Hewitt clears the air with a full ban

Patricia Hewitt should have gone back to her constituency last weekend feeling proud. She will be remembered as a politician who did something unique, that will save lives now and in the future through the most important improvement in public health for decades.

Last week Ms Hewitt, along with Tony Blair, voted for a total ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, against the Labour election manifesto pledge of allowing smoking in private members' clubs and pubs that do not serve food.

According to the Conservatives, Ms Hewitt is the first minister ever to argue for legislation and then vote against it - what shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley called an 'utter humiliation'. But Ms Hewitt never made any secret of the fact that she thought that the smoking ban outlined in the manifesto did not go far enough.

The BMA has been calling for a total ban for years because the evidence shows that passive smoking is damaging to health. There has also been increasing public support for a total ban over recent months, so Ms Hewitt could argue that she has responded to a change in public mood as well as accepting the health evidence.

Interestingly, many prominent Conservatives voted against a total ban.

These include Mr Lansley, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and most surprisingly of all, former GPs Dr Liam Fox and Dr Andrew Murrison. In December, Mr Lansley branded the government's plans for a partial smoking ban 'the worst of all worlds'. It would make health inequalities worse, he argued.

He urged Labour to allow a free vote on the issue so that MPs could 'exercise their personal judgment on what is in the health interests of their constituents'.

It seems Ms Hewitt is not the only one to change her mind on the issue.

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