WORKING men's clubs in Leeds are closing because of the smoking ban.
Since the smoking ban came in last July the amount of clubs registered with the Clubs & Institute Union (CIU) has plummeted from 81 to 74 in the Leeds district.
Nationally the rate of closure of CIU clubs has more than tripled during the same period.
Today Martin Smith, branch secretary of the Leeds & District CIU, said those remaining were in a battle for survival.
He said: "Clubs are hanging on by their fingertips.
"A lot of our members are older and if you've been a smoker for the best part of your life you can't just turn it off like that. The ban has hit us very hard in Leeds.
"I don't think the government went about it the right way making it a blanket ban.
"There are a lot of people who live on their own and the only time they got out was to come to the club. Now they can't just pop down for a drink and cigarette and a chat so they stay at home."
CIU general secretary Kevin Smyth said there had been 75 closures since July.
He said: "Normally we'd have about 25 in a year. The smoking ban is undoubtedly one of the major factors.
"Our clubs have more smokers pro rata compared to many other organsiations.
"We wanted to keep smoking in our clubs. We were arguing that one room could be set aside for
smokers, staffed by smokers and not even necessarily with a bar, just somewhere for them to go. We spoke to MPs before the vote but to no avail."
Meanwood WMC's general secretary Jimmy Knapp said: "Anybody who wants to go for a pint and a fag has to stand outside now, it's just not right.
"We have over 1,000 members and many are of a generation where this is one of their few pleasures. But people are not coming in if it's windy or wet because they know they will have to brave the elements if they want a cigarette."
Mr Knapp – distantly related to the former rail union leader of the same name – added: "It amounts to an attack on the poor. They've taken away the right for a person to choose and we should be given back the choice."
Gordon Winn, branch secretary of Wakefield & District CIU with 59 clubs, said: "Working men's club are part of the community and if the clubs disappear so does part of the community."