Smoking ban 'a disproportionate response'

Peers says ban on smoking in public places was not justified by the evidence
Peers says ban on smoking in public places was not justified by the evidence

The ban on smoking in public places is a "disproportionate response to a relatively minor health concern", a committee of peers has warned today.

The Lords economic affairs committee warns the ban is an example of how the government has become "excessively risk averse" when formulating policy, listening to the media too much and failing to make fully objective decisions.

It says the effect of passive smoking at home is more serious than that posed in pubs and clubs, but the ban agreed in February fails to address this problem.

In their report, peers say more attention should have been paid to alternative options, noting that many business leaders believed a blanket ban was unnecessary, given that most firms were banning smoking on their premises voluntarily.

They also note that insufficient attention was paid by ministers to the effect the smoking ban would have on personal liberty - arguing that the idea that the risks of passive smoking might be offset by possible limits on people's freedom to smoke was not properly considered.

"The purpose of legislation should have been defined more clearly and greater attention should have been given to available scientific evidence, the relative merits of alternative policy options and the impact of legislation on personal freedom and choice," the report says.

"Failure to consider these matters properly has resulted in the introduction of a policy that appears to demonstrate a disproportionate response to the problem."

MPs voted in February to ban smoking on all pubs, clubs and private members' clubs in England from next summer. The government had originally proposed a partial ban exempting pubs not serving food, but this was dropped amid widespread opposition.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt, who had championed the original plans but was privately in favour of a blanket ban, hailed it as "a historic day" for public health, and said it could help 600,000 people give up smoking.

But today's report warns that, while the health risks of smoking are well documented, the risks associated with passive smoking do not justify a ban, and suggests ministers may have been unduly influenced by media scare stories about the issue.

"The most important thing government can do is to ensure that its own policy decisions are soundly based on available evidence and not unduly influenced by transitory or exaggerated opinions, whether formed by the media or vested interests," it says.

"The evidence we took suggests that the government has at times given insufficient weight to available evidence and placed too great a reliance on unsubstantiated reports that often have their origin in the media."


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