Magazine article The Spectator

Cigarette Lady

Magazine article The Spectator

Cigarette Lady

Article excerpt

Lady Trumpington is on the warpath. At the age of 81, the author of the tremendous dictum Td rather be common than middle-class' will deploy her formidable rhetorical powers to condemn a wretched piece of legislation. The 'Bill to prohibit the smoking of tobacco by any person in Wales while in a public place', as its long title runs, is now making its way through the House of Lords, and Lady Trumpington is one of the select band of peers who oppose it.

For nearly 70 years she was herself a heavy smoker: 'I started at the age of 11 and smoked 40 a day until two years ago. No doctor has ever gone at me, really, but I think a lot of them smoke anyway. I used to be a junior health minister [from 1985-87]. When I went on visits to hospitals and other such places I could just about last a couple of hours without a cigarette and then I'd say, "I'm sorry, I've simply got to have a fag," and all the doctors and nurses would say "Thank God," and out would come all the ashtrays.'

When I met her at the House of Lords, Lady Trumpington passed me some sheets of writing paper on which in her firm, round hand she had drafted the opening of her forthcoming speech. Here is an exclusive preview: 'I would never have stopped smoking had I not been in hospital for reasons totally unconnected with tobacco. Three times, with a high temperature, I wandered down to the street in my night-dress and smoked a delicious cigarette. Once I lit up in my room - almost immediately a giant all dressed in white descended on me to tell me I was about to blow up the entire hospital. A kind lady showed me the fire escape where she assured me that as long as I kept my foot in the door I could smoke to my heart's content.

'And then suddenly I thought how lily-livered I was; this was my big opportunity to see if I could give up. It was horrible, but I have never smoked a cigarette since.

'Do I feel better? No. Am I richer? I don't know why, but no. Am I fatter? Oh yes. So I am thinking that the only gain has been sheer convenience. Would I start again? No, partly because it would give such smirking pleasure to those peers on the other side of the House who have taunted me through the years. Apart from those bigoted peers the answer is Yes.

'But at the age of 81 I am left with one pleasure and that's passive smoking. I love it! To listen to all the rubbish that is spoken concerning passive smoking only confirms me in my belief that somebody will find something wrong with everything if you only give them time.'

The Private Member's Bill introduced by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, professor of palliative medicine at the University of Wales and former Welsh Woman of the Year, would give the Welsh Assembly the power to prohibit smoking in a public place, and also to decide what constitutes a public place. Whether the government will make time for the Bill in the Commons is unclear: ministers may decide to scupper it because they dislike the idea of devolving additional powers to Wales. But the persecution of smokers is so much in vogue that the chances of some such measure becoming law in the next few years must be reckoned very high.

Researchers have compiled for Lady Trumpington a list of the risks associated with various other activities. She will point out to the Lords that people who eat pizza on average once a week are less likely to develop cancer of the colon, oesophagus and mouth (the Mario Negri Research Institute, Milan); that people over 50 who lift weights during exercise are at a higher risk of aortic dissection, an often fatal heart condition (Yale University); that men over 65 who eat chocolate more than three times a month live a year less than those who don't (Harvard School of Public Health); that cooking with flour increases the risk of chest tightness, coughing and wheezing (British Thoracic Society); and that grandmothers who provide care to grandchildren for more than nine hours a week have a 55 per cent greater risk of heart attack (Harvard School of Health again). …

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