Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 18:23 GMT
Blitz on smoking
Ministers are to wage a multi-pronged attack on smoking
The government is set to unveil a comprehensive package designed to cut smoking in the UK in a White Paper on Thursday.
Under a European Union directive, advertising of tobacco products on billboards was due to be outlawed in 2001.
Ministers are also expected to announce a campaign to help smokers give up the habit. Measures will be based, for the first time, on treating smokers as suffering from an addiction, in way similar to alcoholics and people who misuse drugs.
But it is likely that GPs will be given powers to make nicotine patches available on prescription to people on lower incomes.
The move is designed to cut the number of poor people smoking. Health reports have shown that people on lower incomes are more likely to smoke, and to suffer from poor health as a consequence.
In 1996, 41% of unskilled male workers and 36% of unskilled women workers smoked, compared to just 2% of professional men and 11% of professional women.
The White Paper is also likely to make the reduction of smoking in the young a top priority.
It is thought that a ban on tobacco advertising could have a significant impact in this area, as research shows advertisements have exploited teenagers' desire for independence.
Ministers are also keen to involve young people in developing constructive ways of highlighting the evils of tobacco.
However, reports suggest a proposal to raise the age that people are allowed to buy cigarettes from 16 to 18 has been dropped.
Speaking on BBC Radio's Today programme last week, however, she insisted that sports such as formula one motor racing, which are heavily dependent on tobacco sponsorship, must be given time to find alternative backers.
"Just as the devastating health effects (of smoking) take time to show up, so change in these areas also takes time," she said.
No ban on smoking in pubs, bars or restaurants is likely, but more no-smoking areas will be encouraged.
Restaurant and club owners have been lobbying the government to prevent a ban, warning that it would cost the industry £346m and the loss of more than 45,000 jobs.
The Health and Safety at Work Act is likely to be used to enforce no-smoking policies in the workplace, with environmental health inspectors handed the power to prosecute employers who fail to create a smoke-free environment.
Others areas expected to be covered by the White Paper include expectant mothers and a crackdown on people who smuggle cheap tobacco into the UK.
Researchers have shown that women who smoke are much more likely to have low weight or premature babies.
Low weight babies are thought to have a greater risk of heart disease in later life.
Most changes will be voluntary and curbs on tobacco advertising will be enforced under EU directives. None of the measures will require primary legislation.
The White Paper is expected to say that the real price of tobacco products will continue to increase each year to reduce consumption.