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UK Politics

Nicotine addicts of Stony Stratford unite to stub out talk of smoking ban

Faced with the chance to join New York in leading the fight against the world's big tobacco companies, the little market town of Stony Stratford, just to the north of Milton Keynes, seems likely to say no thanks.

The proposal for a by-law to ban smoking in public in Stony Stratford, which the council will debate at a town hall meeting later this month, would see the village join Manhattan and parts of Australia in having some of the most restrictive smoking laws in the world.

"It's mindbogglingly ridiculous," complains Richard Chesters, 37, who has momentarily abandoned his drinking buddies to have a quick cigarette outside the 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 man 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 is unapologetic.

"If you look around you, you'll see the town is absolutely littered with people's germs and spittle in the form of cigarette butts," he said. "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."

A straw poll of 30 people – smokers and non-smokers – saw only one person willing to support the ban, and a No campaign is building, with outsiders such as the UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage quick to sniff out a publicity opportunity. "This is about liberty," Farage fumed, puffing on a Rothmans. "Liberty that goes all the way back to JS Mill and the freedom to do what you like as long as it doesn't harm others."

The business community fears the move would discourage visitors.

Ban plans

* In 2008, Liverpool City Council mooted a ban on McDonald's selling Happy Meals with toys. The fast-food chain convinced them not to, but last year the council announced plans to ban the word "obesity" from its literature.

* In 2002, Peterborough Council tried to ban homeless people from selling the Big Issue on its streets. The ban was eventually defeated.

* In February, Westminster Council unveiled a plan to scrap soup kitchens for the homeless. The consultation process is ongoing.