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The government is persecuting smokers


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This time last week, the government (hereafter: Nanny) published its latest ‘Tobacco Control Plan’, absurdly titled Towards a Smokefree [sic] Generation. Yes, the Department of Health has modelled its style guide on a Newspeak dictionary.

If further proof is needed, I refer you to point two under the section Our National Ambitions. 

Every child deserves the best start in life, so we aim, by the end of 2022 to:

• Reduce the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy from 10.7% to 6% or less.

(Where to begin? The report promises ‘a smoke-free pregnancy for all’, which is biologically impossible. And it defines ‘all’ as anything above 6%, thus rendering up to 6% of mothers – to say nothing of their unborn children – non-people.)

The new plan hasn’t dropped the pretence upon which the smoking ban was based. It still speaks of the ‘risks’ of second-hand smoke, though they are virtually non-existent. It still claims that anti-smoking measures have been successful, but offers little by way of proof. (Christopher Snowdon does good work debunking many of these misleading claims.)

But it has shifted the emphasis somewhat. It now focuses on ‘costs to society’; a class divide(!) in health and well-being, an overburdened NHS, etc.


Let’s unpick one or two of its arguments. 

If Nanny is concerned about the cost to the NHS of smoking-related illnesses, which she estimates to be around £2.5bn, why doesn’t she put into the NHS £2.5bn of the £12bn direct tax revenue garnered from tobacco by the Treasury every year? Even the plan’s estimate of the ‘wider cost’ of tobacco, £11bn, is offset by the tax take. I’d be quite happy to know that the money I pay on fag duty has been earmarked for the health service.

Better that than have it sucked up the trunk of one of Nanny’s white elephants, like HS2 (£55bn+) or Hinkley Point C (£37bn+).

That £2.5bn covers all 7.5 million smokers in the UK, which means each smoker costs the NHS around £333 per year more than an equivalent non-smoker. (Though one could easily argue that non-smokers, who don’t pay a tobacco tax, are a bigger burden on the state.)

Every single DUP MP requires £100m to pursue their own peculiar habits, which means a smoker costs the equivalent of 0.00000333 of a DUP MP. This is to say nothing of the ‘cost to society’ of the DUP, which is incalculable.

According to the Nuffield Trust, two-fifths of NHS spending goes on old people. That will only increase as the population becomes as deathly and decrepit as the nation’s soul. In 2014 the LSE found that dementia carries healthcare costs of £4.3bn, or 3.4% of total NHS spending for that year. The aged have so much miserable life experience that nature compels them to forget it. But Nanny still refuses to let you die, even if you want to. She hangs you from a wall in her abattoir of dreams, bleeding you out; human Halal in slow motion. 

But let’s accept that Nanny is also minded to save lives. Or, rather, nominally so-minded.

In 2014 Nanny purchased 65 of the new generation of Tomahawk cruise missiles at a cost of £140 million. Tomahawk missiles are not known for their health benefits (though Public Health England could doubtless find some creative way of showing that they save lives), yet Nanny chose to use cruise in 2011, firing 12 missiles, or (by today’s figures) £25m, into the Libyan night. £25m in a single day. A considerable expense, no? Even without the tax on my discretionary spending, I’d have to smoke for 75,000 years to match a single day of Nanny’s own indulgence.

The list of Nanny’s (in)competencies linked to an increase in death, vulnerability and misery is vast. It includes: London, high rise apartments, young offenders institutions, male prisons, female prisons, public bridges, austerity, Wales, DEFRA, Ian Duncan Smith, fracking, farmers, and the NHS.

So you’d think Nanny would have too little time to obsess over the minuscule matter of ‘smoking-related diseases’. A word on these: They are conditions such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer; things with a number of contributing factors of which smoking is but one. 

Take a hypothetical man. Obese, 65, he works three jobs and is stressed. He’s uneducated; he subsists on fast food. He’s poor. He does not exercise. He has high cholesterol. His family has a history of high blood pressure. He dies of a heart attack. 

If he does not smoke, it’s a death which can be blamed on any of his numerous flaws and foibles. If he smokes five cigarettes a week, it’s a ‘smoking-related death’. Need I append further comment?

A rebuttal to Towards a Smokefree [sic] Generation can be found between the lines of the foreword by Steve ‘The Preserver’ Brine. The Preserver says ‘that some of the poorest in our society die on average nine years earlier than the richest’. (Let’s ignore the difficulty of working out an average from ‘some’.) He continues: ‘Smoking accounts for approximately half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society.’

Even accepting this is true, which it isn’t: How can this be? Previous anti-smoking measures have not applied only to the upper classes. The smoking ban does not exempt the poor, yet its effects suggest it does. The plan aims to tackle this aberration, yet by its omissions, it reveals that its authors don’t understand the causes.

Mightn’t it be because the rich have better access to education, to choice (e-cigarettes aren’t cheap, yet it is they which are responsible for the decline in smoking) and stress-free leisure time?

Nanny can make up as many facts and figures as she likes. Were she honest with herself she’d acknowledge that prohibition is punishment. She’d understand that fewer people would be inclined to smoke if she made the ancestral home a happy place for all, rather than the horrid cabbage-scented institution for the sunken and broken-hearted that is the paupers’ Britain.

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