Smoking: Blair will push for total ban
The Observer | June 19, 2005
By Jamie Doward
A blanket ban on smoking in public places, including all pubs and restaurants, will form the centrepiece of government health proposals to be launched tomorrow.
Prime Minister Tony Blair is understood to have made the introduction of a ban a key goal for his third term in office. Downing Street insiders say that he considers it a 'legacy issue' that will define his premiership.
Tomorrow the government will launch a consultation on its Health Improvement and Protection Bill which will include proposals to bar smoking in public places and will, for the first time, raise the possibility that all pubs will have to follow suit.
This is similar to the situation in Ireland, New York and California, where the new rules have been been widely welcomed. The proposal of a blanket ban marks a significant shift in Downing Street's original position.
After the departure of John Reid as Health Secretary, his replacement, Patricia Hewitt, is looking at a tougher line against the tobacco industry than the government had envisaged. Among those encouraging the shift has been chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, who has likened the challenge of a ban on smoking to eradicating polio.
Reid, a former smoker, had mooted the idea of a ban, but exempting pubs that didn't serve food. But the consultation document is understood to discuss whether a full ban in all public places - including pubs - would be easier and cheaper to impose. It is understood Downing Street now feels this offers the most practical way forward.
'We are more and more hopeful that the absurd and damaging idea of exempting many pubs and clubs from restrictions will be dropped from the final bill,' said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking group Ash.
Research suggests forcing only pubs that served food to ban smoking would create wide regional disparities. In the borough of Corby, for example, 85 per cent of pubs and bars would be exempt. Research undertaken by Northamptonshire Primary Care Trust shows 54 per cent of pubs and bars in the country would avoid a ban.
Allowing some pubs to evade a ban could also open them up to lawsuits. Employees who could prove they had been made ill by exposure to tobacco smoke could sue employers.
The problems have emerged as Ash has circulated a memo exchanged between executives at Philip Morris, the cigarette manufacturer behind the Marlboro brand, which shows the tobacco industry has for years been worrying that a public ban would see possibly hundreds of thousands of people breaking their addiction. The document makes it clear the effects a blanket ban would have on the tobacco industry's profits. Written in 1992 and titled 'Impact of Workplace Restrictions on Consumption and Incidence', it summarises the results of its long-running research into the effects of a ban.
'Total prohibition of smoking in the workplace strongly affects industry volume. Smokers facing these restrictions consume 11 per cent to 15 per cent less than average and quit at a rate that is 84 per cent higher than average,' the document notes.
Arnott said: 'Anything short of ending smoking in all workplaces will not have much effect on smoking prevalence. Tobacco firms will still sell as many cigarettes, and people will still get ill and die at the same appalling rate they do now.'
This week the pro-smoking group, Forest, will mount an advertising campaign to push the case for pubs to be allowed to have dedicated smoking rooms.
Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: 'Opinion polls conducted over the past 18 months have consistently demonstrated a lack of public support for a total smoking ban. The most recent poll, conducted by Populus in May this year, found that 72 per cent of Britons are against an outright ban on smoking in pubs, clubs and bars.'
MPs will this week also urge Hewitt to increase the age at which young people can purchase cigarettes from 16 to 18.