Leading article: A sensible and liberal compromise

Many people in Britain find second-hand cigarette smoke offensive and it is unfair that they should be subjected to it when they go out to most enclosed public spaces. This is generally accepted. Offices, supermarkets, and shops all banned smoking long ago - and rightly. It is now acceptable to ban smoking in restaurants too. Few would argue these days that it is justifiable to smoke in an establishment where food is being served.

This is why the original Department of Health proposal to ban smoking in any venue serving food, as outlined in Labour's election manifesto, is sensible. It is a way of dealing with the question of what to do about the hugely more contentious issue of smoking in pubs, bars and clubs. Since most venues of this nature serve food nowadays, this will force the owners into making a decision about what their customers really want.

Some will stop serving food and become smoking pubs. Others - very likely the majority - will keep the food and remove the ashtrays. This is a reasonable compromise - and preferable to the blanket bans imposed in places such as Dublin and New York. Such a restriction should have the effect of allowing the market to decide - and give grown-up people a choice of where to go in the evening.

But according to the unions and anti-smoking activists this ban does not go far enough, since a small minority of employees will still have to work in smoky environments. This is surely an unreasonable objection. No one is compelled to work in a pub or a club. And, in any case, if each establishment exercises its right to become a non-smoking venue there will be no shortage of smoke-free places for them to work.

This debate is complicated by concerns about the general state of public health. Some are pushing for a total ban on the grounds that smokers are much more likely to get cancer or lung disease. This is dangerous territory. It is not the job of the state to bully individuals into making individual lifestyle choices.

Let the Government put through this bill which will substantially curtail the number of places where smokers can light up. Then let the Department of Health encourage as many pubs and clubs as possible to become non-smoking venues. That is clearly the way our society is headed. A blanket ban on smoking in pubs and clubs would have been illiberal and unjustified.

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