SMOKING Experts say partial ban will worsen health inequalities

Published: 03/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5980 Page 9

Public health directors have said the government should be 'ashamed' of its 'lily-livered' failure to introduce a total ban on smoking in public places.

Last week health secretary Patricia Hewitt unveiled the proposals as part of the government's new Health Improvement and Protection Bill.

The plans will see smoking banned in all workplaces, restaurants and pubs that serve food, but private clubs and pubs that do not serve food will be exempt.

The government had been expected to go further than current proposals, which reflect its manifesto pledge. It reverted to its more cautious position after former health secretary John Reid lobbied against proposals to include members' clubs in the ban.

Milton Keynes primary care trust public health director Nick Hicks said: 'It beggars belief that the government should attempt to tackle this problem in a way that will widen health inequalities'.

'It feels lily-livered in the extreme.

The poor in society have been desperately let down. If I was in government I would be genuinely ashamed. This conflicts with one of their key priorities, and as a piece of policy it is unbelievable.' Acting regional public health director for the North East Dr David Walker told HSJ the proposals were likely to make health inequalities 'even worse' and added that there were 'proportionally more licensed premises on our patch that could opt to allow smoking to continue'.

He argued that the compromise 'will leave confusion in the minds of smokers, non-smokers and licensees', and added that the plans were likely to lead to more disputes and more 'problematic enforcement for local authorities'.

Salford PCT public health director Julie Higgins agreed and said that the proposed smoking ban would increase health inequalities.

'We traditionally have a drinking culture in Salford and we are likely to revert back to that tap-room culture, ' she said.

She accused the government of introducing policies on health inequalities which were not joined up.

UK Public Health Association chair Professor David Hunter said the government had taken an 'insane position' when the rest of the UK was introducing a complete ban.

Announcing the legislation, Ms Hewitt said the measures would come into force from summer 2007 - 18 months earlier than what was previously planned.

She described the widespread reports over disagreements among Cabinet members as 'a storm in a Whitehall ashtray' and said the move was 'a very big step towards the total ban that so many people want to see'.

The government intends to consult further on plans to prevent smoking in the bar area to protect staff in pubs where smoking is still allowed.

This could include separate 'smoking rooms' or smoke-free areas, or measures such as an exclusion zone around the bar.

Reid set to be acclaimed smokers' champion

John Reid looks set to be nominated as smokers' champion of the year by lobby group Forest.

Although the former health secretary (pictured) no longer smokes, the selfstyled 'freedom organisation' said it was considering giving him a special award.

Forest director Simon Clark said smokers should be 'grateful' to Mr Reid for arguing that they should also have a choice.

The organisation proclaimed Mr Reid 'hero of the hour' after he intervened to prevent the Cabinet from agreeing a total ban on smoking in public places and members' clubs and forced health secretary Patricia Hewitt to accept what Mr Reid called a 'British compromise'.

Forest said he was 'one of the few politicians to come out of the smoking debate with his integrity enhanced'.

Commons health select committee chair Kevin Barron hit out at the former health secretary, saying it was only the 'ego' of Mr Reid, who drew up the original partial ban proposals, that stood in the way of a blanket ban.