Viscount Astor, a social security minister, has written to the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions insisting smoking is a 'an activity lying within the personal sphere of the individual'.
The aim of excluding diseases caused by drinking or smoking from the Service Pensions Order is designed to overturn a High Court ruling awarding a war widows' pension to Grace Hunt, whose husband died from lung cancer.
The letter, written 'as a matter of urgency', allowed three weeks for representations to be made.
The move has provoked strong criticism by widows and servicemen's organisations who believe service life and the stress of war or prison camps accounted for the addiction of many servicemen.
The Royal British Legion has told Lord Astor: 'The Government of the day during the Second World War spent many thousands of pounds in the transportation of cigarettes to servicemen and these were the subject of free issue. Added to this it was widely considered at that time that smoking had a beneficial effect in stressful active service situations.'Reuse content