By Nikki Daly
Littlewoods Stores has done a U-turn and re-introduced smoking areas into most of its formerly non-smoking restaurants.
The company says customer demand and competition from other restaurants where smoking is commonplace are the reasons for the change.
A Littlewoods spokeswoman denied that the move was linked to the £53m deal with Sutcliffe, part of Granada, which takes over as contract caterer for the chain's 90 restaurants in a fortnight (see page 10).
"Introducing discrete smoking areas has no connection with the deal with Granada nor with the recent passive smoking case," she said.
Last month a passive smoking case brought by a nurse against her employers failed in the High Court.
Littlewoods marketing director Greg Ball said the company would listen to any employee's complaints about passive smoking risks.
The decision is based purely on satisfying the needs of both smoking and non-smoking customers, he added.
Pro-smoking group Forest said that more companies were realising that banning smoking was not a simple solution.
"Hospitals, who were the first to pursue the prohibition route, are now re-introducing smoking areas and this trend is being followed in other industries,' said director Marjorie Nicholson.
The Government's White Paper on smoking is expected to be published soon.