Editor-At-Large: My mum didn't smoke because she was working class. She smoked to look cool

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The Independent Online

My father died because he smoked. After he had suffered a serious heart attack I was summoned to his hospital bedside because my mother could not take a cigarette out of her mouth long enough to enter the ward and talk to him. Instead, she paced up and down outside the building puffing 19 to the dozen while I, the only non-smoker in the family, acted as go-between. Eventually she suffered from endless chest ailments and only managed to deal with her addiction late in her sixties, dying from a growth blocking her throat. My sister still smokes, much to my utter disgust.

My father died because he smoked. After he had suffered a serious heart attack I was summoned to his hospital bedside because my mother could not take a cigarette out of her mouth long enough to enter the ward and talk to him. Instead, she paced up and down outside the building puffing 19 to the dozen while I, the only non-smoker in the family, acted as go-between. Eventually she suffered from endless chest ailments and only managed to deal with her addiction late in her sixties, dying from a growth blocking her throat. My sister still smokes, much to my utter disgust.

Both my parents were in their early twenties, working-class and poor when they started on the habit that would ruin their health. They didn't start smoking, as John Reid, the Health Secretary, would have us believe, because it was one of the few pleasures available to them. They smoked because they were stupid, pig-headed, and wanted to look cool. In the movies they watched, many of the stars smoked - perhaps they wanted to acquire a bit of glamour by default, who knows? My childhood was spent sitting in a small kitchen thick with smoke as mum and dad listened to the radio and puffed away. They smoked at work, on the bus, in the car, in the pub.

I stank of the revolting things, and can clearly remember the night we all grouped around the black and white television set to watch the shocking Panorama in which a reporter lifted a nasty piece of black leather from a bin and curled his nose. It was the lung taken from someone whose death had been caused by smoking. Next morning I got in the family saloon with my dad and his friend and they lit up and smoked as usual all the way into central London as if nothing had happened. I was mystified. When I'd left home, my mother would visit me in my flat in Chelsea and smoke with her head and shoulders hanging out of the third-floor window. Later, she and dad would stand in the garden of my house in Yorkshire puffing away while they inspected the vegetables. I didn't think they smoked because it was the only pleasure available. They smoked because they were addicts who didn't know any better.

You won't be surprised to discover I loathe cigarettes. I associate them with wheezing, smelly people en route to death; it's as simple as that. John Reid's patronising comments about the poor and smoking, when he claimed that bans were an obsession of the "learned middle classes", were lamentable. The sooner this country has a total ban on smoking in the workplace the better - why should anyone be exposed to the risk of cancer because they have to share an office, factory floor or shop with an addict while they earn a living? Why should non-smokers leave their workplaces at the end of a shift stinking of ash?

At the moment the targets set for reducing smoking are pathetically low. Thirty years ago 45 per cent of the population over 16 smoked, and it had reduced to 28 per cent by 1998. Now the Government wants to see that figure reduced to 26 per cent by next year. They have achieved their goal of reducing the numbers of young people smoking to 9 per cent, but that's nothing to be proud of. Sure, they might be pouring more than £40m each year into ads, warnings, helplines and nicotine patches, but that's never going to yield real results. Ruthless bans are the only answer. Why are politicians so concerned about our "human rights" when it comes to smoking, when the very same "human rights" are subject to quite another set of criteria when it comes to depriving us of them through the issuing of ridiculous antisocial behaviour orders and so on?

And when you go to a city where smoking in public spaces has been banned, life is so much more enjoyable. Last Christmas in New York I spent the festive season eating, drinking and clubbing in smoke-free premises. No one seemed to be having less fun; no bar or restaurant had gone out of business, and my hair and my clothes still smelt of vetiver rather than Marlboro Lights at 2am. Countries as diverse as Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Norway have introduced similar bans, so why not here? For our government to get obsessed about "nanny statism" is illogical and irrelevant. For my money printing infantile warnings on cigarette packets, showing pathetic public health ads and handing out pills doesn't add up to a policy - it represents a pick 'n' mix approach with no balls.

Funnily enough, smoking is the one issue where the public is much more focused in its thinking than politicians, perhaps because most of us don't spend each day surrounded by security agents or sitting in palatial offices. A poll shows that four out of five of us support a ban on smoking in the workplace, in effect meaning all public places. I want an end to smoking rooms in offices, an end to clusters of smokers puffing away around the entrance of office buildings, and an end to bars where a group of people light up as they lift the first drink of the evening, polluting the environment for everyone else. Why should I have to avoid pubs and bars because smokers, the most selfish people on earth, are using them? Why should this 28 per cent be treated as if they are special? They are unique only because they have decided to turn their lungs into bits of black shrivelled-up leather. Don't expect sympathy from me, even if John Reid is your friend in power.

Torture practice

Guantanamo - Honour Bound to Defend Freedom is a play based on the testimony gathered from the families of detainees, and their lawyers. It is transferring from the Tricycle Theatre in north London to the West End and I urge you to see it. What comes across most strongly is the ordinariness of those imprisoned, and the arbitrariness of the manner in which they were originally held. Although five British men were released earlier this year, four UK nationals and two British residents are still among the 600 or so held in inhumane conditions with no prospect of a fair trial. Last week President Bush was questioned about a justice department memo which claimed the detainees were not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions. And it has emerged that when a military police officer posed as a detainee so that his fellow troops could practise subduing troublesome inmates, he was severely beaten and had his head slammed into the floor - injuries that led him to be discharged from army service. If troops can do this as they "practise", we must fear the worst for those unfortunate enough still to be languishing in Guantanamo Bay.

The curse of Street-Porter scores again with the departure of Lifestore guru Vittorio Radice from Marks & Spencer. Four months ago I wrote that his ambitious plans would fail. How right I was. Shall we now place bets on the future of his flagship Gateshead emporium? I predict the chic minimalism will be thrown out by July (and our Business pages today seem to agree), replaced by cosy pastels on all fronts. Those sushi plates will be collectors' items before long, symbolising M&S's moment of designer madness.

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