A total ban on smoking in the UK's pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels looks increasingly likely after a leaked Labour manifesto revealed the party was considering outlawing smoking in public places if it wins the next election.
The pressure on Tony Blair intensified again this week when the British Medical Association (BMA) delivered 4,500 letters to Downing Street on Monday (5 July) urging an immediate ban .
The hospitality industry is being targeted as the main area where smoking needs to be stubbed out. According to the BMA, about three million workers in the UK are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, and non-smokers who work in the smokiest bars are 36 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers working in smoke-free offices.
The BMA's calls for an immediate ban follow claims by scientists that passive smoking could be twice as harmful as previously feared.
Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said it favoured a voluntary approach rather than a legal ban on smoking. But he added that he would not be surprised if the Government's White Paper on health, due to be published this autumn, called for a smoking restriction by law.
"By the end of 2007 the industry will deliver 80% of establishments with smoking completely banned from their properties or with no-smoking areas," he said. "The Government says that is not sufficient, which probably means it wants to legislate."
Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, added: "We're speeding up the process to introduce no-smoking areas at the bar and in food areas, and we believe this is the right way to go." He said most pubs and bars would ban smoking over the next few years, but the process had to be done in stages.
Smoking was outlawed in public places in Ireland in March, and according to data from the Irish Department of Health it has a 97% compliance rate. The Irish government also claims that the ban hasn't had a detrimental effect on trading. It found that the number of smokers visiting bars had remained at the same level as before the ban, while the number of non-smokers had increased.
According to the Big Smoke Debate, which has been organised by public health agencies in various parts of the UK, the public is in favour of a ban.
From the PM's Postbag…
Extracts from two of the 4,500 letters delivered to Tony Blair
"I am currently dealing with a waiter who has never smoked but who has been subjected to the effects of customers smoking and now has very advanced lung disease. He is angry and bitter that, even now, no significant steps are being taken to prevent others meeting the same fate."
"I could mention countless patients of mine whose health has suffered in consequence of their passive smoking, but I am alarmed about a local pub worker who has not smoked for two decades but suffers ongoing smoking-related respiratory disease because of her polluted working environment. Despite my encouragement she feels unable to change jobs as she is worried her health problems make her unemployable."
Big Smoke Debate results
|Area||Number of respondents||Would back no-smoking law||Want smoke-free indoor public places||Want smoke-free restaurants||Want smoke-free bars and pubs|