Licensed operators should not wait for smoking ban regulations to be published before they begin planning for the new legislation, experts have warned.
Last month it was announced that the legislation banning smoking in enclosed public places would be enforced in Wales from April next year, with England due to follow suit later in the summer.
The finalised regulations outlining the laws are due to be published in November, leading to fears that publicans and restaurant owners will not have enough time to prepare, but consultancy Croner said businesses, particularly in Wales, should not wait until then.
Nasar Farooq, health and safety technical manager at Croner, said: "Although the detail has yet to be confirmed, businesses needn't wait for the consultation period to end before starting to plan how to manage it.
"Employers should be consulting with their workforce over exactly what the smoking ban will mean to them, how behaviours need to change and what the consequences could be for all parties if they don't."
Agreed policies and procedures should be put into place and carefully monitored in advance of the ban, so that any issues can be worked out before it is implemented, Farooq said.
"Employers have no need to panic, but by acting sooner rather than later they can get ahead of the legislation and ensure they're on top of every part of it when it finally comes into force," he said.
Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, is pushing the Government to consider a spring 2008 introduction of the ban, warning that next summer will come too soon for many operators.
"It doesn't give people much time. It might be OK for a big pub company, but many others would struggle," he told delegates at the National Licensed Business Show in Birmingham last week. "Spring '08 would give a long run-in and allow businesses to prepare, but I'm not sure the Government will go for this."
Richard Horrell, head of operations and planning at Wolverhampton & Dudley's managed arm Pathfinder Pubs, said preparations are being hit by a lack of understanding from local authorities.
"We want clear guidelines that leave no room for misinterpretation by local authorities," he told the conference. "Already we are seeing planning officers refuse planning permissions for modest outside shelters. It's important that planning departments understand the issues."
By Daniel Thomas and James Garner