Pubs group JD Wetherspoon yesterday refused to get carried away by rising sales at its pubs in Scotland, following the introduction of a smoking ban there last month.

The group said a heavy market-ing campaign had helped to draw in new drinkers, while Easter falling later this year also had a positive effect. This meant like-for-like sales rose 3.2 per cent across all its pubs across the UK in the 13 weeks to April 23, compared with a fall of two per cent in the equivalent period a year ago.

Total sales were 3.1 per cent higher at £209.3 million.

But experience in the Republic of Ireland, where sales rose initially following the introduction of a smoking ban, before the industry suffered a downturn in trade, encouraged JD Wetherspoon to adopt a cautious stance.

Recent figures have indicated that 600 pubs in Ireland have been forced to close since smoking was prohibited two years ago.

A ban was introduced in Scot-land on March 26 that prevents smokers from lighting up in enclosed public spaces, including bars, nightclubs and restaurants.

Finance director Jim Clarke said trading in Scotland had not deviated away from the trends elsewhere in the UK, and the group was able to use lessons learnt from its experiment to convert 49 of its English pubs into non-smoking outlets.

One of these lessons was to put a greater focus on food, with JD Wetherspoon promoting its steak and curry clubs, with adverts appearing in local newspapers.

Mr Clarke said: "There has been such publicity (about the ban) that it has created its own momentum, and people may have been coming and trying the pubs who might not have been using them in the past."

JD Wetherspoon has 38 pubs in Scotland and tested a smoking ban in two of those outlets before the halt came into force.

In March, the firm announced that it would put off acting across its UK estate until new legislation preventing smoking in the workplace in England and Wales came into force in 2007.

This was because sales at the 49 pubs converted into non-smoking outlets fell 7.6 per cent around Christmas, as customers spent less at the bar and playing on fruit machines.

Yesterday's update stressed that operating margins were continuing to improve, although JD Wether-spoon said the forthcoming football World Cup added "a degree of uncertainty" to its performance in the final three months of its financial year.

Wetherspoon is to break with tradition and show the football tournament in all its 650 pubs - although the group, which has so far shunned sports coverage in its outlets, said it would be up to individual managers to decide whether to screen the matches or turn the sound up.

Panmure Gordon analyst Douglas Jack said it was too soon to draw conclusions from the Scottish smoking ban.

He said he saw significant threats to JD Wetherspoon from an English smoking ban from summer 2007 due to its over-reliance on smokers, session drinkers and competition with the off-trade.

In Birmingham Wetherspoon has the likes of the Square Peg and the Figure of Eight in the city centre and the Elizabeth of York in Moseley.

Shares in JD Wetherspoon closed up 123/4p at 3953/4p.