October 26, 2005

UK Stops Short of Total Workplace Smoking Ban

By Mike Peacock

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government will publish plans on Thursday for a ban on smoking in public places in England, stopping short of total prohibition after a prolonged bout of ministerial wrangling.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said her Health Improvement Bill would prevent smoking in restaurants and bars where food is served.

But to the dismay of anti-smoking campaigners, private members' clubs will be exempt and pubs serving no food would be allowed to choose whether to continue to allow smoking or not.

That formula is the same as contained in the Labour party's manifesto for May's general election.

It will be reviewed after three years.

"As promised in Labour's manifesto, the Health Bill will include a ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces and public places which will cover 99 percent of the workforce," Hewitt said in a statement on Wednesday.

A ban on smoking in all enclosed public places will take force in Scotland next March and Northern Ireland has also agreed a ban. England's would start in 2007.

Under Hewitt's bill, smoking in the bar serving area will be prohibited in every establishment.


All week, ministers have been at odds over the extent of the smoking ban, with some wanting to go further than promised at the election.

Hewitt had suggested a ban in virtually all enclosed public places, mirroring laws introduced in Ireland last year.

But she also wanted to give bars and restaurants the right to have a sectioned-off smoking room where bar staff would not be present.

Other ministers argued that even that was going too far while Hewitt's predecessor John Reid, who Blair moved from health to the defense portfolio after May's election, had fought for his own, less stringent, proposals to be retained.

Before the election, Reid put forward a blueprint identical to the one Hewitt belatedly announced on Wednesday.

"We are utterly dismayed that the government has not listened to doctors, health charities and the public, all of whom have voiced overwhelming support for a smoke-free law without exemptions," said Professor Alex Markham, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.

Reid, a former smoker, said governments should be careful about banning what was one of the few pleasures in life for some of the poorer people in Britain.

The government's Conservative opponents said the exemptions would hit the health of the poor worst as bars not serving food were to be found disproportionately in deprived areas.

British Medical Association chairman James Johnson added: "I cannot believe that, after consulting for three months, this government has decided not to listen to the vast amount of conclusive evidence that second-hand smoke kills and what was needed was a total ban."