Ministers criticised for failing to curb smoking

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The Government was criticised yesterday for failing to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants, despite demanding talks to persuade publicans to expand no-smoking areas.

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, said she was calling in leaders of the hospitality industry to persuade them to improve facilities for non-smokers and tap into demand from non-smokers. She criticised the fact that only a "tiny" number of pubs and restaurants offered no-smoking areas and air conditioning to cut the risk of passive smoking.

The Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity said only legislation would combat the problem. Deborah Arnott, the director of Ash, said: "We feel people working in pubs and restaurants have a right to a smoke-free workplace and for that to happen legislation is necessary."

She added: "There's support for this from the British Medical Association, all the royal colleges and health experts. Plus it's popular with the public; this is what they want."

Writing in The Times, Ms Jowell said she wanted voluntary action instead of an outright ban. She said: "Blunt instruments such as a complete ban need the support of a substantial majority of the public to work and should be the last resort when the commercial interests involved refuse to go with the flow of informed public opinion.

"I would prefer to see the hospitality industry tap into the huge numbers of non-smokers and reformed smokers like me who want to enjoy a night out without infringing the rights of those who still want to smoke.There are millions of us, and yet the proportion of eating and drinking places with no-smoking sections and decent air-con is still tiny."

"In 1998, about 23 per cent of pubs had no-smoking areas - now that's up to about 46 per cent. Enlightened self-interest is often the best ally of government policy."

Pub and restaurant owners set up a voluntary charter on smoking in 1998 and yesterday defended their record.

Nick Bish, chairman of the Charter Group, created to promote compliance with the charter and made up of representatives from the hospitality industry, said: "We think we've done a lot but that's not to say there's not a lot more that needs to be done."

Mr Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, said: "It's most encouraging to see the Secretary of State is in favour of self-regulation as opposed to legislation."

Mark Hastings, from the British Beer and Pub Association, said just over 60 per cent of pubs had clear signs outside their premises telling people what to expect in terms of smoking management policies.

He said: "We recognise there's a growing demand among customers for non-smoking areas in our establishments - that's why we are seeking to deliver that and ensure there's a choice for smokers and non-smokers to allow them to be able to enjoy their social lives."

The Scottish Executive is currently consulting on a ban on smoking in public places after ruling out voluntary curbs.