Today's teenagers, smoking bans and others

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Today's teenagers... just as opinionated as we were

Today's teenagers... just as opinionated as we were

Sir: The interviews with your "youth panel" (22 December) show that teenagers are not much different now to what they were in my own young days: strongly influenced by cod-psychology, full of fashionable opinions about things they have no experience of and know nothing about and incoherent in their command of language. They frequently end sentences with "and stuff". We used to say "as it were". Both phrases equate with the signing-off used by those people who end a telephone conversation with "Speak to you later." (Why later? You can speak to me now - we're on the phone, for heaven's sake!)

The difference between your young contributors and my own contemporaries fifty years ago is that we had a much greater acceptance of our own limitations and did not fall into the trap of parading our fascinating views to the world in the name of misplaced self-confidence. We recognised that our ideas would be subject to change as we matured, and we did not presume to demand of adults that they treat our opinions as though we had just walked down from a high mountain following conversations with a burning bush. We understood without resentment that we were still children.

I was sent to Sunday school by my family, none of whom ever went to church. They took it for granted that I would in due course vote Conservative because that was what respectable people (for which read "lower-middle-class snobs") always did. But they made the mistake of letting me go off to university, where I learned to think for myself. In my mid-twenties I walked out of the choir at my local church and joined the local Humanist Society and the Liberal Party.

Votes at 16? Not.

Eastleigh, Hampshire

Sir: What with your Teenage Issue (22 December) and the Government mooting a lowering of the voting age, it seems the opinions of our teenagers are increasingly important - probably because recent events have proven them to have powerful voices.

Their interest has shifted from domestic politics to issues of a more global nature - and research has shown that large numbers of young people are engaged in campaigning on specific causes, such as poverty and injustice, rather than supporting political parties.

All of which raises the question: why does the Government wish to give them the vote in order to tackle "apathy"? Unless the Government genuinely listens to young people on these issues and others, they may be providing the opportunity to vote and engage, but not the incentive.

Youth Network Coordinator
London N19

Choking on smoke and stereotypes

Sir: I read with mounting fury John Walsh's astonishingly patronising piece ("Smoked Out", 26 December) on the proposed smoking ban in Irish pubs.

I was unaware until now that our laws should be dictated by what tourists expect from Ireland. "Imagine how radically the image of modern Ireland in your head ... would change if you took away the air of rackety behaviour and amoral complicity; if you removed the ciggies and the snug and let the place to healthy people with no intention of getting tipsy." Sure and begorrah, heaven preserve us from disappointing you by not living up to the usual offensive stereotypes!

John Walsh may lament the fact that the ban may drive people out of the pubs, but leaves the question of why this is such a bad thing unasked. Those of us who actually live here know that Ireland's drinking culture is the root of many social problems. John Walsh didn't mention that the people who regularly visit the remote rural pubs he loves so much frequently drive home drunk - perhaps he should take a look at our rural drunk driving figures.

I am certainly not a Fianna Fail supporter, and I'm no fan of Michael Martin, but I do favour the smoking ban. I do drink, and I do smoke sometimes, but these activities are not the focus of my life, and while this may be a sad disappointment to those tourists who would like to think of the Irish as constantly drunk and smoking like chimneys, this is the case for most people I know.

Walsh may not like this unromantic view of his ancestral land. Tough luck.


Sir: John Walsh's predictions of catastrophe for the Irish pub once Ireland's smoking ban comes are completely at odds with the now extensive evidence from the United States, where such bans are increasingly common. His article recycles all the flawed arguments advanced by a discredited tobacco industry that has spent millions of pounds on a campaign to undermine the extensive evidence linking second-hand smoke and disease.

Ventilation does not work, and much research purporting to show that it does has been at best flawed and at worst fraudulent.

Smoking bans do work, providing there is even a modicum of effort to enforce them, largely because they are supported by a majority of the diminishing band of smokers.

A systematic review of research on the economic impact of smoking bans showed that, while 94 per cent of studies funded by the tobacco industry reported a fall in takings, this was not found in any independent study. The independent studies were 20 times more likely to be published in peer-reviewed journals than were industry ones.

Professor of European Public Health
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Sir: John Walsh's diatribe against the impending ban on smoking in all workplaces in Ireland is as weak as his grasp of the Irish language. He finds irony in a health periodical being called Sláinte ("Health"), but finds none in Irish drinkers wishing each other "Sláinte!" while they breathe air poisoned with cigarette smoke. Is Mr Walsh seriously suggesting that the convivial atmosphere he found in Gus O'Connor's pub in Doolin would have been less welcoming if it had not been laced with a Class A carcinogen?

Blessington, Co Wicklow, Ireland

Noon and midnight

Sir: When I was young, am began after midnight with 12.01am (Mea Culpa, 13 December). The first am hour was 1am, followed by 2am and so on up to 12am, noon. Then pm began at 12.01pm, the first pm hour being 1pm, followed by 2pm and so on until 12pm, midnight.

But now there is confusion all round. Who is the culprit? Sky TV, I think. For some peculiar reason, Sky thinks 12 noon is 12pm and 12 midnight is 12am. That's how the time appears on their on-screen programme listings. For them, 11am is followed by 12pm, and 11pm is followed by 12am. How daft can you get?

The muddle goes on and on.

A walk at an Essex Wildlife nature reserve was listed as 10am-12pm; that meant it would last 14 hours and end at midnight. A Sainsbury's store was apparently closed every afternoon, as it said it closed at 12am (which I could see was nonsense, as I was shopping there at 4pm). A lecture at the Royal Geographical Society was said to start at 12pm - midnight to me, and rather alarming because I'd just arrived at five minutes to noon to attend it (it did, indeed, begin at noon).

Why can't we write "noon" and "midnight", and put an end to all this confusion. Please get the campaign rolling. And, most of all, get Sky TV to change its listings.

Upminster, Essex

Drinks market

Sir: I write to clarify Coca-Cola's position on marketing to children. Vincent Graff has twice noted that we have recently announced that we would no longer direct our marketing efforts to children under the age of 12. No such announcement has been made.

In fact, our policy of not targeting under-12s was established over 50 years ago. Originally it applied to our carbonated soft drinks, as they represented the sum of our business at that time. In June this year, we restated and expanded the policy to include all our drinks (waters, juices, diet and sugared variants). That announcement was an internal one with not a press release in sight. The policy is a simple recognition that, for under-12s, the purchase of soft drinks is a matter for parental control.

We also recognise that having this policy does not mean that children under 12 will never experience our advertising, but what it does mean is that they are not the target of that advertising. And on that subject it's worthy of note that 90 per cent of the audience for Top of the Pops is over 12.

Coca-Cola Great Britain
London W6

Mad, not bad  

Sir: The US Agriculture Secretary, Ann Veneman, was right on message when asked to comment on the arrival of the (inevitable) first case of mad cow in the US. "The incident is not believed to be terrorist related," she said. It's going to seem like a long, long year in the run-up to Bush's (sadly also inevitable) re-election.

Saltford, Somerset

Lost insult

Sir: Living in the sticks, I had not been able to buy the new tabloid format of The Independent until Boxing Day. I am well impressed with the presentation but am more than puzzled why it wasn't tried years ago. Just one problem. What do I use now as a term of abuse in place of "tabloid"?

Wantage Oxfordshire

Nothing on the telly

Sir: So 2004 will see the launch of the "personal video recorder", enabling viewers to skip TV commercial breaks (report, 27 December). Based on the Christmas schedules would not a more productive application of this technology be a device that allows the viewer to skip the programmes?


Day of rest

Sir: I can see that it offends your liberal principles for the minister to urge that shops remain closed on Christmas Day. (leading article, 23 December). But suspending the ever-increasing round of getting and spending for at least one day each year doesn't seem so terrible. The resource in danger of over-exploitation is simply our limited time. Lord Asda may be happy to give his assistants the day off, but he'll be afraid that Baron Tesco will steal his customers. So there is a perfectly good case for legislation.

Taunton, Somerset

Beagle's fate

Sir: Could we please be reassured that the Martians have been told that "a dog is not just for Christmas"?

Marlborough, Wiltshire