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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 September, 2004, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Stars oppose public smoking ban
Boris Johnson pictured smoking a cigar on BBC2's Room 101 programme
Tory MP Boris Johnson was one of 14 celebrities who signed the letter
A group of celebrities has written to The Times newspaper opposing a smoking ban in public places.

Actor Stephen Fry, television presenter Chris Tarrant, artist David Hockney, Tory MP Boris Johnson and Bob Geldof were among those who signed the letter.

"Dangers of smoking and passive smoking are currently being exaggerated to the point of hysteria," the letter claims.

But the Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) campaign group said public smoking "limits other people's rights".

Other stars who signed the letter included pop music mogul Simon Cowell, singer Joe Jackson, chef Anthony Worrall Thompson, publisher Felix Dennis and inventor Trevor Baylis.

'Individual choice'

The letter, also signed by musician Lisa Stansfield, argues that New York and the Irish Republic have both suffered since introducing a smoking ban.

The letter states: "The risks of passive smoke have never been proven beyond meaningless levels in a small minority of studies.

"To smoke, to associate with smokers, or to operate a venue in which smoking is allowed should all be matters for individual choice.

"Smoking is legal and in pubs and clubs it's fanatical smoke-haters who are the minority."

The letter concludes by asking politicians and the media to "de-escalate the tension" surrounding smoking and "let common sense and the free market decide the future of British social life".

'Wildly misrepresented'

Pro-smoking campaign group Forest welcomed the letter, saying it showed how strongly people feel about the issue.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: "We urge the government not to be bullied by the antics of the anti-smoking lobby."

He said anti-smokers have "wildly misrepresented the dangers of passive smoking" and claimed the silent majority "want choice, not a total ban".

Deborah Arnott, director of Ash, said: "Clearly smokers have the right to smoke, but this is about where they smoke.

"Other people smoking in public places means asthma sufferers, for example, are restricted in where they go because people smoking can bring on asthma attacks."

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