My very good friend Dick Puddlecote was kind enough to invite me to Forest’s 35 year anniversary bash at Boisdale of Belgravia last night, and I’m very pleased that he did.
On the same evening and just before the Forest event started there was a “discussion event” at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine chaired by Martin McKee and Richard Horton, and entitled “Can the war on tobacco be won?”. Well, it was only three stops on the tube from where we were going anyway, so it would have been rude not to attend, right?
I’m not going to go into the minutiae of everything that was said in the discussion, suffice it to say that in the whole hour and half event they did not mention smokers once – it was entirely geared towards planning the destruction of the tobacco industry, a pipe dream in anyones books. E-cigarettes were not discussed at any great length, but as expected given Martin McKee’s involvement, the premise was that they were nothing more than a ruse by big tobacco to entrap unwary children and non smokers into a lifetime of tobacco consumption, and “there is no evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers to quit” – keep up the good fight Martin, your sponsors will be so pleased.
And so, fresh from that particular dose of utter insanity, we arrived at the Forest event. Boisdale of Belgravia was already packed to the gills with people and the hubbub of conversation was almost deafening. Among those present were numerous MPs (and Lembit Opek), bloggers, think tanks, singer songwriter Joe Jackson, who also wrote the eye opening ‘Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State”, and of course a large number of smokers (and non smokers) just happy to be among friends and like minded people. The tobacco industry was also well represented I understand, but strangely they did not seek me out to brainwash me into returning to the fold contrary to popular scaremongering in some circles.
Boisdale’s smoking terrace is something to behold. Naturally it was popular last night, so much so that at one point they were having to operate a ‘one in one out’ policy as so many people crowded up there. It is comfortably furnished, heated, and they even offer blankets for cold nights. There was a constant rotation of people, all mingling and greeting old and new friends. Many showed an interest in vaping and a few even had a go on my device, although the consensus seemed to be that my flavour of choice was too sweet for them. Above all, the main theme was that this event was all about choice, and speaking to people it is difficult to believe that there is not a ground swell of public who are fed up with being bullied into living their lives in the manner prescribed by the state.
The comparison between the two events I attended yesterday could not be more extreme. At the first there were the ideological rantings of those who think it their place to control how we all live, what risks we take, how we balance risk against pleasure, and who are conceited enough to believe that their own war on the tobacco industry trumps all other interests. At the second were people who were happy to enjoy life to the full, and just want to be left alone to do so. I know whose company I prefer.