"I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but that 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,"
This unexpected outburst from the Health Secretary brought a response from Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in one of the all-time great quotes:
"If John Reid's contribution to the white paper on smoking is let the poor smoke, then his policy on obesity must be let them eat cake."
It's a tough one to argue that poor people should be freely allowed to commit a slow suicide because they have so little else to live for. Rather than phrasing the argument as a 'health' or 'civil liberties' dilemma, this one is ultimately a question of economics. Rational individuals will look after their necessities before looking after their luxuries. If I can't scrape together the cash to buy my next packet of two-minute noodles for dinner, I'm not likely to be seeing Troy at my local Gold Class cinema. Or smoking a pack of Winnie Blues.
Unless cigarettes are now all of a sudden a necessity, up there with food, shelter and clothing, then their consumption is not one that can be easily justified by those who are going without necessities. Furthermore, the argument for increasing welfare payments (a separate but related discussion) is dramatically weakened if the existing payments are being rolled and smoked (although I wouldn't recommend it with the new polymer notes unless you get high on the smell of burnt plastic). Whilst sympathy is usually deserved for doing it tough, it's a lot harder to be sympathetic when knowing that a fair proportion of welfare ends up being spent on pokies, ciggies and booze. A tough call, perhaps it's the Tony Abbott within, but a fair one.