» Wednesday, June 9, 2004

John Reid/Smoking

Asked if it was Government policy to “allow the working-classes to smoke themselves to death”, the PMS said that John Reid had been speaking at a Big Conversation event at which he had made a number of comments. As a Civil Servant, she was unable to comment on political issues. That said, the aim of Big Conversation and other Government events was to encourage debate and discussion about a whole range of issues. For example, consultation exercises were currently taking place on public health and smoking. The whole point of such exercises was to allow people to put forward what were often very different views. Asked if Ministers were allowed to express different views, the PMS repeated that the purpose of such discussions was to have a public debate. Dr Reid’s comments had clearly provoked an even greater debate on the issue of smoking. Pressed as to whether Ministers should be allowed to put forward different views to the Prime Minister in the light of the fact that the Prime Minister had said that smoking should be banned in public places, the PMS pointed out that the Prime Minister had not, in fact, said that smoking should be banned in public places. All he had stated was that a public consultation exercise on the issue should be held, at the end of which a policy would emerge. Asked when the consultation was due to be completed, the PMS said that it was due to finish at the end of the summer.

Asked if Dr Reid had made his comments in his capacity as Health Secretary, the PMS said that he had been contributing to a debate on the issue that was going on at the moment, particularly in the light of the action that had been taken on smoking in Ireland. Pressed as to whether Dr Reid had been speaking as a Government representative, the PMS said that he had been talking at a Big Conversation event. Asked if she was indicating that Dr Reid had been expressing his own point of view, the PMS repeated that he had been contributing to the debate on smoking and public health. She pointed out that this was a complex issue which people would continue to discuss.

Asked to set out the Department’s of Health advice to the public on smoking, the PMS said that we would obviously want everyone to pursue a healthy lifestyle. However, not everybody experienced the same living conditions. People were well aware of the dangers of smoking. Indeed, every cigarette packet carried a health warning. Asked if she was implying that Dr Reid’s comments this morning had been based on Government policy, the PMS said she was simply making the point that everyone was aware of the dangers of smoking. Put to her that Government health warnings on cigarette packets was a strong indication that the Government did not want people to smoke, the PMS pointed out that the warning was not a diktat but guidance. Asked if the Government wanted people to smoke, the PMS said that the Government would like people to have healthy lifestyles. Put to her that it would seem Dr Reid did not want such a thing, the PMS repeated that Dr Reid had made his comments and had contributed to the debate. Asked if the Government would disassociate itself from Dr Reid’s remarks, the PMS said that we lived in a society where debate was encouraged. If people held different views they should be able to put them forward. Pressed as to whether the Government stood by Dr Reid’s remarks or not, the PMS said the important thing was that we were able to have a debate on public health in this country in which people were allowed to express different views. Asked if she was saying that the Government could end up endorsing Dr Reid’s view at the end of the consultation and adopt it as Government policy, the PMS said that she was suggesting nothing of the sort. She was simply making the point that a consultation exercise was taking place in which people were entitled to express different points of view. Put to her that Dr Reid was not a member of the public but a Cabinet Minister responsible for health, the PMS said that people were entitled to express their opinions. That was the whole point of a consultation exercise such as this. Asked if the Government had an actual policy on smoking, the PMS said that the Government had issued guidance on this issue, for example through health warnings on cigarette packets. Asked if Dr Reid’s comments were compatible with the Government’s existing advice on smoking, the PMS said that the Government had issued the advice. Dr Reid had made his comments. Discussion and debate on this issue would no doubt continue. Asked if Ministers would be allowed to express their personal opinions about other issues, such as the single currency for example, the PMS pointed out that the difference was that Dr Reid had made his remarks during a consultation exercise on the issue of public health and smoking. This was an ongoing discussion and debate on personal lifestyle issues to which people were being encouraged to contribute. Asked if the Prime Minister was in favour of cigarettes being sold in packs of ten, the PMS said that she had not heard the Prime Minister express a view on this particular issue.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. Reidy is a scream isn’t he. Just bitter at being forced to give up smoking when be became Minister of Health.

    I really like the idea of Labour’s "Big Con"

    Comment by DEGREEK — 10 Jun 2004 on 10:45 pm | Link
  2. Oh, come on, we can all mince about the wording, but Reid’s fundamentally right: You can’t lecture people into quitting smoking; you can’t legislate prohibition of a common condition.

    If it’s going to happen, it can’t happen overnight – it needs to be a gradual change, with popular support, policed and driven home by the people you sit next to in pubs, bars, restaraunts, and offices. Once the general public has reached the stage where your smoking is being policed by them, then you can legislate to support them – but you can’t do the opposite.

    And it will happen. Let’s be frank: Smoking isn’t a pretty habit. Even if one thinks purely of vanity, our ever-more-fashion-conscious, "everyone is perfect" world will chuck us out onto the pavement sooner or later; it doesn’t matter whether the reason they’re doing so is public health, the smoky haze, or just dislike. Sooner or later, we’re on the pavement.

    When we’re the last ones in the pub, with non-smokers all around us, that’s the time to legislate. Until then, a subversive education program to turn society against smoking and smokers is the obvious best course of action to take – and once that is successful, a ban on smoking will practically walk itself through parliament and into the books.

    Comment by Gregory Block — 11 Jun 2004 on 9:21 am | Link
  3. As a city dweller I would rather that the government took steps to enforce legislation on dropping ‘litter’ especially when it is Chewing Gum.
    As a non-smoker I have a choice to enter an establishment where people are smoking. If I don’t want to be there then I’m not.
    But the fu****g chewing gum is EVERYWHERE and in hot weather and when freshly dropped in Winter it sticks like shit to your shoes and takes considerable effort to remove, unless you buy the special gum remover \xA3\xA3\xA3.
    Society is more inconvenienced by chewing gum than by smoking.
    Lets have a change of focus onto the real issues 😉

    Comment by Roger Huffadine — 11 Jun 2004 on 9:53 am | Link
  4. Well, in all fairness, I’d rather have chewing gum stuck to my shoes than a lung-full of someone else’s smoke…but we all have our priorities I suppose. I’m actually shocked that John Reid has made those comments considering Sir Liam Donaldson launching the ‘Second Hand Smoke’ campaign on the dangers of children inhaling cigarette smoke in the home. Just my tuppence-worth.

    Comment by Vanessa Veglio — 11 Jun 2004 on 12:12 pm | Link
  5. There was actually some talk by various lobbyists about getting a tax on chewing gum to cover the costs of cleanup that it incurs; I vaguely remember industry responding by saying they’d do something to make it break down faster…

    The stuff is practically immortal, it seems.

    However, I think a future where people give you a dirty look for putting gum in your mouth is a long way off; that particular future is either already here or just around the corner for smokers.

    Comment by Gregory Block — 11 Jun 2004 on 2:45 pm | Link
  6. Smoking In Public Places

    Having recently returned from a weekend break in Dublin, I would like to say what a success the ban on smoking in pubs, clubs,resturants and cafes is there. Oh what a joy to go out in the evening for a drink and a meal and not to return stinking of smoke.

    Come on UK.. we want a smoking ban … complete.. not the half-hearted one proposed and we want it now!.. Wake up and smell the coffee!.. not the fag ash..

    Martyn Smith 5 September 2005

    Comment by Martyn Smith — 5 Sep 2005 on 9:09 am | Link

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