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Vote on smoking ban could go either way

09 February 2006
Vote on smoking ban could go either way

With just days to go until the final House of Commons vote, the future of the smoking ban in England is still in the balance.

Despite continued lobbying for a total smoking ban and a level playing field for all English hospitality businesses, MPs remain divided on whether private members' clubs should be exempt from the ban.

Hospitality leaders have opposed the exemption on the grounds that it would give the thousands of private clubs across the country an unfair commercial advantage.

Action on Smoking and Health public affairs manager Ian Willmore said: "It's going to be exceedingly close but we remain cautiously optimistic."

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive officer of Business in Sport and Leisure, said: "MPs are definitely listening to our business concerns over an exemption for clubs, but work remains to be done."

A spokesman for the British Beer & Pub Association said: "Smoking legislation should be clear and workable, which is why we're lobbying hard."

With established strong support from Liberal and Labour MPs, the chances of a blanket ban being adopted hinge on Conservative MPs, who traditionally oppose regulation.

A Conservative spokeswoman for health said: "I believe the majority of Conservative MPs won't back a complete ban and will support exemptions for clubs."

Despite this, Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, was bullish that a total ban would succeed.

"Pubs and clubs fulfil the same function of selling alcohol and their obligation to protect staff health is the same," he said.

However, Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, warned pubs and bars would be forced to shut either way.

"Whatever the final result, this should not be hailed as a victory because businesses will suffer either way," he said.

MPs are set to vote next Tuesday 14 February at the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Health Bill.

Make your voice heard on smoking

It's your final opportunity to let your views on smoking be known. Visit www.parliament.uk to get your MP's contact details and make sure all English businesses receive a level playing field.

By Chris Druce

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