Ministers in pounds 100m `war' on smoking

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MORE THAN pounds 100m will be spent in the next three years in a "war" against tobacco involving a two-pronged drive to help more smokers quit and ensure fewer Britons take up the habit, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, announced yesterday.

The widely trailed White Paper Smoking Kills signals a large increase in anti-tobacco advertising, new "stop-smoking clinics" with free nicotine patches on offer to the poor and a ban on billboard tobacco advertising to be introduced in the current session of Parliament, which will take effect "as soon as practicable". A ban on tobacco advertising in the press may be imposed at the same time, subject to consultation. "Tobacco advertising is going to end and it is going to end soon," Mr Dobson told the Commons.

Ministers have sought to strike a balance between broad-based action against what the Health Secretary said was the "principal avoidable cause of premature deaths in Britain" and "nannying" restrictions on individual liberty.

There is no ban on smoking in public places, but there is a voluntary agreement with the pub and hotel trade to increase no-smoking areas, backed by the threat of legislation if it does not work. A code of practice similar to the highway code is to be introduced to restrict smoking at work.

The British Institute of Innkeeping welcomed the "sensible" proposals last night and expressed no fears about following them. Mary Curnock Cook, the director, said research showed that providing no-smoking areas in pubs and restaurants was good for business. "The industry recognises this is an issue it has to tackle. No one wants legislation that says you can't smoke in pubs," she said.

However, the British Medical Association described the failure to ban smoking in the workplace as "deeply disappointing" and criticised the White Paperfor adopting a "more tentative and less courageous approach than doctors hoped for".

Dr Ian Bogle, the chairman, said the White Paper betrayed an "excessive reliance on protocols, charters and codes of practice instead of firm regulatory action".

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking pressure group Ash, said a voluntary agreement that worked was preferable to a long political fight over legislation for a ban. "It is so much better to have co- operation that makes progress, rather than both sides digging in for trench warfare."

Mr Dobson said measures would be introduced to curb tobacco sales to peopleunder 16, with stricter policing. Shopkeepers who persistently broke the law risked being banned from selling tobacco.

Advertising in shops will be minimal and vending machines will be inaccessible to children.

Young people will also be the subject of a three-year, pounds 50m anti-smoking campaign. Currently, pounds 3m is spent per year on such campaigns. The tobacco industry spends pounds 28.7m on advertising each year.

Up to pounds 60m will be spent on stop-smoking clinics, predominantly in deprived areas. Thepoor will be able to try replacement therapy with a week's free supply of nicotine patches.

The success of the measures will be assessed against new targets for reducing smoking over the next decade from 13 per cent to 9 per cent of children, from 28 per cent to 24 per cent of adults and from 23 per cent to 15 per cent of pregnant women.

The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association condemned the White Paper - with the exception of the measures aimed at children smoking - as "an affront to legitimate commercial and personal freedoms [which] reflect the unacceptable face of the nanny state".

Tessa Jowell, the Health minister, is to launch a new magazine for smokers trying to quit called Stop! next month.