Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Britain could ban smoking in most public places

AFP , LONDON

Britain is to ban smoking in most public places, according to reports yesterday ahead of the launch of an ambitious goverment effort to legislate its way to better public health.

The BBC said the proposed partial ban, which was to be revealed in a government white paper late yesterday, could see 90 percent of all bars go smoke-free within a few years.

All restaurants and bars which serve prepared food would fall under the ban; only private clubs where members vote to maintain smoking, and bars which serve nothing more elaborate than potato chips and sandwiches would keep the right for customers to light up.

The Sun tabloid newspaper also described offices and factories as coming under the axe in the goverment proposal.

The expected move, while welcomed by some health advocates, falls short of a total ban planned for Scotland and advocated for the rest of Britain as well.

Last week Scotland's semi-autonomous government announced a future total smoking ban for enclosed public places, as its first minister said Edinburgh was undertaking reform of one of Europe's most unhealthy nations, where smoking is the single largest cause of preventable premature death.

Ireland has already passed a total smoking ban in public places, as has Norway and some parts of the US.

The "Public Health White Paper for England," to be delivered by Health Secretary John Reid, is expected to cover a range of health issues widely seen as part of a larger health crisis in Britain, notably smoking and obesity.

Britain weighs in as the world's second-fattest country after the US, and Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government will reportedly seek to slap a ban on junk food advertisements on television until 9pm to shelter children from their influence.

It could also impose a new labeling system on foods, giving them a red, yellow or green light according to how often they should be eaten.

Even before the paper's release, some were criticizing the partial ban as insufficient.

Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: "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 ... allow MPs to do the job for them."

"The test for the white paper will be whether it delivers on smoking and diet. Both require more than just warm words," said Paul Burstow, health spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party.

"Without a comprehensive ban on smoking in enclosed public places, staff will still be exposed to the unacceptable risk of second-hand smoke," he said.

The government proposals were made after getting a record 100,000 voluntary contributions from Britons on the issue of public health, while scare stories about obesity and nutrition have figured prominently in the popular press.

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