Hopes of avoiding an outright ban on smoking were still hanging in the balance following an industry summit yesterday.
The Charter Group and industry leaders made their last gasp effort to persuade the government that a smoking ban is not the answer for the trade when they met with culture secretary Tessa Jowell and public health minister Melanie Johnson.
During the crucial hour-long meeting trade representatives suggested alternative measures to the ban, including a ban on smoking at the bar and an increase in hi-tech ventilation.
But the meeting did not move the matter forward as quickly as expected and consultation with the Department of Health (DoH) will continue until May 28 before anything becomes clearer.
This is despite previous assurances from Ms Jowell in February that the government does not want to ban smoking in pubs.
Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said: "Politics has intervened. While we have a strong consensus of the voluntary way forward with the trade it seems we are now on hold while the government considers its consultation process. Politics has taken over and we're in limbo-land now."
However, members of the trade remain hopeful. Ted Tuppen, chairman of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: "We've put forward some positive proposals, ones that the entire hospitality industry can unite behind. The objectives we've put to the government are sensible, deliverable and achievable. We can only hope that now we've said it, the government will recognise that an outright ban will have a damaging effect on a number of community pubs."
Nick Bish, head of the Charter Group, which promotes voluntary controls on smoking through the use of signage and ventilation, said: "The industry position will be forwarded to the DoH consultation called 'choosing health'. This was a work-in-progress meeting."
Nigel Beviss, licensee at the Old Cross Tavern in Hertford, Hertfordshire, recently spent thousands on clean air systems in his pub and is desperate to know what is going to happen about the ban.
He said: "I want to extend the pub and I still don't know whether I should invest in more filtration - it could be redundant in a year's time. The government should take into consideration the effect a ban will have on smaller pubs and work out a compromise that means we're not put out of business."
Alec Roud, licensee at the Rose and Crown in Tiverton, Devon, added: "It's not as if the trade hasn't tried to address this already. The majority of us have introduced measures to help with the problem and the government should let us carry on that way. But I'd rather the process was talked through properly than have the government make a snap decision and enforce a ban."
In a joint statement Ms Jowell and Ms Johnson said: "The hospitality industry's proposals will be taken fully into account in considering the results of the consultation, ending May 28."