By Owen Ryan
YOU may not have heard of Forest Éireann before, a group that labels itself ‘The Voice of the Smoker in Ireland’.
Representative John Mallon is currently touring the country to fight against plain packaging for tobacco products and when he came to Ennis on Tuesday, he introduced some of his arguments, some of them rather bizarre, to The Champion.
At one stage he likened the treatment of smokers in Irish society to that of Jews under the Nazi regime, while he made some claims about the role of smoking in cancer which wouldn’t tally with the views of experts.
Forest Éireann receives funding from tobacco companies, which is hardly surprising given some of his comments, but he says he doesn’t personally benefit from his campaigning and isn’t an employee of the group.
He took up the cause around the time that the ban on smoking in the workplace was coming in. “Back in 2003 I was sort of friendly with Micheál Martin and he told me that the smoking ban idea was coming in and I said ‘nobody is asking for it’ and he said no, we’ll bring it in and people won’t be allowed smoke in the pub. I thought that was madness and I assumed that there’d be a smoking room and of course there wasn’t. When they did decide to put one in it couldn’t have a roof or walls or whatever and I started with that and started writing to the papers.
“In 2010 Forest came to me and said they were doing the same thing in the UK and asked would I work with them.”
Moves to introduce plain packaging mightn’t be that well known here yet, but the idea is something that its supporters hope will cut rates of smoking, bringing about a reduction in the various ailments associated with it.
The change to the packaging is something that Mallon is strongly against and feels is part of a campaign. “It’s part of the denormalistion and that’s what gets my back up,” he said.
He also claimed that the packaging doesn’t make any difference to whether people will smoke or not. “It (packaging) doesn’t encourage you to keep smoking, we’re adults, if you decide you decide you want to smoke you’ll smoke, there are more people around who have quit smoking than actually smoke today.”
He claimed the ban on smoking in the workplace was more to do with shaming smokers than keeping others safe from secondary smoking. “If you think about the ban, the idea of it was supposed to be to protect non-smokers, but it had nothing to do with that, basically what it had to do with was embarrassing and shaming smokers outside the door, particularly in the bars.”
Mr Mallon insists there is a very strong campaign against smokers. “All they do that’s different to you is enjoy a smoke from time to time. There’s loads of people around enjoying snorting cocaine and having joints but no one thinks any the worse of them.”
“We have the most expensive cigarettes in the EU, that started the whole smuggling epidemic that’s going on, I know in my local in Cork you can get a pack of cigarettes for as little as €3.50 if you want them and they’re €10 in the shops, it’s a joke,” he added
Cigarettes are one of the so-called ‘old reliables’, along with fuel and alcohol, which are generally increased in budgets. Mr Mallon claimed that smoking costs the HSE far more than smokers pay in taxes on cigarettes and similar products.
However, his views on some of the effects of smoking are at the very least questionable and may cause offence to those who have lost loved ones.
He claimed that “nobody has ever died here or in any other country from second hand smoke”. When it was put to him that many deaths have been caused by cancer, which resulted from smoking, he refused to fully accept the hypothesis. “Cancer is a multi factorial disease. Lifestyle, diet, stress, lack of exercise, alcohol intake, there are about 20 things, plus hereditary factors.”
Warning labels on cigarette packets should be changed, he added; “I think the pack should say that smoking contributes, as do a lot of things. It may be the biggest contributor, it may be the smallest contributor.”
He claims, and apparently believes that some companies are driving a campaign to shame people into stopping smoking, so they can make money on the back of it.
He claimed those behind products which look to help people stop smoking, see it as in their own interests “to support people who want to persecute smokers, who want to denormalise smoking, who want to make second class citizens out of smokers, because they’re depending on our addiction.”
On a personal level he says he now smokes about ten a day, down from 40 at one point.
While he accepted that there are ill effects to smoking, he says that people need freedom around it. “It still isn’t smart to smoke and I’m not promoting it. Forest is a freedom organisation, freedom of the right to enjoy smoking if you wish. If you wish to quit, then quit. Minister Reilly, Senator John Crown had the freedom when they chose to take up smoking and had the freedom to quit when they chose. Now they’re forcing people, making them too expensive, putting disgusting images on the boxes, don’t let them smoke anywhere.”