Election 2005: Parties disagree over smokefree law

Thursday 21 April 2005


MEDIA RELEASE: For Immediate Use, Thursday 21st April 2005
In the Election campaign, significant differences have emerged between the Parties over the issue of legislation on smokefree workplaces

Tobacco control experts agree ending smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places would be the single most effective step that the Government could take to encourage more smokers to quit. In his February 2004 report to Government on public health, Derek Wanless estimated that a comprehensive end to smoking in all workplaces and public places could cut smoking rates by up to 4% – from around one in four adults to closer to one in five.


The relevant section of the Labour Party manifesto is in Chapter 4 under “Healthy Choices for All”. (http://a4.g.akamai.net/7/4/15010/1/labourparty1.download.akamai.com/15010/manifesto_13042005_a3/flash/manifesto_2005.swf)

It states: “We recognise that many people want smoke-free environments and need regulation to help them get this. We therefore intend to shift the balance significantly in their favour. We will legislate to ensure that all enclosed public places and workplaces other than licensed premises will be smoke-free. The legislation will ensure that all restaurants will be smoke-free, all pubs and bars preparing and serving food will be smoke-free; and other pubs and bars will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or be smoke-free. In membership clubs the members will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free. However, whatever the general status, to protect employees, smoking in the bar area will be prohibited everywhere.

These restrictions will be accompanied by an expansion of NHS smoking cessation services to encourage and support smokers to improve their own health by giving up smoking.

Starting with the poorest areas of the country we will introduce health trainers to help people maintain their healthy choices. By 2010, through this activity we plan to reduce the health inequalities that exist between rich and poor.”

Labour plans a Bill on the issue in the first Queen’s Speech after the Election (scheduled for May 17th).

The Labour proposal for exemptions from the legislation has been criticised by the public health lobby, as most exempted pubs would be in poorer communities, where higher smoking rates are the number one cause of lower than average life expectancy, undermining the Party’s commitment to reducing health inequalities.


The Conservative Party 2005 manifesto (pdf) says that:

“public health is important – it affects every family in our country” (page 13). But it fails to say a word about smoking, the country’s number one public health issue. Smoking related illness leads to more than 100,000 deaths each year in the UK, by far the largest cause of preventable deaths.

However, a letter to the Smoking Control Network from Andrew Lansley MP, Shadow Health Secretary, dated 8th April, states

“You specifically raised the question of smoking in public places. Within three years and before legislation could be implemented, we believe that the industry could and would deliver a voluntary code removing smoking from up to 80% of pub space. The recent announcement by the pub chain, J.D. Wetherspoon, to ban smoking two years ahead of the Government’s legislative ban indicates the industry’s willingness to achieve this solution.

Of course, if, after public houses have been given a real opportunity to deliver a smoke-free environment for all those who want it, [sic] to remove smoking from where staff are working, and in all areas to which children have access,  we would reassess the priority and the need for legislative action.  I do not regard the Government’s White Paper proposals as valuable or desirable, they may lead to perverse results, with a substantial number of smoking pubs and clubs especially in deprived areas. I hope this clarifies our position.

Previous attempts at voluntary self-regulation by the pub trade have been heavily criticized as failures by the public health lobby.

Liberal Democrats

Page 5 of the manifesto (http://www.libdems.org.uk/party/policy/manifesto.html) states:

“Because secondhand smoke kills, we will ban smoking in all enclosed public places.”

This is a short but clear commitment, and of course goes further than Labour’s compromise proposal.

Deborah Arnott, Director of Action on Smoking and Health, commented:

“Smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the UK. Smoking-related illness still causes more than 100,000 deaths every single year. It is also by far the most important factor in the difference in life expectancy between social classes.

No political party that claims to care about public health can ignore smoking as an issue, and public concern about it is rising all the time. Reducing the number of people who smoke, and protecting those who don’t from the health damage caused by other people’s smoking, should be a top priority for the new Government.”

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