The Department of Health will be deciding whether to ban smoking in pubs after receiving the results of a trade survey.
The trade's Charter Group met last week to discuss the outcome of the survey, which looked into how many pubs are complying with the voluntary charter on smoking launched in 1998. The charter recommends the use of signage, with ventilation and no-smoking areas where appropriate.
While the results are being kept under wraps until they have been evaluated and discussed with Government officials, it is estimated that compliance is currently standing at between 20 and 30 per cent of pubs. This leaves it short of the 50 per cent target set for the end of 2002, as agreed by the Charter Group.
Licensees are being urged to act now to help meet the target, or face tougher regulation in the future.
It is thought that many outlets have upgraded ventilation or installed no-smoking areas but have yet to become charter compliant by putting up signage to inform customers of their smoking policy.
Failure to self-regulate could lead ministers to rethink their decision on whether to ban smoking completely in pubs.
The possible effects of this were highlighted last week when thousands of bar and restaurant workers protested on the streets of Hong Kong, warning a new ban on smoking would create tension between staff and customers and could even stop some people from eating out.
The demonstration mirrors similar protests in Canada and California in reaction to bans there.
The Hong Kong Government is proposing to ban smoking in most indoor places, including bars and restaurants.
According to The Publican Newspaper's Market Report 2001, 41 per cent of UK licensees think a complete ban on smoking in pubs would lead to a similar drop in trade.
Oliver Griffiths, of the Atmosphere Improves Results (AIR) initiative, said he was urging licensees who had not yet acted on the issue to act now.
But anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has warned that despite the trade's efforts "it's only a matter of time before a complete ban on smoking in public places is brought in".
"We're definitely moving in that direction," Amanda Sanford, from ASH, said: "And public surveys show overwhelming support for a ban on smoking in public places. Its worked in other countries like the US and Australia, but research shows it needs to be introduced gradually."
Charter Group to discuss smoking research (5 October 2001)