Britain Bans Smoking In Pubs

cigarette with ashtray, with a gavel AP / CBS

British lawmakers voted Tuesday to ban smoking in all English pubs after a smoldering debate over whether to allow a partial ban or to stub out smoking altogether in pubs, restaurants and clubs.

The legislation means smoking will be banned in public places by summer 2007 if the bill is confirmed by a vote in Britain's upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Some lawmakers had hoped for an exemption for private clubs, but lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected this.

Lawmakers decided by a margin of 328 to ban smoking from all pubs. They then voted by a margin of 200 to extend the ban to clubs.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had allowed all lawmakers from his Labour Party to vote with their conscience on the issue rather than toeing the party line — following widespread criticism of its earlier plans to exempt private clubs as well as pubs that do not serve food.

Blair's office said Tuesday that he had voted for an all-out ban — more than his party had called for in its last election campaign platform.

Lawmakers had considered three options: an outright ban, a partial ban that did not cover pubs that don't serve food, or an exemption from the ban for private clubs.

The approved ban also extends to public places such as cinemas, offices, factories and shopping malls.

The debate had split Blair's cabinet. Several lawmakers from his own Labour Party had called for the total-ban amendment that was eventually agreed to on Tuesday.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, who favored a smoking ban in all public places, changed her mind twice before eventually voting for a total ban.

Opposition politicians accused Hewitt of indecisiveness.

"The idea that the Secretary of State responsible for the health of the nation and the health and safety of workers to some extent, therefore, doesn't know what she thinks is, I find, extraordinary," said Steve Webb, health spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats.

Health Minister Caroline Flint said a ban would protect people from second-hand smoke. She called for a concerted effort to ensure the measures come into force.

"There is a major difference between voting for change and making it reality. We will need the support of everyone involved in this decision to help in its smooth and successful introduction," she said.

Health officials hailed Parliament's decision, saying the legislation would lead to fewer deaths from smoking-related illnesses.

"Every day around 30 people die in the U.K. as a result of second-hand smoke. Today's vote will mean the beginning of the end to these frightening statistics,'' said Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics and science at the British Medical Association.

Smokers groups and members of the tobacco industry said they felt let down by the decision to call for a total ban.

"We have always wanted choice for smokers because it is what the public have consistently asked for," said Tim Lord, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association. "The government has not kept to its manifesto commitment of giving the large minority of the population who smoke a place to enjoy a cigarette."

Britain joins Ireland, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and several U.S. states and cities, all of which have restricted smoking in public places in recent years.

Scotland is expected to ban smoking in all enclosed public places from March, and a separate smoking ban is planned in Northern Ireland. Welsh lawmakers will have to approve English plans for a smoking ban before they can be implemented there.

By Tariq Panja
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