Letters: A smoking ban is needed to save teenagers from addiction

Questions remain over Equitable Life
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Sir: I am a smoker and wholly support the proposed ban on smoking in public places; my desire to quit is often thwarted by the temptation to light up as soon as anybody else does.

Non-smokers daily put up with people such as myself exhaling smoke in bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Just because we have chosen a health-damaging habit, there is no reason that non-smokers should have to suffer.

The proposal to raise the legal age of buying tobacco from 16 to 18, to bring the sale of tobacco into line with the licensing laws, is also welcome. I started smoking at the age of 14 due to schoolyard peer pressure. As a mature-looking 14-year-old I easily passed for 16, even when dressed in school uniform, and was able to purchase cigarettes with amazing ease. My five-a-day habit as a 14-year-old soon developed into 10-a-day by the time I was 16 and now, three years later, I average 20 a day. Many of the smokers I know started before the age of 16 and, like myself, were addicted before they were legally old enough to purchase tobacco products.

I didn't fully appreciate the health risk I was undertaking at the very young age at which I began to smoke. Later on I became much more aware of those risks and I truly believe that if I had not been given the opportunity to smoke until I reached the age of 18, I would not ever have begun. Stricter laws are needed on this important health issue.



Sir: Steve Jones (letter, 5 December) complains of the problems he faces in running his hotel if a partial smoking ban is implemented. The solution lies not in further compromise, but in a comprehensive ban on smoking in all pubs, bars and hotels.

In Ireland, where the ban is in place and working well, there is no evidence that premises such as the White Bear are suffering significant loss of trade. When all public premises operate under the same rules, there is no reason for regulars to switch from their favourite bars.

Businesses in countries which have introduced such bans have not experienced dramatic loss in trade. Mr Jones may find that the few determined smokers who would rather stay home are more than replaced by new customers who welcome the chance to enjoy a quiet drink without inhaling cigarette smoke.



Sir: Banning smoking will save lots of lives and lots of nicotine addicts will be thankful for the ban, and so will the children whose parents are still alive when they grow up and have children of their own. Sensible parents make good grandparents. Children would also be thankful if their parents didn't smoke in front of them, especially in the car when they can't escape from the horrible smell.



Sir: Johann Hari takes issue with Harold Pinter's description of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as "a bandit organisation" ("Pinter does not deserve the Nobel Prize", 6 December).

Having witnessed the criminal nature of the KLA during the filming of an investigation for Channel 5 in 2003, I must inform Mr Hari that this Mafia-style organisation indeed has more in common with Al Capone than Che Guevara.

Posing as a terrorist seeking weapons to use against UK targets I met senior figures in the still-active KLA who sold me and other journalists enough Semtex for 40 Lockerbies. The KLA offered rocket launchers too - "enough to start a small war", we were told. The explosives were handed over to the UN authorities. Of the two KLA men responsible one is believed dead and the other was jailed as a consequence of our investigation.

The KLA is criminal to its core. For years its violence has been funded by trafficking sex slaves and drugs abroad, including to the UK. At home, not content with purging Kosovo of minority communities, KLA thugs continue to exert a strong-arm reign of terror against ethnic Albanians who won't cough up for their protection rackets.



Sir: I am 30 years of age, I work in the arts, and am the only person in my social circle (what is left of it) who continues to support the war in Iraq. I do not think Harold Pinter has written anything great since the mid-1970s, his political stance is weak, and his shouting irritates me. But his influence has been tremendous and Mr Hari did not do him justice.

Harold Pinter built on the legacy of Samuel Beckett and changed the way we view our reality. His influence extends throughout film and television, and is in danger of dominating contemporary theatre. Since the 1960s his plays have filled theatres with people drawn into seeing the world as Pinter had remade it, despite the fact that the plays are as genuinely surreal and challenging as works by much more difficult and obscure writers. Of his artistic generation perhaps only Francis Bacon altered our view of reality so much. So what if the Nobel committee have other motives? Pinter's artistic vision should be disentangled from politics (his or Mr Hari's) and championed.



Sir: Johann Hari's inability to perceive the complexities of Harold Pinter's plays is understandable. After all, Mr Hari struggles with the idea that the character of a tramp can express a universal struggle to give shape and significance to existence.

Perhaps he sees Waiting for Godot as a fly-on-the-wall docu-drama about a lack of social housing? Oh no, that can't be right as he seems to be under the impression that Samuel Beckett was a surrealist. Mr Hari is completely out of his depth when attempting to discuss Pinter's work - and it is for the work that Mr Pinter has justly won the Nobel Prize.



Sir: One thing which emerged very clearly in the recent litigation is a lack of consistency in statements made by the current board of Equitable Life, either with their own earlier statements or with the factual evidence. The article published on 5 December by Andreas Whittam Smith contains three examples.

First, the attempt now to justify the litigation by reference to the conclusions of the Penrose report when, in October 2004, the Society issued a detailed rebuttal of Lord Penrose's main conclusions.

Second, the attempt to explain the failure of the litigation against Ernst & Young by surprise at the former directors' evidence that their bonus decisions would have been no different, even if E&Y had insisted on higher Companies Act accounts provisions. In November 2004 I produced a witness statement saying that, as the appointed actuary at the relevant times, I would not have advised the board differently even if there had been higher provisions. My oral evidence at trial was exactly the same as that written evidence provided more than six months earlier. Other directors had given written evidence before trial regarding the great weight they placed on actuarial advice regarding bonus matters. There were, thus, no grounds whatsoever for the Society to be surprised by the directors' oral evidence.

Third, you report Mr Treves as saying that the new board had sought audit, actuarial and legal advice before proceeding. The defendants have spent four years trying to find out what actuarial advice was taken at the outset and, so far as we have been able to discover, none was taken before expert reports were produced in 2004. That is why claims which, for two years, had been widely publicised as being for over £3bn were reduced to around one-third of that level once expert evidence was produced.

Examples like these explain, I suggest, why policyholders, of whom I am still one, appear reluctant to accept what is now said to them at face value.


RADCLIVE, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE The writer was formerly appointed Actuary and Chief Executive of Equitable Life

The green future includes children

Sir: John Davison (letter, 7 December) suggests saving us from climate change by bribing people not to have children.

It won't work. The people having all the children are in the developing world, and particularly the poorer parts of it, where tax systems don't reach, and where extra numbers make very little difference to the ecological footprint. The place where numbers matter is here in the conspicuously consuming North, but we already have a demographic problem from having too few people of working age to support our ageing population.

Mr Davison is in denial, seeking to avoid the only real answer to climate change: the radical overhaul of our wasteful lifestyles so that each of us is responsible only for a sustainable amount of greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Green vision is of a society in which we live close to our work (no more commuting), in communities where people know their neighbours and children can once again play safely in the street, eating locally produced organic food, living less stressed lives.



Sir: Roger Martin (letter, 3 December) is right when he says that we need a population policy to stave off environmental catastrophe. For starters, how about making it a criminal offence to promulgate the idea that contraception is sinful?



Sir: Roger Martin is right. The Earth cannot continue indefinitely to support its present population. I am sure that human numbers will have reduced significantly by the end of this century. The question is whether this can be achieved by intelligent actions, or whether it will be by wars, famine, disasters and disease.



No change please, we're Conservatives

Sir: So the Conservative party must change! Surely the first thing on the agenda must be to find a new name. My Chambers dictionary says that "conservative" means averse to change; "a conservative" is someone averse to change, or a member of the political party which desires to preserve the institutions of the country against innovation.



Sir: A few slick speeches and a telegenic smile, and all of a sudden David Cameron is the Prime Minister-in-waiting. Forgive me for being underwhelmed. It's Eton, Oxford and the same old symbols of privilege and power that the Tories always represent. It may play better in the posh suburbs of the South, but for those of us in the underprivileged North, it's the same old wolf in sheep's clothing.



Turkish delight: a sweet to die for

Sir: At the risk of being accused of splitting hairs, Harriet Vane's lover was not murdered by means of arsenic in the Turkish delight (letters, 6 December). He was murdered by arsenic slid into a cracked egg, which was then used to make an omelette. Lord Peter Wimsey later trapped the murderer by pretending to have smothered some Turkish delight in arsenic. Both murderer and victim ate the fatal omelette, and if you want to know how the murderer avoided the effects of the arsenic, you'll have to read the book.



Sir: On the subject of lokum ("The Lion, The Witch and the Turkish Delight", 5 December) I would like to add a couple of points. Abdul Hamid never lived in the Topkapi Palace; because of his paranoia he chose to live in Yildiz Palace; a smaller and easier-to-control grand residence.

The lokum of Hadji Bekir (Haci Bekir for us) is indeed still the best. I suggest the double pistachio, mastic and buffalo cream versions; if you start eating them you will finish the whole box.

Finally, Haci Bekir has a couple of other branches other than the one in Bahcekapi; Kadikoy and Beyoglu come to mind. The current owner of Haci Bekir is from the lineage of the great man himself and is a real eccentric. Your readers who may have visited Istanbul and taken the ferry to visit the Princes Islands might have seen this handsome old man accompanying the ferry, riding a noisy jet ski.



Speedy registration

Sir: When head of a primary school many years ago, I encouraged parents to put their children's names down as soon as possible. It helped with long-term planning and it encouraged a feeling in families of belonging to the school long before the eldest sibling arrived.

I cannot claim to have beaten the two-hour old registration you report (6 December). However, on one occasion I did witness mum and dad only agreeing on the child's name, and that after some fairly intense discussion, whilst visiting school to register their newborn baby.



A moving rendition

Sir: I have in the past been charmed or pained by a performance but now the US have their own "rendition" of overseas torture!




Sir: The number of suspect "rendition" flights logged in the UK and Germany alone - several hundred - seems to exceed the number of detainees by quite a margin. At most one prisoner per flight. Never mind the torture - what about the CO 2?



World-class whiner

Sir: Has it not dawned upon Terence Blacker ("I'm sick and tired of all this whingeing", 6 December) that while football is the national religion, whingeing is our national sport? I flatter myself that after years of practice (I'm 81) I'm right up there with the winning whingers such as Johann Hari (are he and Mr Blacker on speaking terms, one wonders) and it's being so miserable that keeps me going.



No bids for Townsend

Sir: As a regular reader of Catherine Townsend's excellent column, imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was not possible to bid for an evening of intrigue and mystery in the charity auction.