SMOKING Hospitality industry will argue partial abolition unworkable

Published: 30/06/2005, Volume II5, No. 5962 Page 9

There is growing optimism among public health directors that health secretary Patricia Hewitt will get backing from the hospitality industry to be 'brave' and introduce a complete ban on smoking in public.

The government is most likely to opt for a total ban if the industry indicates that implementing a partial one would be too complicated (news, page 9, 23 June). The proposals currently out to consultation would allow smoking in pubs which do not serve food, but raise questions about how to define 'enclosed' public places and 'prepare and serve food'.

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, which represents the hotel, restaurant and catering industry, told HSJ: 'The government is looking for people to turn round and tell them, 'this [a partial ban] is nonsense - let's have a ban'. They haven't specifically said, 'please tell us something different to what we are proposing', but they are open to views.' He dismissed as 'unfortunate' the Department of Health's official denials last week that a change in policy was being contemplated. 'That is the way they play games in Whitehall.' Mr Couchman said the current proposals, originated by Ms Hewitt's predecessor John Reid, were 'just too complicated: they would cause all manner of difficulties'.

'Even his own officials were puzzled about how they were going to make them work. Our feeling is that if there is going to be legislation then we would rather see a total ban - a level playing field, ' he added.

Faculty of Public Health president Professor Rod Griffiths said his contacts in the hospitality industry had told him they did not want to be in the position of having to make 'judgements' about where to allow smoking. 'It will be messy, ' he said.

Poole primary care trust public health director Dr Adrian Dawson said local hoteliers and publicans were worried that a partial ban would encourage 'movement of trade', with some business gaining custom and others losing.

He explained: 'We had a consultation a year ago where we talked to the hospitality industry face to face.

The view was that they would welcome something they could all sign up to. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they would welcome a ban on smoking, but if something is going to be imposed they want it to be the same for everybody.' Some representatives of the hospitality industry are still firmly opposed to a total or partial ban. The British Beer and Pub Association, which represents more than half of Britain's 60,000 pubs, insists the industry's own voluntary no-smoking initiative is the best option: 'If smoking is wrong, the government should ban smoking - not ban where people smoke, ' said communications manager Christine Milburn.