by Ewan Turney
The Welsh Assembly is expected to press ahead with plans to enforce a total smoking ban in public places after the general election, despite hearing evidence that it could lead to widespread pub closures.
Assembly Members (AMs) recently visited Ireland where they heard that 380 pubs in rural Co Kerry had experienced a drop in sales of between 25% and 30%.
Earlier, the Licensed Victual-lers Association of Wales had told AMs that most of the 400 pubs in the principality with a turnover of £62,000 would be forced to close.
However, AMs on the Smoking in Public Places Committee confirmed its view, that a smoking ban should be introduced, had not been altered.
When Westminster passes legislation allowing the Assembly to enforce its own ban, likely to be after the general election following the failure of a recent private members bill, it will push for an outright ban.
"The Irish rural pubs reported that their sales had been dropping, even in advance of the ban," said Liberal Democrat Peter Black. He added that the pubs which had adapted and offered food were surviving.
However, fellow Liberal Democrat Mick Bates called for a compromise solution. "We need to find a compromise for rural one-room pubs," he said. "To some extent, it is a question of liberty."
Bates added that 100 Welsh rural pubs had closed over the last two years. "It's easy to underestimate how significant a pub is in community life.
"They provide a safe environment for responsible drinking, and the potential exists for them to offer additional community services."