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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