Under the terms of the new ruling, all government departments will become smoke-free zones, as will all enclosed public places, restaurants and pubs and bars preparing and serving food. The White Paper, which also targeted the increase in obesity in the UK and sexually transmitted diseases, stipulated that pubs, bars and private clubs not serving food would be free make their own rules on smoking.
Elements of the ban are due to come into effect from 2006, with the full embargo in place by the end of 2008.
"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," Health Secretary John Reid told members of Parliament. "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."
Back in time
The British Beer and Pub Association said the ruling could put bars off serving food and drive them back in time to the days when pubs were nothing more than drinking dens, as ultimately the greatest profit comes from alcohol.
All EU members except Germany have either adopted or have in the pipeline measures to limit tobacco use in public places. Most rules concern public places, the workplace, tobacco advertising, or the sale of cigarettes to minors.
Few European countries, however, have yet gone as far as Ireland which imposed a complete ban back in March. Earlier this month Scotland, where health policy is set by an autonomous legislature, also unveiled plans to make smokers stub out in public, and Wales is considering a similar move.
Sweden is also expected to tighten its anti-tobacco legislation in 2005, and although not a member of the EU Norway also banned tobacco in public places on June 1. As for the rest of the continent, the regulations vary. In France, smokers can puff in specially designated areas, whilst in Germany it is up to the owner or manager of a given venue to decide on the smoking rules. And although strictly speaking, German restaurant and bar owners should provide their customers with a non-smoking area, the trend is slow in taking off.
Selling cigarettes to minors under 16 is forbidden in Austria, German, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain, France and the Baltic countries. In Sweden, Portugal, Finland and Poland tobacco cannot be sold to under 18s.
However, the widespread use of coin-operated cigarette machines, especially in Spain, Germany, Portugal and British pubs, help undermine those rules. In Italy, cigarette machines are only allowed to operate between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. to limit access to underage smokers.A Danish law against selling cigarettes to children under 16 went into force on July 1, and Belgium will have one from Dec. 1. Greece is considering similar measures. In an effort to make it more difficult for young people to get hold of cigarettes, Germany's parliament on May 6 voted to prohibit the sale of packs containing fewer than 17 cigarettes.