CAFE bosses throughout a shopping centre have decided not to introduce a smoking ban - after customers stayed away.
Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, in Hartlepool, became a smoke-free zone yesterday after a ban was introduced on smoking in its malls.
But most cafes in the centre, for which the ban was optional, decided to allow customers to light up.
Some did introduce the ban when they first opened - but had a swift rethink when customers got up and left, or stayed away altogether.
One cafe worker, who did not wish to be named, said: "We had people walk out first thing this morning. Customers were walking out as soon as they realised they couldn't smoke.
"It's very quiet after Christmas anyway, without this hitting us. The shopkeepers said they would stick together."
A boss at another cafe said smoking was being allowed.
She said: "At the moment we are. We were 'no smoking' this morning - but we had no customers."
The cafes where customers were still smoking yesterday included Mary Lambert, BB's, Baker's Oven, Morelli's, The Galleries, Three Cooks, Kwicksnax, Mariners fish and chip shop and Alvin's.
The only business that was not allowing smoking was Eugene's, in Westgate department store, but that was non-smoking before the ban kicked in.
Middleton Grange manager Cormac Hamilton said the cafes were not breaking the smoking ban, as it had always been optional for them.
He said: "The cafes, we were always treating that as a separate issue.
"We will be discussing it with the cafes in due course. Our aim is to concentrate on the malls.
"We have got to do things properly. There is due process to bring in that sort of thing.
"We need to discuss it with our cafes. We also need to see what the public wants and what other centres do as well.
"I can't think of another centre where you can't smoke in one place or another.
"People were given the option of doing it or not."
Mr Hamilton said the response to the smoking ban in the centre's malls had been "pretty good".
He added: "We've had no difficulties. People understand the reason why. We have had an awful lot of positive comments from people who think it's a more pleasant environment."