The day Dr Reid turned into Mr Hyde

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In the days when trains had smoking compartments, a friend with both a wicked sense of humour and an addiction to nicotine would say to people...

In the days when trains had smoking compartments, a friend with both a wicked sense of humour and an addiction to nicotine would say to people without cigarettes in their mouths in the carriages set aside for smokers: 'Would you mind lighting up, please'.

This, in a jocular sense, was part of the argument that says a ban on smoking in public places is an infringement of personal liberty. A further extension of the argument is that any crackdown on personal liberties is part of the 'nanny state syndrome', with bossy people telling us how to conduct our lives.

The same arguments were put forward when car seat belts were brought in. Believe it or not, people argued that belting up in a car was an attack on personal freedom.

With the exception of a few crackpots, most people would find such an argument laughable today. We all belt up without pausing for thought or launching into an attack on our least favourite matron, 'nanny state'.

I suspect that within a few years, smoking in public places will be as unthinkable as not wearing a car seat belt. The two issues are linked. In general I am in favour of unbridled personal freedom. I draw the line when one person's freedom threatens to send me to the graveyard.

It is unfortunate that Patricia Hewitt, the health minister, with her prissy manner and 'listen with mother' manner of speaking, is the very embodiment of the nanny state. But I agree with her with on one point: that a total ban on smoking in public places is the preferable option and will come about within a few years.

Unfortunately, what we have now is a veritable dog's breakfast that satisfies no-one. For a start, it makes a nonsense of democracy for a Scottish MP, John Reid, whose country will have a total ban on smoking in public, to sabotage legislation for England and Wales. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, but 'shame' and 'politician' are mutually exclusive terms.

The impact on the pub trade will be nothing short of a disaster. Great strides have been taken in recent years to improve the quality of food in pubs. Pub food is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the leisure and restaurant business.

In the past 10 years, according to the British Beer & Pub Association, food sales in Britain's 30,000 managed pubs have risen by 165%. The increase in tenanted pubs is smaller but substantial. Some 80% of all pubs now offer food compared to only half in the mid-1990s.

Food has helped pubs restore trade lost to curry and pizza restaurants in the 1990s. Pub food attracts a new type of clientele, people who go out in groups or as families who might not consider visiting a pub unless it offers food alongside drink.

There have been important spin-offs in the growth of food in pubs. Brewers and publicans have started to match beer with food and to devise imaginative menus with beers carefully chosen to accompany particular dishes.

Greene King's Beer To Dine For was developed specifically for matching with food.

Its success has prompted many other brewers to either brew new beers aimed at the dining table or to ask chefs to recommend beer-and-food matches.

These encouraging developments will be seriously damaged as brewers, pub companies and tenants have to make the decision whether or not to abandon food in favour of continuing to allow customers to smoke.

A sensible point was made by the Portman Group, the industry-funded safe drinking organisation, which said: 'We strongly believe that alcohol consumed with food is much more responsible.' Eating with alcohol is not only pleasurable but it helps prevent over-consumption and drunkenness.

I detest the patronising argument that smoking is one of life's pleasures for poorer people. Smoking kills, but now many publicans in poorer and mainly northern areas will put the crockery in the bin and cancel the food supplies in order to run smoking pubs.

Last week was a bad one for common sense, for the nation's health, for the pub trade and for the personal freedom of the majority. Nobody wins, save for Dr John Reid.

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