Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Wednesday, 11 July 2007 18:01 UK

Smoke-on-Trent reignites debate

By Kathryn Edwards
BBC News, Stoke-on-Trent

Wally Ward puffs on his cigarette and laughs at the fact he is one of the only people in the country who is still enjoying a smoke in his local.

"It was a good couple of weeks for them to mess up," he says. "The weather hasn't particularly been good."

Wally Ward
Wally Ward is smoking inside The Smithfield, despite the ban

It is still against the law to light up in the public places in Stoke - or Smoke-on-Trent as it has been dubbed.

However, the city council itself has admitted it has no way of imposing on-the-spot fines until Monday.

These cannot be issued to smokers flouting the 1 July ban because of "late changes in technical bits of legislation", officers have said.

Dax Robateau, owner of The Smithfield pub in Hanley, has put up posters around his bar telling his regulars about what he says is a loophole in the law.

'Not worried'

Despite spending 21,000 on a luxury outhouse for smokers, which includes patio heaters, he said the majority of his customers had seized the opportunity.

The council has said it will take retrospective action against anyone who flouts the ban, but Mr Robateau said he was not scared.

Herbie Makrides

"I'm not worried. I can't see them bothering to go through all that trouble," he said.

"As soon as they properly enforce it, we will ensure everyone in here adheres to it.

"We had the smoking police around here on Saturday night to check everything was in order, and they seemed perfectly happy with things. Just a shame even they didn't know they would not have been able to do anything."

Wally Ward, 52, of Endon, comes to The Smithfield during most of his lunchbreaks.

He said: "I don't feel guilty about flouting the law, because it's not technically breaking the law given the situation we've got at the moment here.

"I can see people coming especially to Stoke this weekend to take advantage of this. It could be a big benefit for the city."

Takings increase

However, not all publicans have said they are willing to take the risk.

Richard Plant, owner of the Metro Belgian bar opposite Hanley's Potteries shopping centre, said he had been approached by a couple of regulars wanting to know what the situation was.

Dax Robateau
Dax Robateau said he was not worried about council threats

Mr Plant said: "I've checked with the council and it does mean still breaking the law and it's just not worth it.

"If I was caught letting people smoke in here I could be facing a 2,500 fine."

He added that since the smoking ban came into force he had seen weekend profits go up by a quarter on previous weeks.

At Hanley's bus station a smoking ban has also been in force since 1 July, but people are still to be seen there lighting up.

One woman in her 70s, who asked not to be named, said she had no intention of extinguishing her cigarettes.

"No one's approached me so far," she said.

"And I don't think anyone would dare either. If you look around you see lots of people smoking here and there's been no one around to tell them not to."

The city council said it would be able to issue fines from 16 July.

The smoking outhouse at the Smithfield pub
The 21,000 smokers' outhouse has been empty recently

It said it was still able to take action against pubs or clubs where people were smoking and would be able to take retrospective action against any smokers caught flouting the ban.

It is thought the mistake was caused by the belief that the city's elected mayor Mark Meredith had the power to delegate the authorisation of the ban to his director of community services.

Last-minute legal changes meant council officers realised too late that the law would have to be enforced by the licensing and consumer protection committee instead.

That committee is now expected to delegate powers for officers to issue on-the-spot fines, at a meeting on Monday.



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