Labour keeps smoking plans under wraps

18 October 2004
Labour keeps smoking plans under wraps

The smoking issue was surprisingly left off the agenda at the annual Labour Party Conference last week.

Health Secretary John Reid disappointed those hoping for an announcement on smoking in enclosed public places by saying only: "With Labour it's going to be a bit more difficult to do deals in smoke-filled rooms."

While the secretary of state said a third term in office for the Labour party would mean helping people make healthier choices and putting a greater emphasis on illness prevention rather than cure, he avoided giving away whether this would include a ban on smoking in pubs, bars and restaurants.

The Government is understood to be considering whether to impose a ban as part of its White Paper on health, due this autumn. Differing messages from Prime Minister Tony Blair, who indicated a ban was likely, and the health secretary, who has spoken out against a ban, have led to confusion on what to expect from the paper.

Reid was criticised earlier this year for saying that smoking was one of the few pleasures left for poorer people. Last week his only other allusion to smoking was to say that the Government would help people "who wanted to give up fags".

Minister for public health Melanie Johnson was also tight-lipped on the White Paper, saying the Government was "very concerned" about opinion polls. "We are looking to make smoking a focus in the White Paper and move it forward," she said. "It's the balance we're striving to get right."

n Anti-smoking groups reacted angrily to rumours that the Government was considering a partial ban on smoking in public places, which would include restaurants and hotels but exclude pubs and clubs.

"A smoking ban has to be national and universal," said Hugh Robertson, senior health and safety policy officer at the TUC. "If we accept that passive smoking is a health hazard, how can it be one for employees in some workplaces but not in others? It's nonsense."

Deborah Arnott of pressure group ASH agreed. "It would be madness to leave out some of Britain's smokiest workplaces," she said.

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