Smoking ban

What is the smoking ban?

In 2006, parliament voted to ban smoking in all workplaces, on public and work transport, in pubs, clubs, membership clubs, cafes, restaurants and shopping centres in England and Wales.

The smoking ban came into force in Scotland on March 26th 2006. In Wales, it was enforced from April 2nd. In Northern Ireland, the ban came into effect on April 30th. England followed suit on July 1st 2007, with the entire UK now officially smoke-free in public places.


Although smoking is known to cause lung cancer, the effect of passive smoking has proved harder to quantify. A 2002 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer suggested that regular exposure to passive smoke increases the risk of lung cancer by 20 to 30 per cent. According to the British Medical Association, it increases the risk of heart disease by between 25 and 35 per cent and doubles the risk of a stroke.

The majority of workplaces, shops, public transport and other public environments had banned or at least restricted smoking as a matter of policy by the mid 1990s, but it remained legal to smoke in most licensed premises.

However, in the years leading up to the ban, there was an increase in support for more restrictions on smoking in public places. Although this partly reflected the decline in the numbers of smokers, it also reflected the greater assertiveness of non-smokers, many of whom were less prepared to tolerate smoking.

In November 2004, the government published the white paper on public health, detailing its intention to introduce a partial ban, which would make it illegal to smoke in enclosed public spaces in England and Wales. However, an exception would be made for licensed premises such as bars, private clubs and pubs where no food was served. There would be a complete ban on smoking in the bar area of licensed premises, to protect staff.

Legislation to this effect was introduced in October 2005, as part of the health improvement and protection bill. The ban was intended to come into force in 2007.

By this point, the Scottish Executive had already voted to introduce a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces in Scotland, which came into force in 2006.

In 2003, New York City had also banned smoking in all public bars and restaurants, with only a few exceptions. Many towns and cities in California have also done this, and a few also banned smoking on their beaches and in public parks.

In March 2004, Ireland became the first European country to institute an outright ban on smoking in the workplace. Many advocates of a ban in England and Wales favoured this wording, because it emphasised the need to protect those who do not have a choice over their exposure to second-hand smoke, namely those working in smoky environments such as pubs and bars.

Italy and Norway then followed suit, introducing a total ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.


Mainstream debate in the UK has yet to call for an outdoor ban on smoking, but calls for smoking bans in indoor public places increased to such a point that the government's plans for a partial ban on smoking were broadly welcomed in 2005.

However, many campaigners argued that the proposals did not go far enough, saying they would still leave workers in private members' clubs and pubs not serving food at risk from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

They also argued it would cause confusion, while the British Beer & Pub Association argued pubs would feel under pressure to take food off of their menus, turning them into 'drinking dens', in order to avoid the commercial damage that might be done by a ban.

These arguments were boosted in the lead up to the introduction of the health improvement and protection bill by an apparent split in the cabinet about how far the smoking ban should go. Health secretary Patricia Hewitt was apparently in favour of switching to a total ban on smoking in public places, but was forced to back down by opposition from her ministerial colleagues.

In the meantime, more and more companies and even towns were banning smoking in public places altogether. In August 2003, Pizza Hut announced that all 500 of its branches would become non-smoking and in January 2005, the JD Wetherspoons pub chain announced it would be following suit. A number of councils were also considering public smoking bans, led by Liverpool city council, which introduced a bill into the House of Commons seeking the power to enable it to do this.

Critics of a ban disputed the claim that passive smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, and organisations representing the tobacco industry and smokers also argued that ventilators could be used to remove smoke from bars and pubs, negating the need for a ban. However, the medical profession has claimed that ventilators do not protect the public from the risk of lung cancer.

In the lead up to the ban on smoking in the workplace in Ireland, there were also concerns that the ban would negatively impact on bars and pubs, as smoking customers would be driven away. While there has been a decline in trade since the ban was introduced, the Irish government has argued this was caused by a range of economic factors already in place before the ban came into force. Similar concerns were also expressed about moves to introduce a ban in the UK, and a report by the Restaurant Association before the move was approved suggested it could cost restaurants £346 million and 45,000 jobs.

Opponents of a smoking ban also rejected the idea on civil liberties grounds, arguing that it was not the state's role to determine what people do to their bodies. Supporters of a ban, however, made virtually the same point, arguing that they should not be made to breathe other people's smoke.

In the end, support for a smoking ban outweighed the opposition, to the point that the government was forced to allow a free vote in parliament where MPs had the opportunity to back a complete ban on smoking in public places. In February 2006, the House of Commons voted by a majority of 200 to introduce a blanket ban on smoking in England and Wales from summer 2007. A ban on smoking in all NHS and government buildings was introduced in January that year.

In the wake of that decision, the government announced it would raise the age at which people could buy cigarettes from 16 to 18 from March 2007 in Scotland and from October 2007 in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland the age of sale for tobacco products was raised to 18 in September 2008.

A review of the impact of smoke-free legislation, published by the Department of Health in March 2011, concluded that there had been "a significant impact". Studies in England revealed findings similar to those in other countries where smoke-free laws had been implemented. There had been benefits for health, changes in attitudes and behaviour and no clear adverse impact on the hospitality industry. 


A significant body of UK and international evidence now exists which demonstrates that smoke-free laws are effective in reducing exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS).

A study of barworkers in England showed that their exposure reduced on average between 73% and 91% and measures of their respiratory health significantly improved after the introduction of the legislation.

A study found that between 1996 and 2007, SHS exposure among children declined by nearly 70%. The reductions were greatest in the period immediately before the introduction of smoke-free legislation, coinciding with national mass media campaigns around the dangers of SHS.

In England, the legislation resulted in a statistically significant reduction (−2.4%) in the number of hospital admissions for myocardial infarction (MI). This amounted to 1,200 emergency admissions for MI in the year following the introduction of smoke-free legislation.

Source: DoH: Impact of smoke-free legislation: evidence review - March 2011


"When non-smokers breathe in second-hand smoke - also known as passive smoking - it can be harmful. Research shows that non-smokers who live with smokers have a greater risk of heart disease than those who don’t."

British Heart Foundation - 2012

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