JD Wetherspoon plans to introduce a smoking ban have been welcomed by other licensees - because it could mean more trade for them.
The chain is to make 60 of its 650 pubs smoke-free from this spring, with the rest to follow from May 2006.
The government's ban on smoking in food pubs is not due to come in until 2008.
Managed operator Wetherspoon's should be able to weather a potential shortfall in sales. Meanwhile, tenants trading nearby are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of increased business.
Andy Kenton, licensee of the Phoenix Hotel in Chard, said he had recently carried out an on-the-spot survey of his customers - and found that 22 out of 25 were smokers. "If Wetherspoon's bans smoking it will be terrific for all the other pubs," he said. "When the company first came to Chard five years ago, a lot of people went to the pub to try it out. When they found out they couldn't smoke at the bar they came right back."
"This could have a terrible effect on Wetherspoon's - and a glorious effect for the rest of us!" Ruth Cowan, licensee at the Red Lion in Westhoughton, Bolton, added: "Wetherspoon's is going too far here. I don't agree with smoke-free pubs - it should be up to the individual licensee. This could be good for other pubs in the short term."
Wetherspoon's chairman Tim Martin said: "An increasing percentage of the population is giving up smoking and a significant number are staying away from pubs and restaurants because they are too smoky.
"JD Wetherspoon pioneered non-smoking areas but we now feel it is the right time to go one step further. We believe our approach of a complete ban after a period of notice is the right one."
Its pubs in Aberdeen, London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham and Nottingham will be among the first to introduce the ban in May.
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