Health Secretary, John Reid has described smoking as one of the few pleasures poorer people have access to, according to the Guardian newspaper.
Ex-smoker Dr Reid is also quoted as criticising "middle class professional activists" who are fighting for a ban.
The health secretary's comments come days after Prime Minister Tony Blair revealed ministers were considering banning smoking in public places.
Earlier this month Norway followed Ireland in imposing a ban.
Do you agree with John Reid's comments? Or should smoking be banned in all public places?
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far.
The diseases caused by smoking affect everyone, regardless of their economic situation. How ridiculous for a health minister to call slow suicide by smoking a "pleasure". And as for the pro-smoking free-choice brigade, it's a habit that impinges on the right of non-smokers to breathe clean air.
I think the point needs to be made that smoking around other people unlike drinking and eating fatty food puts their health at risk not just your own. This makes a nonsense of the civil liberties argument, after all your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. As for Dr Reid's argument I grew up in a working class family but would now be considered middle class by most and I find what he says is both patronising and propagates a divisive class system that has no place in the modern world.
Colin Wright, UK
Surely the same would apply to eating chips, burgers and soft drinks. Perhaps alongside smoking this is another 'affordable' pleasure? Also if this is the case should we be paying the huge amount of tax that is added to the price of cigarettes? What about tax breaks on ciggies for the low waged?
Simon Rerrie, Birmingham, UK
I hate smoking and think it should be eradicated but for once I agree with Dr Reid. I would even suggest making cigarettes only available in packets of 10 as good way forward to encourage people to cut down. We stopped selling paracetamol in large packets because of the health risks so why not cigarettes?
I can't believe people think that smoking should be banned in all public places! What has happened to freedom of choice in this country?? I agree that bars and restaurants should be able to choose whether or not to allow smoking but an out right ban?? Where will it end, banning alcohol, chocolate, all forms of sugar etc... The "do-gooders" in this country seem to think they always know what's best. Let us lead our own lives please!!
To describe a fair proportion of these people as "working" class is ironic. A ban on smoking in public will not prevent them from smoking at home, but it may help a few to give up, who will then find their benefit goes quite a bit further.
I am a non-smoker and I do believe that people have the right to smoke, but how can John Reid say "smoking is one of the few pleasures poorer people have access to "is a joke when a packet of cigs costs nearly £5 a packet.
Sandra Mcphie, Scotland
Cigarettes are so addictive that no matter how poor a person is they will prioritise money for smoking over other necessities. In general poverty goes hand in hand with very limited lifestyle opportunities and smoking is unfortunately often a component part of the poverty trap. How about suggesting something more useful like giving those expensive patches to people on low incomes or benefits who need help to give up? The stress related to having little or no money makes matters worse for people in this position.
J. Jeffrey, Scotland
Thank you, Mr. Reid, for saying the unsayable: the anti-smoking jihad has more to do with snobbery than concern for health. It's nice to see a politician actually stand up for working-class people for a change.
I wouldn't agree with an outright ban, though I'd be perfectly happy with a public ban. To me, as to many doctors, "It's the only pleasure I've got" is the cry of those whose bodies have been so wrecked by smoking-related disease that they are quite right, they haven't anything else left. Anyone saying it before then is really making a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I fully understand that non-smokers do not want to breathe in second-hand smoke and try to respect this if appropriate. However, I do not drink and object to having to put up with brain-dead drunks being abusive and life threatening (fights and drink driving) to ordinary folk like me, but there are no campaigners for a ban on drinking!!!!
Lynn Mitcham, England
I know people from a whole range of backgrounds and like it or not, it's the poorer ones who smoke and drink the most!
I find it quite perverse that the discussion solely revolves around smoking. Misuse of alcohol creates mayhem for many, ruins the health of many, and encourages anti-social behaviour which is the major blight to many, many more. I think it is crazy that we can all hang around bars, drinking too much and it is all OK so long as we don't smoke.
I am a non-smoker, I DO NOT like passive smoking. However, I do not think a complete ban is right way forward. It is like taking away some of their rights. I think that bar and restaurants should only be given an option - either smoke or non-smoking place (not both) and this should be clearly indicated on the licence and the bar and restaurant must display it clearly, so it would become a choice of people.
The ban would stop smokers spoiling non smoker's enjoyment. Smokers will not voluntarily stop smoking in bars and other public places even if they care about others so a ban is the only way to stop such selfishness.
No it is a free choice. It's all or nothing. No pub would dare ban smoking, because people would go elsewhere. If all pubs banned it, people would just have to make do with popping outside for a quick smoke. When it becomes a chore, people are more likely to give up.
Once again, the nanny state mentality of this government looks set to march all over freedom of choice. This could very well be the thin end of the wedge. Any dictat from either national or local government on this issue is nothing short of totalitarian, in a democratic society the pub landlord should be free to decide. After all - smoking is perfectly legal.
Air and water pollution from industrial sources are just as harmful to health as smoking is. If the government is going to start banning things they have to be consistent about it...
Daley, Sheffield, UK
It's absolutely disgusting to describe smoking as a poor man's pleasure. Politicians only use the excuse of the poor when it benefits the higher ups financially. A visible manifestation of structural violence. Smoking needs to be banned in all public places for the safety of smokers and non-smokers. Non smoking activists have a bad name in the UK and it needs to change to allow this ban to be cleared.
If non smokers don't like smoky environments they should stay away from them, if pub and club profits go down as a result then I am sure they will very quickly become non smoking environments. Those who work in pubs and clubs could choose almost any other business to work in if they don't like the smoky environment.
David R, Plymouth, UK
"Those who work in pubs and clubs could choose almost any other business to work in if they don't like the smoky environment." (David R, Plymouth) If only it were that simple! As a student needing to supplement my student loan by working during the vacations, I found work in a bar. I enjoy the work, but don't like the second-hand smoke. So why did I take the job there? Because I went to over 20 places (shops, supermarkets, agencies) asking for available jobs, having started looking months before, and it was the only one which would take me on. Our local shopping centre banned smoking in the concourses, and I don't think it's affected business adversely in the shops, which were non-smoking anyway. The atmosphere in there has improved immeasurably however. Bring on the ban!
David M, UK
I'm a smoker and am happy for it to be banned within all indoor public places. Outdoors should not matter except to the obtuse.
Dan M, UK
I want to see smoking banned where it annoys and endangers others. If people want to smoke in their own environment that's up to them. Nobody has a right to harm others, even if that is their only pleasure.
I do not see why I, as a smoker, should be discriminated against because I succumbed to peer pressure as a teenager. Until the government bans smoking altogether, anything else is just hypocritical. Whatever happened to free choice in this country?
John Reid appears to hold the working class in very low regard. He clearly thinks that only the middles classes know how to enjoy themselves. Worse he seems happy to allow working class people to embrace cancer and an early death, presumably to put them out of their misery. The bottom line: the health secretary needs to resign. This is unforgivable.
Hmmmm... and how about banning gas-guzzling 4x4s on the school run as I object to having to breathe in their exhaust fumes when walking past them stuck in traffic jams of their own making. Where will all this holier than thou and I know what's good for you end?
John Patston, UK
I have no doubt that many of you who support a ban on smoking in public places do not extend their concerns about air quality and public health to the emissions from their oversized cars, and indeed would be out protesting were any measures taken to limit car use, such as increasing fuel duty. Get priorities right, and ban the inner city school run.
D Jenkins, Britain
I'm aghast at the Health Secretary's comments. To suggest that an unhealthy and destructive habit should be condoned amongst poorer people in society displays condescension and callousness. Although I'm glad to see that a constructive debate is taking place on the whole matter of smoking, I fear that John Reid has now set that debate back considerably with his comments.
Margaret Canning, N. Ireland
People can smoke as they like but they should be aware there are those of us who do not wish to inhale toxic cancer producing chemicals, so be kind to others! A ban is probably not a good thing where would it end - banning alcohol, sweets, crisps, or anything seen as harmful? - Come on people can take responsibility for their actions!
Why should somebody else's pleasure endanger my life?
As in California, New York and other places, smoking should be banned in all public places. I detest breathing in other people's smoke and fear it is a serious health hazard. I am staggered at the Health Secretary's comments - surely he is in the wrong job if he is looking after the nation's health!
Speaking as a middle class professional non-smoker, I am rarely in agreement with Mr Reid. This time however, I think he is spot on. I find the culture of banning things disturbingly selfish and narrow minded. At what point do you stop?
John Lancashire, Reading, UK
John Reid should resign as health secretary for making these comments. He is seriously misguided. Firstly, nobody is seriously suggesting that smoking should be banned totally. So poorer people would still be able to damage their health and continue their lack of wealth in places other than public places. Secondly, as most honest smokers will admit, smoking is only a pleasure in that it provides a temporary respite from the withdrawal symptoms that start to build up as soon as you put the last fag out. By the way, I'm a smoker who's finding it very hard to quit, but fed up with being a slave to nicotine.
What is wrong with free choice? A smoker should be free to smoke, a bar free to have smoking and/or non-smoking, a bar worker free to choose to work there or not, and a customer free to go in or not.
J.G., Scotland, U.K.
If you eat burgers, you can't come to my place of work and make me obese. If you drink, you can't come and give me liver problems. If you smoke where I'm working, I get lung cancer. Why should I have to choose between being social and contaminated, or antisocial and healthy? Why should I have to choose whether or not to work somewhere because of these people's addiction? I'm not the one with the addiction, but the current law means I have to make the lifestyle choices. If you selfish smokers want to pollute your lungs, stay at home and leave those who aren't addicts alone. Except you won't by choice. Only if it's law.
If we can justify smoking as a pleasure "required" by the "working class", what about an 'E' so they can have good Friday night after a tough week, or any other kind of drug that helps them to escape reality. Get real.
Andy Wilks, Scotland
It is always wonderful to see the "do-gooder" brigades lashed into fury when someone tells the truth. Hilarious.
Poor? How can they be poor if they can afford to smoke?
Sue Rowland, UK
Just because you're poor does not mean smoking is any healthier.
I'm a smoker and totally agree with the ban. If it's one of life's few pleasures - then smoke outdoors or in your own home. Make it a private pleasure.
Alice, London, UK
I don't agree with his comments at all. I am proudly middle class and I enjoy a smoke or two along with the proles.
Simon T, UK
John Reid has consistently ignored calls from the medical and scientific professions to protect the health of all employees by banning smoking in all public places. He has even told the Department of Health to avoid suggesting such a ban in the upcoming White Paper on Health. And now he tries to defend smoking as a pleasure of the people. Dear Mr Reid, everyone, working class or not, has the right to smoke and harm themselves. But everyone, health minister or barman, has the right to work in a smoke free environment. Stop this classist nonsense now and ban smoking in ALL workplaces.
As a Macmillan nurse I'd love to discuss the "pleasure" smoking cigarettes has brought to many of my patients with Mr Reid.
The only pleasure a smoker derives is relief of the craving caused by the physical and psychological addiction to cigarettes.
Iain Thompson, UK
Banning smoking in public is a totalitarian action.
Pubs, restaurants etc. should be able to decide for themselves whether to ban smoking in their establishment or not.
If people like going to places where smoking is banned then they will make more money and other places will follow suit.
Jacob Martin, England
YES. It should be banned in public places. One reason I hardly go out these days is I am fed up of stinking like an ash-tray, simply through having a beer. Worse, having someone's second-hand smoke over me while waiting for a train on a packed station concourse, i.e. can't get away from it.
Philip Le Roux, Hampshire, England