UK: Vote on total pub smoking ban looms

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Smoking ban

A full smoking ban across all of England's pubs looks more likely
as reports indicate the government is preparing to give MPs a free
vote on the issue in Parliament.

The government is reportedly on the verge of letting its MPs vote as they wish on a proposed amendment to the Health Bill to ban smoking in all pubs.

Current proposals in the Bill would mean smoking bans only in pubs that serve food, but this measure has been criticised by some MPs, including the government health secretary Patricia Hewitt.

A Commons Health Select Committee, made up of MPs, said in December the government's plan to keep smoking in pubs with no food "defied logic"​ and would widen health inequalities as most drink only pubs were situated in poorer areas.

A study by Cancer Research UK also found that 40 per cent of pubs asked said they would drop food to keep smoking.

The Select Committee report, plus the opposition of high-level MPs, means a total smoking ban would be a real possibility if a free vote occurs in Parliament.

A total ban makes more sense and would uphold the right of bar workers to be protected from second-hand smoke, the committee said. Non-smokers who breathe second-hand smoke are thought to increase their risk of lung cancer by 24 per cent.

The drinks industry has been understandably cautious about government plans to ban smoking in pubs, although many firms now see it as inevitable at some point.

Mark Hastings, spokesperson for the British Beer and Pub Association, told​ last year that Irish pub sales of all drinks had fallen 15 per cent since a ban had been introduced there.

Yet, evidence has emerged to suggest the effects may not be so bad.

A survey by the Office of National Statistics published last year said 31 per cent of consumers asked supported a total ban, up from 20 per cent in 2003. It also found that 85 per cent of smokers said they would visit a pub just as often if a ban was introduced.

The Health Select Committee reported that "public opinion is actually moving rapidly and decisively towards favouring a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places"​.

A number of pub-owning brewers are already preparing for a ban. Greene King, which has more than 800 pubs, said it would ban smoking at the bar by the end of 2005 and has begun work on outdoor areas to accommodate smokers.

The JD Wetherspoon pub chain has already banned smoking at the bar and even introduced some entirely non-smoking pubs.

The group said in a trading statement Thursday that a seven per cent like-for-like sales decline at its non-smoking pubs in the first quarter had continued. Like-for-like sales were down 0.3 per cent across all its pubs for the 24 weeks up to 8 January.

Wetherspoon is reviewing its plans to open more non-smoking pubs and will make an announcement in its first half interim results, due 3 March.

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