London (CNSNews.com) - Britain's leading medical authorities have called for a total ban on smoking in public places, but government officials indicated Tuesday that no such restrictions are in the works.
The U.K.'s 13 medical Royal Colleges, including the Royal College of Physicians, announced the publication of a study titled "Tobacco Smoke Pollution: The Hard Facts."
In a letter to The Times newspaper, the medical experts said that passive smoking kills 1,000 adults every year in Britain and causes childhood diseases including asthma and lung and ear infections.
"The great majority of people in the U.K. -- 80 percent -- are now non-smokers," wrote Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians. "Most find cigarette smoke unpleasant and irritating and the majority of smokers and non-smokers alike would prefer public places to be smoke free.
"All have a right to freedom from tobacco smoke pollution," Black wrote.
"If all workplaces that currently permit smoking in Britain became smoke free, it is estimated that more than 300,000 people would quit smoking and in the longer term more than 150,000 lives would be saved," she wrote.
However, Health Minister Melanie Johnson told BBC radio that there is no need for a public ban.
"Smoke-free places are the ideal, but the evidence is that public opinion remains divided," she said. "There is also cost and a difficulty involved in enforcing a no smoking ban."
"There is a great deal more to be done by way of public persuasion and education," Johnson said.
The Royal Colleges report was welcomed by anti-smoking groups including Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which repeated calls for a New York City-style ban.
"Legislation to end employees' involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke at work is long overdue," said ASH Director Deborah Arnott. "Children also need protection when they are taken out to restaurants and other public places where smoking is still permitted."
"If the government has rejected calls for a new law, then it must spell out what exactly it does intend to do about the problem," she said.
Smokers' rights group Forest, on the other hand, called the letter a "desperate attempt to drum up public support."
Forest spokeswoman Juliette Torres said the group was pleased that the government isn't in favor of a ban but that those against smoking restrictions weren't being complacent.
"If this letter does what it intends to do, smokers may well have cause to worry," she said.
"Clearly in pubs and restaurants there isn't a demand-smoking venues," she said. "These people are running businesses and if the demand was there, they would meet it."
The Charter Group, an umbrella organization that represents pub, restaurant and hotel owners, has instituted a voluntary smoking code.
Health officials have criticized the industry for failing to encourage total smoking bans, but the Charter Group argues that its activities have clarified policies and have led to more establishments with non-smoking areas or smoking bans.
Although smoke-free establishments are still rare in Britain compared to the United States, a recent survey found that 63 percent of bars and restaurants in England and Wales had posted Charter Group-approved signs indicating the smoking policy of their businesses.
This year, the restaurant chain Pizza Hut introduced a total smoking ban at its U.K. outlets. In February, nearly all tobacco advertising was banned, fulfilling a campaign pledge made by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
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