Denise Robertson: Time to face the facts of smoking cigarettes

Too many people are refusing to face the facts of smoking with 102,000 lives lost every year from tobacco-related illnesses

A person smoking a cigarette
A person smoking a cigarette

I have been widowed twice due to cigarettes. My first husband died of lung cancer, the second of a series of strokes. A letter from his consultant began “Due to your previous smoking habit” and ended “there is nothing we can do”.  

Each time I see someone smoking, I long to warn them, but I’d be wasting my time. That’s why I’m not up in arms over the plain packaging issue.

You don’t buy cigarettes because they’re in a colourful packet. You buy them because you’re hooked. Once you’ve bought them, you don’t read the warning on the packet. You light up.

A sign on a country pub said: “This is a non-smoking venue.” Beside it was a hand-written notice which said: “We sell cigarettes.”

Too many people are refusing to face facts. The number of people smoking is falling, but tobacco use is still the single biggest cause of early death in the United Kingdom: 86% of deaths from lung cancer, 80% of deaths from bronchitis and emphysema, and 17% of deaths from heart disease. It claims more than 102,000 lives a year.

Last week I saw two boys, each carrying aloft a lighted cigarette as if to say: “Look at us. We’re grown up now.” Young, successful women in smart cars draw on cigarettes as though their life depended on it . . .and in a way it does.

Is the answer a campaign as fearful as the tombstone campaign which stopped Aids in its tracks? Or do we begin in primary schools?

I don’t know. But I do remember what happened in the last days of my first husband’s life. A friend visited and smoked throughout her stay.

When she had gone my husband, still young and a doting father, picked up a stub from the ashtray and said: “It’s a silly thing to die for, isn’t it?”

:: When William Hague mouthed “stupid woman” at a Labour MP, he was rude and unparliamentary but I can’t understand the furore which has sprung up around his use of the word ‘woman’. 

Radio 4’s Women’s Hour got heated about it, women columnists joined in, muttering darkly.  Would there have been as much fuss if he had said “stupid man”?  No, because ‘man’ is an acceptable, even complimentary, term.  

I resent the suggestion that the word woman is somehow derogatory. Criticise Hague for commenting at all or for using the word stupid, but when you suggest the word woman is itself an insult it tells me more about you than it does about William Hague.

:: While we weep over reunions between parents and children in ITV’s Long Lost Family, presented by Davina McCall, the scandal of forced adoption continues in the Family Courts.

Last week, I received yet another heart-breaking letter from a grandmother who is losing her grandchildren.

Earlier this year, the country’s most senior family judge criticised the making of a final adoption order when the father had an appeal pending.

“I cannot part from this case without expressing my very great concerns about what it reveals about our system . . .  whose inadequacies and potential for catastrophe have here been all too starkly exposed. No humanly devised system can ever be foolproof, but we must do everything to ensure as best we can that future catastrophes are prevented.”

Never mind, in 20 years time Davina will be along to reunite that father and son and we can all have a good cry. The grandparents will probably be dead.

:: Criticism of HS2 has usually come from people terrified it will ruin their countryside, but London’s Camden Council believes the borough will suffer a decade of blight, noise and disruption if it goes ahead.

A minimum of 216 homes would be demolished, at least 20 business premises are at risk while a variety of listed buildings and open spaces will be lost. Official estimates show that up to 453 houses, businesses and community buildings will be demolished along the route while 1,800 homes will need noise insulation. 

Homeowners located near the planned railway face being trapped in blighted properties for years while they wait for compensation or  sell at a massive discount. Some could be plunged into negative equity as their homes become worth less than their mortgages.

Farmers will see their livelihoods ruined. Eight historic structures and one site of special scientific interest will be affected, seven rivers will allegedly have to be diverted and 7,700 people will face annoyance from train noise.

The Woodland Trust claims 33 ancient woods are under threat and at least 3,000 properties will endure disruption while the tracks are laid. 

Meanwhile, our present train system lurches on. A fraction of the estimated cost of the £43bn cost of HS2 could transform today’s travel.

Some platforms have no means of exit for disabled passengers . Passengers have to travel on for  miles, disembark – not easy on crutches or in a wheelchair – and catch another train to take them back to a platform they can escape from. 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson writes movingly of trains with no wheelchair-friendly toilets. Commuters stand packed like sardines and some trains are so ancient Sherlock Holmes might well be sitting opposite you.

They say HS2 will benefit the North. I’d like to bet that leaders in the North would give their eye teeth for a fraction of that £43bn.

They’d know just what to do with it and it wouldn’t be building a railway which may make the journey half-an-hour shorter, but could well be obsolete by the time it’s finished.


David Whetstone
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