UK government is condemned for compromise on smoking banBMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7524.1039 (Published 03 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1039
UK government is condemned for compromise on smoking ban
Only a partial ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces will be introduced in England in 2007, and many pubs and bars will be exempt. The announcement by the UK government came after a widely publicised split in the cabinet that ended in a defeat for advocates of a complete ban.
The decision drew condemnation from Labour MPs, doctors, antismoking groups, and the pub industry. Labour MPs blamed the defence secretary, John Reid, for derailing a total ban.
Mr Reid argued that to ban smoking in all pubs would be to impose puritanical middle class values on the broader public. At a last minute Cabinet subcommittee meeting on the issue last week he overcame opposition from the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, and the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, insisting successfully that the government revert to his earlier blueprint for a partial ban.
The final proposal resembles that put forward by Mr Reid last year, when he was health secretary, in the white paper Choosing Health. It is also the policy that was outlined in Labour’s last election manifesto. Smoking will be banned only in the interiors of pubs that serve food other than prepackaged snacks, leaving about 25% of pubs unaffected. Private members’ clubs will also be exempt.
From the summer of 2007 smokers who light up in prohibited areas will be liable to a £50 ($90; €75) fine, and establishments that fail to enforce the ban will be fined at least £200 and will risk losing their licence if they offend persistently. Smoking will also be banned in all other workplaces.
The government has not yet decided if it will insist on sealed smoking rooms in pubs that don’t serve food. There will be further consultation on this option. In addition, the whole policy will be reviewed in 2010.
Many Labour MPs complained that the pub exemptions offer less protection to working class areas, where pubs are less likely to serve food, than other areas. Frank Dobson, a former health secretary, said Labour MPs would rebel against the measure for this reason.
The Labour MP Kevin Barron, chairman of the Commons health select committee, said that John Reid had no right to obstruct a ban in England when his own Scottish constituents will have a complete ban from next March. Northern Ireland will have a total ban in 2007, and Wales will have the power to implement one by amending the proposed legislation.
Mr Reid, a former smoker who quit when he became health secretary, drew fierce criticism from the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health. The group’s director, Deborah Arnott, said: "It is outrageous that one rogue cabinet minister can stomp around Whitehall trying to wreck the most important public health reform for 30 years."
Doctors’ groups were also critical. The BMA’s chairman, James Johnson, expressed "utter disappointment" at the "wasted opportunity to protect the public’s health." Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, hailed the proposed ban as a "momentous leap" but said the exemptions left England "one step behind more enlightened countries who have complete and publicly supported bans, such as Australia and Ireland."
Andrew Peacock of the British Thoracic Society called the plan "an inadequate compromise, which satisfies nobody." A partial ban will only create confusion and be difficult to enforce, he predicted.
Many pubs will simply stop serving food to keep their smoking customers, the British Beer and Pub Association warned. It branded the proposal as "unworkable and grossly unfair."
Only the tobacco industry seemed pleased by Mrs Hewitt’s announcement. British American Tobacco’s chief executive, Paul Adams, said: "Any legislation where both smokers and non-smokers can be reasonably accommodated is a good thing."
Smoking will also continue to be permitted in prisons, nursing homes, and residential mental health institutions. The rationale for this, a Department of Health spokeswoman said, is that the government does not legislate against smoking in private homes and would therefore be discriminating if it regulated the habits of those living in public institutions.
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