North-East based restaurant and luxury hotel group Tom's Companies has become the latest hospitality business to go smoke-free to protect the health of staff and customers.
From 1 July the owner of the Seaham Hall hotel in Seaham, County Durham and Samling hotel in Windermere, Cumbria, will introduce a smoking ban at its five properties.
Company chairman Tom Maxfield said: "The Irish Republic, Australia, New York City and the state of Florida have taken the lead and Tom's Companies is proud to join them in declaring our properties smoke-free zones."
The move comes days before the start of the 12-week consultation period on Government proposals for a smoking ban in England by 2009, which currently excludes pubs that don't serve food.
With Patricia Hewitt replacing John Reid at the Department of Health, speculation is rife that the Government might reposition its policy on smoking and opt for a complete ban in England as in Scotland.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Health said that while officially no decision would be taken until the consultation was complete, Hewitt's leadership on the subject would inevitably differ from Reid's.
Earlier this year the Select Committee on Health lambasted the current proposals as unworkable and called on then health secretary John Reid to be "more ambitious" and go for a total ban in public places.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said Hewitt's appointment was encouraging, and the move for a complete ban was gaining momentum, especially now the Irish ban had proved a success.
Amanda Sandford, research manager at ASH, said: "Different smoking policies in different parts of the UK would be nonsense. It's absurd to propose one rule for office workers and another for hospitality workers."
SmokeFree Liverpool, which faced a revival motion for its city-wide smoking ban bill on Tuesday (7 June), said it had listened with interest to the positive comments made by the new health secretary.
"Our campaign has always been about workers' health," said a spokesman. "How can anyone justify discriminating against a particular group, such as hospitality workers?