Letter of the Week: Small shops will pay the price

Peter Kellner (The Guest Column, 25 October) claims there are two sides to the tobacco display ban - health and Big Tobacco - but he is not a retailer and doesn't understand the pressures we face.

Our fears are genuine. The display ban is not a health v business issue: independent evidence demonstrates that it does not work on health grounds and it affects small businesses disproportionately. It therefore fails both tests of making effective and evidence-based legislation.

International evidence, including data released from Pennsylvania State University, suggests a display ban would be completely ineffective or even counterproductive, while countries that have previously implemented a display ban (including Canada, Ireland and Iceland) have reported widespread closures. A report from the Institute of Economic Affairs predicts a similar scenario in Britain.

More recently, Sweden and Denmark have rejected display bans for these very reasons, as well as for fear of encouraging illicit trade.

The legislation is forcing 33,000 small shops that sell tobacco across the UK to pay £33m collectively to implement a measure that will not work. Britain is a nation of shopkeepers and the government should support them at a difficult time.
Parminder Singh
National President, National Federation of Retail Newsagents
London EC1

Fees in our time
It is disappointing to hear Peter Wilby support university tuition fees on the grounds that there is "no reason why millions of taxpayers on modest incomes should support a service from which they and their families are excluded" (First Thoughts, 25 October). Surely the imposition of fees can only strengthen that exclusion. However inadequate provision for students has become, at least state subsidy of tuition has been a step in the right direction and a prerequisite for democratic access to higher education.

The argument that graduates will earn more than others, and consequently should pay more, takes as its basis the idea that only individuals, not society, profit from the knowledge and skills to which university education contributes. Such an idea is the polar opposite of the fundamental values of the left, be it socialist or watered-down social democratic.
Jeffry Kaplow
London SE3

Act, not react
Alice Miles (Miles Out of London, 25 October) puts it very well - "anger is not enough". Protest is self-indulgent. Those who believe in social democracy and a truly fairer society need to re-engage in the political process. Look at what is happening to the Democrats in the United States.
Adrian Sheehan

Miles better
Alice Miles (Miles Out of London, 18 October) equates British higher education with the acquisition of knowledge. It is true that some students might benefit more from a book or online resource guide and that the teaching of some academics adds little value.

However, I have marked work by students who used materials of this kind with minimal supervision, as well as work by students who studied the same content on campus. There was no comparison. It was clear that interaction with academics and peers does help students develop independence of thought and analytical skills.
Dr Stefanie Reissner
Newcastle University

Alice Miles is right to argue that university teaching could be much improved, but will unlimited fees help or hinder? University lecturers are trained researchers with little to no training in teaching. For years, universities, including those beyond the Russell Group, have overtly encouraged staff to focus on research, generating a culture where it is the norm to shun teaching. Little credit is given to those who spend time teaching innovatively; senior staff describe such effort as a waste of precious research time.

Will fees challenge this culture and push universities into valuing teaching, or will the bottom line become even more important?
Dr Jenny Pickerill
University of Leicester

Screen savers
In her column on Breast Cancer Awareness Month ("The sexy way to die", 18 October), Laurie Penny complains of sexist sentiment disguised as altruism, and informs us of the reality that "women have bodies that sicken, age and die".

Strangely enough, so do men. When complaining about the breast cancer campaign, Penny should be mindful of, for example, the screening that is available for women's cancers and the absence of similar screening for male cancers, and think about the sexism that this demonstrates.
G A Haines
Portishead, Somerset

Land of plenty
The New Statesman rightly draws attention to the perennial importance of the land question ("The coming battle over land and property", 18 October). What is needed is a tax system that recognises the difference between the value of land and the value of things that can be created on demand. If a tax were applied to the value of all land, the effect would be to control wild booms and disastrous recessions and to permit enormous reduction in other kinds of taxation.
Roy Douglas
Polegate, East Sussex

Know your unions
Just writing to say how much I enjoyed the 11 October special issue, guest-edited by Melvyn Bragg: great articles, stories and columns. I took it away on a short break and read it cover to cover. More like that, please.

I was particularly intrigued by Madsen Pirie's contribution in support of trade unions to the article "Is time up for the unions?". Who ever thought
that someone from a right-wing think tank would remind us that unionised workers' stronger representation with management generally gets them a better deal than non-unionised workers?
John Waterworth
Orpington, Kent

Winning women
Why is it, do you think, that, with the exception of Basil Ransome-Davies, I always enjoy the female prizewinners on your competition page most?
Am I a woman at heart?
George Cowley