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At the Printworks pub in Farringdon, central London, this lunchtime, Ellen Pagliarulo could not decide whether she thought the government's new restrictions on smoking were a good idea or not.

The office worker, 22, was sure of one thing, though: all the talk about smoking made her want a cigarette.

She popped over to the vending machine and returned with a packet of Marlboro Gold, which earlier government legislation had banned from being called "lights" in case this suggested a relative harmlessness.

"I do smoke but I don't like being in a restaurant or eating somewhere that is smoky," Ms Pagliarulo said.

The new legislation, announced today by the health secretary, John Reid, prohibits smoking in restaurants and all pubs where food is served. Ms Pagliarulo thought that this approach, rather than an outright ban, was a good compromise.

But there were plenty of other drinkers in the basement pub with stronger views, on both sides of the debate.

Tim Banham, 26, Ms Pagliarulo's colleague at a publishing firm, said he was a smoker but supported a ban and thought it should go even further. "It will help me give up ... but they should just stop selling the bloody things, take the machines out of the pubs. Then I'd have to either give up or get myself a fag dealer," he said.

There was jocular agreement around the table that banning cigarettes might make them "cooler". Some people argued that, as pubs had good ventilation these days, a ban was unnecessary. Some reached for the popular criticism that the ban was the product of a "nanny state".

A postman from the nearby Mount Pleasant sorting office, sitting having a smoke and a pint of Guinness, was very angry at the law change.

"It's my business if I want to smoke," said the man, who did not want to be named. "People can go up there if they want a meal away from the smoke," he said, pointing to a raised section of the pub with tables for people to eat, well away from the bar, where half the lunchtime drinkers were smoking.

"People won't go to the pubs as often, so the prices will go up. Everyone will get more booze in by hopping over to France and will smoke and have a drink at home. I know some of the other post staff are worried about it."

Of a group of five building workers in the pub, only one did not smoke, and he had given up just a few weeks ago. "Ban the lot of them," he shouted mischievously at his workmates, who were puffing away or constructing roll-ups.

"More seriously", said Thomas Lindsay, 38, "I don't really care if they ban it. It's hard for me because I've just given up, but people want to go to the pub for a smoke."

His workmate, Ron Macgregor, 43, of Romford, Essex, was against the law change and said it would make him seek out the pubs that did not serve food, where he could keep smoking.

Asked if it might make him give up, he said: "No, I'll not give up. I'm totally against it. Having a smoke is part of being sociable. Sure, I think in restaurants you should not really have a fag there, where people are eating."

Despite his anger, he said the ban would not change his vote. "All the parties would probably do something like this," he sighed.

The most senior builder in the group, David Hagon, 71, blamed the government for getting him smoking in the first place, when he was 18 and doing national service. He said: "You used to get them in your rations. There'd be all these tins of food and so on and then tins of 50 senior service cigarettes."

When told the law would not come into effect until 2008, he joked: "Ah well, it doesn't matter. I'll be dead by then," and took a hearty slug of his pint.

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