Smokers suffer segregation

Far from being patronised and ignored, as Nick Cohen suggests ("The plot to keep us puffing", 17 January), my report into the rising tide of discrimination against smokers in job advertisements ("Smoking: the new apartheid") was widely reported and, in some cases, welcomed.

In fact, the New Statesman itself noted how the report "presents forceful evidence to suggest that smokers are genuinely discriminated against in the workplace" (15 November 1999).

What is revealing is Cohen's sensitivity over the use of the apartheid analogy to illustrate how smokers are institutionally discriminated against. The charge, however, sticks. A two-tier system is clearly being created whereby smokers are segregated from the rest of society. They face higher levels of taxation, then removal of their right to receive legitimate product information, as well as calls for them to be evicted from communal areas.

To my mind, there is little doubt that, under new Labour, smoking is indeed the new apartheid. Admittedly, we are a long way from the brutal repression of South Africa, but one can easily view the no-smoking areas of today as the "whites only" areas of yesteryear.

Martin Ball
Campaigns director, FOREST, London SW1

Perhaps I may add a footnote to Nick Cohen's excellent article on the tobacco lobby, and to your acceptance of tobacco sponsorship for a supplement the previous week ("New consumerism", 10 January).

Last Saturday night, I drove a friend 20 miles to the hospital where her daughter was close to death. Five and a half years ago, Lisa (not her name) had made a great effort and had given up smoking. After five years, she had a check-up to make sure that all was well. It was not; she had advanced cancer of the lung. The ordeal of chemotherapy gave her two or three months of reasonable life and then, after a lot more suffering, she died. She was 47 years old and she left a devoted husband, two distraught teenage children and, perhaps worst, an elderly mother who had never expected to outlive her child.

Anger can be used as a way of evading grief. But this is not my grief - I did not know Lisa - so perhaps I may be allowed to be angry. Yes, for 30 years now, smokers here have known that they are taking a grave risk for the sake of a trivial pleasure. Nevertheless, I cannot help wanting to consign the tobacco manufacturers to the deepest pit of hell. For 40 years at least, they have known that they are selling poison - slow and uncertain, but still poison. And they are still seeking new victims - not so much here as among the poor and ill-informed people of Asia and Africa. Yet it seems that you are prepared to take their money.

Christopher Wrigley
Chorleywood, Herts

This article first appeared in the 31 January 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why arms sales are bad for Britain