Driven to the Hills

About twenty years ago, there was a play on Radio 4. It was a satire about a near future UK in which smoking had been outlawed and the remaining smokers had been driven from society into the hills of Scotland (or it might have been Wales) and were desperately eking out their last packs of Marlboro.

We laughed at the time (it was pretty funny) and thought it was an interesting idea, but it could never happen. Could it?

And yet today the Scottish Parliament voted to ban smoking in enclosed areas; Liverpool is making a legal bid to become smoke-free; Ireland and New York already are and Manchester is looking to follow suit.

You can argue the rights and rights of this till the cows come home. Illiberal legislation and the “because we say so” politicians? Or the individual’s right to earn a living without risking their health?

But there are two more fundamental issues which concern the impact a smoking ban might have. One, the tax on cigarettes far outweighs the cost of smoking to the health service. Who fills that fiscal gap? I guess we all will.

Second, if the aim of smoke-free is to persuade more people to give up the weed, then more people will live longer. And how does that help the pensions crisis?

Was it Yes Minister or Yes Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey described smokers as patriotic citizens laying down their lives for the greater good of the many? It seems we want smokers to continue being smokers because of the tax they pay, but we’d rather they did it somewhere else.

As the play had it, shunned and scorned, counting their last fags, in the hills and mountains of Scotland. Or was it Wales.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Mosher 10th November 2004

    I'm all for being able to go to the pub and not have to get cancer while I'm concentrating on developing a nice, firm cirrhosis. A concern I have, though, is that if smokers can't indulge in their filthy habit down the road, they'll do it more indoors… around their kids.

    Here's an idea. If someone comes into hospital with a lung complaint, cancer, blood clot or whatever and they're a smoker… the go to the back of the queue. Deal with them when we've got through all the non-self-inflicted cases.

    So many of them go on about how they know the risks and it's their choice. Well, fine. Take the risk, deal with the consequences. While their cigie tax has helped pay for any treatment they get, so has some of my tax money. No way. I don't want to help some selfish sod who helped kill Roy Castle get better.

    And, yes, I do have friends and relatives who are addicted to the weed. It's their own look-out.

  • James 10th November 2004

    well if you look at it that way then the guy who had to many trips to the fast food restraunt should be sent to the end of the line when he complains of chest pains, or heart problems. The drinker when in need of dialyisis should be at the end of the line.

  • Mosher 10th November 2004

    Which does sound fair, to be honest. I'm prepared to say that if people make a lifestyle choice they should live with the consequences regardless of what they are.

    Mind, people eating burgers aren't making *me* fat. The guy next to me in the pub drinking triple vodkas isn't damaging *my* liver. The smelly sod next to me at the footie who insists on lighting up despite the "no smoking" signs however…

    OK, so I'm slightly biased against people who piss me off 🙂

  • Anonymous 11th November 2004

    Everyone seems to have an opinion on this one. Seems a shame that something that is essentially trivial in comparison to, say, George W Bush's mass murdering of innocent people, is what gets people the most riled…

    I'm a non-smoker and always have been; my partner is a relatively heavy smoker (about 20 a day). He also has a heart condition.

    I know damned well that he's killing himself, but it is not my right to tell him what not to do. Admittedly, it upsets me, but I keep my gob shut because I don't believe I should behave like his mother. Similarly, how can the Government justify behaving like a mother to people who have made a conscious decision to smoke because they like it?

    D'you know what? The more I think about this topic, the more I think I should blog about it myself. Check out my blog at the end of today:

    Mark A

  • Shooting Parrots 11th November 2004

    I was not arguing either for or against smoking and smokers. The point is that cigarettes are heavily taxed in the UK and if everyone gave up smoking, there would be a large hole in the chancellor's budget.

    To make that up, he would either have to raise income tax or put the tax on something else, like petrol or alcohol. In short everyone — non-smokers and reformed smokers alike — would have to cough up. (Pun intended)

    The second point is the pensions crisis. We're told that we either have to pay more in contributions or work beyone the age of 65 because people are living longer and there just isn't enough money in the pensions pot.

    Again, if you convince everyone to give up smoking, the received wisdom is that they will live longer, making the problem worse.

    Obviously people should give up if they can, but we must accept that there will be a financial cost for the rest of us.

    Ironically, the reformed smokers will be the only ones better off because they won't be paying 20p in tax everytime they light up!


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