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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Smoking ban - Just a matter of time?
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News Online Magazine

Week by week the tide seems to be turning against smoking. With a ban on smoking in public places being considered for Scotland, is it just a matter of time before it's forbidden throughout the UK?

Smoking was already under attack in Royal circles by the start of the 17th Century.

What is thought to be the first anti-smoking message dates back to 1604, when Scotland's King James VI, penned a scathing rant entitled "A Counterblaste to Tobacco".

He wrote: "A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless." Perhaps his words are now having an effect, 400 years on.

A consultation exercise on whether to ban smoking in public places is under way and the Scottish executive is due to make a decision before Christmas.

Meanwhile this week, five leading pub companies, who between them have around 22,000 outlets in the UK, announced a new policy banning smoking at the bar by the end of the year and making 80% of pub space non-smoking within five years.

And public health minister Melanie Johnson revealed that a four-month-long consultation exercise on a range of public health issues showed significant support for a ban on smoking in public places; she promised "some form of action".

Views on the subject vary hugely depending on people's preferences. For some it's just a matter of public health. For other's it's a question of fundamental liberty. Here's a taste of different views.

Fred McCauley - comedian and BBC Radio presenter
It would have been great if the ban started about 15 years ago when I started doing stand-up. I have done my entire career in smoky clubs. I'm vehemently anti-smoking and it's a serious worry of mine that I might get some smoking-related disease.

I have started to use anti-smoking jokes as part of my routine. There is this whole new culture of standing outside pubs and I said at one point during my routine that I thought I would have to start smoking because I needed to speak to people.

In February I did a club in New York and it was great - no-one was smoking and it had no effect on the atmosphere - if anything the laughter was clearer and there was no phlegm.

Vivienne Nathanson, BMA head of science and ethics
We've been calling for a smoking ban in public places since 1988. The evidence shows that second-hand smoke causes fatal illnesses, such as lung cancer and heart disease in adults.

Research confirms that passive smoking is a very real risk, causing the deaths of about 1,000 people every year.

It also shows how smoke-free public places protect health - researchers have found that after smoke-free laws came into effect in Montana, heart attacks fell by 40%.

Despite their promises to protect workers from tobacco smoke, the UK government continues to rely on failed voluntary measures that have the support of the tobacco industry.

Chris Ogden, Tobacco Manufacturers' Association
Chris Ogden
"The Office of National Statistics did a survey which found that only 20% of people wanted a complete ban.

We are opposed to such draconian legislation -the government shouldn't be allowed to interfere with people's lives.

If there was a ban it would alter the social structure of life and have a dramatic effect on the hospitality sector - people would do more socialising at home and choose not to go out.

We fully support self-regulation - if a pub chooses to go down the road of a smoking ban that should be their choice.

Let's not forget the end game of the anti-smoking lobby is to see a complete end to smoking.

Debbie Curran, manager of The Phoenix in Throgmorton St, London's first non-smoking pub
Whether non-smoking gets really popular will depend on what the government says. The reason The Phoenix became non-smoking was to give people a choice. Our brewery made the decision - we've been non-smoking since December 2003. But it won't go any further unless the government takes a stance on it.

If many people want it, then that's probably the way things will go. Smoking is only one part of a pub, anyway. If we were going to suffer from loss of trade, it would have happened by now, but we're doing well.

Non-smoker Bruno Zago, drinking in the Phoenix
"I don't know if the rise of non-smoking pubs is completely good, but it's certainly inevitable. But there are a lot of smokers about, so it's going to take legislation if non-smokers are going to take over.

But I'd welcome it, to be honest. The atmosphere of a non-smoking pub is so much better. I think that, later, it will be banned completely. But I don't go to places just because they're non-smoking - I'm more drawn by the beer!

Smoker Steven, also a drinker in the Phoenix
Non-smoking pubs will take over. It will happen. It's the way of the world. But I've been to Ireland, where they're all non-smoking, and it doesn't bother me. In fact, it's better in some ways - at quite a few of the bars, you get a lot of entertainment outside. That could happen here.

But it's nice to be in a non-smoky atmosphere, even as a smoker. What we need is the option of a smoking room. They've got those in America - but they'll need good air conditioning.

Kirk Lieske, general manager Bar 89, Manhattan, New York
In the first month after the [smoking in bars was banned in New York] we saw a significant decrease in our trade during the weekdays. But things got back to normal levels within a few months as people got used to the idea.

I don't think there has been any serious, long-term downward effect on our business. There are certainly a lot more cigarette butts on the street outside.

One of the bigger problems is making sure people going outside don't forget [about their tab] and leave without paying. We want to make sure that people aren't using that as a smokescreen to run off.

Keith Garrard, The Pipe Club of Norfolk
In my local pub, 80% of the customers in my local pub smoke, so I think a ban would just about finish them. If there was a ban, a cigarette smoker could nip outside for a smoke because it only takes five minutes.

But you can't do that with a pipe; the idea is to sit and enjoy it - and sometimes you can keep it burning for an hour-and-a-half. For me, if a ban was introduced there would be no point at all in turning up to the pub, I might as well sit at home with a bottle of wine. It would kill my social life.

Years ago, all the old pubs had smoking bars set aside, but for some reason that changed and they were opened up into one big room. Maybe they should re-introduce small rooms again.

Your comments:

The BMA is charged with saving lives and keeping people healthy: they want a smoking ban. The Tobacco Manufacturers Association with selling tobacco. Is it any suprise that their spokesperson suddenly becomes a supporter of civil liberties in this case? A cynic might suggest that the tobacco manufacturers actually care more about their profits than civil liberties and health. Paul Ogden, London

Like religious converts, I find it's the ex-smokers who are most vehemently anti-smoking. People need to understand that smoking is an addiction not a hobby, and when they feel like being sanctimonious, then go to church, because the pub isn't the place for preaching. Michael Walmsley, Leeds

How about a ban on parents driving their children to school to stop congestion pollution? Passive smoking is almost negligible in comarison to the many things that are slowly killing us due to the government's policies over the years. I smoke because it de-stresses me. I always smoke in designated areas and I am considerate to non-smokers. The government allows advertising on tobbacco products, takes about 70% tax on them - then tells us we can't do it. It's the irony that's killing me, not the smoke. Justin, Lancaster, England

The idea of smoking rooms is interesting, but who would collect the glasses? Who would clean the tables? Who would empty the ashtrays? The smokers wouldn't and that's for sure. John, Leicester

Smoking is unique among bad habits because it affects the health of others (my beer doesn't hurt your liver, my burger doesn't hurt your arteries). The ones that say different to that are starting to look ever more like the ones that tried to keep saying that the earth was flat. The smokers talk about freedom of choice but the most basic freedom of choice is dying of something that's my fault, not your fault. David L, Staffs, England

One particular local pub has great live music. We went for a few weeks, but stopped because many of the clientele smoked. We were fed up with not being able to breathe easily and having to wash the smell out of our clothes afterwards. We're looking forward to a smoking ban, so we can go back again. Paul, Guildford, Surrey, UK

I think the idea of enclosed smoking rooms is an excellent one. Despite being a decided non and anti-smoker, and one who resents being forced to breathe other people's second-hand/lung smoke, I still support people's right to enjoy a drink and a smoke at the pub. I think that pubs should have to offer at least one clean-air room, but that in addition they should be allowed to offer smoking facilities. Catherine Stevenson, Cambridge, UK

Keith Garrard is missing the point a little. The main reason for banning smoking in bars is to protect staff from passive smoking, not customers who have the choice of going elsewhere. Having a "smoking bar" & a "non-smoking bar" will only work if you have smoking & non-smoking staff. Peter, Nottingham

As a singer who often performs in clubs and pubs, I would greatly welcome and all out smoking ban. Not least because smoke filled rooms seriously affect my vocal performance. I have also seen people leave pub gig venues because they become too smoky and people, often smokers themselves, complain about the lack of ventilation. I object to being subjected to somebody else's habit. I have nothing against smoking itself, but inhaling somebody else's smoke is another affair. Eleanor Sherry, Southampton

I don't know why all these people are complaining. This is a great oppourtunity to give up smoking and make redundant all those fat cat cigarette company owners who are laughing as you kill yourselves. I used to be a smoker but quit almost three months ago. Sometimes I do find it hard in a pub or club. Having a no smoking policy would make it much easier for me. Richard Bunce, Ystrad Mynach, Wales

The government is still claiming there is no call for a complete smoking ban in public places. Well, I am calling for one and it can't come soon enough. Voluntary restrictions just don't work. Non-smoking areas don't work either - mostly because the smoke particles and related gases can't read the signs. Now that we have positive experiences elsewhere (New York and Ireland) why don't we just get on with it? Let's not leave it to the local authorities though - a straight forward national ban would be much better. Graham Woodier, Cheshire

The government should raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes by one year every year, so that all existing (legal) smokers can continue to feed their addiction, but anyone under the age of 16 will never be old enough to buy them. As soon as smoking is seen as an old person's habit it will lose its appeal. Dave Lambert, Chichester, England

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