The decision to bring forward the ban by at least a year will be announced next week in a Government White Paper on smoking. Under a European Union directive, advertising of tobacco products on billboards could have continued until 2001.
The Government is also expected to announce a campaign to help smokers give up. Family doctors will be given powers to give nicotine gum and nicotine patches to those on low incomes at special clinics.
Nicotine gum and patches will not be put on general prescription, because of ministers' fears over costs. But it is likely that there will be limited moves to enable those on low incomes - who are among the most tenacious smokers - to get supplies at less than the pounds 6 a pack charged over the counter by chemists.
There will be no ban on smoking in pubs, bars or restaurants, but more no-smoking areas will be encouraged. The Health and Safety at Work Act will be used to enforce no-smoking bans in the workplace.
The White Paper will mark a dramatic shift in attitude within the National Health Service towards treatment of smoking as an illness, similar to that of alcohol or drug addiction.
The Public Health minister, Tessa Jowell, is keen to avoid being accused of running a "nanny state". Most changes will be voluntary, and curbs on tobacco advertising will be enforced under EU directives. None of the measures will require primary legislation.
Clive Bates, of the anti-smoking charity ASH, said: "It will be the first serious attempt to reverse the toll of unnecessary illness and death since scientists warned of the dangers in the Fifties."