The authors claim this will worsen health inequalities, and they call on the UK government to impose a complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public places in England.
Passive smoking is a significant risk to health. Smoking in public places is banned completely in many countries, but the current proposals for England will allow some licensed establishments (pubs not serving catered food and private members' clubs) to be exempt from a smoking ban.
Using local authority records, the research team determined the catering status of pubs and licensed members' establishments in the Borough of Telford and Wrekin. They then mapped these by postcode to calculate a deprivation score.
There were 174 pubs in the Borough. A total of 99 (57%) served catered food, so 75 (43%) would be exempt from the ban. When all licensed members' clubs were included, 127 (56%) would be exempt.
Based on these figures, the authors estimated that two-thirds of English pubs in deprived areas would be exempt, while only a quarter would be exempt in affluent areas. When members' clubs were included, two-fifths of establishments in affluent areas and four-fifths of establishments in deprived areas would be exempt.
"Although this is a small study, our results suggest that people in deprived areas are more likely to live near pubs exempt from legislation to protect them against smoking. This is likely to worsen inequalities in health and smoking prevalence," say the authors.
"The UK government's white paper Choosing Health estimates 'only 10-30% of pubs could be smoking' but our data suggest the proportion of exempt pubs is higher. We urge the UK government to ban smoking in all enclosed public places, similar to the ban proposed in Scotland and enacted in Ireland, to prevent worsening health."