DUNCAN BARKES: Should ban on smoking at last be stubbed out?

NEW figures from the National Office of Statistics reveal that despite the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007, the number of people smoking in the UK has remained the same.

So what, exactly, has the ban achieved? Is the time ripe to amend this undemocratic piece of legislation?

I do not smoke cigarettes, but enjoy puffing on the occasional cigar.

The ban has not affected me personally, although I found its introduction totally illiberal and driven by a certain kind of unpleasant zeal normally reserved for religious sects.

The night before the ban was implemented, I enjoyed several courses, many glasses, and various cigars of distinction at The Last Indoor Cigar Party at a hotel in Brighton. It seemed fitting to mourn the passing of freedom in such decadent surroundings.

What has the smoking ban achieved? Well, according to the latest figures it certainly has not persuaded people to give up.

We know it has played a part in decimating the pub trade, with thousands of pubs across the country closing for good.

The ban has contributed to tens of thousands of jobs being lost in the leisure industry as not only pubs closed, but also clubs and bingo halls shut down.

Those who still support the smoking ban will invariably highlight the positive impact on the health of those working in the venues that still remain open, but it is not that clear-cut.

A report by the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health showed the increased risk of lung cancer from second-hand cigarette smoke was 24 per cent, but this figure is low compared to other risks faced by workers.

According to Cancer Research UK, the increased risk of contracting lung cancer if you work in a profession that regularly exposes you to diesel fumes is 47 per cent.

Outside the workplace, a French study suggested a typical garden barbecue releases the same number of dioxins

that would be emitted from 220,000 cigarettes.

Where are the campaigns to ban diesel engines or to stop people cooking steaks over coals in their back gardens?

It is time for the ban to be amended. Allow venues to be smoking or non-smoking. Pubs could have a ventilated smoking room where non-smokers would not need to go.

Consumers would decide where they would happily drink and dine and we would finally see the long overdue return of freedom of choice.

I accept that smoking is not good for you, but neither is drinking, eating fast food or not taking enough exercise.

Encourage healthy choices by all means, but banning things, as these recent figures demonstrate, simply doesn’t work.