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Ash and the Irish Nanny State

The Forest Ireland letter to the Irish Times last week has prompted a response from no less a luminary than Dr. Patrick Doorley, the Chairman of ASH Ireland.

His letter is entitled “Tobacco is not a normal product.” The word normal is defined as, conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. The tobacco plant is a naturally growing item of vegetation and is a member of the Nightshade family of plants. The Nightshade variety includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and many others and just like the tobacco plant, all nightshade family members contain nicotine. Nicotine is a naturally occurring chemical in nature as well. Nightshade plants are quite usual, typical of Mother Nature and capable of growing all around the world. So tobacco is perfectly normal.

In some areas tobacco is chewed and in others it is ground to a moist powder called snus and taken orally. It is a variant of tobacco snuff which is taken nasally. Early uses of ignited tobacco typically include pipes to smoke it and reported instances of this go back over a thousand years of our civilization. Nightshade plants were native to the “New World,” It was Sir Walter Raleigh who brought these plants to Europe and though the tobacco plant didn’t grow well in Ireland, the potato thankfully flourished. So in answer to Dr. Doorley, tobacco is a very normal product indeed.

But our Forest letter, which kicked off this correspondence, suggested that Ireland has become a Nanny State. Strangely though, his method of rejecting this accusation is to claim that, “Ireland it is an international leader in the fight against tobacco and nicotine addiction.” Well yes Doctor, but you are doing that by nannying all of us with your patronizing legislation. Tobacco has been made so falsely expensive that only someone like a doctor perhaps, can afford to buy in the shops anymore. Smokers resent this selective burden on them and it is not desirable either to have to deal with the underworld to buy a simple packet of cigarettes. But that is what nannying has done to us.

At the core of all of this is that there’s a goodly portion of the population who know and understand the risks of smoking and yet they are happy to trade the risk factor in return for the pleasure it gives them. It is not for everybody of course but it is legal to enjoy a smoke and so it should be. Every human endeavor is fraught with risk and we are even learning now that any area of consumption comes with its own risks. Obesity, we are told, is now the new tobacco, whatever that’s supposed to mean. But if adults wish to smoke, it is not up to Dr. Doorley or the Government to try to prevent them. When they do intervene and penalize smokers in any way, we call it Nannying. A nanny is a person employed to look after children and yet to legally smoke here you must be over eighteen. So nannying is what it is Doctor, plain and simple. We are not children.

Then he bemoans the modest support given to the smoker’s voice in Ireland by the tobacco companies and appears to imply that Forest benefits from the sales of cigarettes. In reality the money we do get barely allows us to do much more than respond to the many attacks on Irish smokers but the Tobacco Control Industry would deny smokers even that voice in the ongoing debate. Smokers are never spoken to directly but are referred to collectively like a huge herd of sheep. People like Dr. Doorley love to go on the media and tell you what we smokers think and want. It spoils the party for them when Forest is also on to explain that they are wrong on several counts.

But it always annoys me when Forest funding comes up that nobody asks where ASH gets all of its money from. At a generous guess I would say that ASH has a budget twenty times that of Forest and they are only one of many organisations that go to make up the Tobacco Control Industry here. Interestingly too, all of them appear to favour the nanny approach rather than education and engagement with smoking adults.

That is the real element which is not normal.