“Voluntary” pubs smoking scheme useless public health campaigners warn

Monday 15 November 2004

ASH News Release:  For Immediate Use – Monday 15th November




Media stories this weekend, quoting sources close to Health Secretary John Reid, have suggested that the Public Health White Paper, due to be published tomorrow (Tuesday) will allow pubs to escape a general ban on smoking in enclosed public places. Instead it will opt for yet another version of a “voluntary” scheme run by the pub trade itself.


Any such proposal would be treated with derision by public health campaigners. It would:

  • Only be applied by the large pub chains, which run only a minority of pubs.
  • Fail to protect bar staff, which the Government’s own Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health has stated is the single group of employees most at risk from secondhand smoke, and
  • Threaten the future of small pub chains and independent landlords.


The pub trade has a long history of failed attempts at self-regulation on smoking. After the last White Paper in 1998, the pub trade produced a voluntary scheme called the “Public Places Charter”. In discussion with the Department of Health, trade leaders agreed that 50% of all pubs and half of the members of the Restaurant Association should be Charter Compliant by January 2003, with 35% of that 50% restricting smoking to designated and enforced areas and/or have ventilation that meets agreed industry standards. But in its April 2003 progress report, the Charter Group revealed that 47% of pubs surveyed still allowed smoking throughout.  Less than 1% banned smoking completely.


The latest voluntary scheme was promised by five of the biggest pub companies in September this year. Together they control fewer than half Britain’s pubs (22,000 out of 55,000). The five companies are

·         Enterprise Inns

·         Mitchells and Butlers

·         Punch Pub Company

·         Scottish and Newcastle Pub Enterprises, and

·         Spirit Group.

They have promised to end smoking at and behind the bar area of pubs by the end of 2005, and to move from 35% smokefree trading floor space at the end of 2005 to 80% smokefree by the end of 2009. The largest chains do not even have direct control of their leasehold (rather than tenanted or managed) pubs, and therefore cannot guarantee that they will meet any voluntary standards..


The new plans will not protect the health of pub workers and members of the public. Smoking and non-smoking areas cannot be effectively separated, since smoke drifts. Pub employees will still have to work in smoking areas, threatening their health. Independent ventilation experts state that any ventilation system would need to produce a “tornado-like” gale to be fully effective in removing secondhand smoke from the air (see the work of Professor James Repace at http://repace.com/fact_exp.html)


In May this year, Professor Konrad Jamrozik of Imperial College London estimated for the Royal College of Physicians that one current or former pub worker a week may die prematurely because of exposure to secondhand smoke at work. He estimates the total number of deaths from workplace exposure across the UK to be 700 a year, three times the number of deaths from all industrial injuries and accidents (Konrad Jamrozik, Population strategies to prevent smoking, BMJ 328 : 759).


Thompsons, the UK’s largest trade union and personal injury law firm, is now identifying possible compensation cases against hospitality trade employers, citing breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Cases will begin to come to court as soon as January next year.


Under the plans of the large pub chains, small chains and independent publicans could be forced to install expensive and ineffective ventilation systems in order to meet the new standards, making them uncompetitive with pubs owned by the larger chains.


The pub companies have claimed that an end to smoking in pubs and other workplaces could cost the UK economy £3.5 billion. This is flatly contradicted by, among others, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, whose latest annual report estimates that a policy of creating smokefree workplaces in the UK would bring a net benefit to society of between £2.3 and £2.7 billion a year, equivalent to treating 1.3 to 1.5 million people on hospital waiting lists. A survey by KPMG and YouGov, reported in The Business newspaper on Sunday 14th November, found that 27% of people said they would stay in pubs for longer if smoking was banned, and that about 40% of those who never went to pubs said they would begin to visit. 64% of those surveyed were in a favour of a ban with only 26% firmly against.


According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a large majority of MPs now want an outright end to smoking in all workplaces, including pubs and clubs. ASH is calling on the Government to promise a Public Health Bill in the first session of the next Parliament and to allow MPs a free vote on the issue.


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


“Allowing pubs yet another attempt at a voluntary scheme would be a sick joke. The pub trade has shown itself utterly incapable of operating any such scheme effectively, or of properly protecting its own employees and the general public from the damage caused by secondhand smoke. This option is even worse than the half-baked licensing scheme which Dr Reid’s spin doctors were hawking round the media last week.


If John Reid and the Government are too scared to do what is now required – and end smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places – then they must promise to hold a free vote on the issue in the first session of the next Parliament, and allow MPs to do the job for them.”  

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Contact: Ian Willmore  020 7739 5902 (w) 07887 641344 (m) ISDN available