Hospitality industry leaders have slammed the Government's plans to ban smoking in the workplace as a botch.
In its long-awaited White Paper on health, published on Tuesday (16 November), the Government announced that smoking would be banned within four years in all enclosed public places that serve food, including restaurants, cafés, pubs and bars.
Pubs and bars that don't prepare or serve food and private membership clubs - an estimated 20% of licensed premises - will be exempt from the ban. Smoking at the bar will be outlawed altogether.
Announcing the White Paper, Health Secretary John Reid told the House of Commons: "We intend to shift the balance significantly in favour of smoke-free environments."
But industry leaders have hit back at Reid's proposals, branding the White Paper as confusing and lacking in detail, adding that exemptions undermined its justification as a public health measure.
Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, welcomed the Government's national approach to a smoking ban, but condemned its logic. "Why is the health of employees in hotels and restaurants more important than that of those in pubs?" he asked.
Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Multiple Licensed Retailers, said he was "disappointed and perplexed" at the new regulations. "Why should food be the arbiter of a smoke ban?" he said. "Why should the health of someone eating a cheese sandwich be more important than that of someone drinking a pint?"
A spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association said the plan seemed "designed to drive us back to drink". He claimed the rules would "create a confusing patchwork for customers" and warned that many pubs would walk away from serving food in an attempt to protect revenue from smokers.
Reaction from pub operators was similarly disgruntled. "Cut out the fudge and smudge and ban smoking in all pubs," said a spokesman for JD Wetherspoon. "There appear to be too many compromises in this White Paper, especially around the issue of exclusions for pubs that don't serve food."
Anti-smoking group ASH welcomed the Government's concession that smoking in workplaces was a bad thing, but a spokesman added that it could split the pub trade and threaten the livelihood of small publicans.
"This is a disaster for the pub trade. Pubs that continue to allow smoking will have to set minimum health and safety standards for their staff which could prove prohibitively expensive."
Political opinion was also divided. Labour peer Baroness Helene Hayman, who until recently was chairman of Cancer Research UK, condoned the Government's move but added: "We would have preferred a simple ban and for it to come in more quickly.
Paul Burstow, shadow health secretary for the Liberal Democrats, said: "If the health secretary admits that passive smoking kills and that there is no safe level of smoke, then there can not be any exceptions for a ban on smoking in enclosed public places. Dr Reid must understand that smoking still kills even when you are not eating food."
The ban and what it means
Countdown to the ban - End of 2006 - all Government departments and the whole of the NHS will be smoke-free
- End of 2007 - all enclosed public places and workplaces will, subject to legislation, be smoke-free
- End of 2008 - arrangements for licensed premises will be in place
Key points for licensed premises - All restaurants will be smoke-free by 2008
- All pubs and bars preparing and serving food will be smoke free by 2009
- Other pubs and bars will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free