A NEW campaign to help the struggling pub industry has been welcomed at a crisis meeting for the trade.

Industry representatives from north Essex, including Colchester and Wivenhoe, gathered at the Queen’s Head near Coggeshall to discuss how to challenge the blanket ban on smoking inside establishments.

They believe the Government legislation, which came into force in summer 2007, has seriously damaged trade, with Paul Lofthouse, who runs the Queen’s Head, describing the industry as being in “dire straits”.

They backed a new campaign called “Save pubs and clubs – amend the smoking ban” which was put forward by Simon Clark, director of pro-smoking lobby group Forest.

It is planned that the nationwide initiative, which would be a coalition of different groups, will be launched in six to eight weeks with the aim of amending the Government legislation so there may be the option for pubs to be smoking or non-smoking, or have a smoking room.

After the meeting Dave Clayton, vice-president of the Colchester Licensed Victuallers Association (LVA), said: “If they set up the campaign like they said I think there will be a lot of customers only too willing to back it.”

He added: “No-one is asking to go completely back to smoking.”

John Parker, secretary of the Colchester LVA and landlord of the Flag Inn in Wivenhoe, said: “It’s not good at the moment. It’s very difficult. I mean we have all spent money on lovely smoking areas but people are not coming out any more, especially when it’s cold.”

Figures released last week from the British Beer and Pub Association estimated 39 pubs closed each week.

The Gazette later contacted Martin Dockrell, director of policy and research at Ash, which campaigns to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco, who said people “overwhelmingly” supported the smoking ban.

He said: “No-one wants to turn the clocks back to smokey pubs, not least because we know how harmful it is to people’s health.”

He said there were 450,000 fewer smokers since the ban.

He added: “It’s certainly true old style pubs are having a difficult time but it cannot really be said to be to do with smoke-free legislation.”