Letters: Smoking ban

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Stringent smoking ban is sounding the death knell for village pubs

Sir: Yet another piece of English community and tradition killed off and the centre of a village community trashed.

In my pub, there is no chit-chat and happy hubbub at the bar; they've gone outside, those who can be bothered to come at all. The "pint-and-a-fag-on-the-way-home-from-work boys" have all gone home. The non-smokers sit out with the smokers and there is no banter with the staff any more.

Good on you non-smokers who say it's a nicer place to be; the two Cokes you bought yesterday will pay all my bills.

A personal choice? Good extractors? A choice to enter this predominately traditional smoking environment? Diplomatic? Ah yes, diplomatic immunity for some. Are the diplomats who escape this ban immune to lung cancer or indeed to the effect on good, honest, hardworking taxpayers like myself who have been hit again?

I did not want this. For those this blanket smoking ban benefits, it has ruined many, many more. It has killed not just our pub but many others. And the icing on the cake? If I don't police it they will fine me. Sorry, England, but the pub culture we've shared for centuries is finished.



Sir: Imagine a democratic country with the following problems: streets littered with fag-ends; groups of smokers cluttering the pavements; police and snitch phone lines; millions of pounds spent on enforcing a blanket ban; huge fines for breaking the law, and outside patio heaters helping pollute the atmosphere.

This a country unwilling to ban tobacco outright because of the massive tax revenue it generates.

One possible answer to these problems would be designated, sheltered places to confine smokers. We could call them pubs.



Hidden tragedy of Burma's refugees

Sir: The situation in Burma is certainly as appalling as your front-page report and leading article suggest, and Aung San Suu Kyi supports a boycott, even of tourism, which may have minor advantages in terms of income and contact for the people.

There is another tragic aspect, referred to obliquely in the mention of crowded refugee camps in Thailand. Many flee Burma and become illegal immigrants in that neighbouring country, where they are exploited mainly by building contractors. They work for less than the minimum wage of about £3 a day, often under dangerous conditions.

They also work on beaches and at resorts and it is believed that up to 2,000 lost their lives at the time of the tsunami, with most bodies ending up in mass graves.

They are inevitably harassed by the police, to whom they pay bribes. Many of the youngsters are taking drugs and some are prostitutes. Those with some money return sporadically to Burma with aid for their families and are taken across the border at considerable financial cost, being picked up a week or two later, again by the police.

In short, the situation is barbaric within Burma, but for those who escape the regime the situation is also harsh and fraught with problems.



Trees can help slow effects of flooding

Sir: England has the lowest percentage of tree cover in Europe and recent aerial photographs of flooded areas highlight how few there are. Research estimates that on average each large growing tree more than 30 years old intercepts about 2,000 litres (4,400 pints) of rainfall per annum. Not only do trees slow the speed at which precipitation enters streams and rivers, they also reduce the urban heat-island effect, filter out pollutants and cool the run-off.

Urban trees are being lost at a rate of more than 20 per cent per decade, largely due to fears of litigation and insurance claims, with many local authorities removing more trees than they plant. Replacement trees are generally species smaller in stature, shorter-lived and less effective in mitigating the impact of heavy rainfall.

While the insurance companies are busy weighing the costs of the recent (and future) floods, perhaps they should reconsider the ease with which they pay for potential subsidence claims that ultimately result in the removal of trees in towns. Likewise, local authorities should stand up to requests from individuals to remove trees in case they could cause damage to property.

If development is to continue in areas subject to flooding, the area of hard surface and volume of building should be balanced with an appropriate canopy of tree cover. It might be appropriate to apply this simple rule of thumb in upstream locations.



Sir: A commercial multi-purpose building (offices, public catering, etc) was required a couple of years ago, for a restoration project near the River Severn. The appropriate planning department refused permission to build because, although it was planned to be flood-safe, it was "too high off the ground".

The clients objected but did, in the end, get their own way. Last week, the Severn came to within only a few centimetres of the "ground floor" of the building (now completed). It would seem some planners need to be educated about flooding problems.



Nuclear energy is a transport boon

Sir: Brian Hughes ("The lie that trains are greener than planes", 16 July) correctly highlights the source of electricity as an important factor in assessing the environmental impact of rail travel.

In fact, the carbon emissions of British trains are very similar to those in France. The electricity which powers the UK rail network is supplied by British Energy, which generates 86.8 per cent of its power from nuclear sources, and so is directly comparable with France.

Nuclear energy provides a genuinely low-carbon source of transport across the UK ensuring that the carbon footprint of rail travellers in Britain is minimal, and it contributes to tackling the causes of climate change.



Sir: I was intrigued by your suggestion (18 July) that the cost of motoring had gone down over 10 years. Perhaps you or your readers could advise those of us who are paying significantly more for motoring now, which particular costs have gone down.

As far as I am aware, the cost of the vehicle, the cost of fuel, the cost of maintenance, the cost of insurance and the cost of the licence have all increased significantly. The only suggestion that has been made to me so far is that vehicles are more fuel-efficient now. This of course would be an environmental positive, but I do not feel this has offset all the above costs.



Decriminalise the trade in organs

Sir: Thousands of people have died waiting for organ transplants because the law forbids the sale of human organs ("The Big Question", 18 July). This murderous law must be repealed and organ trade decriminalised.

If the law recognises our right to give away an organ, it should also recognise our right to sell one. And if the law recognises our right to pay for a life-saving medical treatment, it should also recognise our right to pay for a life-saving organ for transplant.

Those able to pay for organs would benefit at no one's expense but their own. Those unable to pay would still rely on charity, as they have done. And those able to buy organs would drop out of the waiting list, increasing the chances of those remaining.

Many of the thousands waiting for organs would be spared much suffering, and escape an early death.



Just the woman to beat Livingstone

Sir: Janet Street-Porter's column "Ken needs female competition" (Comment, 19 July), makes telling remarks about the campaign for a new London Mayor to replace Ken Livingstone. I think the four ladies she mentions, somewhat tongue in cheek, all have great qualities.

Madonna would be too busy with engagements. Nigella Lawson is too shy. Tracey Emin is articulate but lacks political nous. The candidate Janet mentions, Lurline Champagnie, needs a higher profile.

So my overall vote would go to Janet Street-Porter. She is articulate, passionate and not easily side-tracked. She is in the "public eye", writes beautifully and has a clear understanding of London issues. Go, Janet.



A war turnaround that is refreshing

Sir: Johann Hari's article "The pro-war Left's disastrous misjudgment" (Comment, 23 July) was refreshing in at least two ways, his characterisation of the Left and his intent. First, the article rightly characterised the Left as divided about how to tell the difference between legitimate liberal humanitarian intervention and Western (oil) neo-imperialism, a division I suspect will persist in any future use of force by members of the international community.

Second, Hari should be applauded for attempting to call to account the pro-war Left on the strategy of "tagging along" with regime change "neocon-style". I suspect the Herculean task he proposes in raising this "strange bedfellows" debate will become evident when Christopher Hitchens begins his hagiographic biography of Blair.

Although I have disagreed with Hari's position on the war, he clearly deserves credit for this piece and the issues it raises, whether or not history ultimately chooses to leave Blair or Hitchens with any.



Sir: At the end of another self-serving apology for the pro-war camp, Johann Hari writes that George Galloway deserves a spit in the face. One wonders what unpleasant fate Mr Hari advocates for himself and his fellow warmongers who willingly acted as propagandists for what he now admits was an oil war, which has in fact resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. Perhaps exile to Baghdad?

Regardless of George Galloway's politics, he was on the streets with a million of us who marched against the perpetration of war crimes. One would have hoped Mr Hari would have learnt that violence against others is no way to win an argument.



Staunch defence of a good man

Sir: I was appalled by Robert Fisk's cheap and cowardly article in Comment on 30 June. In 1977, Sherard Cowper-Coles was a new entrant to the FCO department of which I was assistant head. It was clear within days that he was a man of exceptional ability who would go far. I have been delighted to observe his progress to high office. He need have no concern for Mr Fisk.

On several occasions, Mr Fisk's ill-considered and emotional rhetoric has nearly driven me to drop The Independent. I stick with you only because I believe one should read a paper with which one disagrees, rather than one to reinforce one's prejudices.



A real sport

Sir: I congratulate Angus Fraser on his article (Sport, 26 July) regarding Marcus Trescothick making himself unavailable for the Twenty20 world championship in South Africa. In days when ruthlessness is often quoted as a necessary quality of sporting performance, it is refreshing to hear of someone reiterating the relative unimportance of sport.



Truth goes south

Sir: The BBC has taken much stick about faking phone winners but they haven't learnt from their mistakes. On Wednesday, they went a stage further with a whole programme based on a lie. Jeremy Clarkson et al didn't go to the North Pole, nor anywhere near it. They didn't even get anywhere near the present position of the magnetic North Pole which, judging by the trouble they had getting to 78N where it was in 1996, was well beyond their reach, up to 400 miles further north.



Respect for age

Sir: Was Terence Blacker's article "Keep on trucking" (Comment, 25 July), supposed to be funny? It was insulting to both "ageing" drivers and to his late father and patronising to the over-70s. Statistically, I'd rather ride with Henry than many young drivers. I would certainly prefer to be driven by my husband (18 years my senior) and at 78, one of the fittest and safest motorists I know. Last year we drove to Biarritz and back; but of course the French treat senior citizens with respect.



Sorry, ma'am

Sir: I would like to point out that the Los Angeles lawyer, Blair Berk (report, 26 July), at present defending the actress Lindsay Lohan on charges of what I believe to be drunk driving and general idiocy, is a she, not a he.



A greater good

Sir: Jorg Schumaker's comment (letter, 21 July) is spot on. It reminds me of Dean Acheson's remark about Britain losing the Empire, but not finding the role. One also recalls Churchill's words at the Congress of Europe in The Hague: "It is said with truth that this involves some sacrifice, or merger, of national sovereignty. But it is also possible and not less agreeable to regard it as the gradual assumption by all the nations concerned of that larger sovereignty which can alone protect their diverse and distinctive customs and characters and their national traditions."



Tune in, space out

Sir: If The Independent insists on retaining the quaintly colonial categorisation of "World Music" within its Review pages, may I suggest the only other possible genre is "Space Music", the only known exponent being Sun Ra.