New tests convince expert of need for total smoking ban

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Fresh evidence of the dangers of passive smoking has prompted one of Britain's most distinguished doctors to urge John Reid to introduce a ban on smoking in all public places.

Fresh evidence of the dangers of passive smoking has prompted one of Britain's most distinguished doctors to urge John Reid to introduce a ban on smoking in all public places.

Professor Sir Charles George, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, had not, until now, favoured a ban on smoking in public places but has changed his view because of research showing minute particles of cigarette smoke could trigger heart attacks.

Sir Charles, who is also president of the British Medical Association, has written to the Health Secretary, warning him that allowing smoking to continue in public places would lead to more deaths because the risks from passive smoking were being underestimated.

"I have changed my mind because I think the evidence of harm from cigarette smoking direct or passive is stronger than it was," he said. "The decline in deaths from coronary heart disease has been attributed in quite significant parts to the reduction in smoking rates."

The intervention of Sir Charles comes as the Scottish Executive is expected this week to propose an outright ban on smoking in public places.

It also follows reports that John Reid is considering stopping short of proposing a complete ban on smoking in public places in the forthcoming White Paper on public health.

Mr Reid is said to oppose an outright ban and has suggested that banning smoking was an "obsession with the learned middle class".

In an interview with The Independent, Sir Charles, who is a member of the Government's task force on coronary heart disease, said anything short of a complete ban would lead to more deaths, particularly among working-class people. "Deaths from heart disease are more frequent in lower socio-economic groups, and they smoke more. We can't sit back and say nothing about this any longer, which is why I have pointed out some of these things for John Reid," he said.

The doctor, who was knighted in 1998 for services to medicine, was a consultant physician for 25 years and has treated thousands of coronary heart disease sufferers. He said the as yet unpublished research funded by the British Heart Foundation showed that ventilating smoky rooms was "cosmetic" and would not remove hundreds of damaging chemicals in the smoke.

"I wasn't aware as I now am that ventilation wasn't the complete answer," he told The Independent. "Ventilation removes the obvious smokiness of the atmosphere but there are many hundreds of deleterious things in that smoke. And it won't remove all of those harmful things by making the air seem cleaner."

The research shows that particles in cigarette smoke "produce changes in the health of the lining of blood vessels". The cells in the lining produce a vital "clot-busting treatment" that helps prevent people having heart attacks.

"Not wishing to be alarmist, there are lots of small particles in smoke called nano -particles; tiny, tiny particles. This is a new science but it is becoming clearer that some of those particles may be really quite harmful in people who are at risk of having a coronary event," he said.

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