Hospitality businesses in England could be operating under a smoking ban from June 2007.
Brigid Simmonds, chief executive officer of trade body Business in Sport and Leisure, said June was looking increasingly likely as the health lobby was pushing hard to get the ban in place as soon as possible.
However, the Department of Health is not expected to publish the regulations governing the ban until July, and as a three-month consultation is required there is growing concern that the sector will not be ready in time.
"We need to make provision," said Simmonds. "There's huge concern over issues such as planning permission, which many operators fear will take councils months to process, leaving businesses unprepared when the ban starts."
Action on Smoking and Health said no firm date had been agreed yet but a June date had been speculated on. National no-smoking day, 31 May 2007, is also a candidate.
But Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, thought June unlikely and argued that, with the tight timetable, implementation could well slip into autumn 2007.
By Chris Druce