The right of children to breath clean air trumps any ‘right’ a parent has to smoke

Addiction to cigarettes is harming children in low-income homes and they have no choice in the matter

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A two-year-old boy has been removed from his parents and may be put up for adoption because they were heavy smokers and his health was suffering. Is it right for the state to take such drastic action? What if those parents choose to carry on smoking and have more children?

I grew up in a home where both parents smoked continuously. My father had a heart attack followed by bypass surgery, and my sister died of lung cancer. My ex-husband had a heart attack and the same operation as my dad. I’ve never smoked – but I don’t know why.

In 1962, the Royal College of Physicians linked smoking and lung cancer, and finally my parents (though not my sister), reluctantly gave up their beloved fags. The game-changer was a harrowing edition of Panorama in which the reporter fished a nasty black leathery object out of a dustbin – and announced it was the lung of a dead smoker.

Over half a century later, smoking is still killing people despite laws banning it in public places, huge hikes in tax, and millions of pounds’ worth of public health campaigns. Demonising smoking has worked to a limited degree – back in 1962, 70 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women smoked, now the figure has shrunk to 21 per cent for both. Soon, anyone smoking in a car with a child on board will be fined £50. If we continue down this route, should the nanny state take the radical (and logical) step of banning all parents from smoking in their own homes? Such a ban would infringe our human rights and be impossible to police. But how else can we stop young people smoking?

Plain fag packets are not going to do the trick, and huge taxes mean smokers from the poorest families spend a disproportionate amount of their household income on their habit. Money which should buy decent food goes to feed their addiction to tobacco. The result – people get fat and sick from eating rubbish and it costs the NHS even more.

Next week ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), backed by more than 120 health organisations, will issue a report calling on the Government to impose a new levy on tobacco companies which would pay for new initiatives to stop people smoking. Why should the NHS (funded by all of us, the majority of whom don’t smoke) spend millions on anti-smoking campaigns – and have to deal with the resulting health issues – when they have a £22bn funding shortfall?

Addiction to cigarettes (like alcohol) is harming children in low-income homes and they have no choice in the matter. Helping addicts and educating the young is the only answer. It’s all very well for middle-class trendies to talk about working people’s “rights”, but the people whose rights are being violated are babies and tiny children.

I dream of being able to walk the streets around my home without ever breathing the nasty fumes left by a smoker or stepping over a fag butt. We got rid of smog, now we have to face up to smoking.


OK, I use Twitter now. But it’s still not that interesting

 A sign of the trivial times we live in: back in the Dark Ages, when I studied O-level English, we wrote essays about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. Now, kids study Twitter!

I don’t know whether to be flattered or furious. This week I’ve received hundreds of tweets, half of which were illiterate and abusive (so business as usual), from angry teenagers because a newspaper article I wrote four year ago, entitled “Twitter, a tidal wave of drivel”, was set as a GCSE English Language question by the Oxford Cambridge and RSA examining body, who didn’t even offer the courtesy of telling me in advance.

Yes, these days I’m on Twitter (which does not make me a hypocrite) because it’s a good way of connecting with intelligent people, and some of the media companies I work for insist on it. Also, it’s not a crime punishable by death to change your mind.

Last week’s column about banning mobile phones and tablets has been set as a discussion point by a teaching website. I still wish kids were writing essays about poetry though.


Finally, a cinema worthy of my sophisticated tastes

I like to think I’m pretty adaptable, but going to the cinema can make me feel 180.

On my last visit to a multiplex, I sat there fuming. I was surrounded by groups of chatterers noisily munching buckets of popcorn, slurping on fizzy drinks, and texting and Facebooking on their phones. The noise from the audience certainly matched the racket on-screen.

I adore an intelligent film – my teens and twenties were spent in art cinemas, getting a weekly fix of Italian neo-realism and French New Wave cinema. So I’m pleased that the spending power of baby boomers has resulted in a resurgence of small movie houses for grown-ups, where you might pay more but the seats are comfy and the wine drinkable.

This week I saw the excellent French thriller The Connection at The Electric in Shoreditch, and the other day enjoyed Swedish director Roy Andersson’s surreal comedy A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence at the tiny Curzon in Canterbury. Don’t be put off by the title, this film is extraordinary.

And now I don’t have to visit a multiplex again. The Regent Street Cinema, a historic venue where the Lumière brothers screened the first moving pictures in 1896 and Britain’s first X-rated film was shown in 1951, has just been restored to its Art Deco glory.

The Cameo-Poly (as it was then) is where I saw Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies in 1963, and had nightmares for weeks afterwards. When it comes to enjoying film, you can shove your ear-splitting action thrillers – small is definitely beautiful.


What’s a few dead badgers when workers are struggling?

Never mind boycotting Caffè Nero over its ridiculous stance on badgers – the chain is refusing to source milk from areas where a trial cull is under way, penalising hard-pressed dairy farmers who have seen 32,000 cows slaughtered as a result of bovine TB – I want to boycott all high-street companies who refuse to pay workers a living wage.

Frank Field MP has asked 13 companies to explain their pay policies. Only seven replied and one sent a holding letter. The minimum wage is rising by 20p a hour to £6.70, but it’s impossible to live in London or any of our major cities on this pathetic sum.

Campaigners reckon the living wage should be £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 elsewhere. Some of our most successful high-street retailers minimise their tax liabilities very efficiently, but seem reluctant to channel profits down to the low-paid workers who are the very public face of their business, preparing food and serving customers.

Caffè Nero has not answered Frank’s request about its pay policies, but since it opened in 1998 it has paid no Corporation Tax in the UK, in spite of posting £20m pre-tax profits last year on sales of £1.2bn. McDonald’s says “the debate about the living wage is ongoing and complex”.

Is it more “complex” for these big companies to accomplish than minimising their tax and paying their chief executives huge bonuses?