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I too will be brief, or as brief as I can be. I think we could generate an awful lot of nonsense. Perhaps I should apologise, as someone from Northern Ireland, because the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Woodward, has relieved us of responsibility: he has done the wise thing, and provided for a total ban in a few months' time. I hope that Sir George Young will allow my vote tonight in favour of a stronger ban to cancel out the irresponsible vote of someone else.
Smoking is a killer. Smoking maims people. Smoking cripples people. There is a whole spectrum of damage that smoking cigarettes—smoking tobacco—does to people. It is the single greatest cause of serious morbidity and mortality, and one of the single greatest burdens on the national health service owing to the illness that it causes. Others have spoken on the subject, and I do not want to go into the details of the damage to lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. Smoking does even more damage to the cardiovascular system. There is brain damage, stroke damage and all the rest. We could split hairs on whether we stop that a little bit, a bigger bit or completely, which is as far as we can go. By "completely" I mean stopping smoking in public places completely; I do not accept that there can be an absolute ban on smoking, although I should like to see the day when that might happen.
Excuses are being made in relation to private spaces: clubs, private homes and vehicles. I do not think that anyone would suggest that people should be allowed to grow cannabis in their private homes or private spaces, and put it to whatever use they like, including the corruption of younger people. The reality is that smoking is damaging, and we in the House have a responsibility to ensure that the amount of damage it is allowed to do is limited.
Apart from the damage that smoking does to people, the cost to the national health service is awful. Smoking is crippling the NHS. As a result of the smoking that has taken place over the past 25 or 30 years, we shall have a legacy—a mortgage—of debt hanging over us for the next 30 years, until we remove smoking, reduce smoking or control smoking.
Before I came to the House I was a GP. Smoking, the damage done by it and the challenges involved in stopping presented me with one of my own greatest challenges. Trying to stop smoking is a difficult issue: it all comes down to individuals. A GP can do anything he likes to help people, but the biggest pitfall is what happens on a Friday or a Saturday night, or at the football match at the weekend. When there is a social occasion, people slip back on to the cigarettes. We must ensure that we give those people as much support as possible.
The southern Irish experience has been extremely positive. Faults can be found in it: there are breaches of the law, and people stand outside bars smoking—but even that has turned into a benefit, because matches are now being made outside the pub rather than inside. There is a smokers' club outside the door. Let us be serious, however. The Irish experience has worked. Smoking is down, and good public health is rising. It will be many years before that shows its full benefit, but I appeal to Members for God's sake to give people a chance. People are struggling to give up cigarettes. Most sensible people who are smokers want to stop smoking, and want us to help them to stop. We should not put any further obstacles or difficulties in their way.