October 2019

A mid the world of death and disease that is inhabited by pharmacists, doctors, nurses and to a far lesser extent medical journalists, you take your laughs and lighter moments wherever you can get them. Many press releases darken my inbox each month relating to devastating illnesses and the myriad failings in our healthcare system, but rarely, one lands in the inbox that is jaw-dropping and hilarious in equal measures.

Enter Forest Ireland (nice green name!), an advocacy group that describes itself as a “smokers’ group”. Forest Ireland has beef with Minister for Health Simon Harris, who is planning to initiate moves to ban the sale of tobacco products from selfservice vending machines. This move will financially impact hoteliers and the nation’s publicans, according to the group. It goes on to state that the move would result in job losses and reduced profit margins, and it bemoans the inconvenience smokers face in having to obtain a taken from the bar. It also describes the proposal as a “nanny measure” that is “designed to reduce adult freedoms that will do nothing to protect children from taking up smoking, nor will it reduce the number of adults who smoke”.

The group was promoting a nationwide tour to disseminate its views, titled ‘Voice and Friend of the Smoker’. The irony of that title will not be lost on otolaryngologists.

My first reaction was to check that I had not unintentionally subscribed to satirical news outlet The Onion. The second was to answer the question that’s probably already popped into your head: Where is the funding coming from to promote this initiative? A quick glance at the footnotes informs us that “launched in 2010, Forest Ireland is supported by the British group Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco)… Forest Ireland receives donations from tobacco companies in Britain and Ireland. We do NOT [their emphasis] represent the tobacco industry. We have a completely independent set of goals that are focused on the right to smoke a legal product without undue harassment or discrimination.” But the real comedy gold for me was in the following quote from the press release: “… many people choose to smoke because they enjoy it, not because they are addicted.” Suddenly, I had a Rambo-style Vietnam flashback to America in the 1950s, when doctors, pharmacists, and even Santa Claus were used to promote the ‘benefits’ of smoking. Reeling in the years, indeed.