Dying for a fag?

News that US tobacco firms have been fined £97bn for causing the cancers and other diseases suffered by half a million Florida smokers gladdens my heart. The fact that Philip Morris believe the amount of punitive damages would put all tobacco companies out of business would also be hugely gratifying, if it weren’t for the small caveat. The rider is that lawyers for the tobacco companies have no intention of paying the money: they intend to drag the matter back and forth to appeal for as long as they can.

However, every time a damaging report about smoking appears, at least one liberal journalist (Ann Leslie, Matthew Norman, Victor Lewis-Smith) rushes to the defence of nicotine addicts, on the basis that they are heroes for the billions they contribute to the Treasury and for dying young and thus not collecting their State pension. Indeed, on the very day that The Mirror reported “Smokers Win £97bn” on page 4, Victor Lewis-Smith was doing his best on page 6 to throw a smoke screen over the dangers of the carcinogenic, killer weed.

Two of these “witty” (woolly) libertarians – Messrs Norman and Lewis-Smith – are not even smokers anymore, having already been cajoled into giving up by their wives, doctors, social ostracism or even, perhaps (whisper it), fear for their own lives. It’s very easy to sit on the liberal do-nothing fence as an ex-participant, saying “oh it’s all right really, no harm came to me” (after all, you’ve given up, nonce-heads!) and that smokers actually save the country a PACKET (ha ha ha ha ha – I haven’t stopped laughing yet).

Yes, smokers do die young and very often fail to collect their pension, do not pass go, do not collect £200 etc. I can attest to this having lost my 40-a-day mother to lung cancer two years ago. She was 54 years old. Had she not smoked, I believe she may have lived at least 20 years longer, being that her mother did reach the allotted three score year and ten.

At a conservative guess, I would estimate that my mother puffed her way through more than 500,000 fags during her lifetime and continued to do so right up to her very last day. When successive governments raised the levy on cigarettes, taking her favourite brand beyond her fiscal reach, she did not smoke less but merely changed brands to cheaper, smaller, nastier fags to satisfy her addiction. In the last few years of her life she was spending around £40 a week on cigarettes and, despite living in semi-retirement with my older (pensionable) father, she insisted on taking a part-time job, solely for the purpose of paying for her habit.

I remember as a teenager my brother and I trying to blind our mother with science we had learned in the biology lab, with pictures of diseased lungs and statistics proffered by the Department of Health – all to no avail. She was not interested and continued in her intractable, impervious belief that “it’ll never happen to me”.

Only it did. And it happens to hundreds of thousands every single year. While teachers force feed kids about the dangers of (illegal) drugs they don’t always highlight the fact that of drug-related deaths the single largest contributor is nicotine. There is an average five deaths a day from Class A and B drugs, 100 a day from alcohol and 300 from nicotine. We spend £12 billion a year on fags in the UK, which is a damned expensive way of killing ourselves.