Government plans to raise the legal age for buying tobacco have been denounced as a "smokescreen" to divert attention from the row over a total ban on smoking in public places.
The Department of Health said it was considering changing the law to raise the minimum age at which teenagers can buy cigarettes from 16 to 18 after more than 40 Labour MPs demanded rules governing sale of tobacco be brought into line with licensing laws.
But opposition MPs and anti-smoking groups accused ministers of trying to distract attention from their decision not to impose a total ban on public smoking.
About a quarter of 16- and 17-year-olds in Britain smoke.
Some Labour MPs have already said they willreject a partial ban on smoking in public places. They want to outlaw it in all areas.
The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, revealed last month that he almost resigned after ministers rejected his recommendation of a blanket ban.
Deborah Arnott, the director of the anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health, called the partial ban a "cynical" attempt to win public support.
Fifty five MPs have signed a Parliamentary motion calling for the minimum age for buying tobacco to be increased to 18.Reuse content