Anti-smoking battle hits the quiet streets of Stony Stratford

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The Independent Online

Faced with the chance to join New York City in leading the fight against the world's major tobacco conglomerates, the little market town of Stony Stratford – which lies just to the north of Milton Keynes – seems likely to say: "No thanks."

The proposal for the introduction of a new by-law to ban the practise of smoking pipes and cigarettes in public in the Buckinghamshire town – which the council is scheduled to debate at a town hall meeting later this month – would see Stony Stratford join Manhattan and parts of Australia in having some of the most restrictive anti-smoking laws in the world.

"It's mindbogglingly ridiculous," complains Richard Chesters, 37, who has abandoned his drinking buddies momentarily to have a quick cigarette outside The Old George Inn.

"They brought in the ban stopping us from smoking in pubs and restaurants and, to be honest, I can see why they did that. But to ban us from town entirely? Come on."

The individual who is pushing the ban is Paul Bartlett, a 50-year-old town councillor and governor at Milton Keynes hospital, who has tabled the proposal. The mere mention of Mr Bartlett's name sent local smokers into apoplexies of rage, but he remains unapologetic.

He said: "If you look around you, you will see the town is absolutely littered with people's germs and spittle in the form of cigarette butts. It's very unsociable.

"We would look with disdain upon someone walking down the high street with a can of lager in their hand.

"The same should be the case for smoking. My proposal has received a lot of support."

However, a straw poll of 30 people – including both smokers and non-smokers – saw only one person willing to support an outdoor ban.

And the No lobby is building, with outsiders such as the UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage quick to sniff out a publicity opportunity and join the bandwagon.

"This is about liberty," Farage, left, fumed, puffing on a Rothmans cigarette. "Liberty that goes all the way back to JS Mill and the freedom to largely do what you like, as long as it doesn't harm others."

Furthermore, Stony Stratford's business community fears that a town-wide smoking exclusion zone would discourage visitors.

"The town relies enormously on people coming in from the surrounding area," said Lesa Parker, who is a non-smoker and owner of Chesney hair salon.

"We often have clients puffing away outside while they get their colour done. I don't want to have to explain to them that they have to put their cigarettes out. They would end up going elsewhere."

But Councillor Bartlett remains unmoved and believes that, as public opinion continues to shift against smokers, it will only be a matter of time before people put health concerns before business interests.

"Stony Stratford is a town that has a conscience," he said. "We have a wonderful and strong business community and I'm all in favour of that.

"But sometimes you have to look beyond that."

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