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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June 2004, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
'If I had more money I'd still smoke'
Woman smoking
A working class pleasure?
Smoking is one of the few pleasures available to the poor, says the UK's health secretary. What say single mothers, one of the very groups he has singled out?

"What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get?" the Health Secretary John Reid has asked, and provided the answer: "The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette."

And Dr Reid - himself a reformed smoker - went on to dismiss calls for a smoking ban as an obsession of the middle classes.

As well as angering the anti-smoking lobby, his comments have gone down none too well with the young mothers living on a council estate in west London.

Sarah Chitty
Smoking isn't a class thing - all sorts of people smoke
Sarah Chitty
Sarah Chitty - herself a 21-year-old single mum - told BBC News Online that such views angered her. "There are lots of pleasures poorer people enjoy. A lot of people on council estates aren't poor anyway. And besides, smoking isn't a class thing. All sorts of people smoke."

Sarah gave up smoking when she fell pregnant with Sonny, now two-and-a-half. She says one of her main pleasures now is enjoying time with her son.

"I was a smoker, but I chose to give it up, both for my child's health and also so I would have the money for us to do other things. I didn't need someone to impose a ban on smoking for me to do that - it was my choice."

People should have the right to chose whether they smoke, she says. Nor does she agree with the proposed ban on smoking in workplaces, a ban which would affect the social club where she works behind the bar.

"When people work in pubs they know there's going to be smoking going on in there. It's what people go there to do, relax, drink and smoke. If bar workers don't like that, then don't take the job. There is plenty of other work in the services industries."

Even simply walking in the park with my daughter is a huge pleasure for me
Debbie McDonnel
Debbie McDonnel, 24, a smoker and single mother with a daughter of five, says Dr Reid is being patronising.

"It's hardly true smoking is the only pleasure people like me have access to. We're not that sad. There are many of things in life to enjoy. Even simply walking in the park with my daughter is a huge pleasure for me.

"I don't like the way Mr Reid seems to think - just because we live on council estates, we are so desperate that we have to turn to smoking. It's not true. I simply smoke because I want to. If I had more money and lived in a better home, I would still smoke, as other, wealthier people do."

Louisa Gurner
Poorer people can't afford nicotine patches to help them give up like richer people can
Louisa Gurner
Smoker and mother-of-two Louisa Gurner, 31, says while it's true that the working classes love to smoke and drink, there are many other pleasures.

"My children and I love going on holidays together. Smoking is an escape for many poorer people, and they also can't afford things like nicotine patches to help them give up like richer people can.

"But I don't think there should be a ban. Whether to smoke or not is down to the individual. We live in a democratic society and it's our right to choose."

Jade Maher, 21, who has a three-year-old daughter, Cyia, says: "I don't like being lectured on whether I should be smoking or not. It's up to me, and I find it helps me relax and cope with stress."

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