The majority of National Health Service leaders (80%) think that the ban on smoking in public places, which came into force in England on July 1, will have the single biggest impact on public health of any intiative in the last 25 years, a poll by the NHS Confederation has found.

“NHS leaders unequivocally welcome the introduction of the smoking ban in enclosed public places and workplaces…This piece of legislation will have a greater impact upon standards of public health than any other initiative since the Clean Air Act 1956,” commented Bryan Stoten, chairman of the NHS Confederation, which represents over 90% of NHS organisations.

Putting the cost into perspective, he went on to say: “Smoking related diseases currently cost the NHS over £1.6 billion a year. This is equivalent to 267,000 hip replacements or 2.2 million cataract removals.”

“This is a monumental day for public health,” commented Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK. “This new law will bring about some of the most significant public health improvements the country has seen in decades, and save tens of thousands of lives,” he added.

Saving lives

And newly sworn-in health secretary Alan Johnson said: "I am thrilled that my first major announcement as Health Secretary enacts the single most important public health legislation for a generation. The scientific and medical evidence is clear - secondhand smoke kills. There is no safe level of exposure. This legislation means that thousands of lives will be saved and the health of everybody will be protected.”

He went on to say that the next step in the battle against smoking will raising the legal age at which cigarettes can be purchased from 16 to 18 years on October 1. “Smoking is dangerous at any age, but the younger people start, the more likely they are to become life-long smokers and to die early,” Johnson explained. “The law change demonstrates our determination to protect people from the harmful effects of tobacco."