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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Doctors urge public smoking ban
Doctors delivered their message to Downing Street
Letters from 4,500 doctors calling for a ban on smoking in workplaces were delivered to the prime minister on Monday.

The letters were delivered inside a giant cigarette packet by British Medical Association representatives.

The packet was labelled: "Passive smoking kills. Smokefree workplaces save lives."

Meanwhile, an ICM poll for BBC Breakfast found 65% of 1,002 adults surveyed backed a ban in public places.

The BMA campaign coincides with the launch of the government's latest hard-hitting anti-smoking television advert on Monday, featuring a 58-year-old father-of-two dying from throat cancer.

The doctors' letters detailed their day-to-day experiences of treating patients made ill by exposure to tobacco smoke.

Protect workers

One of the organisers of the BMA action, Dr Peter Maguire. told the BBC: "It is unequivocally clear that 1,000 people die per year in the UK as a direct result of passive smoking. This is unacceptable in the 21st century."

"All workers must be protected from the killing effects of tobacco smoke."

He said three-quarters of the population were non-smokers and of the quarter that did smoke, many wanted to give up.

It is unequivocally clear that 1,000 people die per year in the UK as a direct result of passive smoking. This is unacceptable in the 21st Century
Dr Peter Maguire

A smoking ban in public places such as bars and restaurants would help these people to quit, by making it harder and less convenient to have a cigarette, he added.

Dr Maguire, deputy chairman of the BMA's science board, told Radio 4's Today programme voluntary smoking bans would not work.

He said the ban introduced in the Republic of Ireland had been successful, with 97% of bars becoming free from smoke within a months of its introduction, compared to 1% of bars in the UK.

But a spokesman for smokers' campaign group Forest said it was not up to doctors to tell people how to live their lives.

He told BBC Breakfast: "Doctors have got to realise they cannot decide people's lifestyles.

"We are getting into dangerous territory when doctors start telling us how to live our lives. Are they going to start telling us what to eat and drink as well?"

'Dangerous territory'

Tim Lord, of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, told the Today programme the link between passive smoking and serious illnesses was still unclear.

He said: "When you look at all the studies together, you find the risk factor associated with passive smoking is... quite low."

He said the tobacco industry was in favour of more smoke free areas within bars and restaurants and more smoke free venues but wanted this to be done on a voluntary basis rather than by a national ban.

Doctors have got to realise they cannot decide people's lifestyles
Forest campaign spokesman

The Guardian reported last week that the government was considering introducing a ban if it won the next election.

Draft manifesto policy documents obtained by the paper showed a ban was being discussed to protect the health of children and young people.

A Labour spokesman confirmed the idea was being considered, but said no decision had yet been taken.

The prime minister had previously said the government would decide on the possibility of a ban in the "next few months".

Tony Blair hinted it could be left to local councils to decide whether to enforce a ban in their areas.

Health Secretary John Reid's warning about the effect of a ban on poorer smokers, suggested the issue could cause division within the Labour party.

He said: "All I say is be careful, please be careful that we don't patronise people.

"As my mother would put it, people from those lower socio-economic categories have very few pleasures in life and one of them they regard as smoking."

Research by London's St George's and Royal Free hospitals published last month suggested people exposed to passive smoke had a 50-60% increased risk of heart disease.

The BBC's Vicky Young
"Three million workers are exposed to second-hand smoke"

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