The Government in the North will today announce a smoking ban for pubs and all enclosed public places.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Shaun Woodward will announce what is expected to be a total ban after months of consultation and pressure from those who want a complete ban and those wanting a more restricted ban.
Publicans have been anxious to gain an exemption for bars which do not serve foods and for what have variously been called “smoking carriages” or “cancer cells” depending on which side of the argument is describing them.
The minister is understood to have rejected the partial ban after advice it could face legal challenge from workers still left open to the dangers of passive smoking.
The North's announcement comes as the Cabinet is still trying to decide how to proceed in England.
But even there all indications are that Tony Blair has gone cool on the idea of a partial ban.
A consultation exercise concluded it would be unworkable and unenforceable.
Mr Woodward is, therefore, due to announce the kind of total ban many people in the North are already familiar with following its introduction in the Irish Republic in March 2004.
The minister – himself an ex-smoker – recently visited Dublin and New York to assess how both cities have administered their bans.
Over the summer he revealed the results of a public consultation in the North which showed 91% – including smokers – in favour of a total ban.
Legislation is expected to be introduced in Parliament before the end of the year, but it will be April 2007 before it comes into effect.
The 18 months given to the introduction kills off the suggestion from some quarters that Northern Ireland would be used as a government testing ground for a ban in England – indeed it is now speculated that England could catch up and have legislation in place for April 2007 as well.
Scotland has forged ahead on its own and its legislation will be operational by next April.
The Ulster Cancer Foundation urged Mr Woodward not to be seduced by the soft option of a partial ban after being given a golden opportunity to drastically improve the health of the people of Northern Ireland.
Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention at the foundation, said the minister had a decision to announce which would make or break his reputation.
“Does he want to be remembered as the Health Minister who brought in the greatest public health measures for a generation, or as a politician who lost his nerve at the last minute?”
While health campaigners were demanding a total ban, publicans were still hoping there was a way to allow some smoking in some bars.
Nicola Carruthers, chief executive of the Federation of the Retail Trade, Northern Ireland, claims there would be wholesale job losses and pub closures if smoking is banned totally.
She said: “What we fear is a complete smoking ban. What we hope for is that there is still room for a small compromise.”
She claimed there had been 400 pub closures and 7,500 job losses in the Republic, reduced opening hours and publicans being forced to find second jobs.
However, the Institute of Public Health, part of Smokefree Northern Ireland, disputed the claims.
Institute Director Dr Jane Wilde pointed to a report of the Office of Tobacco Control in the Irish Republic earlier this month to support her case.
“It states there has been no adverse impact on the hospitality sector. Bar retail sales have increased in volume over the past three months n comparison with the same period last year.
“Numbers employed in this sector were also on the increase. In the first quarter of this year figures show an increase of 1,400 when compared with the last quarter of 2004,” she said.