16/11/2004

Limited public smoking ban doesn't go far enough, says BMA

The government's pledge to ban smoking in certain public places in England does not go far enough and current proposals may be difficult to enforce, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.

The government's White Paper on improving public health in England, 'Choosing Health', calls for a ban on smoking in offices, factories and restaurants and pubs serving dinners. However, private clubs and pubs that serve only snacks could be exempted from the legislation if customers demands it.

The document is designed to make it easier for people to choose how to change their lifestyle so they eat more healthily, exercise more and smoke less. It also sets out moves to improve sexual health, encourage sensible drinking and improve mental well-being, the health department said.

James Johnson, BMA chairman in England, welcomed the "bold" policy commitment but voiced his disappointment that the Health Secretary's plans fell short of banning smoking in all enclosed public places. The danger would be that some pubs may find loopholes in the law to allow smoking, he said.

"I recognise that John Reid has certainly gone a long way on tobacco but he has wasted an opportunity by not introducing a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public places. It makes no sense to allow smoking in some pubs – what about the health and lives of employees who work in them?" Mr Johnson added.

Mr Johnson urged the government to place its anti-smoking proposals in next week's Queen's speech which outlines the legislative programme for the coming Parliamentary session.

The White Paper also contains provisions designed to: curb the promotion of unhealthy foods to children, promote unambiguous labelling of the nutritional content of food; provide NHS Health Trainers to advise people on how to improve their lifestyle; and tackle social and geographical inequalities in health.

Speaking after the publication of the White Paper, health secretary John Reid said that all stakeholders – communities, employers, parents, schools, the hospitality, food and leisure industries, and NHS and local government – would all have a role to play in order to make the measures truly effective.

"People make their own choices about health, but they have made plain in our consultation that they want the information, advice and support in making their own choices so we need to ensure that people have the information they require to make properly informed choices; and that they are presented with genuine opportunities and the practical support to make healthy choices," he said.

The Lib Dems slammed the paper as "a policy of hesitation and more consultation".

Health spokesperson Paul Burstow said: "If the Health Secretary admits that passive smoking kills and that there is no safe level of smoke, then there cannot be any exceptions for a ban on smoking in enclosed public places. Dr Reid must understand that smoking still kills even when you are not eating food."

He added: "Simply tackling individual lifestyles ignores many fundamental causes of ill-health. The White Paper was silent on issues of poverty, poor housing and poor environment. We still do not have a Department for Health focused on getting the government to improve the health of the nation."

(gmcg/sp)

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