Lighting up in cafes and restaurants across the UK should be outlawed to reduce the numbers of deaths from passive smoking, according to an MP.
Smoking at work kills over 1,200 people, survey says
Gareth Thomas says he believes a strict ban on smoking will also make the practice less socially acceptable and provide a further incentive to people to stub out the habit.
His Smoking (Restaurants) Bill has the backing of 100 MPs, plus anti-tobacco groups ASH and SmokeFree London.
But Simon Clark, director of Forest, the "voice and friend of the smoker", is opposed to the measure, arguing that the decision to ban smoking should be made by restaurant owners and not by law.
Mr Thomas, whose 10-minute rule bill is due to be read on Monday, says his main motivation is to reduce the numbers of deaths from passive smoking, particularly among workers.
It would be extremely good for London as a tourist destination to be a smoke free city
An investigation by ASH - Action on Smoking and Health - showed that 1,200 people in the UK die each year due to passive smoking at work. These include 165 bar workers, 900 office and 145 manufacturing workers.
'No kill joy'
Mr Thomas, MP for Harrow West, says his proposals would mean "if food is served on the premises people won't be able to smoke".
"If there is a bar in the restaurant, people won't be able to smoke there while they are waiting," he said.
"If people want to smoke, I think that's up to them, but I don't think they should be able to do it in a way that has an impact on the lives of those who don't smoke.
"People can smoke in their own home - they can smoke outside, so I don't think I'm being a kill joy.
The city that never sleeps has a smoking ban
"I have always thought we ought to do more to make smoking less the norm. I think this is an important part of that process.
"It will give a further incentive to people who smoke to give it up."
James Repace, an expert on second hand smoke who carried out the ASH investigation, said more people died in 2002 from passive smoking at work in the UK than were killed by the Great London smog in 1952.
"This study shows that previous research has previously underestimated the number of people killed by second-hand smoke at work," he said.
Ash spokeswoman Amanda Sandford welcomed Mr Thomas's bill, which she said could be as powerful as the campaign that forced a ban on tobacco advertising.
She said Ash had been campaigning for an improved code of practice which would effectively ban smoking in most workplaces.
"The government's failure to tackle passive smoking in the workplace is scandalous. How many more lives are going to be lost before they act?"
Judith Watt, head of programmes at SmokeFree London an alliance of NHS health authorities and other agencies - said there was "phenomenal public support" for smoke free restaurants.
"This isn't about whether you smoke, it's about where you smoke. The vast majority of people do not want their impaired or their dining experience spoiled by smoke," she said.
If smoking was banned completely then over all takings would go down and a lot of cafes and restaurants would go out of business
"It would be extremely good for London as a tourist destination to be a smoke free city.
"You are sending a very powerful message to kids if adults are told to take their cigarettes outside."
But Forest's Mr Clark, a non-smoker, dismissed the MP's bill.
He described it as the work of a "small group of fanatical anti-smokers - and I would put Gareth Thomas in that group - who basically want to interfere, not just with people's lives, but people's businesses".
"We have always said that restaurants, cafes, even pubs, are private businesses and therefore the owners have to have the freedom to choose a policy on smoking that best suits their business.
"It has got nothing to do with fanatics, non smokers or politicians.
Bill will give people 'incentive to give up the habit'
"If smoking was banned completely then over all takings would go down and a lot of cafes and restaurants would go out of business."
Mr Clark said Forest's patron, celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who runs a restaurant in West London, "says smoking is not an issue with the vast majority of his customers - they want good food and good service".
"The Health and Safety Commission looked into the whole issue of passive smoking four years ago and it concluded that, given the state of scientific evidence, it would be very difficult to prove a link between passive smoking and ill health."
The bill has been condemned by the London Assembly Conservatives as "completely over the top and unnecessary".
Tory culture spokesman Angie Bray said: "A total ban will have an extremely negative impact on businesses as they struggle to survive in increasingly difficult economic circumstances."
Last month New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned smoking from the city's 13,000 bars and restaurants.
In 1998, a complete ban on smoking in public places came into effect in California, making it the first American state to institute such a measure.