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New smoking laws; ROB MERRICK OUR MAN IN WESTMINSTER.

TEN minutes into the launch of the Government's plans to restrict smoking in pubs, it was clear the policy had been made up - if you will forgive me - on the back of a fag packet.

Now, 15 months later, Liverpool's SmokeFree campaign stands on the verge of a famous victory over the Department of Health (DoH) if MPs back a total ban in tonight's vote.

As D-day arrives, it is worth looking back to identify just how ministers came up with a policy that everybody - from health charities to pub owners - hated and ridiculed.

It was John Reid who, in November, 2004, proposed a ban in restaurants, but for smoking to survive in pubs that did not serve food, around 20% of the total, he said.

At that press conference, I tried to quiz the then-Health Secretary about how that 20% figure varied, it being clear from the off that it would be much higher in places such as Liverpool.

To my astonishment, Dr Reid was unable to provide any figures for different parts of the country Neither, despite repeated questioning later, could his department.

Yet, by the end of the day, I had established that - for example - smoking would continue in a staggering 58% of pubs in Knowsley under the bizarre food/non-food split.

There were similar high figures for other northern areas. The department had apparently not bothered to find out - the first sign that its policy was a dog's breakfast.

At that press conference, Dr Reid put forward two arguments for stopping short of a total pub smoking ban, both of which later turned out to have no basis in fact.

First, the minister claimed it would increase deaths from passive smoking because frustrated smokers would instead puff away at home, in front of their

It was only 11 months later that DOH officials, in evidence to the health select committee, admitted there was no evidence that would happen

Second, Dr Reid insisted the public was on his side. Yet, when the DoH held a consultation, more than 90% of respondents backed a total ban - results ministers tried to suppress.

It was only when Tony Blair - who does not think the issue is important - realised he would lose on the Commons floor that he agreed to grant his MPs a free vote.

The odds now are that MPs will outlaw smoking in all pubs, although it is possible that exemptions will be allowed for members-only clubs. Either way, Dr Reid's manoeuvrings have backfired. The new laws will come into force next year - not 2008, as he intended.

Minister claimed it would increase deaths
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 14, 2006
Words:436
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