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MP slams Health Secretary's views on smoking

A KENT Labour MP has condemned comments by the Health Secretary John Reid, who said smoking was one of the few pleasures left for the poor on council estates.

Dartford MP Dr Howard Stoate, a member of the all-party Commons select committee on health and a GP, said it was the Government’s job to tackle the issue of why people smoked.

Expressing surprise at the health secretary’s remarks, Dr Stoate said: “What we have to do is address the social conditions which make people fall back on something we all know shortens lives, harms others and is a huge cost to the taxpayer in terms of the health service.”

“I can understand why he says it is happening because it does reflect what is actually the case on some estates. But that should be giving us the message that we should be doing much more to improve the living conditions of those living on these estates.”

In an interview, Mr Reid said the middle classes were obsessed with giving instruction to people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and smoking was not one of the worst problems facing poorer people.

“I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but it is an obsession of the learned middle class. What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette.”

He went on to say the middle classes were obsessed with giving instruction to those from poorer backgrounds.

Dr Stoate said he accepted the Government and others should not be patronising or hectoring in their approach to encouraging people to give up smoking.

But he added: “We have to be much more honest about why people have these patterns of behaviour and the health secretary’s job is to reverse the situation.”

Former shadow Conservative health spokesman and Maidstone and Weald MP Ann Widdecombe said it was important the Government struck the right balance.

“I understand where John Reid is coming from – I do think the Government has been going overboard on regulations but on the other hand, any encouragement to smoke is clearly irresponsible. We should be encouraging people who have poorer lifestyles to understand the health benefits of giving up,” she said.

There were wider issues on council estates, particularly in large cities, of low aspirations and ambition that needed to be addressed, she added.

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