New powers for councils may be more effective than shock tactics in making people stop smoking. By Maxine Frith and Francis Elliott

Six of Britain's biggest cities could ban smoking in public places within a year.

Six of Britain's biggest cities could ban smoking in public places within a year.

When the Government unveils proposals to allow local authorities to implement bans next month, it will trigger moves for the first wave of smoke-free cities: Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol and Brighton.

The Tobacco Free Alliance hopes the co-ordinated push will provide momentum towards a national ban.

Fifty years ago last week, the then health minister, Iain Macleod, walked into a press conference, lit up a cigarette and announced that a government scientific committee had concluded that smoking causes lung cancer.

It was the first official recognition of the risks associated with tobacco - and made ministers realise that they might have to do something about it. Over the past half century, successive governments have tried gentle encouragement, cartoon characters, celebrity warnings, shock tactics, free nicotine-replacement patches and a plethora of other ploys to get people to stop smoking.

The latest attempts, announced yesterday, involve photographs of diseased organs on cigarette packets, and GPs' letters to smokers advising them to quit. Yet 13 million people in Britain still smoke. One in five teenagers regularly buys tobacco, and the proportion of addicted adults has barely fallen in the past five years.

Prohibition is seen as the last resort. In the past five years smoking bans have become increasingly popular. Increasing evidence about the health risks associated with passive smoking has driven much of the policy around the most recent prohibition. The civil liberties argument that a ban denies people their right to light up has been superseded by demands for the right not to breathe in other people's smoke.

Furthermore, there is now increasing evidence that public smoking bans work. One study of the New York ban found that it had triggered a 15 per cent reduction in tobacco consumption since it was implemented. At the same time bar, hotel and restaurant profits there have increased, as patronsspend more time and money in smoke-free environments. Only 23 of New York's 23,000 bars were cited for flouting the new law.

Research published in the New Scientist last year found that within six months of a public smoking ban, heart attacks had halved in the American town of Helena, Montana.

Public support is crucial - police chiefs in Britain have already made it clear that they do not have the time, resources or inclination to raid backstreet smoking shebeens or process fines for people who light up in a bar. Some countries, such as Greece and Pakistan, have implemented bans that are so widely ignored one would barely know that smoking is prohibited. It will come as a surprise to anyone who has fought their way through a smoked-filled Rome bar to discover that Italy has had a ban since 1975.

But in places where there is public support, there is little flouting of the law. In California, where 80 per cent of people support the ban, a smoker who ran for Governor on an anti-prohibition ticket last year polled fewer than 2,000 votes.

New York: Banned

There are still bars where they turn a blind eye after midnight

Even smokers seem to have accepted that the ban that took effect in all public places in New York City almost a year ago is worth the inconvenience.

At a bar in the East Village, even those huddled on the pavement in the freezing cold having a smoke were not complaining. Instead the smokers were exchanging notes on how much they appreciated going home at nights without their clothes and hair reeking of smoke.

Dire warnings from the hospitality industry that the edict would kill off scores of bars and clubs have mostly proven misplaced. Recent employment figures have shown there have been no overall job losses in the city because of the ban.

That does not mean there are no detractors or violators of the law. Most dedicated smokers in New York will tell you that by now they have found establishments friendly to smokers who will usually turn a blind eye to anyone lighting up, at least after midnight.

However, polls have consistently shown majority support in the city for the ban, which has proved a political boon for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pushed it through.

David Usborne

Dublin Ban on the way

'It will be hard to tell the young crowd, with a drink in them'

Paddy Logue, owner of Logue's Bar in Cranford, Co Donegal, is not looking forward to enforcing a smoking ban in his pub. "Sure you have to comply," he said. "Still, it's going to be hard to tell men who've been coming in all their life to put out their cigarette. And it will be hard to tell that to the younger crowd, with a drink in them. It's not something I'm looking forward to, I can tell you."

The promised ban on smoking in Irish pubs and other workplaces has been delayed several times, to the embarrassment of the government, because of unexpected legal complexities.

The prohibition was originally scheduled to be in place before the end of 2003 but has still not come into effect. The government initially insisted on a blanket ban, but then backed down and introduced a series of exemptions including hotel bedrooms, prisons, hospices and psychiatric hospitals.

Opposition parties and newspaper editorials have accused the government of incompetence and dithering as it has grappled with unforeseen difficulties. The ban, when it comes, will be law throughout the Irish Republic.

David McKittrick

Bristol Wants a ban

'If it gets too smoky my eyes water and my clothes smell'

Friday night, 6pm, and the regulars in the Blackboy Inn at the top of Whiteladies Road in Bristol are unwinding. Peter Breddy-Luke takes his cigarette from his mouth and, pondering a smoking ban, comes up with a simple response: "It simply wouldn't work.I know it's a bit naughty but I come in here for a nice beer, a smoke and conversation. You pay for your poison, don't you?"

It is one of those awkward ironies that this particular poison has brought huge benefit to Bristol. Much of the city's prosperity was built upon its involvement in the slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries, which saw tobacco, sugar and rum shipped to the West Country port. Today, the local industry has all but been stubbed out. The global headquarters of Imperial Tobacco remains, though its factory employs just 150 people.

In the Blackboy Inn, Richard Marsh, a non-smoker, said he favoured a ban. "I'd be happy with it. If it gets too smoky then my eyes water and my clothes smell."

But Jane Selway, the pub's manager, is concerned. "My trade will die a death. If there's a ban then people will just stay home."

Mark Rowe