What does Forest stand for?
Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco.
When was it founded?
Forest was launched in 1979 by a former Battle of Britain fighter pilot (and pipe smoker) Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris. Legend has it that he was standing on the platform at Reading railway station, puffing on his pipe, when an old biddy walked up and demanded that he put it out. He was so annoyed that he decided to get a few like-minded individuals together and launch a campaign to defend smokers’ rights. The rest, as they say, is history.
Who funds you?
Most of our money is donated by UK-based tobacco companies. A smaller sum comes from members of the public.
OK, but aren’t you still just a mouthpiece for the tobacco industry?
No. We speak our mind as we see fit and we guard our independence jealously – whatever the cost. In 2001, for example, our decision to pursue a successful campaign against Customs and Excise cost us dearly when one tobacco company decided to withdraw funding because of our work in this area. C’est la vie. We represent the consumer, not the tobacco industry.
How many members do you have?
Forest is not a membership organisation and we are not run by committee. People can register their support for our work and make donations but we are a political and media lobby group.
Do you have any well-known supporters?
The late great Auberon Waugh, editor of the Literary Review, was a member of our Supporters’ Council. Another supporter was inventor Trevor Baylis who died in 2018. Other supporters have included TV chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson, musician Joe Jackson, artist David Hockney, Oscar-winning playwright Ronald Harwood and businessman Ranald Macdonald, managing director of the Boisdale Restaurant Group.
Who are your spokesmen?
Simon Clark, director of Forest, is our principal spokesman. Simon is the fourth director of Forest. He was appointed in 1999.
Do you really believe that smokers have rights?
We don’t believe that smokers have the right to light up whenever and wherever they want. We urge smokers to be considerate to those around them, especially children. We do however believe that smokers – who represent almost a fifth of the adult population – should be accommodated where it’s possible to do so without inconveniencing non-smokers. Why does smoking have to be banned in ALL enclosed public places? What’s wrong with well-ventilated, designated smoking rooms or, better still, pubs and bars that are licensed to allow adults to smoke so smokers and non-smokers can socialise together, if that’s what they choose to do? This is about freedom of choice, which is why so many non-smokers support our work.
So you accept restrictions on smoking?
Of course. We understand the need for restrictions – even bans – on smoking in many public places. We oppose a comprehensive ban, however, because we believe that, with the help of technology, prohibition is not only illiberal and intolerant, it’s completely unnecessary. Where private businesses are concerned, we want the current legislation amended so that pubs and clubs can provide, if they wish, a well-ventilated smoking room for customers, members and staff.
Surely health considerations are paramount?
Good health is very important, but it’s not the only factor in the pursuit of happiness. We accept the health risks associated with smoking and other tobacco products and we accept that government has a role to play educating people about those risks, but in a free society freedom of choice and market forces are equally important. The anti-smoking culture that has developed in Britain is profoundly unhealthy because it encourages some people – employers and politicians, for example – to openly discriminate against a significant minority of the population. What next? Is government going to target fat people or those who, in the eyes of evangelical health campaigners, drink too much? Oh, sorry, that’s already happening, isn’t it?
What about the rights of non-smokers to breathe clean air?
Of course we encourage smokers to be considerate to those around them, but many of us live and work in an urban or industrial environment full of car fumes and other pollutants, so why make such a fuss about a tiny bit of tobacco smoke that is massively diluted in the surrounding air? In the real world we all have our likes and dislikes and we have to be tolerant of other people’s habits, one of which is smoking.
What is your policy on underage smoking?
Forest represents adult smokers. Adults are old enough to make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to consume tobacco, taking into account the health risks and other factors such as cost. We certainly don’t want anyone under 18 to smoke because it’s often used as a stick with which to beat adult smokers. However, the best way to reduce youth smoking rates is not to hide tobacco under the counter, outlaw tobacco vending machines or ban adults from smoking around children (in cars or children’s playgrounds) but to crack down on those who sell or supply cigarettes to teenagers and to make it an offence to buy tobacco if you are under 18 (bringing tobacco into line with alcohol).
Do you provide information about smoking to children?
We can’t control access to the information on our website, but if you are are under 18 and want further information for a school essay or debate we do need a written request signed by your parent or teacher. This is to protect us as much as it is to protect you.
You’ve lost the battle on public smoking, what next for Forest?
We may have lost the battle but the war against intolerance and excessive government intervention in our daily lives is there to be won and Forest has no intention of giving up. We will never stop arguing for exemptions to the smoking ban to bring the UK into line with most European countries where there is greater tolerance of smokers, but currently our principal aims and objectives are to stop the smoking ban being extended to pavement areas outside pubs and cafes and other outdoor areas such as parks and beaches, and to fight the ‘denormalisation’ of smoking, the use of junk science by the tobacco control industry, and any form of discrimination against the consumers of tobacco, especially in areas such as employment.
If you have any more questions you would like us to answer, please email: