Smoking – the aftermath

20 February 2006
Smoking – the aftermath

The vote for a blanket ban on smoking in enclosed public places is welcome but the trade must stay alert to some remaining concerns, warns Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association.

And while it's not certain that the House of Lords won't seek amendments, it's going to be difficult for their Lordships to send the Bill back when it has such a large Commons majority and such strong support from health professionals, the public at large and the industry.

The decision not to exempt private clubs is welcome as this would have encouraged a migration of customers from pubs to existing clubs. It could have encouraged businesses to set up new clubs solely to provide a smoking area.

However, there are three main obstacles that may emerge when the detailed regulations are published later this year.

Firstly, the hotel industry is anxious to retain the existence of designated smoking bedrooms on the grounds that a bedroom is a private, not a public, place.

In Scotland, where a smoking ban comes into force at the end of March, the BHA argued strongly for hotels to retain the right to offer designated smoking bedrooms. This has been accepted, provided there is adequate ventilation, and we are anxious that this exclusion should apply everywhere in the UK.

Secondly, with separate legislation on smoking in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it's important that the regulations are harmonised.

Smoking in designated hotel bedrooms is an example of potential disparity, where one country might not take the same view as Scotland. This would be confusing to overseas visitors and to UK residents travelling around the country alike.

It's important that there is a level playing field and the BHA has received assurances from MP Carolyn Flint that the government does intend to exclude hotel bedrooms in England from the ban. We must make sure this promise is fulfilled.

Thirdly, there is some concern about the size of the fines. A maximum £2,500 fine on a business where smoking takes place on its premises hardly compares with a maximum £50 fine on a guilty smoker. Legislators have to recognise the problems in this area.

A business can put up as many signs as it likes, and tell smokers to put out their cigarettes as often as it likes, but bar staff will not be able to prevent a group of heavy drinking football supporters from smoking if they are determined to do so.

Short of closing the premises, what is the operator to do in order to avoid risking a punitive fine? The sensible answer is to follow the example of Ireland, where the publican has to ring an official number to report that he has made every effort to stop people smoking.

There is another caveat. Business thinking of building a smoking shelter outside must ensure it does not become an enclosed space with four walls and a ceiling. A bus-shelter structure is all that will be allowed in Scotland, and this is likely to be accepted nationwide.

There are questions remaining that need to be answered in the detailed regulations the government has promised to draw up only after discussions with the industry.

But, if there is to be a smoking ban, a total ban was the only course of action. The government's proposal for a partial ban was unworkable and it's to Parliament's credit that it recognised this.

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