England will ban smoking in enclosed public placesBMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7539.440-a (Published 23 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:440
England will ban smoking in enclosed public places
Smoking will be banned in almost all enclosed work spaces in England from the summer of 2007, after parliament rejected a proposal to offer exemptions to some pubs and clubs in a free vote last week on the government’s Health Bill.
MPs voted against two compromises that would have watered down the ban. The government’s last white paper on public health (BMJ 2005;330:1468) suggested that pubs that do not serve any cooked food—about a quarter of English pubs—should be allowed to provide separate rooms for smokers. But MPs voted down this compromise by 453 votes to 125.
They also rejected a last minute proposal to exempt private members’ clubs by 384 votes to 184.
The law as it now stands is much stricter than the legislation envisaged in the government’s last election manifesto, which would have exempted many pubs and bars.
The blanket ban will be seen as a defeat for the former health secretary John Reid, now defence secretary, who successfully argued that exemptions should be included in the white paper’s proposed smoking legislation.
The current health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, was widely seen as having been outmanoeuvred by Dr Reid in cabinet discussions over the white paper. But the exemptions proposed in the white paper proved unpopular during public consultation, even drawing fire from the British Beer and Pub Association.
In a debate last Tuesday Ms Hewitt told the House of Commons that she was personally keeping an open mind on the question. She eventually voted against the exemptions, as did the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer.
The Conservative leader, David Cameron, was absent for the birth of his child, but most Tory MPs voted to allow exemptions.
Ministers also announced stiffer penalties. The maximum fine for failing to display "no smoking" signs will rise from £200 ($350; €290) to £1000, and the maximum fine for not enforcing the ban will rise from £200 to £2500.
The new legislation will bring England into line with Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have already announced blanket bans. Scotland’s will come into force on 26 March and Northern Ireland’s in April next year. The Welsh Assembly is also preparing legislation for a ban that is likely to be in place by 2007.
Ms Hewitt told MPs that the health department estimates that "an additional 600 000 people will give up smoking as a result of this law, and millions more will be protected from secondhand smoke."
Public health advocates and antismoking groups said they were delighted by the vote for a complete ban. Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, called it "a momentous day for the health of the UK population." She added: "There is nothing that this government could do for health that would be better than to bring in this ban—absolutely nothing."
Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "This is the most important advance in public health since Sir Richard Doll identified that smoking causes lung cancer 50 years ago." He added: "The Republic of Ireland has shown that smoke-free legislation works best when it contains as few exemptions as possible."
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