It has been an interesting week.
The 2016/2017 Healthy Ireland Report was released on Wednesday and it was quite telling when it came to tobacco. Just two weeks ago on radio I heard an anti-smoker claim that smoking rates are down below 17% in Ireland and it was all due to bans, restrictions, high taxation and denormalisation. But the Healthy Ireland Report shows that our smoking rate is actually 23%, (well over a million smokers!), which is about what it was in 2004 when the smoking ban was first introduced. So much for that ban, all of the restrictions, the ridiculously high taxation and the insidious denormalisation. We forget of course that smoking is completely legal in the State and the Government are very happy to be receiving over €1.2 billion in revenue from it each year.
You will have heard many times in the media that over 70% of smokers want to quit but Healthy Ireland rubbishes this assertion. According to it, just 11% are trying to quit and they do not explain what they mean by this or how successful the attempts are. They say 20% are planning to quit but again we don’t know if they mean this year of this century. They add as well that 28% are thinking about quitting but not planning to. But the bombshell is that 40% are not thinking of quitting at all. Add the 28% who have no actual plans to quit and the number wishing to continue smoking becomes 68% of the total. In reality then, instead of saying that over 70% of smokers want to quit, you should present the facts correctly by saying that that over 70% of smokers don’t want to quit. But that would damned inconvenient news in some places.
Bearing in mind all of the shaky, if not plain bad science that has condemned smoking in the first place and legality of continuing to smoke if it is your own choice, then there is no real justification for the way smokers are currently treated. And yet people still carp on at us to quit. This brings me to the Global Forum on Nicotine meeting this week in Dublin. Martin Dockrell, a one-time stalwart of ASH UK and lifelong campaigner against smoking, was one of the main speakers at this event. Over and over again he firmly asserted that e-cigs were safe to use and they should be supported by Governments and Health bodies everywhere. He was completely unambiguous about it. He cited several items of research that show that exposure to the resultant vapour from an e-cig is totally harmless and he claimed that those who oppose the use of e-cigs anywhere are condemning smokers to continue smoking. The other three speakers concurred wholeheartedly with his views. Also you can read the thoughts of another of the speakers, David T Sweanor, here. But if nothing else, the GFN event left me in no doubt but that e-cigs are safe and if a smoker wishes to try quitting then they should be encouraged to use an e-cig everywhere they go. One audience member from the UK said that what convinced him to switch was the many pubs in his area that welcomed vaping on their premises. My own experience here in Cork supports that view.
But the very next day, the Journal ran a poll asking its readers, “Would you like to see vaping banned in indoor public places?” Incredibly, 12,275 people voted. To put that in perspective for you, the complete Healthy Ireland Report was based on the answers of 7,498 people. Anyway, to my utter shock, 65%, or 8,100 voters, in the Journal would support a ban in indoor public places. Bearing in mind that there is no medical or scientific justification for this, why would they be so mean-spirited as to throw a smoker out for wanting to quit? So for enlightenment, I read some of the readers comments to the poll.
Niall Sullivan wrote that ‘Vaping likely saves lives. Smoking destroys lives. Big difference. Vaping is steam, not smoke. Why would anyone want to ban steam? Not liking something is not a good enough reason to ban it. That’s called intolerance. Those seeking to ban steam, then jump in their cars and burn petrol.’ In answer to that Darren Bates wrote, ‘maybe I don’t want your f***ing nicotine steam on me when I’m trying to eat my meal or have a nice trip to the cinema. Why don’t you be a man and quit?’ But there were more stupid observations. Peter Denham wrote, ‘Waa waa I got addicted to something that’s harmful to others health everyone should put up with me.’ How’s that for crass ignorance? One good comment caught my eye though from Brendan Mason. “Nanny state. 1st country to ban smoking and have a health crisis.”
Oddly enough, the speakers at the GFN maintained that to resrict the use of e-cigs was to drive people back to smoking. As Forest has consistantly pointed out too, if you force people back on the cigarettes while at the same time making them prohibitively expensive, you are actually feeding vapers into the hands of the criminal smugglers who’ll sell cheap fags to anyone with the money. So it was no surprise to come home to the headline, “€4.5 million worth of cigarettes found at Dublin Port in container marked ‘tyres” This was from the same Journal that ran a poll showing the majority want to marginalise those trying to quit smoking.
Like I said, it has been an interesting week!