Total ban on smoking in bars planned by ministers

Ministers have ditched plans to exempt pubs that do not serve food and are preparing to allow pubs to have segregated "smoking rooms". The U-turn follows an outcry from cancer charities and warnings that its proposals to exempt "vertical drinking" pubs - those that do not serve food - are unworkable.

Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, is examining plans to allow a "smoking-carriage option". (Smoking is banned on almost all British trains, but separate smoking carriages used to be the norm.) It would keep the bar smoke-free and protect staff, but allow smokers to light up in a separate area.

There had been anxiety within the Government about being accused of discriminating against smokers, particularly working-class Labour voters. But it will infuriate the health lobby, which wants a blanket ban on all smoking in public spaces and is planning to apply severe pressure on ministers not to allow exemptions.

The blueprint for a total ban was to be discussed at a cabinet meeting this week but has been pulled after last-minute doubts. Ms Hewitt is said to support a full ban but wants to find a workable solution acceptable to the whole Cabinet.

Ministerial supporters of a complete ban believe outlawing smoking in the workplace would help addicts to quit. Others in government believe they would be accused of operating a "nanny state" if they outlawed smoking.

The proposals for a ban in bars in England are to be published in a public health Bill before Christmas.

Smoking-related diseases kill more than 100,000 people a year and cost the NHS millions of pounds treating people with such diseases. Last year, Ireland banned smoking in pubs and clubs. The move is now publicly welcomed.

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