Pub chiefs back total smoke ban

The UK's leisure and hospitality sector has urged MPs to introduce a blanket ban

The UK’s leisure and hospitality sector has urged MPs to introduce a blanket ban on smoking in public places.

Giving evidence to a parliamentary health committee hearing, the British Hospitality Association (BHA) said government plans to ban lighting up only in premises not serving food would be difficult to enforce and would leave thousands of workers still exposed to passive smoke.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt originally wanted to introduce proposals to outlaw smoking in all public places but after a Cabinet split she unveiled watered-down plans which exclude pubs not serving food and private clubs.

But during the hearing in the House of Commons, industry groups called on ministers to revert back to Hewitt’s initial ideas.

“Pubs that serve food may well see their trade seep away into the local non-food pub – or to the local Working Men’s Club – thus encouraging exactly what the government is committed to fighting: rising alcohol consumption and binge drinking – not to mention excessive smoking,” said BHA chief executive Bob Cotton.

Cotton added that the wording of the proposed regulations is unclear especially what is meant by ‘food’.

“However strictly ‘food’ is defined, there will always be those who try to stretch the meaning, which will lead to argument and possible litigation,” he said.

Referring to the current proposals a ‘non-decision’, Cotton called on MPs to implement a complete ban.

The BHA’s arguments were echoed at the same meeting by Business in Sport and Leisure, which represents 100 firms.

Chief executive Brigid Symmonds agreed that a partial ban would lead to many customers switching to venues where smoking was still permitted thus creating an unfair competitive advantage for ‘non-food’ firms.

“Sixty per cent of people who go to bingo clubs smoke. But you can play bingo in a workngmen’s club, so bingo players who smoke will go there,” she said.

She pointed to ‘anecdotal’ evidence showing falling alcohol sales in bars where lighting up has already been banned.

Last month, pub chain JD Wetherspoon reported a 7% sales decline for premises where it has prohibited smoking.

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