| Women smoke at a cafe in London. (Reuters)
London, Nov. 16: Smoking in work places, restaurants and pubs serving food is to be banned in England and Wales in one of the most reaching government measures undertaken to improve public health.
A 200-page document, Choosing Health ' the Government's White Paper on improving public health in England, published today by Dr John Reid, the health secretary, also gave details of plans to restrict television advertising of junk food to children in an effort to tackle the problem of obesity.
Other proposals dealt with methods of combating the spread of sexually transmitted disease, especially among the young, as well as offering members of the public individually tailored advice on how to improve their physical fitness.
A prominent member of the Indian community, Avtar Lit, chairman of Sunrise Radio, the biggest Asian radio station in the UK, and himself a long-time heavy smoker, welcomed the proposed ban which is due to phased in over four years. 'I am in agreement with government policy,' he said. 'Smoking is extremely bad for you and I'm trying to give up. Cutting it down in public places is a good idea.'
He said there was a danger that as government legislation made it harder for tobacco companies to operate in the West, they would seek to compensate for their losses by intensifying their advertising, marketing and sales in countries such as India. 'The government of India should begin the process now of taking action to cut down on smoking to protect the health of the Indian people,' said Lit.
In Britain, the argument that smoking is bad for health and can cause cancer has been made. But the government is also aware that despite the risks, many people do not want a 'nanny state' to instruct them on how to live. However, after balancing all the arguments, the government has decided to act against 'passive smoking', which it feels harms the health of those who choose not to smoke.
The British government's proposed ban on smoking will not be as draconian as the laws introduced in Ireland and in Scotland. Private members' clubs and pubs which serve no food or only sandwiches will be allowed some dispensation to allow smoking.
Reid was cheered by MPs when he told the Commons today: 'We believe that, in a free society, men and women ultimately have the right within the law to choose their own lifestyle, even when it may damage their own health. But people do not have the right to damage the health of others. We, therefore, intend to shift the balance significantly in favour of smoke-free environments.'
He also announced moves to curb binge drinking and tackle the growth of sexually transmitted diseases. He said every one would have the opportunity to develop 'their own personal health guide' with National Health Service 'health trainers' to encourage healthier lifestyles.
Reid said the government would build on the success of NHS direct by introducing a completely new service ' Health Direct ' a telephone, on-line and digital TV information service giving advice on health, nutrition and diet.
Ministers aimed to help a further two million people quit smoking over the next five years by radically extending the campaign against smoking. This would include 'hard hitting' picture warnings on cigarette packets, further restrictions on tobacco advertising and tough action against shops that sell cigarettes to children.
'We will see smoke-free environments becoming the norm both at work and at leisure.'
The health secretary said action was needed to tackle the nation's increasing obesity crisis. The food industry and retailers, along with the Food Standards Agency, would develop a 'simple code for processed food to indicate fat, sugar and salt content for shoppers'.
This could mean the further introduction of a 'traffic lights' system which would see red indicate foods high in salt, fat and sugar and green for fruit and vegetables.
It is expected that advertisers could be asked to limit ads for junk food until after the 9pm watershed on television as part of voluntary moves.
The White Paper also sets out efforts to improve the health of adults, including providing people with 'NHS health trainers' to give motivation.
On the subject of sexual health, Reid said it was 'staggering' that one in 10 sexually active young women was infected with chlamydia. The government would launch a national campaign to target those most at risk
Reid said: 'It is clear we need to do more as a society to improve people's health. Having defeated many deadly infectious diseases, we now face the challenge of avoidable ill-health caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking. These are challenges for all of us to address in our lifestyles ' making our own choices about what to eat, how often to exercise and whether we smoke, drink too much, take drugs or engage in risky sexual activity.'