If passed by parliament, the proposal would lead to a total ban on smoking in pubs, clubs, hotels and students’ unions from spring 2006.
The announcement of a blanket ban on smoking in enclosed public places ended weeks of speculation on just how far the Lib-Lab coalition would be prepared to go.
In what some commentators saw as a challenge to Westminster authority, McConnell added: “The single biggest contribution that our devolved government can make to improving public health in Scotland would be to reduce the toll of preventable, premature deaths from smoking.”
Medical figures across Scotland had campaigned hard for a tough stance on passive smoking. In an open letter to Jack McConnell, Dr Harry Burns, of NHS Greater Glasgow, noted: “In the coming year, more than a thousand Glaswegians will die prematurely because they smoke…Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of illness in Scotland.”
Despite drawing praise from medical professionals, the proposals angered pro-smoking groups and the Scottish Licensed Trade Authority; who claimed it would “devastate” pubs and result in the loss of 30,000 jobs.
In Westminster, Health Secretary John Reid announced the government’s plan to ban smoking in pubs serving food by 2008. Anti-smoking groups had hoped that the English proposals would mirror those in Scotland.
Anti-Smoking campaign group ASH Scotland praised the Executive for “acting decisively,” in announcing an all-out ban. Chief Executive Maureen Moore said that the Executive’s announcement was “a bold and radical proposal to find a Scottish solution to a Scottish problem.”
If passed, Scotland’s ban on smoking in enclosed public places would go even further than existing smoking bans in countries like Ireland; where smoking is illegal in the workplace.
“Smokers agree with a ban but will fight it to the bitter end”, argued 18-year-old business student and smoker Iain Delworth; who believes that restrictions on smoking in the Union may persuade students to drink at home instead of at one of the Union bars.
Claire, a 20-year-old psychology student enjoying a drink in the relatively smoke-free Millers bar, described the smoking ban as “quite a good idea” from a non-smoker’s point of view.