Anger over smoking climbdown

Anita Pati

Interfering and "spineless" ministers have scuppered health charities' plans for a total ban on smoking in public places, say members of Smokefree Action.

The Government last week agreed plans for a ban on smoking in enclosed public places in England, with exemptions for clubs and pubs not serving food and private members' clubs. The retreat from a full ban was reportedly influenced by former health secretary John Reid. The move marks a return to Labour's manifesto pledge for a partial ban.

Smokefree Action, a coalition of health charities, public bodies and trade unions, has vowed to continue pressuring the Government and is meeting this week to discuss future strategy.

Ian Willmore, public affairs manager at Action on Smoking and Health, which co-ordinates the coalition, said: "It's an interesting illustration of how far you can get as an NGO coalition, but also of what its inherent limitations are.

"You can achieve a lot of action through lobbying, but you can't give a minister a backbone. Coalitions can't achieve the medical miracle of putting spines into ministers if they haven't got one."

He said a total ban could still happen because the Bill had yet to go through Parliament. "We need to make a big fat fuss," he said.

Smokefree Action steering committee members, including Asthma UK and Cancer Research UK, are discussing the option of pressing for a free vote for MPs.

"This is so that MPs can vote with their consciences," said a spokesman for Cancer Research UK.

Mikis Euripides, senior parliamentary officer at Asthma UK, said the coalition had believed it was a "stepping stone" away from a full ban.

"It's essentially the will of the previous Secretary of State, John Reid, and his standing in the Government, which is such that he can still win the argument."

Ruairi O'Connor, public affairs manager at the British Heart Foundation, also a member, said Smokefree Action parliamentary officers would meet next week to rally more backbench MPs before the Bill's second reading.

KEY POINTS

- Ministers have come under fire for their decision not to introduce a total smoking ban: pubs and clubs not serving food will be exempt

- The retreat from the full ban is believed to be down to former health secretary John Reid winning the argument in government

- Smokefree Action has promised to continue to pressurise government and will meet this week to discuss future lobbying.

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