Smoking ban divides the Cabinet

Ministers are still split over the government’s proposed smoking ban.

The anti-smoking legislation, part of the government’s health bill, which is due to be published on Wednesday, has divided ministers on the decision of possible exemptions.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt wants to ban smoking in all pubs and clubs, but has proposed to allow separate ‘smoking rooms’ in licensed premises, where bar staff would not work.

However, these plans have been criticised by a number of ministers, with the proposed sealed smoking rooms being dubbed ‘cancer cabins’ and ‘smoking carriages’.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell is one of the leading critics of the smoking rooms proposal. She has written to anti-smoking lobby Ash to express her concerns, which are also believed to be shared by fellow Cabinet colleagues David Blunkett and David Miliband.

John Reid, Ms Hewitt’s predecessor, is reported to have said that the exemptions he had proposed – for private members' clubs and pubs that don't serve food – should remain in the bill.

Ms Hewitt was expected to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the legislation on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Mr Blair said that smoking was a “genuinely difficult issue” and that there were “practical issues” that needed to be resolved. However, he said that there would be “on-going work to tie down” those issues and stressed that the bill would give a “clear direction” on the issue.

Scotland is due to introduce a smoking ban in all enclosed public places from March next year, while earlier this month a similar ban was announced for Northern Ireland, which is due to come into effect in 2007.


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