Smokers can merrily puff away without fear of prosecution in one English city's pubs because officials failed to introduce powers to impose a national ban, the local council admitted Wednesday.
Stoke-on-Trent has been dubbed "Smoke-on-Trent" as cigarette addicts can spark up knowing that bureaucrats cannot impose the 50-pound on-the-spot fine.
The local authority failed to get enforcement powers in time for July 1, when England joined the rest of the United Kingdom in banning smoking in enclosed public spaces.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council -- ranked among the worst local authorities in England and Wales by the Audit Commission -- cannot enforce the ban until councillors formally approve it at an August 2 meeting.
In a classic bureaucratic bungle, council bosses thought the powers were delegated to a department head.
"We don't have enforcement powers because Stoke has both a mayor and a council manager," explained a council spokesman. "We thought enforcement powers were delegated to the director of community services -- but they weren't.
"We'd no intention of prosecuting people in the early days. But where people deliberately flout the ban we can take action retrospectively," he warned.
But there is no stopping some rebellious smokers.
Dax Robateau, owner of the Smithfield pub, has erected a "Welcome to Smoke-on-Trent" sign.
"We were all ready for the ban on July 1. It seems the only people who weren't ready were the council," he said.
"I'm going to allow customers to carry on smoking until August."
Sue Wainwright, landlady at the White Lion, said her new smokers' corner in the beer garden was soon deserted as soon as customers got a whiff of the bungle.
"I went outside to tell the lads. They all picked up their ashtrays and rushed back inside. Nearly 100 percent of them smoke," she told the Daily Mirror.
Ron Cornall, 42, said: "I came in earlier in the week and saw the lads smoking and told them 'You can't do that'.
"They told me 'It's OK, the council has cocked up'. I just said 'Give me a light'."