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Forest is a British based smokers’ rights group. Founded in 1979, the name is an acronym for ‘The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco’.

  • This page is about the present-day Forest; for more on its historical reliance on tobacco funding, the influence of the industry and Forest’s aim to develop into “an aggressive and intemperate adversary” – see the TobaccoTactics page on the History of Forest, and the page on its director Simon Clark.


Since 1979, the tobacco industry has created or planned smokers’ rights groups in at least 26 countries worldwide. Organised and predominantly funded by tobacco companies, these front groups typically aim to maintain ‘controversy’ about second-hand smoke, negate the work of public health lobbyists and shift the focus of debate away from the industry and onto smokers.12

Forest has a website and its director, Simon Clark is an active blogger for the cause at Simon Clark – Taking Liberties. Other online Forest initiatives such as The Free Society and the Hands Off Our Packs campaigns are discussed below.
In 2017 Forest opened its Brussels office Forest EU.


Historically, Forest has received almost all its funding from four major tobacco companies: Philip Morris (now PMI and Altria), British American Tobacco (BAT), Imperial Tobacco (now Imperial Brands) and Gallaher, now owned by Japan Tobacco International.345

In January 2000, Forest’s director Simon Clark told the House of Commons Select Committee on Health that 96 per cent of its total GB£250,000 budget came from the tobacco industry.6 At an inquiry by the Greater London Assembly (GLA) in December 2001, minutes state that Clark was “proud” to receive money from the tobacco industry.7

Forest’s website now carries a disclaimer that “Forest is supported by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Limited and Gallaher Limited (a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies). The views expressed on this or any other Forest-affiliated website are those of Forest alone.”8

As UK Debated Plain Packaging, Forest’s Income Doubled

In 2010, Forest’s accounts showed that the organisation received GB£175,000 in funding. 9 In November that year, the UK Government announced it would consider introducing plain packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products. The following year, 2011, the Tobacco Control Plan for England included a commitment to a public consultation on plain packaging.10 That year, 2011, as the government announced its commitment to plain packaging, Forest’s income rose to GB£237,000.

The UK Government’s consultation on plain packaging lasted from April 2012 until August 2012. Forest’s accounts reveal that for the year of the plain packaging consultation its income increased to GB£346,000, nearly double the amount it had received just two years previously.11 That year, 2012, Forest admitted to the Financial Times that it received some GB£330,000 in corporate tobacco funding, which equates to roughly 95 per cent of its income.12 In 2013, BAT acknowledged it had granted funding support for the Hands Off Our Packs (HOOP) campaign.13


The group’s stated mission is “to protect the interests of adults who choose to smoke or consume tobacco”. and their website banner reads: “Voice and friend of the smoker”.14
Its current aims closely map the historical objectives of major tobacco companies’ public affairs strategies.

According to the Forest website, key priorities include:

  • counteracting the “denormalisation” of tobacco
  • preventing further restrictions on the purchase and consumption of tobacco
  • lobbying politicians to amend public smoking bans and accommodating those who choose to consume a legal product
  • building support among “tobacco friendly groups at home and abroad”
  • “highlighting the increasingly intrusive nature of Big Government in the lives of private individuals”.15

Forest Positions Echo Those of the Tobacco Industry

Against Tax Rises

Reiterating positions taken by tobacco manufacturers and their trade association in the UK, the Tobacco Manufacturers Association (TMA), Forest has repeatedly claimed that tobacco tax increases are regressive (unfair to poorer smokers); that tax increases will reduce government revenues (while also emphasising how much smokers contribute to the economy); and that they will lead to an increase in illicit trade.

  • In October 2018, Forest said that the planned UK government budget increase in tobacco duty was “grossly unfair” on people on lower incomes. It claimed that this would “inevitably encourage more people to buy tobacco on the black market or in countries where tobacco is significantly cheaper” which would “hit legitimate retailers at home”, and that the “government will lose much needed revenue so no-one wins apart from criminal gangs and illicit traders”.16
  • In February 2016, it described tobacco taxes as “punitive” and that they should not “increase poverty or inequality”. It described the UK as a “hotspot for illicit trade including counterfeit cigarettes” which would “benefit no-one other than criminal gangs and black market traders”. It argued that “smokers would still make a major contribution to the economic health of the nation, far in excess of the estimated cost of treating smoking-related diseases”.17
  • In March 2014, it claimed that “Recent history shows that increasing tobacco duty above inflation fuels illicit trade” and that “The Treasury loses billions of pounds to illicit traders every year”. It added that “Law-abiding consumers are being penalised” and that poor and elderly smokers would be most affected by the annual increase”.18
  • In March 2012, Forest attacked the Chancellor’s decision to increase tobacco duty by five per cent above inflation as “a smugglers’ charter”, and an “attack on all law-abiding smokers who support Britain’s retailers by purchasing their cigarettes at home”.19

Against Plain Packaging

  • In January 2012, Forest announced a new campaign and website Hands Off Our Packs (HOOP), to “give opponents of plain packaging of tobacco a chance to have their say”.20 The campaign website included an anti-plain packaging petition.21 At the close of the first UK public consultation on plain packaging, Forest announced that 235,000 people had signed in opposition. However, questions have been raised regarding the legitimacy of the signatures (see The figures just don’t add up).
  • In February 2013, at a crucial time in the plain packaging debate, with the Department of Health’s report on the consultation expected to be released in the spring 2013, Forest created a new campaign called “Say No to Plain Packs”.22 Simon Clark stated in his Taking Liberties blog on 5 February 2013 that Forest “needs YOUR help to tell YOUR member of parliament that they should oppose plain packaging”.23 On the HOOPS webpage, a news release stated:

“Hands Off Our Packs, the campaign set up and run by the smokers group Forest, has launched a new website that it hopes will encourage thousands of people to tell their local MP about their opposition to plain packaging of tobacco…At a click of a button a template letter will be sent to their MP”.24

Clark stated: “It has now been six months since the consultation closed and we have still to hear anything from the Department of Health. It is time that we helped put MPs in the picture”.24

Image 1. Hoops interactive banner on the Liberal Democrat Voice website, 10 June 2014 (source:

  • In May 2014, after the release of the Chantler Report revealed it is “highly likely” that standardised packaging would help decrease the incidence of smoking in children, Forest launched a follow up campaign called “No, Prime Minister”. This campaign invited its followers to send a pre-written email to the Prime Minister to “make your feelings against plain packaging known”. 25
  • On 10 June 2014, in anticipation of the UK’s next phase of consultation on plain packaging, Forest launched a 72-hour online advertising campaign across the political advertising network MessageSpace (Image 1). The campaign was explicitly aimed at creating more opposition to plain packaging during this next phase of deliberation. The campaign secured “total exposure on websites and blogs including Guido Fawkes, ConservativeHome, Labour List, Liberal Democrat Voice, Left Foot Forward, UK Polling Report, Political Betting and Newsbiscuit”.26 While it is not known how much Forest paid for such widespread advertising of its campaign, it is known that Forest is directly supported by major tobacco companies (see above), who have actively opposed plain packaging legislation.

Image 2. Forest Campaign Advertisements in The House (left) and Total Politics (right) July 2014 (source: The House and Total Politics)

Forest has been lobbying and campaigning against plain packaging throughout the consultation period. Shortly after the draft regulations were published by the UK Government, director Simon Clark protested the measures, attesting plain packaging to be “another step towards the infantilisation of Britain”.27 Clark went on to say:

“The impact of plain packaging on retailers and consumers could be extremely damaging. Evidence suggests that standardised packaging could lead to the UK being flooded with fake cigarettes.”28

Throughout the end of June and start of July 2014, Forest also promoted their No, Prime Minister campaign online via full page advertisements campaigning against plain packaging in The House magazine (circulated among Members of Parliament and civil servants) and Total Politics (available to the public). See Image 2 for copies of these advertisements.

  • For more information on Forest’s ‘Say No to Plain Packs’ campaign targeting MPs and the ‘No, Prime Minister’ campaign see Hands Off Our Packs.

Promoting Misleading Data on Plain Packaging in Australia

To mark the second anniversary of the introduction of plain packaging in Australia on 1 December 2014, Philip Morris and BAT widely disseminated what they described as an “independent analysis of the plain packaging legislation”.29 The report, titled “The plain truth about plain packaging: An econometric analysis of the Australian 2011 Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, was sent to media outlets by Philip Morris as “independent” proof that “there is no evidence that plain packaging for cigarettes is working”.30

Despite being repeatedly promoted by the industry as independent research, one of the report’s authors, Professor Sinclair Davidson, who had spoken out against plain packaging,31 was at the time a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.32 The IPA has a history of receiving funding from tobacco companies.30

In the UK, Forest launched an online ad campaign promoting the aforementioned findings (see Image 3) that featured on a variety of political websites including ConservativeHome, Labour List, Liberal Democrat Voice, Liberal Vision, Left Foot Forward, PublicNet and UK Polling Report. Labour List withdrew the advert before it was released.33

On his blog, Clark wrote:

“New evidence, says Forest, suggests plain packaging will not reduce the number of teenagers who smoke…Instead of declining since the introduction of plain packaging, youth smoking rates have gone up. According to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, youth smoking rates have increased by 36% in the period 2010-2013.”34

Clark promoted this 36% increase from 2.5% in 2010 to 3.4% in 2013 despite the fact that the survey producers described the increase as statistically insignificant due to sample size limitations (see above). Therefore, the presentation of an increase in youth smoking was disingenuous.

Clark also quoted an October 2014 report created by KPMG to suggest illicit tobacco in Australia is going up.34 This report was commissioned by BAT, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco and employed methodology that has been criticised as fundamentally flawed.35

Despite the lack of credibility and rigour of this evidence, Forest promoted this information as ‘evidence’ that plain packaging isn’t working and used it in the anti-plain packaging campaigns.

Against the Smoking Ban

In 2009 Forest launched the Save Our Pubs & Clubs Amend The Smoking Ban campaign. In August 2011, TV chef, publican and Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson launched an e-petition calling upon the government to review the smoking ban.36 Simon Clark has conceded that he asked the chef to submit the petition. “On Thursday August 4 the Government launched its new e-petition website. As most readers know, I’m not a fan of petitions in general”, he wrote. “Nevertheless I spoke to Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson and he agreed to submit a petition titled ‘Save Our Pubs and Clubs – Amend The Smoking Ban”.37

Yet on the British Government’s e-petition website only Worrall Thompson’s name was visible, without any mention of Forest or his role as its patron. To the unsuspecting British public, this appeared to be just a celebrity chef putting in a petition, not a pro-smoking organisation.38

In March 2011, Forest also called for amendments to the Scottish smoking ban ahead of the fifth anniversary of its implementation.39

In September 2020, the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust announced that smoking would be banned on all hospital grounds. This decision was strongly criticised by Forest. Simon Clark, the Director of Forest said:40

  • “Banning smoking on hospital grounds, including all outdoor areas, is cruel and unnecessary”
  • “Smoking in the open air does not threaten anyone else’s health and many smokers take comfort from a cigarette, especially in stressful situations”
  • “A fairer solution would be to provide sheltered smoking areas away from hospital entrances but not so far away that it discriminates against the elderly and the infirm”
  • “Instead the Trust has put smoke free ideology ahead of common sense and compassion”

In September 2020, Forest published a report titled “Smokefree Ideology: How local authorities are waging war on choice and personal freedom”, which claims councils are exceeding legal smoke free requirements by imposing strict smoking and vaping bans in outdoor public spaces.4142 Forest submitted Freedom of Information requests to 340 local authorities in England and Wales, and 32 in Scotland regarding their restrictions on smoking outdoors. Josie Appleton, author of the report said:42

  • “This isn’t about the risk of passive smoking, it’s a moral crusade. Smoking is being treated as a shameful activity that should never be seen in public spaces or near official buildings.”
  • “Absurdly, some councils are stopping their workers from vaping too, which makes it harder for smokers to give up. It would be better if councils focused on providing public services, rather than interfering in the lifestyle choices of their employees and residents.”

Against the Display Ban

On 9 March 2011, Forest attacked the British Government’s decision to ban the display of tobacco products in shops, arguing it would “damage the retail trade, encourage organised crime and discriminate against law-abiding consumers”. Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “If the Government’s tobacco control plan goes ahead Britain will become a smugglers’ paradise”.43

Against the EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision

On 29 July 2013, Forest launched a new campaign, No Thank EU, to fight against the proposed EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision. The new TPD proposed:

  • an increase in the size of health warnings on tobacco products to 75% of the front and back of the pack;
  • the prohibition of ‘characterising flavours’ including menthol;
  • a ban on slim cigarettes;
  • the maintenance of the sales ban on snus in countries other than Sweden; and
  • licences for e-cigarettes containing nicotine above a certain nicotine threshold.

The Forest campaign promoted five reasons to oppose the proposals which echo well-rehearsed industry arguments against tobacco regulation (see images below).44

Opposed tobacco endgame 

Forest has lobbied against proposed tobacco endgame policies in the UK.45 For details see Tobacco Industry Interference with Endgame Policies. 

Affiliations with Other Pro-Smoking Groups

Forest also ran The Free Society, which advocated “on behalf of those who want less not more government interference in their daily lives”.46 It was part of a wider libertarian network that includes the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs. The Free Society co-hosted events with other liberal-minded groups including the Institute of Economic Affairs, Adam Smith Institute, Democracy Institute, Manifesto Club, Liberal Vision and Privacy International. By March 2015, the Free Society campaign website redirected to Forest.47

In June 2011, for instance, Privacy International published a report on smoking and privacy, produced and paid for “at the request” of pro-smoking group Forest.48 Musician and Forest supporter Joe Jackson wrote the foreword for this report. Read more about this at the Privacy International page.


Forest says on its website that it “is proud to have been supported by the late, great Auberon Waugh and fellow journalist Jeffrey Bernard who wrote the foreword to The Forest Guide to Smoking in London (1997)”.

It also lists the following high profile supporters, a list which has remained unchanged for many years:

  • Chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson
  • Artist David Hockney
  • Musician Joe Jackson
  • Inventor Trevor Baylis
  • Screenwriter Ronald Harwood
  • Businessman Ranald Macdonald.495051

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  13. Simon Millson, Group Head of Corporate Affairs for BAT, Letter to Deborah Arnott, ASH, 20 May 2013
  14. Forest, Forest – Voice and Friend of the Smoker, website banner, accessed July 2019
  15. Forest, About Forest: Key Priorities, Forest website, undated, accessed July 2019
  16. Forest, Budget: Further increase in tobacco duty “grossly unfair”, Press Release, accessed July 2019
  17. Forest, Axe the tobacco duty escalator, say Forest, Press release, 15 February 2016, accessed July 2019
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  33. abSimon Clark, Memo to the Prime Minister from Down Under, Taking Liberties blog, 1 December 2014, accessed July 2019
  34. A. Gilmore, A. Rowell, S. Gallus, A. Lugo, L. Joossens, M. Sims Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: A review of the PMI funded Project Star report, Tobacco Control , 2014;23:51-61, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051240
  35. Forest, Chef launches e-petition to amend smoking ban, 25 August 2011, accessed July 2019
  36. Simon Clark, Leader of the House of Commons and the smoking ban e-petition, 15 August 2011, accessed July 2019
  37. HM Government, ‘Save Our Pubs and Clubs – Amend The Smoking Ban, e-petition, archived 30 October 2011, accessed July 2019
  38. Forest, Time to rethink Scotland’s smoking ban, says Forest, 24 March 2011, accessed July 2019
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