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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Why UK differs on smoke ban policy
By Nick Triggle
BBC News health reporter

The contrasts could not be starker.

While the cabinet has struggled to agree a deal on banning smoking in workplaces in England, the rest of the UK pushes ahead with complete bans.

Scotland's ban comes into force on 26 March 2006, Northern Ireland's 12 months after that.

Even Wales, which does not have the power to draw up its own law, has indicated it will amend the English one to create a full ban when it is finally passed by parliament.

And the Irish Republic took the plunge back in March 2004.

'Hybrid'

Meanwhile, ministers have got themselves in a muddle over sealed smoking rooms, private members clubs and whether a pub which serves food is different from one that does not.

After weeks of indecision and leaks about new proposals the deal that was finally brokered returned to the commitment made in the Public Health White Paper a year ago to exempt private clubs and "non-food" pubs.

Whatever the reasons for the divergence, it seems certain it is not based on health concerns.

While in the other parts of the UK it was about health and economics, in England we have also seen the rights of smokers being taken into consideration
Simon Clark, of Forest

While the smoking industry and smokers' lobby group Forest still cast doubt on the number of deaths caused by passive smoking, the argument has been all but won elsewhere.

The government itself is currently running an advertising campaign warning about the perils of second-hand smoke.

A British Medical Association spokeswoman said: "The battle is over, the government accepts passive smoking kills. The issue has been framed around how to protect workers."

Instead, it seems the ban has been submerged by the political machinations of government as former health secretary John Reid has reportedly dug his heels in for a weaker ban.

Ash's Ian Willmore said the muddle is classic New Labour trying "to find a point somewhere between right and wrong" which will please no-one.

'Balance'

The Department of Health defended the proposals, saying ministers had tried to "strike a balance" between freedom of choice and protecting non-smokers.

But Dr Doug Naysmith, a Labour member of the Health Select Committee, which is investigating the ban proposals, said it goes much further than that.

"I suspect it is coming from Number 10. Tony Blair does not seem 100% happy with a total ban. I think he is anxious about criticisms of the nanny state.

Smoking in pub
Smoking in public places has already been banned in the Irish Republic

"It is partly to do with the state of the press, which has not been seen in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK."

And Karen Jochelson, a public health expert at the King's Fund health think tank, said England has "lacked a champion" to push the case for a ban.

"In Scotland, the first minister, Jack McConnell, really got on board. We have not seen the same in England."

For others it is much more simple. Maura Gillespie, head of policy at the British Heart Foundation, said: "The cabinet has obviously had a long and tense debate on this issue and it is a shame that some members lacked the courage of their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."

Forest director Simon Clark agrees politics has played a part, but said it should be looked at the opposite way.

"The devolved administrations have very little powers really, I think there was a feeling they had to do something different and this is it."

But Mr Clark also said the nature of the debate has been different.

"In Scotland and Northern Ireland it was very hard for us or anybody to else to put the case against a ban. In England it has been slightly different.

"One of the major differences has been what has been discussed. While in the other parts of the UK it was about health and economics, in England we have also seen the rights of smokers being taken into consideration and I think the debate happening in cabinet reflects this."

Nonetheless, he said he has a sneaking "fear" there could still be another twist which would bring England in line with the rest of the UK and the Irish Republic.

"Tony Blair is standing down and I think he is considering his legacy," he said. "You don't make history by introducing compromises."


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Smokers and non-smokers air opinions on the plans



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