Ministers suppressed an official report on the dangers of passive smoking to prevent public pressure growing for a ban on smoking in public, campaigners claimed yesterday.

Ministers suppressed an official report on the dangers of passive smoking to prevent public pressure growing for a ban on smoking in public, campaigners claimed yesterday.

The report, by experts on the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health, which advises the Government, says non-smokers living or working in smoke have a 24 per cent higher chance of lung cancer and a 25 per cent higher chance of heart disease. Cot deaths, respiratory and ear infections have also increased and the report says "no infant child or adult should be exposed to second-hand smoke".

The findings, by Professor Martin Jarvis, deputy chairman of the committee of University College London, are based on a review of studies of passive smoking over the past five years and "strengthen and consolidate" conclusions in a 1998 report.

His study was submitted to ministers in April this year but has not been published. Yesterday it was leaked to the London Evening Standard.

Campaigners claimed ministers had tried to keep the report under wraps until after publication of the delayed White Paper on public health, due next month.

James Johnson, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: "If John Reid really wants to protect public health he should show leadership and courage by introducing a ban on smoking in enclosed public places without delay."

Mr Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, is opposed to a public smoking ban, saying it would infringe individual liberty. He has defended the right to smoke and is believed to favour local strategies, with pubs and restaurants imposing their own restrictions and councils consulting on smoking bans.

An Office of National Statistics survey found 56 per cent of people wanted to restrict smoking in pubs but only 20 per cent wanted an outright ban. Professor Jarvis was abroad yesterday and unavailable for comment, but Professor Robert West, who works with him at University College, said: "Everyone was getting fed up because ministers had been sitting on the report for so long.

"One might imagine that with workplace smoking bans on the agenda they might have wanted to wait until after publication of the White Paper." He rejected a DoH claim that the delay had been caused by ministers seeking further information on the impact of smoking in public places, rather than in people's homes. "I don't think they have asked Professor Jarvis about that," he said.

The anti-smoking pressure group Ash said exposure to second-hand smoke was causing several thousand deaths a year, including 700 in the workplace. Deborah Arnott, the director, said: "On TV [on Sunday], the Secretary of State for Health was still referring to the 'possible' health effects of second-hand smoke. The report shows there is no longer any excuse to deny the health damage caused by second- hand smoke."

* The NHS is spending up to £6bn more to do the same level of work as it did in 1995 because of growing inefficiency, the Office of National Statistics said. But Mr Reid said the DoH's own calculation suggested value for money increased by almost 0.5 per cent in 2002-03.

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