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MPs vote for total ban on smoking in public places

MPs vote for total ban on smoking in public places

LONDON: British MPs voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ban smoking in all enclosed public places. The ban will be implemented in 124,000 pubs and clubs across England from next summer.

In a historic free vote, the MPs rejected a compromise formula, which mooted a partial ban, terming it as “unworkable”. Prime minister Tony Blair and his Labour Party had fought the general elections on this formula, which allowed smoking to continue in pubs that do not serve food.

The vote, 453 to 125, means all pubs and clubs will be covered by the ban. The MPs also dismissed a last-minute proposal to exempt private members’ clubs, voting 384 to 184.

The vote has been welcomed by health groups. England now joins Northern Ireland and Scotland in totally banning smoking in public places. Wales plans to have its own vote on the issue soon.

Among the cabinet ministers voting for a total ban were prime minister Blair, Gordon Brown, Charles Clarke, Peter Hain, Ian McCartney, Margaret Beckett and David Miliband. However, six ministers, including John Reid, John Prescott, John Hutton, Tessa Jowell and Ruth Kelly, supported the compromise, which proposed smoking to continue in not-for-profit clubs such as working men’s’ clubs and the Royal British Legion.

The cabinet has fixed additional levels of fines for defaults. Landlords who allow smoking will face a 2,500-pound fine, which is up from 200 pounds. Individuals who violate the ban will be fined 50 pounds on the spot. In addition, there will be spot fines of 200 pounds for failing to display no-smoking signs. There will be a penalty, if the issue goes to court, which will be1,000 pounds.

The Health Bill, introduced by health secretary Patricia Hewitt last year, has been dogged by cabinet splits and insurrection in the Labour ranks. The ruling party MPs were given a free vote.

The vote was generally welcomed by unions, health campaigners and NGOs. Peter Hollins, director general of the British Heart Foundation, described it as a landmark victory for the public health of the country, which will save the lives of many people across the U.K. Prof. Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research U.K., said the smoke-free law will give all workers, including those in pubs and private members’ clubs, equal protection from the life-threatening effects of second-hand smoke.

Even the British Beer and Pub Association welcomed the legislation. The association’s director of communications Mark Hastings said the association is happy that the MPs have ensured a level playing field for all, with no exemption for private members’ clubs.

The bill will now move to the House of Lords, where it is expected to pass. Once this formality is over, it will become law by mid-2007.

The ban is estimated to cut revenue to pub companies by about 8 per cent, according to consulting firm KPMG International.

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