Letters: Smoking in pubs

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Smoking in pubs: a sensible compromise or a failure to protect?

Sir: In your excellent leader on the smoking ban (27 October) you rightly say that many people find second-hand smoke unpleasant. I smoke socially and admit I don't like going home smelling of smoke, but rather that than be robbed of the choice of having a cigarette with my drink if I fancy one. Bar staff do have a choice where they work, and many do actually smoke themselves.

This is a very sensible compromise by the government. I agree that there are many public places like restaurants and shopping malls where smoking should be banned, but proprietors of bars and clubs should be allowed to decide whether to allow smoking on their premises. Visiting these places is an adult choice so let's be treated as adults.



Sir: Your leader states that most people find second-hand smoke offensive but has left out that it is also lethal. The BMA, along with most royal colleges and the chief medical officer, have been calling for a ban because second-hand smoke harms and kills, not because it is merely offensive.

I am astonished that you think the Government's proposals are sensible. When the BMA recently tried to find out how many pubs served food it was almost impossible to find any reliable data - it simply did not exist. The data that does exist links poverty with non-food pubs, and these proposals will only worsen health inequalities.

The proposals are confusing, half-hearted and most worryingly, they do not protect the health and lives of all workers. Blanket bans have worked in New York and Dublin and they are going to work in Belfast and Edinburgh. They would have worked in London too.



School 'reforms' are a threat to progress

Sir: Portsmouth has recently experienced the city's best-ever GCSE results in its state schools. A previous "sink school", where three years ago just 9 per cent of pupils gained five GCSE "passes" (A*-C), this year saw 57 per cent of pupils achieving this outcome - above the national average.

Blair's Education White Paper (report, 26 October) not only endangers the educational progress we have made for working-class children in this city but appears to be the final phase of the derogation of schools from the Children Act. Children already in need will suffer disproportionately. This shocking autocracy of Tony Blair, supported by David Cameron, threatens to unravel, for example, our city-wide "Hard To Place" Pupil Protocol.

Blair's obsession with dunking secondary schools into the choppy waters of the free market will penalise the children of working-class and poorer families. Whichever way you say it, Blair's non-LEA secondaries will be selective. And where do the children go who haven't been selected? Doesn't "Every Child Matter" any more?

Local authorities will have to stand on the sidelines, looking on, carrying the can for safeguarding while unelected parent councils make "independent" decisions about admissions, data sharing, discipline, the curriculum, and £4m budgets.

I will work with schools in my city to keep the faith that every local school should be a good school. But I am angry that all bets seem to be off with regard to schools being the universal service best placed to serve the needs of all children. And are all bets are off with regard to safeguarding, "Building Schools for the Future", "Extended Schools", curriculum reform, and healthy school dinners? Is it hello again to sin-bins and sink schools, to truancy and disaffected kids roaming the streets? Someone please wake me up.



Sir: It would seem that the Prime Minister, in his bid to leave a lasting legacy, is seeking to do for education what John Major did for the railways. I hope he is not as successful.



Sir: Will the Government take their reforms to the logical conclusion by directly funding schools from the Treasury? Or would this remove local education authorities from their traditional role as whipping boy for any shortfall in funding and expose the emptiness of government promises?

How quickly they forget that, during the meanest Thatcher years, it was only the actions of LEAs in diverting additional funds to education (at the expense of other council services) that maintained education in this country at anything close to adequate standards.

There are good, average and poor LEAs, but any "damage" caused by LEAs is as nothing compared to the constant tinkering with structure and control freakery demonstrated by the "experts" that inhabit Government.



Sir: It's a very posh person's idea that parents are all eager and equipped to play a decisive role in their children's education ("Blair signals the era of parent and pupil power in schools", 26 October).

Many parents, themselves victims of neglected education systems, suffering from the discriminatory depressions of the Thatcher legacy and living in deprived and drug-riddled communities, do not have the confidence, self-assurance or necessary information to play a commanding role in the structures of their children's schooling. If politicians would, for once, stop patronising this section of our society their children may glimpse a better future than that forced upon their parents by callous political indifference.



Tibet has taken big steps forward

Sir: Two articles you published in August of this year painted a tarnished picture on Tibet. As a member of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, currently visiting the UK, I must say I have witnessed great progress in different aspects of social life over half a century in Tibet. In 2004, per capita GDP reached US$ 960 in Tibet, with overall GDP surpassing US$ 2.6 billion, 18 times higher than that of 1965 when the Tibet Autonomous Region was established. Ninety-five per cent of children of school age have access to school education compared with less than 2 per cent fifty years ago. Average life expectancy has risen from 35 to 67 years.

Along with economic development, Tibetan culture and tradition have been preserved and protected. More than 500 modern volumes of ancient Buddhist scripture, historical records and documentations in the Tibetan language have been recompiled and published. Since the 1980s, China's central government has allocated up to US$63 million to a special fund for the maintenance religion venues in Tibet. There are now some 1,700 Buddhist temples and monasteries in Tibet, accommodating 46 thousand resident lamas and monks. Millions of people come to Lhasa to pay their homage each year.

Regarding the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, Tibet has until now been the only region in China without an operating rail link. The railway, to which we Tibetans are the ultimate beneficiaries, will further facilitate the economic and social development of Tibet. A total of US$250 million was allocated for environmental protection in relation to the project.

My observation is that the development of the tourism industry and protection of Tibetan culture are not conflicting, but complementary. In the years when tourism was yet to be explored, many fine Tibetan art forms like Thangka Painting, Sorcerer's Dancing and Tibetan Opera faced an embarrassing situation as few Tibetans wanted to take up them as a career. Many Tibetan artisans and artists are now happy to go back to their abandoned trade.



Sir: I am not sure that I follow the argument of Dr Charles Tannock (Letters, 20 October). He seems to be saying that if China wishes to continue growing at its present rate, it will have to become more democratic. This is in itself arguable. But, leaving that aside, I fail to see how it is going to affect the appalling figures you give in your article of 19 October ("The China crisis, spectacular growth now biggest threat to the environment"). How is democratisation or non-democratisation of China going to alter the fact that, at the present rate of growth, China will be consuming 99 million barrels of oil per day, when present world production is only 84 million barrels per day. It is obviously an impossibility, whatever system of Government they may have. In fact, it should be easier for a one party state (once the leaders are convinced of the necessity) to take the necessary measures, than it would be for a democracy, with many competing interests to be considered and appeased.



The deaf could not heed the warning

Sir: May I add to Mr Slessenger's comments about the possible responses to an unexpected cry of "Armed police!" ("The police and firearms training", letter, 25 October). An estimated one-in-seven of the population of this country suffers from significant hearing loss. If you stood behind me, not very close, and amid background noise, you could shout "Armed police" until you were blue in the face before I responded. In fact, since like many hard-of-hearing people I rely to a great extent on visual signals, my only awareness of the situation would come from Mr Slessenger's reactions.



Resisting premature Christmas season

Sir: It's depressing to note once again the appearance of Christmas decorations in shops and arcades, more than two months before the event itself. In Cheltenham, the Campaign for a Shorter Christmas was set up earlier this year, with a view to rallying public opposition to the extension of the Christmas season into the early autumn. Most people, we feel, would prefer to have a proper break between the end of summer, with all its holiday expenses, and the start of the Christmas commercial feeding-frenzy.

The campaign has a website at www.casc.webalias.com and, although the focus has been on Cheltenham this year, visitors are welcome from all parts of the UK. Here, they can sign up to an online petition, and can also download complaint flyers to hand in at shops where decorations are already appearing and where, before long, shoppers and staff will be tormented with endless loops of "Jingle Bells" and Slade.



EU requires tests on all cosmetics

Sir: I am concerned that your article "How toxic is your bathroom?" (24 October) will cause unnecessary worry among consumers regarding safe products used each day by millions of people.

All cosmetic products in the European Union must undergo a full safety assessment by a duly qualified professional before the product can be placed on the market and that safety assessment is open to inspection by the competent authorities. This requirement is a legal obligation placed on manufacturers and importers alike by the European Cosmetics Directive.

Thus, there is no possibility of cosmetic products carrying the warning as described by Pat Thomas since each product will have been assessed and shown to be safe before it is made available to the public.



Sir: I'm not defending the cosmetics industry, or necessarily any of these "toxins", as self-righteously determined by the writer, but I simply lost count of the conditionals like "could", "possible", "potential", "suspected", "may" and so forth.

Pseudo-science seems a growing fad, and a very successful one, with so few consumers ever spending any significant time learning real science. While Pat Thomas and the other bin Ladens of consumer terrorism remain safely exalted, the real dangers of corporate chemical warfare get lost in the shuffle.



Galloway beware

Sir: George Galloway should perhaps consider staying away from Washington this time round ("Galloway lied over Iraqi oil payments, says Congress report", 25 October). Senator Norm Coleman et al are not - despite appearances to the contrary - stupid. The real measure of power is the ability to rewrite the truth for political ends, and to promulgate it as sacred writ that will exceed all reason, in court as much as congress.



Sir: While I am not George Galloway's biggest fan, it is clear that that he has made powerful enemies who now consider him beyond the pale, and in a manner reminiscent of the Scargill/Libya affair, are determined to destroy him.



Wisdom of the East

Sir: Stephen Boswell (letter, 26 October) should not tar all religions with the same brush. It is only the monotheistic and therefore mutually exclusive religions that tend to be intolerant. The traditional Eastern religions, notably Buddhism which is non-theistic, are largely based on knowledge, not faith, and tend to be inclusive and open-minded.



Slowing the traffic

Sir: If speed bumps are designed to slow down traffic, thereby reducing speed-related accidents, Mr Tapper (letter, 26 October) might agree that driving a 4x4 in London to avoid speed bump-related vehicle damage may be defeating the object.



A global failure

Sir: My husband, bless him, pointed out that not one of the wise and witty women interviewed in your feature on "Why men are crap" (25 October) mentioned men's worst failing, one that seems more and more obvious: that men are crap at running the world.