138 restaurants ban smoking

Bass chain acts as ministers plan controls for public buildings, write Louise Jury and Will Bennett
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The Independent Online
A MAJOR British restaurant chain is to ban smoking next week as the Government considers laws to control smoking in all public buildings.

The Toby Restaurant group, a chain of 138 carvery and grill rooms belonging to the brewers Bass, will become smoke-free zones from 1 January.

It is the first significant UK adoption of a controversial no-smoking in restaurants policy which split opinion in New York when it was introduced there earlier this year.

The move was welcomed by health campaigners and anti-smoking groups yesterday, but caterers said it was unlikely to start a stampede of similar bans.

The decision comes as the Government is considering whether to introduce legislation to control smoking in all buildings open for public use. A report to be published next month will reveal that the voluntary approach which the Government had hoped would be sufficient has failed to provide cigarette-smoke-free zones in most pubs and restaurants.

The New York statutory charter has provoked a civil disobedience campaign among nicotine addicts determined to break the rules, which were devised in response to the tough American health lobby.

A spokesman for Toby Restaurants said they were confident that their non-smoking policy would be a success. David Hunt said the New Year resolution comes after a successful eight-week trial in 12 of its restaurants in areas such as Leeds, Sheffield, Essex and Surrey. It was welcomed by 87 per cent of customers who responded to a questionnaire.

"It has always been difficult operating a no-smoking policy in only part of a restaurant as non-smokers object to sitting adjacent to smoking areas," he said.

Phil Phillips, general secretary of the British Hospitality Association of restaurants and caterers, said they would not want a total ban like that in New York.

"A lot of people will be interested to see the results of this experiment and whether it is successful. It is a question of testing the water for the moment. It may be that there are people who smoke who are happy to say they won't do with a meal. But if you had a total ban, I think there would be a lot of people who would not eat out."

A spokeswoman for Forte, which has more than 150 restaurants in its UK hotels, said they had no intention of following the Toby example. "We have dedicated no-smoking areas in our restaurants. In most the two sections are quite well-divided. If you've got good air conditioning, other people are not affected."

Juliette Wallbridge, of the pro-smoking campaign, Forest, said the chain might lose custom as a result of the ban. "We think it's up to individual proprietors but we would say that if they are able to cater for smokers, then it is a good idea if they do. It is important they make it absolutely clear on the door that there is a no-smoking policy, rather than letting people enter under false pretences."

Anti-smoking campaigners were delighted. Phillip Whidden, of the Association for Non-Smokers' Rights, said: "A smoke-free public areas society will come. The scientific evidence is so compelling about what tobacco smoke pollution is doing that every representative government is going to have to respond."

Melinda Letts, chief executive of the National Asthma Campaign, said: "A survey of National Asthma Campaign members showed that 92 per cent had been affected by smoke from neighbouring tables in restaurants.

"Restaurant managers ignore this fact at their peril. With asthma on the increase, the issue of clean air in restaurants will not go away and customers will vote with their feet in the end."

In New York smoking is outlawed in most restaurants and customers lighting up are liable to be nabbed by plainclothes health inspectors. Restaurateurs failing to impose the law are liable to fines of up to pounds 2,000 - but of more than 200 restaurants charged with failing to enforce the law, all but two ignored the fines.

In Britain the Department of the Environment report now being considered by ministers reveals that only 14 per cent of pubs and 36 per cent of restaurants and cafes have established effective non-smoking policies.

Only 71 per cent of health establishments, 63 per cent of shops and 48 per cent of sports and recreation centres have managed to protect non-smokers against passive smoking.

Ministers are by instinct opposed to government interference in such matters. But they may be forced to take action because in 1992 the Department of the Environment set itself the target of having an effective anti-smoking policy in place in 80 per cent of public places within two years. This has not yet been achieved, even in hospitals.

The Government said in 1992: "While the voluntary approach has many advantages, the Government will, if necessary, consider statutory means of protecting non-smoking members of the public and introduce appropriate enabling legislation."

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment said yesterday: "We have just received the results of research into this and we have got to study it. It is too early to say what action will be taken."

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