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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Strong move towards smoking ban
No smoking bar
The ban in Dublin has been hailed as a success
Scotland's first minister has given his strongest indication yet that the country will follow Ireland's lead by banning smoking in public places.

Jack McConnell said during a visit to Dublin that he could see the policy's overwhelming popularity and high level of compliance in the republic.

He believed it was desirable and possible to ban smoking in Scotland.

Mr McConnell confirmed an announcement would be made before Christmas about the extent of any smoking ban.

Previously, Mr McConnell had professed to be very sceptical about a blanket ban. On Tuesday, he said the reaction to the fledgling law in the Irish Republic had been impressive.

It has turned out to be a very popular measure and has transformed lives
Irish Health Minister Micheal Martin
"There is a very strong signal coming from Ireland that there are more benefits in having a consistent ban," the first minister said.

"I am now much closer to the idea that a consistent ban could be advantageous and would make such a law much easier to observe."

The visit to Dublin is part of a Scottish Executive-led public consultation on a potential ban, which is due to end next month.

Irish Health Minister Micheal Martin advised Mr McConnell not to be worried about the backlash such a controversial move could provoke.

He said: "The ordinary punter on the street wanted this to happen and it is they who made it happen.

"It has turned out to be a very popular measure and has transformed lives."

First Minister Jack McConnell
Mr McConnell is warming to a ban
Smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable premature death and ill health and there is mounting evidence of the health risks of passive smoking.

Experts argue that 30 minutes' exposure is enough to reduce blood flow to the heart.

Mr McConnell said the public consultation exercise had triggered "well over 20,000 responses", covering a wide range of opinions.

But the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest), questioned the merits of his visit to Dublin.

Forest director Simon Clark said: "If the Scottish Executive's public consultation is anything to go by, Jack McConnell's visit will be a complete charade.

"He will no doubt meet lots of people who think the ban is a good thing, but will he take the trouble to meet some of the businessmen who are suffering financially or representatives of those who think the Irish legislation has gone too far?

Workplace ban

"In my experience, there are many people in Ireland who would support a choice of smoking and non-smoking areas, other than the present legislation."

Deputy Health Minister Tom McCabe has said that a ban would make a significant contribution towards addressing health concerns in Scotland.

The Scottish National Party's Stewart Maxwell has already put forward a bill to bring in a limited ban on smoking where food is being served.

In May, former Scottish Health Minister Sam Galbraith called for public places to be smoke-free.

He is supported by the Chief Medical Officer Dr Mac Armstrong, who has called for a ban on smoking in the workplace.


SEE ALSO:
Pub smoking ban 'may cost jobs'
29 Aug 04  |  Scotland
Smoking debate hears north views
10 Aug 04  |  Scotland
Galbraith calls for smoking ban
11 Jul 04  |  Scotland


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