Smoking ban option for Northern Ireland

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The Independent Online

The Government is considering a ban on smoking in public places in Northern Ireland, it was confirmed today.

The Government is considering a ban on smoking in public places in Northern Ireland, it was confirmed today.

At the launch of a 20-year strategy for improving health, Northern Ireland Office minister Angela Smith said members of the public would be asked if the province should follow the Irish Republic's ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces.

The minister said the public would be consulted about three possible strategies to deal with the dangers of secondhand smoke.

These were:

* A ban on smoking in public places and workplaces like the Irish Republic's;

* Outlawing smoking in most enclosed public places and workplaces but allowing smoking in pubs and bars which do not prepare and serve food;

* Building on the existing policy of encouraging people to stop smoking through public awareness campaigns and supporting companies who provide self-regulated smoke-free areas.

In Scotland, Health Minister Andy Kerr has introduced a Bill forbidding smoking in pubs, restaurants and clubs from spring 2006.

A Government White Paper in England has suggested smoking could be banned in bars, restaurants and clubs in four years.

Smoking would be allowed in pubs where crisps are the only food served and in private clubs.

The Welsh Executive is also considering a ban, with Health Minister Jane Hutt signalling it will be more stringent than in England.

Ms Smith said in Northern Ireland today: "It is time to stop looking over our shoulder and take action to protect our population from the effects of other people's smoke.

"The evidence is incontrovertible. Exposure to secondhand smoke is a serious health risk and can increase the chance of non-smokers contracting lung cancer and heart disease by 25 per cent.

"I cannot emphasise enough how important this decision is for the people of Northern Ireland.

"It is a decision that has the potential to affect the lives of every single person here and it is a decision that will have long-lasting implications for the health and wellbeing of our population during the 20 years covered by this regional strategy and beyond."

Around the world, New York has operated a ban on smoking in public places while Norway and New Zealand have also adopted a ban.

In the Irish Republic, cigarette sales have fallen by 17% as a result of the ban.

Earlier this month, Belfast city councillors passed a motion calling on the Government to introduce a province-wide ban.

The British Medical Association and the Ulster Cancer Foundation have also called for a ban in the province.

The consultation on the Government's health and social services strategy for Northern Ireland is due to end on March 25.