Smoking 'should be banned outside pubs and restaurants' during pandemic, councils say

18 July 2020, 09:52

File photo: People eat and drink outdoors in Soho, London
File photo: People eat and drink outdoors in Soho, London. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Smoking should be banned outside pubs, cafes and bars to make them more family friendly and help high streets recover from lockdown, councils have said.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is urging peers to support an amendment to the Business and Planning Bill which would make all pavement licences subject to being smoke-free places.

The body, which represents councils in England, said on Saturday that while people who wished to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke could normally stay inside, the coronavirus outbreak meant indoor space was more restricted.

Local authorities need the powers to reflect this and give customers and families the certainty that anywhere they go for a drink or a meal they will not be exposed to other people's cigarette smoke, the LGA added.

It will also prevent neighbouring shops, particularly in cramped inner-city areas, from being exposed to second-hand smoke, it said.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, vice chair of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, urged peers to give councils the powers to extend smoke-free areas to include pavements so "this al fresco summer can be enjoyed by everyone".

She added: "Pavement licensing should not be a catalyst to increase smoking in public places, putting people at greater risk of ingesting second-hand smoke when they are enjoying a drink or a meal."

The LGA said that the measure would also contribute to the Government's ambition of England becoming a smoke-free nation by 2030, following recent figures showing a continuing decline in the number of people smoking.

The Business and Planning Bill is due to have its third reading in the House of Lords on Monday.

One of the provisions is to fast-track the process by which cafes, pubs and restaurants in England can apply for temporary permission to put chairs and tables outside to allow premises to serve as many people as possible while respecting social distancing guidance.

A number of peers want the granting of pavement licences to be subject to the condition that smoking is prohibited.

The proposal is opposed by the Government, which argued that the emergency legislation should not be used as "a backdoor route" to try to ban smoking outdoors.

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Putting forward the amendment earlier this week, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Northover pointed out that more than 85 per cent of people do not smoke.

She said: "The UK hospitality sector will not recover if we can't make it an enjoyable experience for the majority of their clients."

But Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, described the proposal as "insane", adding: "There is absolutely no justification for government to intervene on public health grounds because there is no evidence that smoking outside is a significant risk to non-smokers.

"Government should be reducing red tape, not adding to it with arbitrary regulations that can only hurt the hospitality industry."

And restaurateur and chef Antony Worrall Thompson said: "Why on earth would the Lords and LGA want to discourage a substantial number of people from returning to pubs, cafes and restaurants?

"For smokers it is one of the few remaining pleasures, sitting al fresco, minding their own business, enjoying a glass of wine or a pint of beer.

"Allow landlords and customers to make up their own minds. It's all a matter of choice."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "We will not ban outdoor smoking.

“Since the existing ban was introduced businesses have invested heavily in their outdoor areas and banning outdoor smoking would lead to significant closures and job losses.

"Businesses should look at ways they can accommodate both smokers and non-smokers, while smokers should exercise public responsibility and be considerate.

"We are helping our pubs, cafes and restaurants safely reopen and securing jobs by making it quicker, easier and cheaper to operate outside.

“The Government's priority is protecting public health against the transmission of the Covid virus, whilst ensuring the venues remain open and be economically sustainable."

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