Smoking to be banned in workplaces and most pubs

Smoking will be banned in the majority of enclosed public places in England within four years, the Government confirmed today.

The long-awaited Public Health White Paper revealed that cigarettes would be oulawed in all workplaces, restaurants and the 90% of pubs which prepare and serve food.

Health Secretary John Reid said that smoking would still be allowed in pubs which did not serve food and in private clubs, subject to the agreement of members.

As part of efforts to protect staff from secondhand smoke, smoking in the bar area will be prohibited everywhere.

The plans will anger many campaigners who believe only a blanket ban across the whole of England will protect staff, with a partial ban creating further inequalities.

Leading medical experts, including chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, have long called for a total ban to protect non-smokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

The White Paper also sets out how the Government intends to combat England's other top public health concerns, including obesity, sexual ill-health and alcohol abuse.

The smoking ban will be applied in stages, with all Government departments and the NHS leading the way - all being smoke-free by the end of 2006.

By the end of 2007, all enclosed public places and workplaces will be smokefree, and by the end of 2008 arrangements will be in place for licensed premises also to be subject to legislation.

Dr Reid said the Government was eager to allow individuals to make their own informed choices on improving their health.

"We believe that, in a free society, men and women ultimately have the right within the law to choose their own lifestyle, even when it may damage their own health.

"But people do not have the right to damage the health of others.

"We therefore intend to shift the balance significantly in favour of smoke-free environments," he told MPs in the Commons.

The Government is keen to avoid accusations of "nanny-statism" by saying it only wants to guide people to make their own decisions about their health.

Dr Reid said the White Paper treated citizens "as adults, capable of making their own decisions, while providing advice, information, encouragement, resources and personal support for those who want to make the healthy choices - and protection from the effects of those who do not".

Tackling smoking forms only part of the 200-page White Paper, which follows months of speculation and consultation by ministers.

Dr Reid also said action was needed to tackle the nation's increasing obesity crisis.

He said the food industry and retailers, along with the Food Standards Agency, would develop a "simple code for processed food to indicate fat, sugar and salt content for shoppers".

This could mean the further introduction of a "traffic lights" system which would see red indicate foods high in salt, fat and sugar and green for fruit and vegetables.

Dr Reid said they also wanted to improve the health of children, working with parents.

"Parents know their children's health is primarily their responsibility but they told us Government, business and anyone who has an influence also shares that responsibility to protect children from premature exposure to a world of adult choices.

"Parents want the security of knowing that will be done," Dr Reid said.

He said Ofcom would be asked to launch a consultation on advertising to children on TV.

It is expected that advertisers could be asked to limit ads for junk food until after the 9pm watershed as part of voluntary moves.

Dr Reid said they would also be increasing activity for children in schools, with over £1 billion invested up to 2006 to boost PE and school sports.

The Health Secretary said we live "in an age when obesity has trebled in a generation, and, where if the number of obese children continues to rise, we face the prospect of children having shorter life expectancy than their parents".

The White Paper also sets out efforts to improve the health of adults, including providing people with "NHS health trainers" to give motivation.

"Healthy living starts at a young age – that is why we have decided to provide funding so that by 2010 every primary care trust will be resourced to have at least one full-time school nurse working with each cluster of primary schools and secondary schools in their area," Dr Reid added.