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Gian Turci, champion of smokers' rights

I was very sorry to hear that Gian Turci, CEO of the smokers' rights group Forces International, had died of a brain haemorrhage last week.

I got the news on Thursday and I've been mulling it over ever since, wondering what to say. You see, I knew Gian but not well enough to write about him with any authority. In addition, while I liked him personally (he could be very charming), we had our differences and it would be hypocritical to suggest otherwise.

Better, perhaps, to say nothing. Then again, one or two comments have appeared on this blog asking why I haven't mentioned his death ... so, fingers crossed, here goes:

I first met Gian through Joe Jackson. Joe was keen for Forest and Forces to work together so we flew Gian over to London and the three of us had a long (and exhausting!) lunch at Boisdale. I say "exhausting" because Gian never stopped talking! He was relentless, and there was an intensity about him that was a bit daunting, if I'm honest.

To be fair, he was a mine of information, especially when it came to his specialist subject - secondhand smoke. As a result I commissioned him to produce a report that was published by Forest in 2005 under the title "Prejudice & Propaganda: The Truth About Passive Smoking" with a foreword by our then chairman, the late Lord Harris of High Cross.

Following our initial meeting in London in 2004, Gian invited me to visit him in Genoa where he lived. For various reasons I couldn't go, but we kept in touch. A typical email, sent by Gian in February 2006 shortly after MPs voted overwhelmingly for a public smoking ban in England and Wales, read:

How are you doing? I have heard of what is going on, my heart is broken, but it was not unexpected. I have interesting news and developments. Looking forward to further contacts! Take care, Gian.

Later that year we met again in London to explore what Gian called "some form of mutually beneficial cooperation". Unfortunately, while I admired his commitment and valued his opinion, Gian was infuriatingly intolerant of any strategy that differed even slightly from his own, and in 2007 he abruptly dissolved our embryonic working relationship citing irreconcilable differences.

I wasn't offended because, being Gian, it was all very amicable: "I hope you do not construe this as personal, Simon - for absolutely it is not." That was the last direct contact I had with him.

Despite our differences of opinion, I shall remember Gian as an immensely kind, warm-hearted man whose love of liberty inspired many who met him. My condolences to his wife, his two children - and to Forces International which has lost a dedicated champion of smokers' rights.

PS. Michael Siegal pays tribute to Gian HERE. See also THIS tribute on the Forces website.

Reader Comments (9)

I had the great pleasure of knowing Gian, and to those of us who did, this is a hammer blow. We have truly lost a force to be reckoned with.

For over a decade he fought the Prohibitionists with a passion unequalled, and with a brilliance to match, and also recently was one of the main drivers behind the world's first TICAP conference.

His loss is incalcuable and I only hope that we can all learn from his unwavering determination, courage, integrity and humanity.

God Bless Gian.

March 15, 2009 at 23:16 | Unregistered CommenterEamonn Mallon

I am sorry to hear of the sudden death of Gian Turci, a man I've never met but talked to many times on Skype. A man of integrity and honour, a man that spoke his mind without fear of retrebution from his detractors, a man of humility and humanity ... a man I would aspire to! God rest our good friend Gian Turci.

March 15, 2009 at 23:17 | Unregistered CommenterJohn H Baker

My biggest regret is that I didn't know Gian better or for longer. I first spoke to him about two years ago. I wish I'd known of him when my own fight against smoking bans began about 10 years ago.

He is such a great loss but he is a man who will be remembered for devoting his life to the cause and as such he has become immortal.

"Don't curse the darkness, light a candle...."

RIP Gian. I will miss your soft Italian voice and words of ultimate wisdom.

March 16, 2009 at 10:44 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

I echo Pat Nurse. I never knew him but I KNOW him. He lit the way for so many of us. His wisdom and fearless courage will live in his words, and in us, forever.

March 16, 2009 at 12:56 | Unregistered CommenterMargot Johnson

Between the lines of Simon's rather belated acknowledgement of the death of Gian Turci, I suspect there is a tale of a deeper, almost constitutional antipathy between the two. They were chalk and cheese.

Simon works within the political system. He has a lot of contacts inside it. He works the cocktail circuits, the party conferences, the media, the houses of Parliament. He meets a lot of people, talks to a lot of people. He wants to work within the system, not outside it and against it, for reform rather than revolution. He is, I'm sure (I've never met him), the most affable and clubbable of men. His attention is almost entirely fixed upon the political movers and shakers, people with power and influence. His blog is primarily intended for their consumption, to draw their attention to the absurdities and iniquities of the smoking ban and other incursions upon personal freedoms.

Gian, as far as I can see (and I never met him either) wasn't like this at all. His efforts were not directed towards the political establishment, but towards the grass roots. He set out to build an international organisation to combat Tobacco Control, and was recently instrumental in setting up TICAP. He was an energetic and inspiring general, giving advice here, encouragement there. Above all he saw the antismokers as an enemy to be fought tooth and nail.

It's not hard to see the inherent collision between the two approaches. Simon is the palace courtier who, when he learns that the peasantry have had yet another of their ancient rights revoked (the right to light little fires inside their wattle and daub huts), has a very strong word with the court chamberlain about it, and writes a letter of protest to the bishop, and draws aside his private secretary when he meets him at one of the next palace banquets. Gian was the tireless revolutionary who rallies and organises the peasants, and tells them to fight for their rights. Both are outraged by what they see, but they each respond in entirely different ways.

Which is the right way? Which is the best way? Ideally, it's Simon's way. When you see some sort of iniquity, you contact the relevant authorities, and they promptly act to put right the wrong. But what happens if they do nothing? What happens if they listen patiently, and smile, and say they'll look into the matter, and then quietly shelve it?

For this is what is happening. There is no debate whatsoever about smoking in high political circles. All are agreed in those august places that smoking is a filthy peasant habit that should be put a stop to, along with that other peasant habit of drinking cider and playing skittles. "Smokers? Fuck 'em," wrote Kerry McCarthy in her blog not long ago, to no one in particular. And this a Labour MP, who is supposed to be representing the peasantry. "Miners? Fuck 'em," she may as well have written.

Simon has been leading a long slow retreat before all this, in which one defeat follows another in steady and predictable succession. But, as the court ambassador of the tobacco companies, he is perhaps only reflecting what they have been doing all these years, which has been to conduct a 60-year-long retreat before the advancing legions of antismoking.

The last line of defence is the peasantry themselves. The political parties and the churches and the all the rest of the great and the good have abandoned them. The tobacco companies won't support them either. All they have left are themselves and their own resources. And so the initiative is now with them.

And I think Gian Turci could see this very clearly, and set about organising them and encouraging them and motivating them, perhaps exhausting himself in the process, and dying far too young as a consequence. It's happened before and it's now happening again, that ordinary people come together to fight for their rights. The political establishment is corrupt, self-absorbed, and disconnected from the people whom they are supposed to represent, and they need to be taught a lesson. And they will be taught a lesson.

Politicans? Fuck 'em. Pundits? Fuck 'em. Doctors? Fuck 'em.

March 16, 2009 at 13:12 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

When my children were young, forty odd years ago, there were two schools in our neighbourhood. Parents at each one wanted a pedestrian crossing outside their school. One set of parents, supervised by the police, marched back and forth across the road, while, at intervals, the police stopped them and the cars were allowed to pass.

The other set of parents simply sat down in the road and it was these parents who got their crossing. The others didn't.

Too often it is the establishment's glib response to say: 'Your answer is in the ballot box.' But too often, I fear, 'democracy' is used to silence people and ignore. What a shame that all that is being asked for is a fair deal and reasonable provision for smokers.

They are a large minority. Surely democratic practices should be able to handle that and to make reasonable, fair provision for them. I would hope that our legislators would see it as their duty to our nation's political virtues to listen and to act.

March 16, 2009 at 15:58 | Unregistered CommenterNorman

Was he really only 59?

He looks so much older in Simon's photo.


March 16, 2009 at 21:55 | Unregistered CommenterSonny D

Nicely written and expressed, idlex. I did know Gian quite well and one of the great things about him is that he inspired and encouraged others without even trying.

Yes, whilst Gian was in this fight it was impossible to loose hope and that is one of the reasons why he touched the lives of so many so deeply. It is also one of the reasons why I believe that the fight will also continue with renewed vigour because, in addition to fighting against an outrageous tyranny, many of us will not want to let Gian down. Only a real leader can inspire those kinds of feelings and Gian's spirit will be carried forward into the future. He was unique.

March 16, 2009 at 22:02 | Unregistered CommenterBlad Tolstoy

The battles will go on that is definate as we now have new enemies, "Nanny State Alcohol" and "Nanny State Obesity" and yes TICAP will be at the forefront of this global battlefield to ensure justice for all and that Scientific Integrity is shown to be the way forward as signaled last week by US President Obama.

Gian Turci will be with us all the way in spirit as he cared passionately that we should protect our "Lifestyle Choices" from the cradle to the grave.

March 17, 2009 at 8:24 | Unregistered CommenterBill Gibson

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