Pete Robinson: At last, the UK smoking ban has been amended!

The sheep, the lemmings and the appeasers within the Trade said it could never happen. The government itself along with it’s minions and the entire puritan health industry insisted it was not possible.

But it’s true. It seems that at last the UK smoking ban has been amended to legally allow indoor smoking rooms and lounges, possibly with bar serveries in the same room.

Before you rush off to chuck ashtrays back on the tables there is, inevitably, some bad news. The amendment applies only to the ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands for the duration of next week’s G20 Summit.

A source within the company organising the G20 Summit made the following statement: “Although smoking is banned within work places in the UK and has been a vigorously enforced Labour policy, it is being allowed at the G20 summit – indeed, there is a cigarette lounge.”

Clearly these instructions have come directly from Number 10. If the crud hits the fan over this we’ll no doubt be subjected to the usual lectures about the risks of terrorism. In reality there’s an awful lot riding on this Summit, perhaps Brown’s future premiership, where the important negotiations still take place behind the scenes in nostalgic smoke-filled rooms.

And just like a modern day Pub conversation the emphasis of any prospective deal would soon be lost if foreign rulers and key personnel were repeatedly diving outside for a fag.

However what’s not so clear is the precise mechanism by which Brown’s government has been able to set aside the smoking ban, and this is where it gets really interesting.

ASH-UK were understandably spitting blood once they got wind of this betrayal. They don’t care if the global economy disintegrates heralding a dark new order of anarchy, just so long as nu-world pubs ban smoking. ASH have a direct hot line to the Dept of Health and quickly leapt for the Bat-phone.

The Department of Health told them “The simple fact is that the Health Act 2006 does not make any exemptions for diplomats or diplomatic events.”

“The relevant local authority (Newham) is responsible for enforcement for premises within their borough. If there is a breach of the regulations the local authority enforcement officers will need to consider appropriate enforcement action.”

Wh-aaat? They’re ‘aving a laugh aren’t they?

You can just imagine the scene when Newham’s uniformed anti-smoking gestapo strut into the G20 Summit in their polished jackboots:


“I am The Emir of Kuwait.”

“And I’m Osama Bleedin’ Bin-Laden. If I had a quid for every time I’ve heard the old Emir of Kuwait routine. You’re nicked sonny!”

It’s never gonna happen. Special Branch would send these jumped-up little Adolfs packing before they reached the outer perimeter. An anti-terrorism card trumps anti-smoking any day.

However the fact remains that our beloved government must be using some kind of legal mechanism to stay on the right side of their own law. We’ll have to wait for confirmation but it’s being reported that there has been a covert amendment to the smoking ban legislation.

What’s so far held this ban together is that it’s been more water tight than a duck’s rear end. ASH made sure of this, along with the collusion of our own Industry Leaders who fought for the ‘level playing field’ – i.e. the blanket ban with no exemptions for private-members clubs. This made the ban completely unassailable. No exemptions, no amendments, no further discussion.

But it’s all lies. This proves an outright ban is NOT set in stone. They could amend the smoking ban tomorrow at the stroke of a pen. If they can do it for a bunch of foreigners they can do it for us British folk who pay their wages, pamper them with outlandish expenses and lavish them with golden pension pots.

For the moment this is just a crack in the veneer that makes this nasty, socially divisive piece of anti-pub legislation appear to be stronger than it really is. When the industry eventually unites as one alliance to take advantage of the situation we could prise open that crack and tear a giant hole right through it.

Sadly I can’t see any immediate prospect of the Trade uniting.

Try to imagine the power and political clout this industry COULD wield if it came to it’s senses and we got all the customers on board. Yet we allow squalid little groups like ASH to control our affairs, while the temperance league waits in the wings to usher us all meekly into Nu-Labour’s gas chambers.

We approach ignorant government ministers on bended knee, begging bowl in trembling hand, whispering pathetic pleas for a scrap to be generously thrown in our direction. Why, oh why should we be reduced to this?

It’s like the hanging, chain-clad prisoner in Life of Brian – “Crucifixion! Best thing they ever did for us. If nothing else, it’s taught me to respect the Romans.”

What little fight we had is fading while those who believe pubs are better places now all the riff-raff have gone seem to hold sway. They remain convinced that one day a better class of customer is going to walk into our pubs and start flashing the cash.

And what do they suggest will fuel this metamorphosis? More Nu-Labour legislation. Great. The very thing that has brought this once proud industry to it’s knees.

Don’t tell me this pious government meddling is here to stay and there’s nothing we can do about it. Tell that to the Dutch, or the Germans who have proved what can be achieved with just a little courage and solidarity.

So next time the defeatist “let’s just get on with it” brigade tell you the smoking ban will never be amended just remind them it already has.


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