Boris Johnson has revealed why he refused to implement a smoking ban in London parks and squares – because it would stop people enjoying a celebratory cigar.
The Mayor told how he decided to reject the call from his own health commission to outlaw smoking in Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and the Royal Parks to reduce the 8,400 premature deaths of Londoners from tobacco each year.
“In considering whether I could support a ban on smoking in large expanses of public space, I had to think back to my own way of life,” he told a City Hall meeting of the capital’s health chiefs.
“About two decades ago, my wife had a baby – my wife and I had a baby, for the avoidance of doubt. It came that point in the whole rhythm of things when everybody except me was asleep.
“I was in such a mood of absolute elation that I did what I don’t normally do. I wondered out into a park in Islington. It was in the middle of winter but I laid on the grass and I had a cigar.
“I don’t want to be in a city where somebody can stand over me and say, I’m so sorry, you have got to pay £115 for the privilege of doing something that is absolutely no harm to anybody else except me.”
Lord Darzi, the cancer surgeon who led the health commission, insisted that London would eventually follow New York and ban smoking in public parks.
He told me: “I have no doubt in my lifetime this will happen.”
The former Labour health minister headed a group of 28 of the most powerful figures in the London NHS in putting a series of proposals to the Mayor to improve public health. They focused on the preventable deaths linked to smoking and obesity.
Mr Johnson backed the call for a ban on fast-food takeaways being able to open near schools but instantly dismissed the call for the smoking ban and on proposals to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol.
Lord Darzi denied he was angry with the Mayor. “I’m not, actually,” he said. “I think we started a fantastic debate and a fantastic dialogue. [The Mayor’s view] doesn’t surprise me. He has his own views. I respect them. I think this is an issue that Londoners will keep talking about.”
Asked whether he had wasted a year of his life, Lord Darzi said: “I don’t think so. If you are doing things for the right reasons… ultimately there is a political reaction to this, and there is the clinical view.”