Leading article: Ministers should keep their noses out of smoky pubs

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The Independent Online

The present legal framework is about right. People should have the right to work in a smoke-free environment, but consumer choice should operate when we are at our leisure. The principle is clear enough. Where people's choices are limited - in the generality of workplaces or on public transport - the authorities have a duty to protect us from the effects of passive smoking. Elsewhere, we should be free to make our own choices.

The test issue, of course, is the protection of people who work in pubs, clubs and other places where smoking is currently popular. And the question of principle is really whether the decision to work in such an environment is a voluntary one. In present circumstances of low unemployment and the availability of similar jobs in smoke-free establishments, we would argue that it is. Campaigners for a total ban, such as Action on Smoking and Health, are misusing the concept of freedom when they claim that employees in smoky bars "have no choice if they wish to keep their jobs".

David Hockney, the artist, was mistaken in his impassioned attack at last month's Labour Party conference on the "uglification" of cigarette packets. The Government has a responsibility to provide consumers with information, and if that has a side benefit of reducing the aesthetic appeal of smoking, especially to young people, so much the better. But he is right to say that "pubs aren't health clubs". Increasingly, pubs, cafés and other temples of pleasure are either providing smoke-free areas or becoming completely smoke-free. But that is happening as the result of millions of individual choices - not as a result of complicated government regulation. Pubs do not need compulsory fug-holes laid down by statute. The decline in smoking in public is happening fast enough without government intervention.

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