NEW figures show Swindon people in affluent areas outliving the less affluent by up to 17 years.

Certain local public officials have responded to the grim data with all the compassion and intellectual rigour we expect of them.

Or to put it another way, they say the gulf in life expectancy is entirely the fault of people who aren’t well off because they drink and smoke too much and eat unhealthy food.

The remedy, we are told, is for the less affluent to be given extra health education.

Well, that’s me convinced.

Poorer people are clearly unaware, for example, of the dangers of smoking. They’ve somehow missed the 50-odd years of newspaper reports, TV and radio documentaries, public health campaigns and dirty great warnings on cigarette packets.

They clearly also have no access to the internet.

I’m sure that if we step up the amount of education, the knowledge of the health risks posed by tobacco will come as a complete shock. “Good grief,” the less affluent will exclaim, “tobacco use causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, foetal damage and an increased risk of infant mortality. Amazing – who’d have thought it?

“And there was me thinking every cigarette I smoked was as good for me as a brisk walk round the block, or perhaps a couple of hours on a step machine.”

It’s the same with the dangers of drinking, the explanation of which will be another source of amazement for those unfortunate, unenlightened unwealthy folk.

“Astonishing,” they’ll say. “I never dreamed that excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages might cause liver and kidney damage, play hell with my pancreas and gall bladder and possibly leave me with deep-seated psychological dependence.

“Thank you for educating me about cigarettes and alcohol. I only abused these substances because nobody was ever kind enough to warn me, and I was simply too thick to absorb the abundant and readily-available information for myself. “By the way, I’d also like to apologise for spending all my money on fags and booze instead of healthy food.

“I did this because I am feckless, and not because unhealthy, fat-laden muck is all I can afford if I am to pay my household bills and prevent my power from being cut off and my baby from dying of hypothermia.

“Now that you’ve been kind enough to show me the error of my ways, I’m sure I’ll have scads of cash to spend on fresh ingredients and the best cuts of lean meat from some upmarket emporium, with enough left over for a family gym subscription.

“Gawd bless yer, guv’nor.”

Of course, it is nonsense to suggest – as certain namby-pamby woolly-headed folk do – that there’s no real evidence whatsoever of poorer people drinking or smoking more than richer ones.

What sort of subversive rubbish will they be asking us to believe next? That the real cause of early death among poorer people is the sheer stress of keeping themselves and their loved ones fed, housed and unfrozen, day after grinding, fearful day with no end in sight?

That chronic poverty itself is the cause of poor life expectancy? That tackling poverty is the only valid solution?

That blaming the weak and poor for poverty is a trick the powerful and wealthy have been pulling and getting away with for years?

That the peddlers of booze, tobacco and unhealthy foods have long had various politicians of all parties in their pockets?

Architectural inspiration?

HAVE you seen the artist’s impression of the proposed Great Western Hospital radiotherapy unit?

It’s going to be a most excellent thing for the town, of course, but do you get the feeling the architect came up with the design after a Chinese meal with pancakes in one of those little bamboo holders?

On the subject of Chinese food, we ran a story the other day about kids from a primary school visiting a restaurant to learn about Chinese New Year and have a go at using chopsticks.

Now that they’ve mastered the basics, they should be encouraged to practice as often as possible. Then they’ll be ready for the added challenges of using chopsticks as adults when the time comes.

Depending on whether one visits a restaurant at the beginning or end of an evening out, these challenges include eating with one eye closed because you can’t focus both, eating with one chopstick because you’ve dropped the other but can still see two in your hand, and launching a search-and-rescue mission under the table for whatever you were trying to convey to your cakehole.