February 14, 2006

MPs vote to ban smoking in English bars and clubs

By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - Lawmakers voted to ban smoking in all England's pubs and clubs on Tuesday, adding it to the growing list of countries taking a tough stand against tobacco.

The vote, which was passed with a majority of 200, followed months of heated debate that divided Prime Minister Tony Blair's government and incensed health groups.

The move comes 55 years after British scientists found a link between smoking and lung cancer.

The law will now pass to the unelected upper House of Lords, where it is expected to pass.

The government had initially proposed a partial ban, exempting private clubs and pubs which do not serve food. But this was condemned by many members of Blair's own party and prompted open bickering in the cabinet.

Anti-smoking groups, workers' unions and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) also joined forces to call for a complete ban.

The BBPA said any partial ban would have put non-smoking pubs at an unfair disadvantage to those where smoking remained permitted.

Fearing defeat if it insisted on a partial ban, the government said it would allow a free vote in which parliamentarians do not have to follow party lines.

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he had voted for the total ban.

Any partial ban would have put England at odds with neighbors Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales which have completely banned smoking in indoor public places or announced plans to do so.

There are some 20,000 private clubs and 53,000 pubs in England and Wales, according to the BBPA.