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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Record response to smoking debate
The public consultation is continuing
More than 27,000 people have responded to the government-sponsored consultation on smoking in public places in Scotland, it has emerged.

The Scottish Executive said the issue has prompted 20 times more responses than any other consultation exercise undertaken by the administration.

The figures were revealed as experts gather to discuss whether or not a ban should be introduced.

The public consultation is due to run until the end of September.

Health experts and representatives of the licensed trade from around the world are meeting to discuss the issue at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

They include Tom Frieden, commissioner for health in New York, one of a number cities which has introduced a ban on smoking in public places.

The executive has insisted that action must be taken to clamp down on smoking, which is killing thousands of Scots each year.

It is important that we know what the impact has been on the health and economy of other countries and what lessons we can learn from this in Scotland
Tom McCabe
Deputy Health Minister
Deputy Health Minister Tom McCabe described the level of response as "absolutely astounding" and said it indicated the strength of feeling on the issue.

However, he stressed that the executive would not announce its strategy until the end of the consultation period.

Mr McCabe said: "We already know that smoking kills around 13,000 people each year in Scotland and is responsible for thousands of hospital admissions and that second-hand smoke is linked to a range of potentially fatal conditions.

Early findings

"Today's conference will give the executive a chance to learn from other countries how restrictions on smoking in public places have been implemented and could be enforced.

"It is important that we know what the impact has been on the health and economy of other countries and what lessons we can learn from this in Scotland."

Mr McCabe said some of the early findings from the executive's research will be made known at the conference.

The Scottish Conservatives' health spokesman, David Davidson MSP, said the consultation process had been a "complete sham" and the result would be "irrelevant".

He asked: "Does the first minister seriously expect anyone to believe that if the consultation rejects a ban, he too will shelve his proposals?"

The Republic of Ireland has introduced a ban on smoking in public places.

Speaking during a visit there last week, First Minister Jack McConnell said Scotland could learn positive lessons from the Irish experience.

The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"Scots suffer the highest rates of lung cancer in Europe"

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