One of the UK's leading pub operators JD Wetherspoon will apparently ban smoking in all its pubs by May 2006, ahead of the government's timetable, saying that an increasing number fo people were staying away from pubs because they were too smoky.

The landlord also said that 60 of its pubs will become smoke-free from this May in London, Aberdeen, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham and Nottingham.

Chairman Tim Martin said: "An increasing percentage of the population are giving up smoking and a significant number of people are staying away from pubs and restaurants because they are too smoky."

Martin also hit out at the government's plans, which will see a ban by 2008. However, if pubs do not sell food, they will be able to ge4t around the ban.

"The government's approach to the issue of a smoking ban does not make sense since pubs can get around it by giving up food sales," said Martin. "We believe the Wetherspoon approach of a complete ban after a period of notice is the right one."