Britons want public smoking banned

Last updated at 11:30 20 May 2004

More than half of Britons are in favour of a total ban on smoking in public places, a survey revealed today.

The poll of more than 1,500 adults by Mintel found that 52% supported moves to outlaw smoking in places like pubs, bars and restaurants.

It follows shocking figures revealing that hundreds of workers and other people visiting smoky venues died as a result of passive smoking each year.

The Government has so far refused to commit itself to introducing a public smoking ban, instead relying on voluntary initiatives to cut tobacco fumes in pubs and nightclubs.

But the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson have been behind increasing calls for stronger action.

The latest poll by Mintel found that people who had never smoked were most likely to support a ban (67%).

But even among smokers, almost three in 10 (29%) also favoured a smoking ban.

While a quarter (25%) of smokers claimed they would not visit a public place with a "no smoking policy", 15% said they would kick the habit if a ban was introduced.

More than a quarter of adults (27%) said they thought it was not right that taxpayers footed the bill for treating smoking-related illnesses, dropping to 18% among smokers.

A quarter of people (25%) thought that heavy taxation was not the right way to encourage smokers to quit, while just over a third (34%) believed hard-hitting advertisements were the best way to discourage smoking.

More than a quarter of all adults (28%) in the UK smoke, while 43% have tried to give up at some point.

More than half of ex-smokers (53%) said they gave up for the sake of their health, while 25% quit to save money.

Amanda Lintott, consumer analyst at Mintel, said: "The fact that a significant proportion of smokers support a ban on smoking in public places highlights that many do have a conscience.

"They are aware that their habit can be detrimental not only to their own health, but also to the health of those around them."

Earlier this week research presented at a conference organised by the Royal College of Physicians revealed that one bartender, waitress or club worker dies in the UK every week because of breathing in second-hand cigarette smoke.

Passive smoking was estimated to cause at least 49 deaths a year among those working in the hospitality industry, and a further 700 people due to environmental smoke in the workplace generally.

And almost 4,000 people die due to being exposed to tobacco smoke in their own homes each year, according to the research.

RCP President Prof Carol Black said: "Environmental tobacco smoke in pubs, bars, restaurants and other public places is seriously damaging to the health of employees as well as the general public.

"Making these places smoke-free not only protects vulnerable staff and the public, it will also help more than 300,00 people in Britain to stop smoking completely."

The British Medical Association said the poll demonstrated yet again that the public was ready for a smoking ban.

A spokesman said: "People no longer want to sit in smoky restaurants, cafes and pubs and it's high time the Government listened to this view.

"At least 1,000 people die every year from passive smoking.

"Ireland has recently showed leadership and banned smoking in public places, the Government should take the brave step that most of the population want them to take and follow the Irish example."

Ian Willmore, of campaigners Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: "This is yet another piece of evidence that public opinion wants action on the dangers of second-hand smoke."

He added: "It is the single simplest and cheapest step the Government could take to meet its targets for public health.

"A new law is necessary and overdue. The time for consultation is over, the time for action has arrived."

But Simon Clark, director of smokers' lobby group Forest, said: "Most independent research suggests that while a large majority favour restrictions on smoking, only a minority support a total ban in pubs and restaurants.

"Given the option, people overwhelmingly want choice, not a blanket ban. This report doesn't change that."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said: "On straight public health grounds preventing smoking in public places would deliver a substantial health dividend.

"A ban would protect staff and customers from the effects of second-hand smoke, and would help many more kick the habit.

"There is a civil liberties issue but the test must surely be does a person's freedom to smoke in a public place do serious harm to others? It clearly does."