Scotland’s pub industry has made a fresh call for the government to repeal the ban on smoking in public places to allow customers to light up in selected bars around the country.
They have been given new hope by events in the Netherlands, which has allowed the partial lifting of the ban for pubs that are less than 750sqft and staffed solely by the owner.
It is a major victory for anti-ban campaigners and the first relaxation of the controversial law in Europe.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has now called on the government to reconsider the Scottish law, which came into force in 2006.
The move has been criticised by an anti-smoking lobby, which says reversal of the legislation would be “madness”.
More than 700 pubs in Scotland have closed since the smoking ban was introduced, but SLTA chairman Paul Waterson believes special smoking licences – requiring publicans to prove they had proper ventilation before letting customers light up – could help save many establishments.
“The ban has had a devastating impact on our members,” he said. “We were told that pubs would be swamped with people coming back because there would be no smoke, but that has not been the case.
“We would like a system where ventilation – which does work (in keeping pubs smoke-free) – is a consideration.
“We could have a pub licence for smoking, but they would have to have a certain level of ventilation equipment in place.”
He added: “Ventilation works in industrial situations where the air needs to be clean. Why couldn’t it work in pubs?”
Scotland was the first part of the UK to bring in legislation outlawing smoking in enclosed public places.
However, recent research by the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign showed that 11.1% of pubs north of the border had closed their doors since the ban.
There were 6,610 operating pubs in Scotland before the ban. This fell to 5,873 within four years. Other factors, such as cheap drink prices in supermarkets, has also had an impact on the pub trade.
However, Mr Waterson fears there is not the political appetite to change the law at the moment.
He said: “I think smoking in pubs may be confined to history as far as Scotland is concerned. When the ban was voted in, no party stood against it.”
Nevertheless, Eddie Douthwaite, Scottish chairman of the Freedom2Choose pro-choice organisation, backed Mr Waterson’s stance last night.
“What this brings into play is indoor air-quality standards, and the Scottish Government need to make clear what the standards are.
“But they well know that modern air-filtration equipment would make the air quality in a pub full of smokers better than the air outside.
“This equipment is already used by a variety of businesses and the NHS. If it is good enough for NHS, it is good enough for the pubs.
“This equipment costs around £1,000, which would be nothing to pubs which are losing thousands a month at the moment.
“However, we still don’t believe there is any damage from second-hand smoke.”
Anti-smoking group Ash Scotland’s chief executive, Sheila Duffy, said the ban had been a great thing for public health and that to repeal it would be madness.
She said: “Scotland’s smoke-free public places legislation is widely supported in terms of both public opinion and compliance. We are also beginning to feel real health benefits from the ban.
“A number of research studies have evaluated the impact of smoke-free public places and demonstrated excellent health outcomes for Scotland.”
She added: “Tobacco smoke is a toxic and harmful substance that people should not be exposed to.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have no plans to repeal the smoking ban, which was introduced to protect the health of thousands of workers, including bar workers, across Scotland from second-hand smoke and in this regard has been a resounding success.
“Many people who used to be put off going to pubs and clubs because of the smoky atmosphere are now able to enjoy a smoke-free night out.”