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FREEDOM UP IN SMOKE

01-10-2006

Is it any business of your doctor if you light up now and again, asks Dave Woodhall.

I had a phone call the other day. It was my doctor's surgery; “We're updating your Smoking Status. Do you smoke?” I don't, and I told them so. Then when I put the phone down, I thought that I should have continued, “And what's that got to do with you?”

I suppose they'd argue that they want to keep an eye on who on their books smokes, so that they can give them help and advice on giving up. Maybe, but that presupposes that the smokers in question in the first place want to give up, and in the second are unable to get such help for themselves. I find it hard to believe that anyone in Britain who wants to give up smoking wouldn't know how to do so.

The more I think about it, the more I think what an intrusive, nanny-state liberty they took. I don't smoke, I don't like anyone smoking around me and I wouldn't lose any sleep if the price of fags was raised to £100 a packet and the penalty for being caught in possession of one smuggled in from the Continent was life imprisonment. But regardless of that fact, I don't like the idea that someone working for my doctor can contact me and start asking questions about my lifestyle and habits. If it's legal and it doesn't affect anyone else, I don't see what concern it is of theirs.

I found myself wondering what comes next. Do I drink? (Moderately, but probably to dangerous excess according to the health fascists.) Go to the chippy? (Ditto.) Eat however many portions of fruit and veg is reckoned to be the correct amount this week? (Er, well…)

Raising it to another level, I wonder how long it will be before my dentist's receptionist rings up to see whether I eat sweets, and whether they'll be swapping the information with the doctor. If my accountant enquires whether I have an expensive shopping habit or my solicitor wants to know if I ever break the speed limit while driving.

And to be perfectly serious, I wonder when the day will come that smokers are refused routine NHS treatment until they agree to undergo treatment for their addiction. That can, possibly, be justified on the grounds that smoking might affect the health of others as well as the smoker. It can also be the thin end of the wedge.

Will drinkers be refused treatment? Anyone who doesn't do enough exercise? Or who eats the ‘wrong' type of foods? We're already seeing advertising campaigns warning us of the dangers of eating crisps. How long will it be before I get a phone call asking me if I'm a crisp eater, and whether I can cope on my own or need help with my ready salted addiction. “Hell, my name's David and I'm a crispaholic. It's been three days since my last bag.”

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