Life choices

Smoking saves lives, hunting kills foxes, and things were never better in the old days.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Smoking saves lives

Smokers such as myself have become accustomed to the sneers and lectures administered to us from the anti-smoking (or should we call them ‘anti-choice’?) lobby. Yes, we’ve got used to being called smelly, stupid and anti-social. One thing we cannot tolerate, however, is ingratitude. This is because smoking save lives.

This week, the UK government announced plans to make heavy smokers give up cigarettes in return for NHS treatment. Those who fail to sign or honour such a contract could be denied free healthcare.

It should actually be the other way around. It reputedly costs the NHS £1.5billion to tackle ‘smoking-related’ diseases, yet tobacco tax revenue currently stands at £7billion a year. Such a vast levy no doubt pays for dozens of ‘schools and hospitals’ and improves beyond calculation the welfare of millions of ‘kids’. This figure could be as high as £10billion, were it not for the government over-taxing tobacco and encouraging cross-channel smuggling.

And not only do smokers make a net contribution to healthcare, but in dying an average 10 years earlier than non-smokers, we use up far less of the NHS’s resources (most people incur the greatest financial burden to the health service when in very old age).

Does nobody recognise such a virtuous sacrifice? Logically, smokers should actually be put at the front of the queue – all you clean-living parasites should stand at the back.

  • Foxing the issues

According to a new study, foxes will suffer more if hunting is banned. There will higher rates of injury if foxes are controlled by shooting and trapping, concludes research undertaken by the Middle Way group. ‘If animal welfare is your aim you would not go down the route of a ban on hunting’, says Jim Barrington, Middle Way adviser. ‘Hunting should be looked at as an acceptable method of controlling foxes.’

This is not the only finding that gives succour to the pro-hunting lobby. Earlier this year the Union of Country Sports Workers, which represents gamekeepers and other rural employees, announced findings that urban foxes released into the wild are so disorientated that they die long, lingering death by starvation – unable to fend for themselves in their new, alien environment. This happens because human urban-dwellers, squeamish about having urban foxes put down in their midst, prefer to have them transported to the countryside.

Still, it is strange to hear pro-hunters declaring themselves to be on the side of foxes. They increasingly present their sport as something that is in the fox’s welfare, and a boon to Britain’s fauna in general. Somehow, running foxes to their death has become humane.

Of course, anti-hunters would have none of this. They would protest that they are working in the fox’s welfare, to protect them from the barbarity of rural folk. This has always been a disingenuous argument, too. The meat industry is infinitesimally bigger and far crueller to animals, yet nobody makes a big song-and-dance about this. This is because there is nothing romantic or daring about campaigning to close down slaughterhouses – or what we like to call ‘abattoirs’.

How odd that both sides try to present themselves as the true friend of animals, when in fact neither is. It is a sorry old mess, an argument combining two of this country’s lamentable foibles: its sentimentality towards animals and its culture of empty-headed gesture politics. The most disheartening thing is that it is such a big issue in the first place.

It would be truly admirable – and a relief – if fox-hunters just admitted they like killing animals for fun, and the saboteurs conceded they’ve got a problem with posh people ceremoniously roaming around on people’s land.

  • Living in the past

Things were not better in the ‘good old days’, say scientists at the University of California. According to the study, older people regard the past with rose-tinted glasses principally because that as folk age, they tend to re-remember only happy memories. Their bad memories subside, leaving them with a recollection of an innocent, semi-idyllic era.

It is easy to mock those who lament the passing of ‘the good old days’. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation being celebrated at the moment, we have heard much about how life in 1953 Britain looked – and thankfully, not all was nostalgic. As Richard Morrison wrote in The Times (London) earlier this week, in this country at that time ‘one in three homes had no bath; one in 20 didn’t have piped water. Bomb craters still scarred industrial towns, even the heart of London. Food was rationed’.

Talk to many people who grew up in the 1950s and they will tell you what a stuffy, snobbish, philistine and arse-achingly dull place it was then. Go back and view 25 or 50 years further and anyone today surely must appreciate just how lucky we are to live long, healthy lives in cleanliness and with all number of gadgets to make our lives easier.

To give the oldies their due, Britain was a much safer and more trusting place in 1953. Litter and graffiti were not a problem. Crime was but a fraction of today’s figures. Judging by the exponential growth in ‘depression’ in the postwar era, one can only but assume that people were happier then, too.

This aside, there’s reason for optimism. Many young people are unhappy today not just because, as the research shows, they are better at remembering negative images. It’s also because with today’s cult of youth-worship, we are terrified of getting old.

These findings hopefully might help diminish both cultural phenomena. We need no longer fear ageing because it might make us happier; we need no longer be miserable because we’re going to be old soon.

Cor lummy! Try telling that to the youth of today….

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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