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Thousands defy smoking ban in mass protest

London Telegraph | July 2, 2007
Harry Wallop

Thousands of smokers defied the introduction of the smoking ban across England yesterday by lighting up in pubs, claiming that the legislation was an infringement of civil liberties.Councils, which have the power to fine smokers who light up inside work places, pubs or any public building, admitted that not a single fine was issued as they tried to implement the ban in a "softly, softly" way.

One pub defying the ban was the Dog Inn in Ewyas Harold, near Hereford, whose landlord is Tony Blows, part of the campaign group Freedom2Chose. He argued that as his pub was also his home he should be entitled to smoke anywhere within it.

"I'm doing it for the simple reason that this is my home. My wife and I work 200 hours a week in this pub. It's private property. There's no way they can stop us doing it," he said.

About 1,000 fellow publicans had also allowed their customers to light up yesterday, he claimed.

Mr Blows added that he would refuse to pay any fine, which can be up to £2,500 for publicans or other businesses that allow smoking on their premises. "I want my day in court. And I am prepared to go to prison, if needs be. At least I can smoke there."

There are about 1,200 council enforcement officers who will help police the ban, but few of them were on duty yesterday. A spokesman for the Local Government Association said only repeat offenders would be fined, and only after a warning.

He said: "Councils are taking a softly, softly approach to enforcing the ban as experience from Scotland and Wales shows it to be self-policing. Councils have made it clear that people will not be issued with a fine for their first offence."

In Scotland, where the smoking ban was introduced in March last year, just three individuals were fined in the first month. Since then, the rate of penalties has increased, with 238 individuals issued with fixed penalty notices in the first three months of this year.

Health officials greeted yesterday's ban with celebrations, saying it would significantly help reduce deaths from second-hand smoke.

Prof Ian Gilmore, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "I am blissfully happy. From a personal point of view, I can now go into any pub without inhaling smoke. And from a professional point of view, it is the culmination of over 40 years of work from doctors. It will save 11,000 lives every year."

 

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