Why are we asking this question now?
France - perhaps the most cigarette-friendly country in western Europe - could be about to go the way of New York, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Scotland and ban smoking in certain indoor public places. Xavier Bertrand, the Health Minister, said that there is now a public appetite for a ban, especially given that there are signs of an increase in smoking, notably among the young.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the ban in Scotland may be adversely affecting the takings of pubs and hotels. The Scottish Licensed Trade Association surveyed 365 members and found that trade was down by about 10 per cent since the ban came into effect on 26 March this year. However, critics point out that many more pubs and hotels in Scotland did not take part in the survey.
What is Ireland's experience of its ban on smoking in public places?
The ban in Ireland has been in place long enough, since March 2004, for some research to be done into its effects. The Vintners Federation of Ireland has claimed that pub takings have fallen by between 20 and 30 per cent since the ban was introduced. But pro-banning groups point out that the retail sales of beer, wine, spirits and food in Irish pubs actually rose by more than 5 per cent in the year to October 2005 - the first full year of the ban.
At the same time there is evidence that the ban on smoking in Irish restaurants, pubs and hotels has had an impact on smoking rates.
The Irish Office of Tobacco Control says that smoking prevalence in Ireland has fallen to less than 24 per cent in 2005, from 31 per cent in 1998 and 27 per cent in 2002. "At December 2005 prevalence was 23.9 per cent, down from 25.51 per cent in February 2004 - one month prior to the introduction of the ban," it says.
Has there been a public backlash against such bans?
Most people - including smokers - appear to have welcomed the bans. In New Zealand public approval is now at more than 90 per cent. Public opinion surveys show that those in favour of bans on smoking in restaurants and bars rose from 79 per cent in 2003 to 91 per cent in 2005.
In Norway, a similar survey showed that public acceptance grew from 54 per cent at the start of the ban in June 2004, to 76 per cent in October 2005. Most Norwegians seem happy to comply with the ban and there have been few serious problems with enforcement.
A survey in Scotland in April this year - a month after the ban in that country started - found that 69 per cent of pub-goers agree with the smoking ban and 25 per cent said that they had gone to the pub more often since it came into effect - compared with 20 per cent who said they had gone less often.
In Ireland, those in favour of a smoking ban in pubs and restaurants grew from 67 per cent before the ban came into effect to 82 per cent after it was fully implemented.
What is happening in the UK?
Following Scotland's lead, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are all preparing legislation to ban smoking entirely from public places such as pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and hotels - other than specially designated "smoking" hotel bedrooms.
The bans are due to come into effect next year, probably on No Smoking Day, 14 March.
It will be illegal to smoke in designated smokefree premises such as pubs and restaurants.
To be included in the ban, the premises have to be "enclosed", meaning that they have to have a ceiling or roof and, except for doors, windows and passageways, are wholly enclosed, either on a permanent or temporary basis.
Anyone found infringing the notice could be fined up to £200, and landlords or restaurateurs who fail to prevent smoking in a smokefree place could face fines of up to £2,500.
What are the arguments in favour of bans?
Smokefree legislation has been shown to reduce dramatically the exposure of bar workers and waiters to second-hand smoke. In New York, for instance, a survey of 104 hospitality workers found that the average daily exposure to second-hand smoke decreased from 12.1 hours to 0.2 hours just a year after the ban came into effect - with levels of cotinine (a breakdown product of nicotine) in their saliva falling from 3.6 nanograms per millilitre to 0.8ng/ml.
Health ministers also hope that a ban in public places would make it easier for smokers to cut their intake, as well as making it less attractive to young people who may be persuaded to take up the habit. A ban would also be welcomed by non-smokers who like to drink in pubs or eat in restaurants without their clothes ending up smelling like someone else's ashtray.
What about the rights of smokers?
Smokers who wish to enjoy their tobacco with food or conversation ask why there cannot be public places that cater just for them? People who wished to patronise smokefree establishments could do so, and the market could provide premises for both kinds of customers. The answer is given that the health and safety of workers who have to work in smoke-filled environments must be taken into account wherever they work.
Is passive smoking really dangerous?
Second-hand smoke has been shown to worsen the symptoms of asthma, it is also implicated in exacerbating the symptoms of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease. Smoking in confined public places reduces the choice available to people, particularly the eight million Britons with lung disease and the five million people with asthma.
Some scientists equate indoor pollution levels with those found near busy roads. One study found that the level of potentially dangerous particulate matter floating in the second-hand smoke of a public bar was nearly 30 times the level generated by heavy traffic.
Is it right to ban smoking in public places?
* Yes because passive smoking endangers the health of employees in pubs, restaurants and bars
* Most smokers would like to quit, but find it difficult to do so. A ban removes the temptation to light up
* Customers who suffer from asthma and other respiratory complaints should not be restricted in their choice of places to socialise
* There is no need to have a comprehensive ban as the market can provide smoking and smokefree bars and restaurants
* Most people do not wish to live in a "nanny state" in which citizens are discouraged from exercising personal responsibility
* The evidence on the dangers of passive smoking has been contested by some researchers