Eight out of ten asthma sufferers are affected by passive smoking and in many the symptoms can be severe. In a new policy paper, the campaign says smoking should be banned not only in pubs and restaurants but anywhere where the public, especially children, may congregate including parks, open spaces and shopping centres as well as offices and buildings.
Helen Donohoe, author of the paper "No Smoke Without Asthma", said some effects of smoking - as a cause of lung cancer, for example - were slow to show up, but the effects on asthma sufferers were immediate. "Someone with asthma breathing in cigarette smoke is likely, minutes later, to have an asthma attack or breathing difficulties," she said.
Many smokers were unaware of the impact their habit had. "Our position is that people with asthma should have the freedom and independence to take control of their lives. With passive smoking that control is lost."
Jane Tebbutt, a mother of three children with asthma, said they reached for their inhalers within 20 minutes of being smoked over to combat wheezing and tightness in the chest. "As a family our social life is dictated by whether the environment is smoke-free or not. We very rarely go anywhere where there is a chance people will be smoking."
David Cunningham, a 27-year-old marathon runner, keeps his asthma well controlled but has to avoid tobacco smoke. "I always have to ask for non- smoking areas when I go out. Whilst I can put up with smoke - I won't let it drive me out of a restaurant for example - it does make me uncomfortable."
Public attitudes against smoking are hardening. An opinion poll conducted last month among 1,200 adults found almost two-thirds favoured a smoking ban in restaurants and bars and nearly three-quarters supported a ban on smoking in the workplace.
Last week, a survey of 500 young people aged 11-15, conducted for the Department of Health, found three-quarters favoured a ban on smoking in public places and wanted the legal age for buying cigarettes raised from 16 to 18. Ninety-six per cent said they did not consider smoking to be "cool" and 30 per cent considered it a killer and a health hazard. Yet smoking among children rises from less than 1 per cent at age 11 to 33 per cent at age 15.
In addition to a ban on smoking in public places, the National Asthma Campaign is calling for a ban on all tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, a campaign to highlight the risks of smoking in pregnancy and a rise in tax on tobacco to the maximum allowed under EU law.
A spokeswoman said: "People with asthma should have the right to breathe clean air. Without effective government action that will never happen."
Tobacco subsidies 'here to stay'
BRITAIN is powerless to prevent more than pounds 700m a year in taxpayers' money subsidising Europe's tobacco growers, agriculture minister Jack Cunningham said last night.
A majority of member states which benefit from the huge handouts will carry on backing the controversial system "whether we like it or not", he said.
The latest plan to finance 200,000 growers across the EU for another four years was discussed by EU agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday. The proposal, from the European Commission, is bound to trigger a new row over the EU's "double standards".
Italy and Greece are the EU's biggest producers of raw tobacco, followed by Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium and Austria.