We go undercover in a London bar flouting the smoking ban

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Related tags: Cigarette, Smoking, Tobacco smoking, Dave west

Pubs across the country now have signs forbidding smoking, but the notice Blu Tack-ed above the entrance to the Hey Jo club is different.It reads:...

Pubs across the country now have signs forbidding smoking, but the notice Blu Tack-ed above the entrance to the Hey Jo club is different.

It reads: "Please be informed that this is a smoking Restaurant/Club. In order to protect the Civil Liberties of our clients we do allow smoking here. But we also respect the rights of non smokers and will provide seating away from smokers on request. We hope you have an enjoyable time with us. Thank you for your support."

Hey Jo has been openly breaking the law since July 1, goading Westminster City Council by courting the media and requesting prosecution. Inside, there are more signs on the tables. One begins with a cosy "Dear customers", while a more political message reads: "Repeal the intolerant smoking ban: New Labour's lie to the electorate."

We order a drink and check for smokers, but it is a Monday night and the club is quiet. Owner Dave West, who has been hitting the headlines for his opposition to the ban, sits at one table, clad in a pink T-shirt and finishing dinner with two female companions. Behind him sit a bald man and a grey-suited, pony-tailed businessman with a laptop.

The strains of Amy Winehouse and Beyoncé rise above the sound of extractor fans, and their videos play on a screen that hangs in the centre of the room. They stop periodically to display the message: "Not here. Just say no to the government." It is clear that Hey Jo is no longer just a bar, but a campaign site.

Ponytail pulls out a packet of liquorice Rizlas and rolls a cigarette. The ban is only a few weeks old, but the smell of tobacco evokes memories of countless nights out. Even so, I am grateful for the extractor fan. A waiter comes over with an anti-smoking-ban petition to get us interested in the issue.

Ten minutes pass, and the businessmen are replaced by a nervous-looking man who only stays for one cigarette. Then a German TV crew arrive to interview West and they film one of his female staff pretending to sign the petition.

They ask my friend to smoke for the camera and give her a Benson and Hedges Gold. At first she enjoys it, but then she gets a headache and the smoke irritates my eyes. We feel like underage teenagers again.

I go to pay and West asks how it felt to be a film star for the night. I reply that it was unexpected, and how does he feel? He laughs and gives no reply, turning back to the bar where the petition and a stack of ashtrays sit side by side.

My experience of Hey Jo's was like being in the headquarters of a political party, rather than a licensed premises. Like a single-issue election candidate, Hey Jo might kick up a fuss and raise awareness of its cause, but it is unlikely to win.

Still smoking

Hey Jo owner Dave West is vowing to continue to allow smoking at the venue, whatever the outcome of the High Court action he has launched with the help of Cherie Blair QC.

"It's surprising the amount of non-smokers who are signing our petition," he told The Publican.

"It's cigarettes today, maybe it'll be beer tomorrow. They are already talking about a 10p tax on plastic supermarket bags. Where's it going to end? We've got a letter to the customers apologising for the fact it's a smoking establishment, and if they don¹t like it they can go to somewhere else. "While the case is going on we'll continue to smoke, and when it finishes we'll still be smoking."

A spokesman for Westminster City Council said: "We have no comment on Dave West, we do not want to give him the publicity. Our line has been all along that the law came into effect on July 1, and if there are any breaches, people can expect to hear from the council."

Who is Dave West?

Dave West first hit the headlines a decade ago when he openly advocated licensees buying cheap booze from the continent. He made his fortune from the EastEnders cash & carry in Calais, where he still sells drink and tobacco in bulk to day-trippers.

Related topics: Legislation

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