'We just want a fag with our beer'

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The Independent Online

Members of Lee Working Men's Club in south-east London were outraged at the ban on smoking at private clubs.

"It's about basic human rights," said Phil Sullivan, 46, an unemployed former environmental services manager for the council. "This is supposed to be a free country, but the words 'nanny state' spring to mind. Who are we disturbing by having a cigarette tucked away here?" He said that the Labour Party had alienated its natural supporters "yet again".

The club secretary, Duncan Hamilton, said 80 per cent of members were smokers, and he expected some might choose to drink elsewhere. "We will have to close," said Mr Hamilton, 62, a Dunhill in one hand, a pint of John Smiths in the other. "It would only take revenue to drop by 5 per cent and that would be it," he said. "Good night, for good."

That would mean an end to £2 pints with the darts, bingo, live bands, afternoon tea dances, pool matches and televised sport throughout the week.

Roger Chappell, 67, a retired decorator puffing his way through a pack of Royals, added: "A ban on smoking by the do-gooders will be another nail in the coffin. [Working men's] clubs are closing all over the place already." He said that MPs should have exempted private clubs as "a special case". Referring to the pub chains, he asked: "Why should we be classified in the same way as the big money people, who have tens of millions to throw at pubs? We're the little working men of the country. We don't make a profit. None of us earn fortunes. We don't have mansions we can invite our friends to. We just want to have a fag with our beer."