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Smoking bill attracts fire

03 November 2005

Health campaigners and the pub trade have both branded the Government's dramatic U-turn on smoking last week as an unworkable shambles.

After days of internal squabbles Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt went back to the original proposals set out by her predecessor John Reid, which allow smoking in non-food pubs and private members' clubs in England.

Despite failing to stub out smoking in all enclosed public places, Hewitt stressed that a review three years after the bill becomes law could result in the blanket ban sought by health lobby groups and Caterer's Stub Out Smoking campaign.

Hewitt defended the compromise, claiming that most workers would be protected against the dangers of second-hand smoke, apart from the 1% who work in members' clubs or pubs that don't serve food.

Unprotected But Labour MP David Taylor fears the bill leaves those workers most at risk from passive smoking unprotected, and has called for a free vote.

"I believe it is unworkable and unenforceable, and unfair in its impact on pubs. A simpler and more com prehensive approach is more likely to be successful," he said.

Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, condemned the bill as a "chaotic muddle".

"A total ban would have been perfectly consistent with medical opinion. It would have raised far fewer objections; there would have been infinitely less confusion; and the industry throughout the UK would have been on an equal footing."

The British Beer and Pub Association said the exemption for 20,000 private members' clubs was "a gross distortion of the market" that could close down many community pubs.

Its survey predicted that 20% of its members would jettison food in favour of fags. A spokesman said this was a "perverse outcome" that would simply encourage binge-drinking.

The new bill moves the timetable to outlaw smoking forward so that all restaurants, pubs serving food and hotel lobbies are smoke-free by the middle of 2007. This is six months earlier for restaurants and 18 months ahead of the original timetable for pubs laid out by Reid.
Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), said the trade needed two years to adjust to the ban.

"This is an impossibly short period to define the details, to debate the bill and to deliver the implementation," he added.

ALMR chairman Alex Salussolia said that licensees did not want to see another debacle like the Licensing Act, which was rushed through Parliament without being properly thought out.

Chain reactions
Mitchells & Butlers It's sub-optimal. It does not present a level playing field with the anomaly of private members' clubs and it does not tackle the public health issue as well as it might because it is giving an incentive to pubs to withdraw food. Food is a growth area in pubs and we will not be deflected from our food-led strategy. However, a minority of our smaller pubs may go down the smoking route. It's a right muddle. We need more clarity on details such as "what is food" before we can say how things will pan out. It is hopeless to speculate on what might happen with all the twists and turns of policy we have seen.

Spirit Group (extract from a letter to MPs from chief executive Karen Jones) We have asked the Government to consider a staged implementation over the next five years to help achieve a sensible transition and find solutions to the challenges that implementation of the legislation will produce. We are particularly concerned that private members' clubs should be exempted from any new restrictions. We cannot understand how such an exemption can be justified on public health grounds, the very reason that this bill exists. We also believe that it is clearly uncompetitive, and could threaten the future of many small rural and suburban community pubs.

Punch Taverns We have successfully implemented our own smoking policy which almost 90% of our retailers to date have signed up to. We do not believe Government legislation is necessary, but if self-regulation is no longer possible for the licensed trade, then legislation that offers both licensees and pub customers some degree of choice is acceptable.

Although we acknowledge that the proposed non-food/food split will present some landlords with difficult decisions, we feel that the distinction is relatively straightforward and workable as long as there are no further restrictions imposed on pubs opting for smoking.

Key points

  • Smoking will be banned in hotel lobbies, restaurants and pubs that prepare and serve food from mid2007. All must display no-smoking signs.
  • Premises exempted from the ban include non-food pubs, private members' clubs and hotel bedrooms. Smoking at the bar will be prohibited.
  • Customers flouting the ban face fines of £50. Licensees who fail to enforce the ban will be fined £200, and repeat offenders risk losing their licence.
  • Pubs and bars will not be allowed to become private members' clubs, because they would have to offer alcohol on a not-for-profit basis.
  • The regulations will be enforced by local authorities and will be reviewed after three years.
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