Scots smoke in last chance saloon as ban beckons

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A group of middle-aged men with lived-in faces and rough hands sit in a fug of tobacco smoke nursing the traditional half-pint of heavy with a whisky chaser.

Like many pubs favoured by working men across the country the Lennox Bar in the centre of Dumbarton, near Glasgow, doesn't yet have a no-smoking policy.

But, as of 6am tomorrow morning, staff will have to enforce one or risk being fined under new legislation which comes into force across Scotland banning smoking in all public places.

"It's an attack on our human rights," said one yesterday. "What's Jack McConnell going to do next? Limit our toilet paper?"

"I don't know how they will cope," added Carolyn Murray, a barmaid, peering through the haze at 40 regular customers. "I suppose some of them will come in and have only one pint instead of couple and then go outside for a smoke before going to another pub."

Proponents of the ban expect problems in the early days. Officers employed to enforce the legislation have been urged to tread softly by warning smokers to stub it out rather than imposing fines immediately.

Pubs and other businesses allowing smokers to flout the ban or not displaying warning notices face fixed penalty fines of £200, while individuals could be fined £50 for lighting up. Failure to pay could result in prosecution and a maximum £2,500 fine.

The Scottish Executive is providing councils with more than £6m over three years to help enforce the ban, including recruiting extra environmental health officers to help combat any resistance to the move.

It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that about 29 per cent of Scottish adults smoke, compared with about 26 per cent for the UK as a whole. Smoking-related illnesses account for more than 13,000 deaths each year.

Smoking is the biggest cause of premature death and ill health in Scotland and is estimated to cost the health service £200m a year.

"As well as protecting people from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke it will help many people to give up smoking,'' said Andy Kerr, Scotland's Heath Minister. "Evidence from Ireland proves this.''

But many bar owners, especially in inner city areas with a traditional smoking culture, are concerned their takings will drop as smokers stay at home to drink.

Their fears are based on figures from Ireland, which introduced a similar ban more than a year ago, where turnover at some pubs has slumped by as much as 30 per cent and bar sales have fallen by about 6 per cent.

"The ban will leave our businesses in a very bad position,'' said Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which fears that up to 2,500 jobs will be lost and more than 140 pubs will have to close.

Events in Scotland will be watched closely in England, where MPs voted last month for a total ban on smoking, to be implemented by summer 2007, despite earlier talk of a compromise which would have exempted pubs that did not serve food.

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