The number of smokers trying to give up more than trebled to an estimated 7.5 million people in the run-up to last Sunday's ban on smoking in public places in England.
The surge in would-be quitters has brought windfalls for pharmacists and other retailers who have enjoyed massive surges in sales of nicotine replacement therapy products, including patches, chewing gums and inhalators, since July last year.
Market analysts Mintel say that £100m has already been spent on smoking cessation products this year, and the market will be worth £140m by 2011.
Asda has reported a 415 per cent rise in purchases of nicotine patches compared with July last year, and made five weeks' worth of sales in 24 hours last Sunday when the ban came in. Also compared against sales figures for July last year, Sainsbury's reported a 234 per cent increase and Tesco said sales had trebled.
Phil Wells, head of smoking cessation at Superdrug, where sales are up 400 per cent from July 2006, estimated that 2 million smokers were trying to give up a year ago, but said that figure had risen to 7.5 million.
He said 10,000 smokers a week were joining the store's rewards programme, in which customers earn gift vouchers for repeated purchases of certain products.
Lloyds Pharmacy has doubled sales of stop-smoking products as well as bookings for its cessation clinics, which are run in conjunction with the NHS.
At Boots, sales have risen 195 per cent since July 2006. "We have experienced a significant growth in customers taking up the free smoking consultations with our trained pharmacists and health advisers since the ban came into force," a spokesman said.
Other smokers have not reacted so positively to the ban - British Transport Police ticked off the former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy after he was spotted having a cigarette on the London-to- Plymouth express on Friday. He told officers he thought he was smoking legally as he was leaning out of the window.
A secret smoking den in the Palace of Westminster was rumbled on Thursday. Informing the Leader of the Commons, Harriet Harman, that the ban was already being abused, Betty Williams, Labour MP for Conwy, did not reveal who had been sneaking a crafty cigarette, or where. But as she finished, several MPs blurted out "in the Division toilets".
And a man in North Yorkshire became the first to be locked up for flouting the ban when he lit up for a protest chain-smoke at his local pub, only to spend Monday night in the local police cells.
Police called to Riskers pub in Scarborough initially ordered 42-year-old decorator Martin Whisker to go home, but eventually arrested him. He was given an £80 fixed penalty for being drunk and disorderly. "I made my protest to make a point," he said.
Pub owner Barry Risker said: "I can understand how he feels - I think it is a crazy ban. A police officer ended up taking a cigarette out of his mouth and stamping it on the floor. We had to tell him to stop smoking because otherwise I could be fined up to £2,500."
Higher numbers of pub-goers standing outside on the pavement to smoke did not appear to have increased drunk and disorderly behaviour, although many police forces have warned smokers to be mindful of laws regarding drinking in public places and to keep the noise down.
Superintendent John Boshier, of Surrey Police, said: "We are not expecting the smoking ban to spark an increase in town centre violence. But for pub-goers who are now going outside to smoke, I'd ask them to bear in mind the local community, especially by keeping quieter at night, and to remember that glasses and bottles should not be taken on to the streets."
A Cumbria police spokesman said: "We do not want to see increased disorder and noise nuisance from licensed premises. The basic rule for licensed premises is that there should be no smoking inside and no drinking outside, except in privately owned areas or beer gardens within areas covered by the premises' licence."
Smoking peaked in 1948 among men, when 82 per cent of the adult male population smoked, and for women in 1966, when 46 per cent of the adult female population smoked, according to ASH, Action for Smoking and Health. Both peaks were reflected in lung cancer death rates 30 years later. Now, 25 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women smoke.Reuse content