Concerns are mounting that the smoking ban which came into effect across the whole of the UK this weekend could lead to an increase in carbon emissions as pubs, restaurants and workplaces invest in gas-fired patio heaters to keep warm smokers forced outside by the ban.
Recent research from British Gas predicted that increased sales of gas-fired patio burners to pubs as a result of the smoking ban would see carbon emissions from the pub heaters alone rocket to 160,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, representing almost ten percent of the annual reduction the UK needs to meet its Kyoto commitments by 2012.
The report also surveyed 250 pubs in Scotland, where the ban has been in place for a year, and found half had deployed the heaters to help smokers keep warm outside.
The research follows separate predictions from the Green Party which warned the CO2 emissions of London alone could increase by over 20,000 tonnes a year as a consequence of the ban.
Patio heaters have been widely vilified by the environmental lobby in the past year with estimates claiming that commercial heaters can emit up to 4 tonnes of CO2 a year, representing more emissions that an average 4x4.
Friends of the Earth has called for a universal ban on the heaters after garden centre chain Wyevale announced earlier this year that it would stop selling them. "It's time to ban the sale of these metal monstrosities," said Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper. "Getting tough on planet wrecking products will send a powerful message on the urgent need to save energy and cut pollution."
However, Neil Rafferty of smokers campaign group Forest said the government only had itself to blame for the increased carbon emissions. "Pubs are trying to do the best for their customer and if patio heaters will make them more comfortable then that is what they are going to do," he said. "If we were allowed a mix of smoking and non-smoking pubs, as we campaigned for then we wouldn’t have this problem."
He also dismissed calls for a new ban on heaters. "To ban them doesn't just discriminate against smokers, it discriminates against those who want to warm their patios," he added.
The UK may finally have smoke-free pubs and workplaces, but it seems that the joined-up thinking required to deliver carbon-free pubs and offices remains as far away as ever.
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