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U-turn on smoking ban looks unlikely

30 September 2005

Public health minister Caroline Flint has hinted that the Government will keep its halfway house approach to smoking in pubs, despite speculation of a U-turn.

Speaking on Monday evening at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Flint said: "There would be a change in policy with a ban in most workplaces and restrictions in licensed premises."

Flint's comments suggest the Government will keep its plan to allow smoking in pubs that don't serve hot food when it publishes its Health Improvement Bill, which is scheduled for its first reading in Parliament on 10 October.

Health lobby groups Action on Smoking and Health and Cancer Research had hoped that fierce opposition to the partial ban from the pro and anti camps would force Labour to stub out smoking in England.

But a spokeswoman at the Department of Health backed up Flint's comments. "Our position has always been that we would introduce a partial ban. The consultation we have carried out was about the finer points relating to this, and not about the broader subject and alternative approaches."

One senior industry figure suggested the Government might ditch the exemption of a smoking ban for pubs that don't serve food, while retaining an opt-out to allow smoking in private clubs.

The current food-based ban has been described as confusing to customers and difficult to police by operators who see it as a fudge.
Pub company Mitchells & Butlers director of public affairs Simon Ward said: "We would have a situation where people go to a pub to eat only to find it has ditched food in favour of smoking, and vice versa."

Hartford Group boss James Kowszun said: "Whatever they decide to do they must make sure everyone operates under the same set of rules - we either have to ban smoking completely or not at all. We need consistency."

By Chris Druce

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