Total smoke ban ‘only solution’

MPs criticise government's partial ban plans

Government plans to ban smoking only in pubs and bars serving food are ‘unworkable’, members of a parliamentary committee claimed today.

In its report on smoking in public places, the all-party Health Select Committee said there is no way of allowing lighting up and at the same time protecting non-smokers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

All workers including pub, bar and restaurant staff deserve protection so the only solution is a total ban in England and Wales, it said.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt originally wanted to outlaw smoking completely but after a major and unusually public Cabinet split the proposals were watered down to only prohibiting lighting up in premises serving food.

The committee, however, slated the plans claiming that introducing exemptions demonstrated ‘a lack of strong and committed political leadership’.

It said that a partial ban would create ‘unfair competition’ in the hospitality sector and be hard to enforce. Firms, it added, could also be hit by legal challenges as staff forced to work where smoking resorted to disputing the rules in court.

The introduction of a complete ban in Ireland, the MPs claimed, showed the consequences for smokers ‘will be slight’ and ‘pubs will survive’.

“We recommend that the government introduce a comprehensive ban on smoking in all public places and workplaces, which includes Crown property and which has very limited exemptions,” the report said.

“This is primarily an issue of protecting workers in the workplace, and all employers have a duty of care in this regard. It is unacceptable for the government to allow any worker to be excluded from protection from secondhand smoke on the grounds of public opinion, especially when these grounds are specious.”

Today’s report is the latest in a series of blows for the government surrounding its anti-smoking plans.

The proposals have come in for strong criticism over recent months particularly after the serious Cabinet rift about how far the rules should stretch was exposed.

The government was further embarrassed last month when its own medical officer Liam Donaldson admitted he considered quitting after ministers ignored his advice for a total ban.

Deborah Arnott, director of anti-smoking group ASH, said: “It has been clear for some time that most MPs now support a comprehensive smokefree law.

“If the government cannot find the nerve or common sense to introduce its own amendment to the current Health Bill, then it should at least give MPs a free vote on removing the proposed exemptions when the Bill comes back to the Commons in January for its Report Stage.”

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