from 2009, spending on tobacco was down in 2012. It dropped by 2.4 per cent from €2.2 billion in 2011 to €2.14 billion last year.

Of course that does not include the legal stuff we bring in from abroad nor the illegal stuff available on street corners everywhere. The retailers estimate that to be another 30% onto the above figure which would show a net increase in smoking in Ireland yet again.

In conversation with a budding young pharmacist a few weeks ago I talked about the side effects of medication. He confirmed what I always knew, that any prescribed medicines carry risks. "Everything we sell has had a risk benefit analysis done," he assured me.

I felt the need later to learn more about the nature of a risk benefit analysis. As you would expect, it sets out to show that the benefits outweigh the risk and I confirmed this on many prestigious sites.

But a footnote on many of them caught my eye too. It stated that, "It is not ethical to conduct a study in which an individual or a group is labeled so as to be stigmatized or to be made less employable or insurable."

Hang on, I thought, denormalisation of smokers is all about stigmatizing us for our habit. A stigma is defined as "A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person." Does that sound familiar to smokers out there?

By the definition of their own best practice, research that denormalises the ordinary smoker is not ethical. Certain "respectable charities" in this country are very supportive of anything that marginalizes, segregates or otherwise treats the smoker as a third class citizen.

The HSE too, that bastion of all that is wholesome and correct, would like to ban smokers even outside their hospitals. Meanwhile we learn that:

Statistics from the Nursing and Midwifery Board (NMBI) published by irishhealth.com show that between 2006 and 2010, 115 fitness to practice inquiries were carried out. A total of 39 of these cases involved drug or alcohol abuse by the nurses and midwives involved. Of these, 28 involved drug abuse and 11 alcohol abuse. All of these cases also included allegations of professional misconduct.

See Drug and alcohol abuse by nurses exposed (Irish Examiner).

Mind you,given what they have to see and deal with every day, I'm just surprised that a hip-flask is not part of the crisp white uniform.


Consumers will decide what they want to drink, not the ad men or politicians

As I watched Liverpool FC coast to victory last weekend over Manchester United, it occurred to me that I have been a supporter of Liverpool Football Club for over 40 years now.

That support became more active when their weekly games became available to me on my own televison. For most of that viewing, Liverpool were sponsored by Carlsberg.

But I grew up with rugby and played it as well. The arrival of the professional game spawned Munster Rugby and the European competition became the Heineken Cup. At the same time, while being a regular beer drinker, the combined red jerseys of Liverpool and Munster have never tempted me to switch to either Carlsberg or Heineken. I know lads who swear by one or the other, but I have long ago chosen my preferred tipple. Indeed, Munster is sponsored by Toyota, but I have never owned one of their cars myself.

That is why the proposed ban on drinks sponsorship for sports is so baffling to me. Guinness has sponsored the All-Irelands for years yet I'd rather drink my own piss than down a glass of that black shite. But I do love All-Ireland day.

The rationale for a ban appears to be that should any member of the unsuspecting public actually see an ad for any of the above products, particularly on match day, they will be immediately hypnothised into parting with their cash. The mere mention of the word Carlsberg will have the mammies slinging the children's allowance about with gay abandon.

Well, I don't think so. I believe that on the rare occasions these days that you do find disposable cash in your pocket, you are very discerning about exactly what you dispose it on. The ad-man creates the awareness of an alternative product but the paying customer calls the shots at the end of the day. I have gone to the Guinness Jazz Festival where only Guinness products are available in all of the venues and have sipped a glass of Carlsberg to be sociable. But I have a few pints of what I like afterwards elsewhere.

The namby-pambies in society argue that the mere sight of a drinks ad at a sporting event sends out the wrong message. But for the supporter of any team, a few drinks in good company is an integral part of match day all over the world. As a schoolboy I remember being aware of the very best of Dublin society in the stands at Landsdowne Road, sipping from their hip-flasks as Ireland took on all-comers. Meanwhile, on the terraces, the riff raff on either side of me drank beer and ale from bottles. Neither party were doing the same the following Monday morning in their respective workplaces, though.

So it appears to be down to the very people who would never be seen dead at such a sporting occasion to decide what is normal behavior and what isn't. It's the same with smoking. Those same people would never dream of rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed on the terraces but want to see smoking banned there anyway. And if the drinks ban for sporting events should mean some clubs end up disappearing altogether, the people responsible couldn't care less.

The health and welfare of the riff raff is not their responsibility, but their careers certainly are.


Smoking at work

Lately I have been reading complaints about smoking work-breaks in blogs all over the place.

Perhaps there is an element of trolling going on but the levels of vitriol aimed at smokers who take a break for a fag outside of their workplace appears to be genuine in many quarters.

Work is an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result. The measure of work done in the modern workplace is called productivity, or the rate of good output per person. The criticism of the smoker is based on their being outside the workplace for the four to five minutes of a cigarette and therefore not producing any output during that time, good or bad.

However today most unthinking repetitive work is done by machines and more complex tasks that require thought are reserved for the humans. If your job involves sitting in front of a computer, (as so many are today), then you need to be conscious of what you are viewing and keying in at all times. The necessity to consider what you are doing demands that you stop and think regularly. You can think almost anywhere, even outside the building. Conversely, is the non-smoker sitting seething at an idle keyboard being unproductive?

David McWilliams makes a compelling case for 'napping at work' as it gives a massive boost to productivity levels. It is a logical read if you follow it to the end and begs yet another question as well. How resentful and intolerant would you be if the person at the keyboard beside you, on the same salary as you, was fast asleep? How much time would you waste on that feeling of resentment? Could you concentrate at all that day, thinking that the workload is all on your shoulders?

I have debated live on radio with outraged non-smokers who complained bitterly about the added workload they had while the smokers were outside. One man I spoke to was particularly aggrieved. He may have had a point and he may not in that particular instance. But it never occurred to him that the smokers would have preferred if they could have had their cigarette indoors while they worked. I've done that for years myself. Nor indeed does it occur to the outraged non-smoker inside that the smoker outside might be considering just how lazy the non-smokers are themselves, even as they sit in judgement of him or her.

Countless scientific studies have shown that a smokers concentration levels rise dramatically after a cigarette. It is a side-effect of an otherwise risky habit and is in no way a justifiable reason to take up smoking. But when the smokers return from their breaks, their thinking should be sharper and it might be true to suggest that a break in the open air might have helped also. Very often though when you encounter an unusual problem on your screen that stumps you, you are better off to step away from it for a while and consider it from a new angle in a different environment.

In the end we all consider ourselves to be the sharpest tool in the toolkit and individual productivity levels are not normally judged by the individual themselves. Good management should let you know where you are in that pecking order, whether you smoke or not. On a lighter note, it has been recorded that females take more bathroom breaks in a day than males, and spend longer at it too. Any of you lads up for making an issue of that?


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.

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