Drag Queen

UPDATED 06/25/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/25/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT

At a reception for her 60th birthday last year, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark was toasted most royally by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who is also her first cousin. Then Carl Gustaf turned to Margrethe and, using her family nickname, said half-jokingly, "But come on, Daisy, when are you going to quit smoking?"

Not anytime soon, it appears. Margrethe, who is, oddly enough, the patron of Denmark's Cancer Society, chain-smokes. And an article in a recent issue of The Lancet, the influential British medical journal, links the queen's example of public puffing to the rising mortality rate among Danish women. "In all the other developed countries," says the author of the piece, Prof. Hugo Kesteloot, a Belgian professor of cardiology and epidemiology, "female mortality is declining, but not in Denmark." And Kesteloot noted that the mortality rate for Danish women began to soar in 1978, six years after Margrethe, who favors Karelias, a Greek brand, ascended the throne.

The Danes are not particularly agitated by the professor's hypothesis. The queen—already dubbed "plague woman" and "the ashtray queen" by a Swedish newspaper columnist after she reportedly lit up while visiting a home for elderly asthmatics—says only, "I believe that most Danes have the opinion that, more or less, people should be permitted to do what they want to."

Steen Ulrik Johannessen, a reporter for Ritzau, the Danish news agency, casts the discussion as a matter of national honor: "We are not about to take seriously," he haughtily advises, "some theory by a Belgian professor."

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