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Four hundred years after King James I denounced tobacco as "loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs," the British government is taking heed. It announced plans Tuesday to ban smoking in most public places, including restaurants and any pub that serves food.

Anti-smoking activists welcomed the proposal but criticized Health Secretary John Reid for letting smokers continue lighting up in some pubs and bars.

Still, it is a big step for a country that has had a long love-hate affair with tobacco. Britain's smoky pubs are at the heart of the nation's social life, and the trend in recent years toward "gastropubs" that serve meals as well as booze means that the proposed ban will affect many drinking establishments.

Reid said only 20 percent of pubs and bars would be exempt from the ban because they serve no food. Private social clubs are also exempt.

If approved by Parliament, the ban would be phased in over four years, affecting pubs last, by the end of 2008.

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