SYDNEY, New South Wales / The Sydney Morning Herald / National / May 4, 2010
A Liberal senator has encouraged smokers to keep up their habit, saying smokers die early and save the health system money.
Liberal powerbroker Nick Minchin, 57, has slammed the federal government's plan to increase the tax on cigarettes as he told smokers to "go for it".
"They die early, they actually save us money," Senator Minchin told ABC television last night. Click for video
He rejected comments by another panellist on the ABC's Q&A program that smokers should pay more tax because they cost the health system money by getting sick.
Senator Minchin, who is leaving politics at the next election, is a key figure in the Liberals' conservative faction and was a minister under former prime minister John Howard. He has kept a relatively low public profile this electoral term, but broke loose in his fiery television appearance.
The South Australian senator said smoking was a "hideous habit" but people had the right to indulge it in a free country. "We've all got to choose our way to go, everyone's going to die of something," he said. "If people choose to die of smoking, I as a Liberal think, well that's your problem but go for it." The government was "slugging poor old smokers every time they need money" by proposing the tax rise.
Senator Minchin, a prominent climate sceptic, also expressed doubt about the science of climate change.
Queensland acting Premier and Health Minister Paul Lucas said Senator Minchin's comments about smokers being left to die were "inane and ridiculous". Mr Lucas told reporters in Brisbane the comments were ridiculous. "Smoking is an addiction, and it's a major cause of cardio-vascular disease and cancer," Mr Lucas said. "For anyone to suggest that people who are addicted to smoking should just be let die and forget about them is not only callous - it's frankly inane." Mr Lucas also said many smokers would contract long-term debilitating illnesses, which would cost the community vast sums of money to treat. [rc]
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