London (CNSNews.com) - Opponents of a smoking ban in British pubs and restaurants Monday welcomed the publication of a tobacco industry-funded survey showing that a minority of the U.K. public are in favor of such a ban -- but anti-smoking campaigners called the poll "self-serving propaganda."
The survey, funded by the Tobacco Manufacturer's Association (TMA), indicated that 17 percent of British adults are in favor of a ban on smoking in pubs and nightclubs.
Eighty-six percent said they felt that the smoking situation in pubs has improved in recent years. Nearly three-quarters said they noticed more non-smoking areas, while a similar percentage said more improvements are still needed.
When it comes to restaurants, 32 percent said smoking should be banned.
"Most people have noticed the improvements in pubs and bars and believe more of the same is the most sensible course," said TMA chief executive Tim Lord.
The Charter Group, a coalition including pub, restaurant, casino and hotel industry groups, welcomed the survey results, which were compiled by marketing research company BMRB International.
In 1999, the group instituted a voluntary code to encourage publicans and restaurant owners to set up non-smoking areas and install ventilation. The code also sets down guidelines for signs indicating the smoking policy of particular establishments.
"This is a complete vindication of our efforts," said Nick Bish, the group's chairman. "We can deliver what our consumers want without the need for any further regulation."
"According to this research three quarters of people still want more to be done, so we are far from complacent on this issue," he said. "We have doubled the number of pubs with non-smoking areas in the last few years and the standard of ventilation has improved - but operators are keen to do more to meet changing consumer needs."
The Charter Group is worried that the government may install a smoking ban similar to laws passed in New York and Ireland.
But Bish said Monday that the government, after a period of silence, was once again talking to the industry groups.
"We're very pleased to be re-embarking on dialogue with the Department of Health after six months of no contact," he said.
Anti-smoking groups, meanwhile, criticized the TMA research.
"This is a typical self-serving piece of tobacco industry propaganda," said Ian Willmore, public affairs manager at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). "Second-hand smoke is a killer. At least three people die in the UK every day from its effects. Yet the tobacco lobby still refuses to admit the problem even exists."
ASH said the survey contradicted other polls, including one conducted earlier this year that found that 78 percent of the British public believed that employees should have a right to work in a smoke-free environment
"More and more people are demanding smoke-free public places, and more and more employers are realising that it is in their interests to provide them," Willmore said. "The tobacco lobby knows that this is the Achilles heel of the industry - that's why it will spend any amount of money to try and prevent action."
Willmore said that public smoking bans sometimes meet with resistance but are subsequently welcomed. He predicted that New York's smoking ban, which has been the subject of much criticism by smokers along with bar and restaurant owners, would turn out to be "successful and popular" in the long run.
BMRB surveyed 1,929 adults over the telephone during a single weekend last month. The poll also found that banning smoking in public places was low on the list of priorities most people gave to quality of life issues including getting rid of litter and graffiti.
See earlier story:
British Pub Owners Worry That Gov't May Ban Smoking (July 30, 2003)
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