Opinion: The pathetic manoeuvrings on smoking

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

The Smoking Control Network includes all the major organisations concerned with the impact of smoking on health and has been vigorously lobbying for a ban on smoking in enclosed public places, successfully except in England. Though the Government claims to have cancer and heart disease on the top of its agenda, it has been hopeless over the single most effective action it could take to cut deaths from these and related causes.

At the extremely small Big Conversation in Brixton in 2004, John Reid, then health secretary, implied that banning smoking was a middle class preoccupation. His civil servants must have wished they were allowed to strangle him before the media broadcast. It would have been a more merciful end than the six or eight months of agonising progress to death that follow almost all of the more than 37,000 diagnoses of lung cancer every year in this country.

Lung cancer is an invisible epidemic. By the time most people are diagnosed, their symptoms are so advanced that their social lives are already curtailed.

Would you want to go to the pub with an old mate who's gasping and coughing blood at every step, supposing he can make it at all?

It's a disease that does not discriminate between old and young, smokers and non-smokers, poor and comfortably off. In 20 years there has been almost no improvement in mortality rates.

Cabinet opposition apparently still impedes progress to a ban on smoking in enclosed public places, so it's now up to Labour MPs to do what they know is right - to reject what is likely to be an unworkable (and, frankly, ridiculous) compromise and vote for a complete ban. It makes the Government look craven and silly that it is unable to secure the same ban that the Irish have had successfully in place and which the Scottish and Northern Ireland governments will be implementing soon.

Even Wales, which does not have the power to draw up its own law, has indicated it will amend the English one, once passed, to create a full ban.

Opponents claim this is about civil liberties, but compare the pathetic political manoeuvring over this present and real danger, which has been killing tens of thousands of people for many years, with the welter of draconian legislation about terrorism. Every day that smoking continues to be allowed in enclosed public spaces, it causes horrible deaths that could be avoided.

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