MPs approve comprehensive smokefree legislation

In collaboration with the Press Association

MPs approved comprehensive smokefree legislation last night, ending smoking in almost all confined public places in the UK.

All pubs, clubs and restaurants will have to comply with the legislation from the summer of 2007.

Health campaigners have welcomed the landmark vote, which was passed with a majority of 200 MPs.

After months of wrangling, Labour MPs were given a free vote, allowing them to reject alternative versions of the bill that would have permitted private members clubs and venues which did not serve food to allow smoking.

Cancer Research UK described the new law as the "most important advance in public health" in the 50 years since smoking was identified as causing cancer.

"Today's vote will protect thousands of workers and save many lives," said professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.

"We're delighted that the smokefree law will give all workers, including those in pubs and private members' clubs, equal protection from the life-threatening effects of secondhand smoke.

"The Republic of Ireland has shown that smokefree legislation works best when it contains as few exemptions as possible," he added.

The British Heart Foundation described the decision as "the best possible Valentine's gift from MPs to bar workers".

Speaking to the BBC, public health minister Caroline Flint said: "We have this huge opportunity and we have got to make it work - to encourage more people to give up smoking, but also to create a different culture."

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have already agreed comprehensive smokefree legislation, and Wales will soon vote on whether to opt in to the legislation.

Welsh assembly members have already twice approved the law on principle.

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association expressed its "disappointment" on the ruling, and Allen Bowes, executive chairman of the Swallow Group, which operates 150 hotels and 700 pubs in the UK, has vowed to bring a legal challenge against the bill.

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