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Controversy on passive smoking measures
bar
Bars and restaurants will set their own restrictions
'Smoking kills people who do not smoke'
Health Secretary Frank Dobson

Restaurateurs, bar managers and nightclub owners have breathed a sigh of relief at the government's decision not to impose a blanket ban on smoking in public places.

They had feared that the government would impose such a ban to address concerns over the damage passive smoking can cause.

But the health professionals have attacked the voluntary nature of the ban, saying that the government lacks courage on the issue.

And the Association for Non-smokers' Rights (ANSR) has accused labour of "out-Torying the Torys" in its approach to the tobacco industry.

Measures

The White Paper, smoking kills, proposes:

  • A charter agreed with the hospitality trade will aim to ensure people are able to choose an environment free of smoking;
  • A scheme led by the industry to "badge" restaurants, bars and pubs to indicate what their smoking policy is from outside;
  • New targets on providing smoke-free work environments, progress towards these targets to be monitored and reviewed by the bodies concerned;
  • That the Health and Safety Commision should consult and draw up an "approved code of practice" on smoking in the workplace - consultation to begin in spring next year. Employers would be required to comply with the code in order to comply with existing health and safety legislation.

The Restaurant Association of Great Britain welcomed what it called a "common sense" White Paper.

Ian McKerracher, the association's chief executive, said: "It addresses the need for public health and improvements in that area while it also allows and recognises that business should be allowed to decide how best to meet the needs of its customers."

The idea of a charter rather than a ban fits in with the government's stated intention to address public health through persuasion where possible and legislation as a last resort, which it set out in its Green Paper Our Healthier Nation.

'Concerns'

Mr McKerracher said: "We had great concerns earlier in the year when it was reported that the government was considering a blanket ban in public places.

Restaurant owners fear the economic effect of a ban
"We thought this would be very damaging to the restaurant economy."

He said that an independent report commissioned by the association had indicated that such a ban would lead to the loss of 45,000 jobs and cost the industry 346m in lost income.

Mr McKerracher pointed to the experience of restaurants in New York, where a ban applies to restaurants over a certain size.

Figures quoted by the association show that there in the first year of the ban there was a 25% rise in the number of restaurant closures and 2,779 jobs were lost.

In Toronto a similar ban had to be lifted following its economic effects, he said.

"Smokers are a minority, but they are still part of a restaurateur's customer base," he said.

"It should be up to the restaurateur to decide how he wishes to accommodate his customers. Ultimately customers will vote with their feet."

'Leadership'

However, the British Medical Association had been hoping for a total ban. The association has long argued that the damage caused by passive smoking is acknowledged by all but the tobacco industry.

bogle
Dr Ian Bogle: "Nothing voluntary in passive smoking"
Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the association, attacked the voluntary nature of the code. He said: "There is nothing voluntary about breathing in other people's tobacco smoke. A firm regulatory framework is needed."

The government should be prepared to be unpopular on this issue, he said.

"Leadership is required, just as it was on seatbelts and drink driving. Britains 46 million non-smokers, plus the eight million who are struggling to quit, would thank the government for being more courageous on this issue."

The Institute of Health Service Managers also criticised the measures for not going far enough.

Suzanne Tyler, deputy director of the institute, said: "The decision not to ban smoking in public places or increase the legal smoking age is disappointing. There needs to be a categorical set of public places where smoking is totally banned."

Philip Whidden, a spokesperson for the ANSR, said the government's decision not to take stronger action on passive smoking was based on government associations with industry.

He said: "Taking action about passive smoking would actually affect the tobacco industry and its main allies in this matter - the ventilation and air-filtration industry.

"But since only one per cent of active smokers who try to quit smoking each year actually succeed, the government can pretend to be doing something about smoking when in fact it will be doing next to nothing."

He also called on Public Health Minister Tessa Jowell to resign.

Surveys show that the public would actually support a ban.

A Guardian-ICM poll in January this year showed that there was strong support for smoking bans:

  • At work (73%)
  • In restaurants and bars (64%)
  • In planes, trains and buses (80%)
  • In all public places, which could be taken to include smoking on the street (54%)
 WATCH/LISTEN
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Audio
Dedicated smoker Pete Clark tells BBC Radio 5 Live about restrictions around the world
See also:

14 Dec 98 | Health
14 Dec 98 | Health
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