Smokers condemn denial of medical treatment: Is it fair to be selective about who should get medical treatment? Nick Walker tests public opinion on a controversial issue

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL FAGAN, the man who asked the Queen for a cigarette when he broke into Buckingham Palace in 1982, described the refusal of medical tests to a smoker as 'terrible'.

Mr Fagan, 43, lives in north London and has smoked for most of his life. 'There should be special hospitals for people who smoke for a long period,' he said. 'They give so much more to the Government in taxes. I pay pounds 2.50 a packet and most of it goes in taxes. I don't see any return on that.'

'It's a question of personal liberty if you smoke or not,' according to Alan Villiers, 32, non-smoker, and manager of the King's Head pub in Islington, north London.

Conor Lewis, 50, is unemployed and a regular at the pub. He gave up a 30-a-day habit two years ago: 'It's more irresponsible to sell people cigarettes. If the NHS isn't going to treat smokers, the Government should not endorse cigarettes by making them legal and taxing them. The people who make the cigarettes know the effects, don't smoke, but are happy keeping the profits. Margaret Thatcher was going to work for one of the big cigarette manufacturers. That's irresponsible.'

Dave Howarth, 24, a mechanic from Lancashire and a smoker, said: 'It's supposed to be a national health system. Everyone should be entitled to it. It's as simple as that. We treat war criminals. We aren't selective about soldiers who blow themselves up.'

Jane Fox, 27, is a teacher also from Islington, north London. She smokes about 10 cigarettes a day. 'It's terrible that they should refuse someone treatment because they smoke,' she said. 'It's like saying you shouldn't treat people who are obese because they eat too much, or not treating a mentally ill patient until they sort themselves out.

'If you don't treat smokers, then the stress on health resources will get worse in the long run. It's your own life you are being irresponsible with. People know that drinking is bad for them but they still drink. People will abuse themselves to a certain extent. We all have some sort of vice in our life.'

Some people think that limited health resources will inevitably mean making difficult decisions. Julliete Williams, 23, who is a freelance designer from north London, gave up a 20-a-day habit a year ago. 'Perhaps they should take up private health insurance to cover smoking-related illnesses. When you think about all the people queuing up for hospital beds, you have to be selective,' she said. 'If you were to bring in a law that said that smokers weren't to be treated then that might work as a threat to stop people smoking, but it would be difficult to put into practice.'

Eloise Culshaw, 24, a nursing assistant from Lancashire, who smokes 5 to 10 cigarettes a day, said: 'You have to be selective in any form of health treatment. Even with other patients there's a process of selection. My father had cancer which wasn't smoking-related, but the treatment would have had little chance of success, whereas it would have been more likely to be of some good to someone else.

'Choices have to be made. But once you stop treating people because they smoke, then you don't know where it's going to stop.'

(Photograph omitted)