As the tobacco industry continued to claim there was no risk to passive smokers, the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health said the "enormous damage" smoking caused "should no longer be accepted".
Figures from the SCOTH report, the first major report of its kind in Britain for ten years, found that living with a smoker raises the risk of developing lung cancer by a quarter and heart disease by about the same. There was no other "reasonable interpretation" of the data the committee said.
For children, the effects were even worse with the study concluding one in five cot deaths was due to the mother smoking and children whose parents both smoked increased their chance of developing asthma by 50 to 60 per cent.
"There is an importance and urgency with the smoking problem that needs to be recognised by both the Government and the public." said the report. "The enormous damage to health and life arising from smoking should no longer be accepted; the Government should take effective action to limit this preventable epidemic."
The report, which coincided with No Smoking Day, found that smoking was the single most important avoidable cause of chronic ill-health in the UK, and accounted for a third of all cancer deaths.
Smoking should be banned in public service buildings and on public transport, other than in designated areas, and wherever possible in the workplace, the committee said. It also called on the Government to ban all advertising and sponsorship, to increase the real price of tobacco products every year and to monitor smoking habits of young people, particularly as smoking amongst young adults went up for the first time in 1996.
The committee also said that the Government should consider consider putting nicotine replacement therapy (such as patches, gum, inhalers) on prescription for those trying to give up.
The Chief Medical Officer Sir Kenneth Calman said that the report was an important one and that the Goverment accepted the recommendations and would be looking at them in the light of the White Paper, due out later this year.
It is understood that legislation to curb smoking in public places or workplaces is unlikely except if there was real necessity to do so as the Government believes that a great deal more can be achieved through the existing voluntary measures.
The report comes a few days after the tobacco group BAT industries claimed that a World Health Organisation report had found no extra lung cancer risk for those who regularly breathed in other people's cigarette smoke. But the WHO announced that its 10-year study did show a link between lung cancer and passive smoking - and accused the tobacco industry of staging a "wholly misleading" publicity stunt.
Yesterday the industry refused to concede any ground. John Carlisle of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association said: "We are urging the government not to be panicked into any form of legislation against smoking in public places because of the results of this report...There is no statistical evidence linking passive smoking to lung cancer."
Martin Broughton, chief executive of BAT said yesterday that he was convinced that passive smoking was not a killer. "There is no virtually no evidence to the contrary."
But the British Medical Association accused the tobacco companies of a "desperate disinformation campaign". "They do not want to be linked to death and illness in children." said Dr Bill O'Neill science adviser to the BMA. "But they cannot escape that link."Reuse content