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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
No call for pub smoke ban - Reid
Many don't want a total smoking ban
Health Secretary John Reid has said he believes there is no "overwhelming" public demand for a smoking ban in pubs, as claimed by some lobby groups.

Junior health minister Melanie Johnson said on Thursday the government would be "taking action" on smoking in public places in forthcoming White Paper.

But Dr Reid suggested an outright ban in pubs was not on the cards.

His words come as five of the UK's biggest pub companies pledged to restrict smoking on their premises.

'Working class pleasure'

Dr Reid told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "People seem overwhelmingly, in every submission an opinion poll, to want restrictions on smoking.

There is a much stronger support for banning smoking in restaurants than there is in pubs
Melanie Johnson, public health minister

"What is not true is that the overwhelming bulk of people - as is sometimes said by some of the lobby groups - want a complete ban in pubs."

The health secretary, a former heavy smoker, caused controversy earlier this year by saying the habit was one of the few pleasures available to some working class people.

He told Today what he had meant was that it was counterproductive to "dictate" to people about smoking and health in general, and that the government's role was to help them make "informed choices".

"We have to help them change their circumstances, not just lecture them."

Junk food

But in some areas, such as advertising junk food to children the government, action may be needed.

"The fact of the matter is they (children) are not always able to make those informed choices for themselves because they are not mature adults," he told Today.

Ban it in public places and watch the number of smokers decrease
Rob, Thatcham, UK

Dr Reid also said he would also look at the issue of raising the legal age people can buy cigarettes from 16 to 18, following the BBC's Better Health survey released this week, which suggested 80% of people thought this was a good idea.

Speaking on BBC2's Newsnight, Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson said the government would be "taking some form of action" on the smoking issue in a public health white paper to be published in the autumn.

She said the policy was being guided by a wide-ranging consultation exercise on how to improve the nation's health and its diet, drinking and smoking habits.

"The findings [show a] lot of support towards banning smoking in public places.

"But we know from polling that in fact there is a different result from looking at different forms of public place.

So, for example, there is a much stronger support for banning smoking in restaurants than there is in pubs."

'Last throw of the dice'

Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell told the programme banning smoking in public places in Scotland was a "serious option".

On Thursday five leading pub companies, who between them have around 22,000 outlets, said they would ban smoking at the bar by the end of next year and make 80% of pub space non-smoking within five years.

But the scheme was attacked by Ash (Action on Smoking and Health), which described it as an attempt to stave off legislation to ban smoking in the workplace.

The campaign's director, Deborah Arnott, said: "This is a last desperate throw of the dice by the biggest players in the pub trade."

The five pub chains which have signed up to the new smoking policy are: Enterprise Inns, Mitchells & Butlers, Punch Pub Company, Scottish & Newcastle Pub Enterprises and the Spirit Group.

Dr Maureen Baker of the Royal College of GPs said: "A voluntary ban is not good enough.

"Pub and restaurants workers along with non-smoking customers need legislation to protect them from the dangers of passive smoking."

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