'10,000' pubs set to go up in smoke

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The Independent Online

A senior industry figure has warned that 10,000 pubs face closure if a ban on smoking is introduced.

A senior industry figure has warned that 10,000 pubs face closure if a ban on smoking is introduced.

Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, will launch a consultation paper into smoking at the end of this month. Her predecessor, John Reid, proposed that smoking be banned in pubs that served food but hinted at less stringent measures for other outlets.

Concerns are growing, however, that Ms Hewitt could opt to follow the example of Ireland and go for a blanket ban.

John McNamara, the chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, said such a move would be "bloody fatal for British pubs. They can't stand to lose 10 or 15 per cent of their turnover. The last thing we want to see is 10,000 pubs closing."

Those in favour of a ban say the Irish industry has not suffered as badly as had been predicted, but Mr McNamara said comparisons were misleading. "There are lots of freeholds and family businesses in Ireland - it's just not the same model as it is over here."

The industry is also worried that a compromise, where pubs would have to chose between serving food or smokers, would do more harm than good.

"It certainly forces the decision," said an insider at pub chain Mitchells & Butlers. "We think it's pretty stupid and retrograde. Taking food out, especially with concerns about binge drinking, is just thoughtless."

It has been suggested that up to 30 per cent of the 60,000 pubs in England and Wales would covert to non-food, though industry surveys put the estimate closer to 50 per cent.

The sector is hopeful that the Government will instead back a broader compromise. Submissions are being drawn up that include banning smoking at the bar and separate smoking rooms in food-serving pubs.

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