Opponents of a smoking ban in enclosed public places held a news conference at the House of Commons this morning to voice their anger ahead of MP's final vote on the subject next week.
A group of artists, MPs, hospitality representatives and pro-smoking lobby group Forest, queried the science underlying the ban, and argued for a technological solution to the problem of passive smoking instead.
Richard Shepherd, owner of Langans brasserie and Shepherds restaurant in London, was one of four hospitality and catering operators that spoke at the event.
Shepherd said: "Whatever happened to freedom of choice? If smoking is legal, licensees should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to allow smoking on their premises."
TV chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson also weighed in. "Smoking in public places that are properly ventilated seems better to me than people smoking in their homes with inadequate ventilation," he said.
Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale Restaurants and Bars feared the ban would disadvantage smaller operators. "As someone running a small business, I believe a total ban will damage it and can only benefit the larger hospitality groups who are clamouring for a so-called level playing field."
Alan Bowes, executive chairman of the Swallow Group of hotels and inns, said his company had already lost trade through banning smokers. "We were the first to introduce a non-smoking pub in Edinburgh, and trade in The Burgh is down 30% since it went non-smoking."
Although a ban on smoking in pubs and bars looks almost certain following last month's anouncement that MPs would be allowed a free vote on the controversial issue, it remains too tight to call as to whether private members' clubs will receive an exemption.
By Angela Frewin
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