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England Goes Smoke-Free in Public Buildings July 1


As of July 1 it will be illegal to smoke in enclosed public places in England. The law has divided the country with those for it saying it will save thousands of passive smokers' lives. Those against it say it is a denial of smokers' civil liberties. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA from London.

The smoking ban covers all enclosed public places, including offices, factories, pubs and bars, but excludes outdoors and private homes. The government and the anti-smoking lobby view the law as protection for non-smokers from passive smoking. It is also hoped it will encourage some smokers to give up the habit.

Elspeth Lee, a spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK, said the ban should lead to a reduction of smoke-related cancer deaths in the long term.

"106,000 people a year die of smoking-related diseases, which obviously include heart disease and many other illnesses," said Lee. "We know that smoking is the greatest cause of cancer and all those deaths are entirely preventable."

"This measure is being brought in to protect people predominantly from second-hand smoke exposure. We also do know from countries that have gone smoke free that it will help some smokers to quit as well, which is a great thing," she added.

But despite the scientific evidence that smoking does kill there are those who argue that the ban is a violation of their civil liberties.

Simon Clark is the spokesman of the pro-smoking Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco. Clark is a non-smoker but he is very passionate in his belief that the government is being too intrusive in what should be personal decisions.

"We are not against smoking bans as such but we are against the extent of the ban which is going to include every single pub, club and restaurant in this country," said Clark.

"They want to reduce the smoking rates in this country from 25 to 21 percent by 2010 but tobacco is a perfectly legal product; adults choose to smoke and it's not for government to force them to give up; by all means government [has a] role to play educating people about the health risks of smoking in the same way they have a role to play educating people about the health risks of drinking too much alcohol or eating too much fatty foods and dairy products, but politicians these days seem to be interfering in our lives in a way that was unimaginable 20 or 30 years ago," he continued.

Clark also argues that it should be up to the owners of the establishments where the ban is being enforced to choose whether they want them to be smoking or non-smoking areas. However, he acknowledges that the pro-smoking lobby has lost the battle but the war continues. His group intends to keep the pressure on government to amend the law.

According to polls, most English people say they are in favor of the ban, but it does have quite a few opponents in that very English institution, the pub. Some pubgoers say it will never be the same after July 1. VOA visited a London pub and spoke to a few smokers.

"My real objection would be that I don't think it should be legislation I think that it would have been perfectly doable to have made areas within pubs or bars or clubs where people could smoke and those who didn't want to didn't have to," said one smoker. "If it is really about public health and allowing people to not be in smoke-filled environments, then equally you should allow people to be within smoke-filled environments as I clearly would prefer. The idea of legislating for lifestyle choices is not a good idea in my opinion."

"I am a smoker, but I don't mind the fact that we can't smoke in front of other people," said another smoker. "I look at the civil liberties of my fellow people in the pub. Passive smoking is an obvious fact, so I don't mind the fact that we can't smoke in front of them anymore."

A female friend of his who does not smoke said while she has sympathy for her smoking friends, she welcomes the new law.

"I am looking forward to the fact that I can walk into pub or bar and not really have my clothes and hair stinking of smoke at the end of the night so I have to say it's a bonus for non-smokers," she said.

So on July 1 no smoking signs will go up in England, just like they have already in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the other countries that make up the United Kingdom.

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