Smoking is to be banned from 2006 in all restaurants and pubs and bars in England where food is prepared or served, the Government announced today.
Under the measures announced by health secretary John Reid in his long-awaited white paper on public health, smoking at the bar will also be banned outright.
Other pubs, bars and membership clubs will be able to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free.
"We will therefore ensure that people will be able to go to their workplace, choose to go out for a meal or a drink without the damage, inconvenience or pollution from second-hand smoke," said Reid.
"But do that in a way which, while protecting that right of the majority, still allows a degree of choice - albeit a much more limited one than before - to the minority.
"This is a sensible solution, which balances protection for the majority with personal freedom for the minority," he added.
The Choosing Health paper is being seen as a bit of a compromise, with the Government pulling back from an all-out ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants.
Smoking will still be allowed in pubs that limit food sales to snacks, such as crisps, rather than prepared meals.
The British Hospitality Association (BHA), while it preferred the voluntary route, expressed relief that the ban would be imposed nationally rather than by local authorities. It had warned that the local route would be a bureaucratic nightmare.
But chief executive Bob Cotton stressed that the industry had already been taking its own steps in this area.
"The BHA will consider it carefully before discussing the way forward with the Department of Health. It is important that the legislation is kept as simple as possible," he said.
The British Beer & Pub Association warned the plans could end up driving pubs back to the days of "drinking dens".
"In large numbers of pubs where food is a nice to have rather than a must have, this ban is the perfect incentive to take food out in order to avoid the inevitable commercial damage caused by a smoking ban," said Mark Hastings, BBPA director of communications.
by Nic Paton
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