Public health minister, Melanie Johnson has indicated that some form of ban on smoking could be introduced in England and Wales.
Ms Johnson told BBC Two's Newsnight programme that a large consultation exercise had shown significant support for a ban on smoking in public places but would not reveal the scale of ban being considered.
However, in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Health Secretary John Reid said there was no "overwhelming" public demand as some campaigners claim.
Earlier this year Ireland introduced a ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants which has been hailed a success.
But UK pro-smoking choice groups and many ordinary drinkers feel that similar action would be excessive and favour some form of voluntary measure.
Should the government introduce a ban on smoking in public places?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Surely, I should have the right to be able to go out and socialise in a pub without coming out stinking of smoke, eyes watering, and having inhaled the concentrated smoke that gathers throughout an evening. At least industrial and car fumes are free to disperse in the open air. Also, if they ban smoking in public or workplaces perhaps more non-smokers will start going to pubs.
I smoke but don't allow smoking in the house because I hate living in a smoky atmosphere (we go out in the garden). I am equally happy with no smoking pubs, restaurants and other indoor public places. However, how long will it be before I am no longer allowed to even step outside in the street to have a cigarette. This would not encourage me to give up smoking but, simply to take my money elsewhere.
Viv Griffin, UK
Sure, why not ban smoking in public? We can then start banning other things the Government thinks are bad for us... voting for another party, the pound, really far reaching human rights. If pubs and restaurants want to be smoke free then they are be able to. However if they would like to have smokers why not? This Government just loves a ban in order to create Blair world.
Marc, Singapore/ ex UK
What the government loses in taxation on cigarettes, it will recoup in the long term from not having to care for smokers in NHS hospitals. The colossal amount spent in the NHS on smokers and their related diseases will easily cover the loss in tobacco taxation revenue!
Andy, Leeds, UK
This is typical New Labour rubbish from the party that promised to ban foxhunting but is now about to fiddle a climb down. I gave up in 2002 after 30 years but I think people should be allowed to smoke where and when they like. They pay a lot of tax and die younger, thereby supporting the rest of us as we grow older.
Kevin Mcauliffe, Hertford, UK
I work in a restaurant. The Health and Safety at Work Act entitles me to a safe working environment. This means you should not be permitted to smoke in the bar and restaurant area where I work. That is both my legal and human right.
Rosemary, Epsom, England
What are we becoming? A nation of moaning intolerant, miserable people who seem to be afraid of living our lives. Why not ban drinking, crossing the street, running etc. No one lives forever. Rachael from Woking says "Daily I sit in traffic", what does your car run on, water? Car fumes, cigarette smoke, death are all part of life. As in life, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
Mark, Leyland, Lancashire
Of course smoking should be banned in public places except for separate smoking areas, as people smoking in public are taking away my libertarian right to breathe air that doesn't cause cancer.
Graeme Phillips, Guildford, UK
I think most people are answering the wrong question. Should there be places people can go that are free of tobacco smoke? Should there be protection for people who have to work in restaurants and bars? Of course there should. But that's not the question. Ask instead whether you believe that there should be nowhere that people who want to get together for a smoke can go. That's what's really being asked, and if it was phrased like that I suspect the poll results would be different.
Rob, Warwick, U.K.
I was chatting to the landlord of my local (in a small village) last night over a pint, and he said he's introducing a ban on smoking from October. Apparently 80% of his customers don't smoke and he'll do without the other 20%. Roll on October!!!
Alison, Devon, UK
After visiting Toronto where there is a ban in public places, I would agree with a ban in the UK. The pubs and restaurants are busy here regardless of the ban, if you want to smoke you go outdoors (which, incidentally, is pretty cold at night time!) I do smoke but its my choice to do so, not the general public's, and therefore it is only fair to introduce such a restriction.
Amy, Glasgow, UK
I loved reading all these comments from people, yet no one has thought of how the government will recoup the tax losses they make on this.. Will toothpaste rise to £8 a tube?
Tony walker, Port Talbot, UK
It does trouble me that as each day goes by it becomes easier and easier for the "ban" to be used to control our behaviour. I am certain that some aspect of my behaviour offends a group somewhere - how long before loud music is banned, or wearing the wrong clothes. Will a ban on smoking really mean that I am breathing clean air, or will it simply mean that I get a change of toxins? If you want eliminate risk, ban cars, intensive farming and any kind of industry that generates pollutants. Of course we could all end up living in caves, but what the hell at least it will be a democratic cave!
Smokers have been able to inflict their habit on everyone around them for a long time. Now that non-smokers are the majority, we should be able to inflict a smoke-free atmosphere! Rather than a total ban, perhaps some establishments could be given a special license to permit smoking indoors. Staff should either receive additional hazard pay, or have to wear filtering masks, to avoid spending 40 hours a week inhaling fumes.
Abby O'Neil, Daventry
It seems ironic that healthy living is being promoted in a pub...!
Craig Bartlett, Aberdeen, Scotland
A ban is inevitable whether the government legislate or not. Several pubs I have been in recently have banned smoking from the bar as they are frightened about a class action from bar staff. Publicans also realise that they can make more money serving food to families in a smoke-free environment than catering for adults who are just going to consume alcohol and smoke.
Mark, Glasgow, UK
Ten years ago Roy Castle died due to breathing in other people's smoke at work. Is there who could have told him, before he died, 'your death is a price worth paying for smoker's rights ' ? Ban smoking in public now.
David, London, UK
None of the comments thus far address the cost aspect of banning smoking in public places. Tobacco sales have plummeted in Ireland since the ban but it is alleged that this is due, not to tobacco consumption reducing, but smokers leaving the country to buy their cigarettes. Presumably this is because they begrudge paying taxes to a government happy to take their money and take away their freedom. When smokers become non smokers or buy their tobacco in European countries with lower rates of duty, the exchequer loses out. Where will the money come from if the majority of smokers decide to withdraw their tax support from the government as it has withdrawn their rights? That's right - by imposing heavier taxes on the whole population. This aspect of the debate doesn't seem to have occurred to the non smoking lobby.
Jane Mcd, Huntingdon, UK
I have yet to see any evidence that there is sufficient demand to make non-smoking pubs and restaurants viable as anything more than a niche market. While I wish non-smokers the best of luck in getting at least some non-smoking pubs and restaurants off the ground, as a smoker I have not the slightest intention of using them myself. Non-smoking areas are almost invariably under-used and non-smoking pubs tend to have a very short life expectancy. It remains to seen how Ireland's smoke-free pubs will fare as Autumn turns into winter. The loss of business is already 15%, even after a period that saw Euro 2004 and the Olympics. Like Richard from Guernsey, I make a lot of choices based on the presence or absence of smoking bans. I'm glad I saw Dublin, but I won't be going there again while this law is in force.
David Anderson, Wakefield, West Yorkshire
I don't think smokers realise what a stench it is. I come back from a pub and jackets and coats that should only need infrequent and expensive dry cleaning stink like an ashtray. My throat is sore - the effects last a few days. My eyes sting and my whole body smells awful. So my bedding doesn't smell, I have to shower before I go to bed which is something I normally do in the mornings. All this stench, all this hassle, all this expense because of people puffing cancer sticks. Ban it.
Nat, London, UK
As bad for us a smoking may be, the real danger is the use of the majority opinion to reduce the choices available to us as 'free' citizens.
Daily I sit in traffic behind smokers who throw their trash out the window. These unintelligent individuals seem to think it's fine to throw cigarette ends out onto the street, whilst still alight, when there's a perfectly good ashtray just inches away. Given this, any debate with these destructive idiots is going to be futile. Ban smoking in public places. Force these people to kill themselves in isolation, not us in public.
Rachael, Woking, UK
These days I have go indoors to get fresh air.
John Thomas, Toronto, Canada
I'm in favour of a public smoking ban. As someone who suffers breathing difficulties, it bothers me that my social life is limited as I cannot stay long in pubs or bars due to the choking eye watering smoke. While waiting to travel in the bus station every day the situation is exactly the same. Non smokers are forced to inhale these stinking toxic fumes while going about their every day business. We have no choice. Smokers have the choice to smoke in their own homes.
Jay, Leeds, UK
I seem to remember people objecting in a similar manner when smoking was gradually curbed in workplaces. Nowadays though, lighting up in an office is unthinkable. I can't help but feel that protestations are based upon unwillingness to change rather than the 'it's my right' argument so many people are giving. And ultimately, it may currently be within your rights to smoke in pubs, but are you so blind to see that your habit offends non-smoking members of the public?
Richard Peabody, Loughborough, UK
It is not in pubs and restaurants but outside in the streets that smoking needs banning. I can choose not to enter a smoky pub but when the person walking ahead of me on the high street lights up, I have no choice but to breathe in their foul smoke. This is especially difficult when giving up, or for ill people. Pubs are not public places. They are private places open to the public. By banning smoking in pubs and work places smokers go outside into what are real public spaces like pavements where they inflict their smoke on those of us who do not want to be exposed.
Richard, Chalfont St Giles, UK
I don't smoke but I oppose a ban of any sort. Personally, smokers have never bothered me at all. If my fellow non-smokers feel there is such a huge market for non-smoking establishments, then they should put their money where their mouth is and open more of them.
Marcus, London, England
According to a newspaper 22,000 pubs have decided to go non-smoking. If this is true, we will see what happens. If they happen to attract lots of non-smoking customers then surely other pubs will follow the same trail. But I doubt it. Otherwise, the anti-smoking lobby wouldn't be so scared of making it all up to individual pub owners.
Mustafa Yorumcu, UK/Turkey
I'm sorry but some of you people have your priorities all wrong. So you go home smelling of smoke sometimes? Hardly a major disaster - have a shower and put some washing on. Presumably you do these things on a regular basis anyway so what's the problem? If you are worried about your health on the other hand, fair enough. But stop using the "it smells" excuse as a reason to ban it.
Anyone who has been to Ireland recently will know what a pleasure it is to be able to use pubs without the constant lingering invasive smell of cigarettes choking your enjoyment and clinging to you afterwards. I would use pubs much more regularly if smoking was banned here as well.
Tony, Yateley, UK
I don't give two hoots if the majority of people favour a total ban. In a liberal democracy, minorities are supposed to have rights too. A blanket ban is completely unreasonable. Small, well ventilated smoking areas (such as those in airports) harm nobody but the smokers themselves, and that should be their look out.
Johnny W, Hull, England
A few months ago I went to a comedy club in Clapham. It was so smoky that I had to leave after a short while, and will not return. This is a shame, as I would love to return, but feel I can't. Why should smokers habits get in the way of the majorities evenings out, let alone the workers in these places. Ban it now.
Joe Adams, Bromley
Many people are calling for an increase in non-smoking areas, but has anyone actually ever looked at these areas? Peeing sections in pools spring to mind. I've been in a restaurant where my non-smoking section was separated from the smoking section by a chair! Unless we have separate rooms, it'll never work, and businesses rarely can afford such extra space.
I have visited non-smoking pubs and I can confirm that they do an excellent trade. You really do notice the difference. Shame there are not more of them. If we are going for choice, then many pubs need only swap their non-smoking area with the smoking area. Then smokers will be furthest away from the bar, and maybe tucked away in their own little smoke room! Us healthy people can reclaim the bar area!
Sarah, West Mids
Of course we shouldn't ban it. Look what is already happening - some bars are investing in better airconditioning, others are going non-smoking, while others still are earmarking separate rooms for smoking. It would be unreasonable for non-smokers to commandeer all pubs for their 70% of the public, leaving nowhere for the smokers to go. By the way sales of cigs in Eire are in part lower because many smokers are refusing to give the extra tax to their own government which they see as victimising them, and are instead importing their cigs.
It would be nice to be able to go out and not worry about an asthma attack caused by a smoky atmosphere, or going home stinking of smoke. It would also be nice not to wake up the next day with a sore throat. Ban it as soon as possible...
G. Williams, Newport, UK
It should be up to the individual establishment what sort of action they take.
I am about to enjoy a trip to Dublin and am looking forward to my first ever smoke free night out - I cannot wait.
Of course it should. The more people who find it more hassle to smoke and therefore stop, the better.
Paul Beckett, London, UK
As a smoker, I say an emphatic "Yes!". Ban it in public places and watch the number of smokers decrease (as seen in Ireland). Us smokers have no right to inflict our foul habit on others.
Rob, Thatcham, UK
If the Government introduces a "blanket ban" on smoking I think it will cause problems. Pubs are having a hard enough time with trade and I think this would be the last nail in the coffin. As a smoker myself I think the introduction of some non smoking pubs would be fine.
Peter, Leeds, West Yorkshire
The trouble with any voluntary measures of this type is that no business is interested in losing revenue for the sake of the public good. Pro-choice arguments are tricky to apply to smoking, as people have been indoctrinated into using a highly addictive drug in the first place - you no more have a choice about smoking now than you would if it was made completely illegal.
Apparently one of the larger tobacco companies has sold 100 million less cigarettes in Ireland this year. What more incentive is there for a ban? The ban generates smoke free pubs for non-smokers and clearly encourages smokers to either quit or smoke less.
No, I don't think it should be banned. Establishments should provide smoking and non-smoking areas for their guests. The more people quit smoking the greater the chance the Government will place a higher tax burden on other items. The two obvious candidates being drink and petrol.
Neil R, UK
My husband is working in Ireland and we have really enjoyed the smoke free atmosphere in Dublin pubs. There does not seem to be any lack of customers, it has just been accepted that if you want to smoke you must do it outside.
Julie Bradshaw, Glossop, UK
Smoking should definitely be banned in ALL public places and this should include around hospitals. I pass Leeds General Infirmary twice each day. It is disgusting to see people so ill - often on drips - who are often too ill to stand, smoking at the front of the building. No doubt smoking is the reason why most of them are there in the first place!
Kevin Darley, Selby, England
Oh, Kevin Darley, what a compassionate man you sound! As an ex-smoker, I wouldn't ban smoking outside hospitals. If the very sick cannot take some pleasure from a cigarette which is, after all an addiction, what a sad world this is. And, don't forget, the duty on cigarettes that the Chancellor receives far outweighs the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses.
S. Kincella, London, UK
Here we go again. Most publicans want to make a profit. If there was a market for non-smoking pubs people would go to them and publicans would run them and be perfectly happy to turn away smokers. They would also be cheaper, as the cleaning costs would be less. Every time I see a non-smoking pub, they are empty or close for lack of custom. Please will these people (who probably never go out anyway) find something else to ban in this ban-obsessed world. No economic effect? So far I have cancelled holidays to Norway and Ireland, purely because of this policy. Not much, but I am not alone.
People should be able to smoke in their own homes and in the street, but they have no right to inflict it on customers and staff in pubs and elsewhere! Ban it in all public buildings.
Phil, UK, Chippenham, UK
I'm a little confused about the mixed messages from Whitehall. In one breath they want to ban smoking in public (presumably considered a vote winner) and in another they say they do not want to dictate on diet and health (presumably a vote loser). Which is it to be? A degree of both would probably be helpful and to the majority acceptable.
I don't smoke, but I also don't think it should be banned in public. What there should be, however, is awareness amongst smokers when they light up - for example not to stand in shop doorways smoking or lighting up in a queue with people stood close around you. I don't have a problem with smokers, everyone needs a way to relax, but sometimes, they could be a little more considerate.
Gary, Cardiff, UK
Yes, this is long overdue and a natural extension to the ban already in place in most workplaces and on public transport. I'd certainly go to pubs more often if they were all non-smoking. Like most of the people I know, I don't smoke and hate being in a smoky environment, but do enjoy beer and socialising.
No! The decision should be left to the people who own the areas/establishments in question. If non-smokers (myself included) want a smoke free environment we have the choice to go to smoke free areas. When will this persecution of smokers end?