Smoke and mirrors over blanket ban

Last updated at 13:28 19 June 2005

The Government's plans on smoking in public are in confusion with the Department of Health insisting it has no plans to introduce a blanket ban.

Newspaper reports however say ministers are planning to ban smoking in public places including all pubs and restaurants.

Anti-smoking group ASH also understands the Government is moving towards such a ban.

The group's director, Deborah Arnott, said: "Ash is delighted that the Government is considering supporting a comprehensive smoking ban without exemption.

"This is the courageous and correct approach and will lead to the biggest step forward in public health for 30 years."

But the Department of Health insisted that was not the case. A spokeswoman said a consultation to be published tomorrow would go no further than the white paper issued in November.

That document set out plans to ban smoking in all workplaces, restaurants and the 90 per cent of pubs which prepare and serve food.

But the then Health Secretary John Reid said smoking would still be allowed in pubs which did not serve food and in private clubs - subject to the agreement of members.

There are reports Mr Reid's successor, Patricia Hewitt, would pursue a tougher line. Health experts, including Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, have long called for a total ban to protect non-smokers from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Plans for ban 'categorically untrue'

But the Department of Health said nothing had changed. The spokeswoman said: "The consultation being published on Monday by the Department of Health will go no further than the proposals contained in the Public Health White Paper set out last year. It will not contain proposals for a blanket ban."

The Department of Health later stepped up its denials. A spokeswoman said: "The stories in today's papers suggesting that the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister have decided to extend the proposals for banning smoking in public places are categorically untrue."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy - himself a smoker - said a ban was inevitable.

"I do think that the way the world is moving quite frankly, in terms of people's awareness, perception, concern about health and all the rest of it - as well as the liberties of those who do not smoke, I think it is inevitable frankly that is the way it is going to go.

"And it is something I personally would support."

Speaking on the BBC's News 24 Sunday he added: "I'm still a sinner. I have cut down drastically, but I haven't kicked it completely."

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