PLANS to introduce a smoking ban next year have been hailed a triumph for public health by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and anti-smoking campaigners.
A date for the ban was set yesterday - July 1 next year. From then on smokers will no longer be able to light up in enclosed public areas and workplaces in England.
Lobby groups and hospitality associations welcomed the announcement, saying it would give businesses, and smokers trying to quit the habit, a target to work towards.
They urged businesses to begin preparations now to ensure they were ready to implement the ban on July 1.
Similar rules have already been introduced in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland, and are generally regarded to have been a success - although some pubs have reported a downturn in sales. The ban in Wales starts on April 2.
The measures are designed to protect everyone from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke when at work or at leisure, and make it easier for smokers to give up.
Professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Making workplaces and enclosed public places smoke-free will bring about some of the most significant health improvements the country has seen in decades.
"All employees, including those in pubs and clubs, deserve the right to work in a safe environment. July 1, 2007 will be a truly historic day."
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association (BMA), also welcomed the announcement.
She said: "Smoke-free workplaces will save lives and protect health and next year's date will also be a great incentive for smokers to quit."