Published: 02/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5934 Page 21
The impending ban on fox-hunting is motivated more by class hatred than any desire to save foxes. Likewise, calls for action against smoking in public places are driven more by the need to be seen to be taking a stand against 'the tobacco giants' and an unpleasant habit than any belief that it will have any great impact on health outcomes.
Passive smoking does cause cancer, but the increase in risk to the nonsmoker is small and the greatest danger is faced by those who willingly live with a smoker. As for smoking in pubs and clubs, the threat of legal action from employees who develop cancer combined with the need to provide acceptable working conditions to attract staff will combine to 'clean up' all but the dodgiest of dives.
The treatment of children in particular highlights the hypocrisy redolent throughout this debate. What does a child more harm, an hour or two in a smoky café or sharing a house with parents who smoke? To follow the logic of those who wish to ban passive smoking would be to place smoke detectors in every household containing a child.
Calling for action on passive smoking in public places is like complaining about a bout of food poisoning in a cholera outbreak. Dozens of issues - health problems caused by cars, the link between poverty and ill health or health inequalities faced by ethnic minorities - are much more worthy of the attention of health campaigners.
Perhaps with the irrelevance of passive smoking tackled, we can get on and do something about them.