Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Let Them Smoke Fags 

Plenty of people have already picked up on this story, but nevertheless it's striking enough to mention again. Striking because Reid, asking that in banning cigarettes we "be careful that we don't patronise people", has managed to do just that. It's not just that it's going to be as bad for a working class single mum to smoke around her kids as for anyone else; nor that it's shockingly patronising to say smoking is one of the few pleasures the working class have left. It's that smoking, in being addictive, hits the poor much harder than anyone else.

Smoking can't be counted as an entirely voluntary activity for the majority of smokers, and a pack of cigarettes is the same price for the poor as for the rich. To say that the poor must be allowed to smoke is to promote the heaviest kind of regressive and selective taxation imaginable. Surely, even if it's true that the average working class person gains less from life than a richer person - which must stem from our culture of coolness and comparison, because the rich certainly don't need all the pleasures they get - they'll gain even less by taking up a habit which often escalates in times of stress (perhaps including times when the unpaid bills pile up) and which is often very expensive to give up.

Generally, it just beggars belief that a Labour health secretary could stand up and say that we should let the poor in particular have access to an expensive addictive substance which kills half the people who use it. But then, this is John Reid, the Prince Philip of the party...

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