David Hockney, one of Britain's greatest living artists, has made an outspoken attack on the Government over its plans to introduce a ban on smoking in public places.

David Hockney, one of Britain's greatest living artists, has made an outspoken attack on the Government over its plans to introduce a ban on smoking in public places.

Mr Hockney, who is emerging as a surprise spokesman for the pro-smoking lobby, described New Labour as "inherently bossy". He also attacked medical professionals who have spoken out in favour of a ban, saying he didn't believe there was any proof that passive smoking damaged people's health.

"I don't believe the stuff about second-hand smoke," the Bradford-born artist said. "I don't believe a lot of stuff from medical people."

The Government is considering introducing a ban on smoking in public places after the next election. Local councils are likely to be given the opportunity to outlaw smoking themselves, rather than having a national ban imposed from above. The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, has visited Ireland, California and New York, where bans already exist, and has advised the Government that a similar law should be introduced here.

Mr Hockney insisted that a ban would never work and suggested that many people will flout the law if it is introduced. "They're a stubborn lot, the English," he told a website run by the pro-smoking group Forest. "It's their strength. You might not like it all the time but I wouldn't put it down as a bad quality. You might need it sometimes.

"Frankly, I think that New Labour is inherently bossy. Smoking is my affair, not the Blairs'. It has nothing to do with them. I want excitement in my life but I don't want the Government to tell me what is exciting. Love of life is a bigger force."

The British Medical Association (BMA) poured scorn on Mr Hockney's claims that passive smoking was not proven to be dangerous. "What David Hockney says flies in the face of virtually all medical research, which conclusively states that second-hand smoke causes lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory infections," Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, said. "It may be his affair when he smokes at home, but when he smokes in a public restaurant it does become everyone else's affair."

Amanda Sandford, research manager of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: "It is his affair when it affects him but it isn't when it affects other people. Breathing other people's smoke is harmful to your health. He is deluding himself if he thinks there is nothing wrong with second-hand smoke. It is like being part of the flat earth society. It's only the tobacco industry and David Hockney who don't believe the evidence."

But Simon Clark, the director of Forest, insisted that the evidence on passive smoking is inconclusive. "The jury is still out," he said. "No one is saying passive smoking is in the clear, but the evidence doesn't stack up. We get sick and tired of the medical profession saying people die of passive smoking."

Pressure groups on both sides of the argument are lining up celebrities to add weight to their campaign. Aside from Mr Hockney, Forest has already enlisted the support of the chef Antony Worrall Thompson and the musician Joe Jackson. Meanwhile, Ash is pinning its hopes on another celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, and the pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

Last night, Ms Ellis-Bextor, who has a three-month old son called Sonny, said she supported a smoking ban in public places. "When you become pregnant you are suddenly incredibly aware of everything that's going into your body," she said.

"Now that I've got Sonny with me I don't like him hanging around smoke - he's got very little lungs. It's horrible that you can be sitting on a table next to someone who is chain-smoking while you're eating your food."

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