The Marketplace Report: England Mulls Smoking Ban

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England looks poised to join neighbors Ireland and Scotland in banning smoking in restaurants throughout the country. Noah Adams talks to Stephen Beard of Marketplace about the political sensitivity to smoking restrictions among English lawmakers.


Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

The British government has unveiled plans for a ban on smoking in many public places, like pubs, restaurants, shops and offices. The measure will take effect in England in two years. Scotland already has a similar ban in place. Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to follow suit. But the English ban announced today has not pleased most health campaigners. Joining us from the "Marketplace" London bureau is Stephen Beard.

And, Stephen, why not? Why aren't they pleased?

STEPHEN BEARD ("Marketplace"): Well, because they say the planned ban is a mess. It's left a large loophole because it'll still be OK to smoke in private clubs--that's about 30,000 establishments in England--and as far as pubs are concerned, smoking will only be banned in bars that serve food. That leaves an estimated 20,000 pubs around England that don't sell food where smoking will also still be allowed.

ADAMS: I see. Now how do you account for--how do people account for these exemptions? Has the tobacco industry, for example, been lobbying there?

BEARD: Well, actually, it doesn't seem that the cigarette companies had a hand in this. It looks more as if some powerful members of the Cabinet were worried about a voter backlash. The health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, speaking in the House of Commons today, in fact, had knowledge that quite a lot of English people will resent the ban on smoking in the pub.

Ms. PATRICIA HEWITT (British Health Secretary): Certainly many of my constituents in a working-class community do feel very strongly that, just as they're free to make that choice to smoke in their own home, they should be free to be able to have a cigarette with a drink.

BEARD: Now she was speaking through gritted teeth, because it's her health bill; she has to defend it. But, in fact, she actually wanted a blanket ban on smoking in all pubs and bars, but she was overruled in Cabinet by more powerful ministers. Health campaigners are very unhappy about this. They say the pubs that don't serve food are usually concentrated in the poorer parts of England, and that's precisely where more people smoke and, therefore, they say that's where bar staff will suffer the most and the whole threat to public health will be more severe.

ADAMS: And what about--what are the pub owners and the bar owners saying about all this?

BEARD: Well, they are fuming. First of all, they say, `How do you define food?' The government says if it's a snack, like a packet of peanuts, that's not food, but if it's a pork pie or a sandwich, that is food. The pub owners are unhappy, because they say it's not a level playing field. Pubs that do a good trade in pub meals are worried that they could lose their smoking customers, who will flock to the pubs that only serve peanuts.

Anyway, let me finally mention, though, a complete change of topic. On "Marketplace" later today, we'll be looking at the latest chapter in the report on the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal.

ADAMS: Stephen Beard of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace." "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media.

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