Restaurant Trade to Kids: ‘Eat and Choke’

Monday 06 October 2003

Embargo: 00.01hrs Monday 6th October 2003
Where can your kids go out to eat without having poison blown in their faces? [1]

Not very many places, according to a new survey of major restaurant chains released today by the health campaigning pressure group ASH (Action on Smoking and Health).

On 17 August this year, Pizza Hut announced that its 500 restaurants were to go smoke free [2], a move warmly welcomed by ASH and public health experts. Pizza Hut is owned by Whitbread, the largest restaurant company in the UK. Whitbread also owns TGI Fridays, Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Brewsters, Costa and Out and Out. These chains continue to permit smoking – although Whitbread states that they are “conducting a trial with three non-smoking Brewers Fayres, and will consider extending this but only at a rate our customers would be comfortable with.” 

Other large chains with non-smoking policies are:

  • McDonalds (over 1200 outlets), which stated that “in 1993 we adopted a non-smoking policy [which] was adopted by most of the franchises. Local franchises can make up their own policy but most go non-smoking.” The company estimates the number of outlets still permitting smoking at no more than “one or two”.
  • National Trust Enterprises (more than 140 outlets), which stated that “smoking is not permitted inside National Trust houses, restaurants or shops.”
  • Spudulike (34 restaurants) which stated that “for many years now the Spudulike Group has had a no smoking policy in all its managed stand alone restaurant units.” Spudulike does operate restaurants in food court locations in shopping centres, some of which permit smoking, although the company supports non-smoking when tenants are asked to vote on the issue.
  • Wagamama (21 UK restaurants) which has a non-smoking policy throughout the group.

Chains which continue to expose diners to passive smoke include:

  • Burger King (more than 900 outlets), which stated that “decisions on smoking are made on a restaurant by restaurant basis”, but could not supply examples of non-smoking outlets
  • Wimpy’s (about 300 outlets), which stated that it was “up to the individual franchise to decide” but gave no smoke-free examples
  • Pizza Express (300 outlets) which “offers both smoking and non-smoking areas to reflect our commitment to catering for all our customers”
  • Harry Ramsden (website lists more than 50 outlets in UK, and claims more than 170 in all), which has smoking areas in all its restaurants (roughly 15% of tables) and relies on air conditioning to keep “clean air circulating”
  • City Centre Restaurants – including Garfunkels and Caffe Uno, which has smoking areas in all its restaurants, but claims to “constantly review” its policy on smoking.
  • Nando’s (70 outlets) which has smoking and non-smoking areas “if the restaurant is big enough”. The company stated that it has “no idea” if it will change its policy after Pizza Hut’s announcement. [3] 

The tobacco industry claims that ventilation removes secondhand smoke. Many of the restaurant chains also offered this defence. In fact, ventilation simply improves the subjective quality of the air and dilutes rather than removes pollutants. Ventilation may remove the smell of smoke but not the dangers. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. [4]

ASH Public Affairs Manager Ian Willmore commented:

“Most restaurant chains continue to think it OK to expose kids and other customers to clouds of cigarette smoke – even though the Chief Medical Officer estimates that passive smoking is killing at least three people in Britain every single day. Parents concerned about the damage that cigarette smoke could do to their children should look at our survey and direct their business accordingly.


We congratulate the rare industry exceptions – Pizza Hut, Spudulike, Wagamamas – that have adopted an intelligent and progressive approach to this vital public health issue. If Japanese food, pizza or baked potatoes don’t appeal, we can only suggest that parents go to one of the National Trust’s historic houses, and give their kids some culture as well as safe and smoke-free dining.”


– ENDS –


Notes and Links:

[1] Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of passive smoking.  Their bronchial tubes are smaller and their immune systems are less developed, making them more likely to develop respiratory and ear infections when exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.  Because they have smaller airways, children breathe faster than adults and consequently breathe in more harmful chemicals per pound of their weight than an adult would in the same amount of time.  See the ASH research report: Secondhand Smoke: the impact on children (pdf)

[2] Pizza Hut goes smoke free  –  BBC News

[3] Full details of the ASH survey can be found here (pdf).

[4] See ASH factsheet secondhand smoke (pdf)