Smoking ban 'will lead to muggings and date rape'
The warning came after several pub chains announced plans for a 'bar tag' that would let smokers leave their drinks unattended while outside having a cigarette. Critics condemned it as 'stupidity or insanity' and an open invitation to criminals who spike drinks with drugs such as Rohypnol, GHB or Ketamine.
'This is far more serious than many people might imagine,' said Graham Rhodes, founder of the Roofie Foundation, Britain's only specialised agency dealing with this issue. 'It is like putting on a flashing light. It might send a message to bar staff not to take the drink away, but it also alerts criminals to it, lets them know that the owner is away for a few minutes for a smoke.
'Anyone who uses this is basically asking to have their drink spiked. I find it hard to believe that pub owners are effectively encouraging their clients to leave drinks unattended.'
The enforcement and side effects of the ban are being watched closely in England, where similar, less stringent restrictions are to be introduced next year.
Several hundred venues in Scotland have applied for smoking shelters, canopies or beer gardens, but the vast majority of the country's 5,000 pubs have not because of planning restrictions, location or space. Most pubs will direct smokers outside to the pavement.
Because by-laws prevent al fresco alcohol consumption in Scotland, several chains have introduced other measures. Maclay Inns, which has venues across the country, will provide a V-shaped tag smokers can hang over the side of a glass or bottle. It is printed with the message: 'Please don't take my drink, it's spoken for. I've just popped out for a cigarette.'
Marketing manager Lynn Lovelock said: 'We decided to introduce these as a bit of fun for customers who wish to nip out for a cigarette.'
Pub group Wetherspoons said it was producing beer mats for smokers to place on top of unfinished drinks. But critics highlighted the growing problem of drink spiking.
'Only 30 per cent of all drinks that are spiked are related to drug rape,' said Mr Rhodes. 'Our research shows that the other 70 per cent are either a sick joke or to commit robbery. Men might not think twice about leaving their pint unattended, but more and more of the calls we get now are from people who have had their drinks spiked in bars or clubs and [are] then robbed of their cash, credit cards or mobile.'
There are other concerns the ban could be in disarray as early as Tuesday when council workers are expected to strike in a dispute over pensions. Local authority environmental health staff are responsible for enforcing the ban, which imposes a fine of £50 on any individuals breaking the law and up to £2,500 for licensees. Police chiefs have insisted that enforcing the ban is not a job for their officers.
Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, predicted chaos on Tuesday. 'Enforcement officers have been given £6 million over the next three years to enforce the ban, yet go on strike two days after it is introduced. This means bar owners and staff are going to have to try to enforce it without any support.'
Health professionals and politicians, though, were hoping for a new dawn in a country that bears the 'sick man of Europe' tag and suffers some of the highest cancer and heart disease rates in the world. A BMRB study showed three-fifths of adults in Scotland and England wanted smoking banned in public places.
Jack McConnell, Scotland's first minister, said: 'In the years ahead people will look back on today as the day that Scotland took the largest single step to improve its health for generations.'