Reid warns smoking ban would rob the poor of enjoyment

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Indy Politics

John Reid sparked anger yesterday after suggesting that smoking was the "only enjoyment" of the poor living on council estates.

John Reid sparked anger yesterday after suggesting that smoking was the "only enjoyment" of the poor living on council estates.

The Health Secretary appeared to take a swipe at campaigners pressing for a ban on smoking in public places, arguing that controls on smoking were an "obsession" of the middle classes and insisting that there were worse problems afflicting Britain's poorest neighbourhoods.

Speaking at a Labour event as part of the party's "Big Conversation", he said: "I just do not think the worst problem on sink estates by any means is smoking, but that it is an obsession of the learned middle classes."

He was reported as saying: "What enjoyment does a a 21-year-old single mother of three living on a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette."

Dr Reid's comments appear to contradict Tony Blair, who last week confirmed that ministers were considering an outright ban on smoking in the workplace.The Government has been under pressure to introduce a ban on smoking in all public places.

But Dr Reid said: "Be very careful that you do not patronise people because sometimes, as my mother used to say, people from those lower socio-economic backgrounds have very few pleasures and one of them is smoking."

He was reported as saying that any controls on smoking would be introduced "in the British way", cautioning that "my argument is that empowerment is different from instruction."

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, accused Dr Reid of sending out "mixed messages". He said: "It is impossible to see how the government can promote a consistent public health strategy when, on the one hand, it is funding the British Heart Foundation's advertising campaign against smoking and, on the other, John Reid makes remarks like this. It is yet another illustration of the conflicting mixed messages which this constitutes the Government's public health policy."

The furore overshadowed the Health Secretary's announcement of £500 million plans to recruit more than 3,000 "community matrons" to help care for people with long-term illnesses.

Dr Reid also outlined plans to improve the treatment of chronic conditions such as asthma by putting patients in touch with fellow sufferers.

* Ministers were defeated last night over their flagship higher education Bill as peers moved to limit plans to introduce university top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year. Conservative, Liberal Democrat and cross-bench peers united to pass an amendment waiving the new fees for students taking a gap year before the fees are introduced in 2006 and backed moves to limit fees to the first three years of any course.

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