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'It's illiberal': No 10 sinks 'nanny state' plan to ban smoking on pavements outside pubs

Downing Street has quashed an attempt by Government advisers to ban the smoking of cigarettes on pavements outside pubs and restaurants.

The idea was put forward by the Health Promotion Taskforce – but dismissed by Boris Johnson’s aides as ‘illiberal’ and ‘nanny state’.

A source said: ‘The feeling was that we have enough on our plate without taking that on.’

The change would have been enacted through licensing regulations.

Under the new proposal, smoking would have been allowed in pub gardens but not on public pavements directly outside food and drink venues. Pictured, stock of people smoking in a coffee shop terrace

Smoking in enclosed public places was banned in England under Tony Blair in 2007, while Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had already done so over the previous 18 months.

The ban has been credited with changing attitudes towards smoking and helping some to quit, although its true impact is unclear. In the decade after the ban was introduced, smoking continued to decline at a similar rate as in the decade beforehand.

Under the new proposal, smoking would have been allowed in pub gardens but not on public pavements directly outside food and drink venues.

Supporters say the argument for such a ban has been strengthened by the growth in outdoor seating on pavements outside bars and restaurants during the pandemic.

People sitting close together should be protected from passive smoking, they say, and claim there is public support for such a ban.

However, the Government has been reluctant to make all such pavement seating no-smoking.

Nonetheless, local councils have already started to enact the move. At least five English local authorities – Northumberland, Durham, Manchester, North Tyneside and Newcastle-upon-Tyne – have banned smoking on pavements outside pubs, restaurants and bars. Oxfordshire County Council also has plans to do so.

But the taskforce wanted to instigate a blanket ban on smoking on pavements outside pubs and restaurants across England, as part of a wider drive to make England ‘smoke-free’ by 2030.

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, is known to be particularly exercised by the issue. In May he told a conference held at Gresham College in London that smoking, which it is claimed results in 90,000 deaths a year, would probably kill more people in 2021 than Covid.

The idea was put forward by the Health Promotion Taskforce – but dismissed by Boris Johnson’s aides as ‘illiberal’ and ‘nanny state’

He was ‘very upset’ about the numbers dying from lung cancer, a disease which he said was ‘caused almost entirely for profit’.

Deborah Arnott, of anti-smoking charity Ash, said the proposed changes ‘won’t damage business because it’s what the public wants, is simpler not more difficult for councils to enforce, and will make it easier for smokers who want to quit to succeed’.

But Simon Clark, of smoking freedoms group Forest, responded: ‘Smoking outside is not a public health issue as there is no proven risk to other people’s health when smokers light up in the open air.

‘The decision on whether to allow smoking outside pubs, bars and restaurants is therefore one for individual proprietors, not government.

‘They know what’s best for their business and imposing further regulations on the hospitality industry following Covid could hurt thousands of businesses that need every customer they can get.’