UK government unveils pub smoking ban choices

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Smoking ban

The UK government will give MPs three different options on how far
to extend a pub smoking ban as the drinks industry warns
legislation must cover all premises or none at all.

Government ministers confirmed all MPs would get a free vote at the next Health Bill reading in Parliament later this month.

Members will have to choose whether or not to extend a ban in England beyond licensed premises to include private membership clubs, or, as a third option, to exempt both clubs and licensed premises serving food.

The latter had been the government's preferred option, despite criticism from Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary.

Yet, the idea was beaten down by a Commons Health Select Committee, made up of MPs, which said in December the government's plan to keep smoking in pubs with no food "defied logic".

Britain's drinks industry has been understandably cautious about plans to ban smoking in pubs, but this week warned that any bit-part measures would be worse than nothing at all.

Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said: "Exempting Britain's 20,000 members' clubs from a smoking ban that affected all pubs would be grossly unfair on the pub trade, and makes no sense in terms of protecting people from second-hand smoke."

The BBPA linked arms with campaign group Action on Smoking and Health to announce its stance.

The move is the biggest sign yet that many in the UK drinks industry have come to accept a pub smoking ban in England as inevitable. A ban in Scotland will be implemented this year, and, nearby, Ireland already has a ban in place.

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

Industry opinion, nevertheless, remains split on how much a ban would affect sales. The BBPA said Irish pub sales had dropped 15 per cent since the ban came in there, while others have predicted small pubs in poorer areas of England may have to close.

Some firms, such as brewer and pub owner Greene King, have already begun converting premises to provide outside areas for smokers.

The JD Wetherspoons pub chain, which has already introduced some entirely non-smoking pubs, said recently 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 its pubs for the 24 weeks up to 8 January.

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

One potential problem for pub owners is that a pub smoking ban may quicken an already growing trend for drinking at home.

The amount of alcohol consumed at home rose nine per cent between 2004 and 2005, according to the BBPA. It also cited government statistics published last August, revealing supermarkets accounted for 40 per cent of UK beer sales, 76 per cent of spirits sales and 84 per cent of wine sales.

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