Cross Words: Smoke under fire
Head to head It's No Smoking Day again next week. So should tobacco addicts fight back, or just give up? Inveterate pipe-man Lord Harris takes on a reformed Claire Rayner
Saturday 06 March 1999
"I've derived enormous contentment from smoking. I'm a pipe smoker and my first pipe in the morning after breakfast, looking at the papers, is a real aesthetic occasion. I started smoking when I was 17 years old, which is almost 60 years ago. This may not be doing me any good but on the other hand it may be: I derive a lot of pleasure from it. I'm contented and comfortable.
The Environmental Protection Agency developed a report in which it declared that passive smoking was causing thousands of people to die from second-hand smoke. But it is a report which experts like me can see is totally flawed. In Murder a Cigarette, one of the parts I wrote is devoted entirely to a study of passive smoking, and it exposes it as being completely phoney. It's not measured, just assumed. It's non-existent.
Direct smoking is a risk factor but I don't think people should be encouraged not to smoke. I think they should be encouraged to have the facts. A lot of people who don't smoke will have 'smoking-related' diseases. Smoking is one factor in cancer, but diet is more important and hereditary is enormously important.
To say that they cannot decide whether to smoke is preposterous. Forest's argument is that you can have ventilation in public places and no-smoking areas.
You get all kinds of pressure to give up. Smokers are not only stigmatised but victimised. It's very disconcerting for me as an admirer of America that it should become so dominated by this manic opposition to smoking. The only explanation is the power of single-issue pressure groups."
Lord Harris of High Cross is chairman of Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking), a retired economist and co-author of 'Murder a Cigarette' (Duckworth, pounds 7.95)
"I don't think people realise what smoking can do - it's such an all-purpose blight on our lives. It's not just lung cancer, it's heart disease, arterial disease, strokes, cancer of the cervix, and it increases osteoporosis. We have evidence that children whose parents smoke have a 50 per cent higher risk of glue ear, which causes deafness in young children, damages their language skills, holds them back at school and can ruin their whole lives. I don't want to beat people round the head, but they ought to know.I was a smoker long, long ago. My five-year-old had seen something on Blue Peter and used to chase me round with a bit of Kleenex and say, 'Mummy, smoke through this and see the stuff your cigarettes put in your lungs.' I caught myself one day having a quick drag behind the kitchen door, and thought, 'This is bloody daft!' I quit cold a few days before Christmas, 33 years ago.
As president of the Patients' Association this is something we get calls on all the time, and smoking-induced diseases. We get frantic wives, husbands, kids, all sorts of people: people hate it when people they love smoke. One of the most pitiful things is people smoking outside offices. I see them standing outside in filthy weather and think, 'Are you a man or a slave to a tube of weed?' They don't look like libertarians, they look like nerds.
I wish there were more no-smoking pubs, then people would realise it is possible to drink and not have a cigarette. I would like it to be more like America: it would make life easier for everyone to go down the California road. There will be complaints about freedom, but one man's freedom is another man's slavery."
Claire Rayner is a medical journalist and president of the Patients' Association
Interviews by Kate Mikhail
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