A health journalist prepares...

Every journalist in the country should now know that 1 July 2007 is the big day. Smoking will be illegal in all enclosed public places, including the workplace, shopping centres and of course, pubs, bars and restaurants.

Hundreds of thousands of column inches have already been written about it and there is certain to be more to come. But there are still gaping holes in our knowledge.

Did you, for example, know that staff smoking rooms and indoor smoking areas will no longer be allowed, so anyone who wants to smoke will have to go outside?

Did you know that a hotel, guest house, inn, hostel or members’ club can still have designated smoking bedrooms so long as it is clearly marked as a bedroom in which smoking is permitted and has been designated in writing by the person in charge of the premises as being such?

The aim of the ban is not to persecute smokers but to ensure a healthier environment, so everyone can socialise, relax, travel, shop and work in clean air, free from secondhand smoke. The benefits of a ban far outweigh the drawbacks.

The most important fact to remember is that breathing other people’s tobacco smoke is as deadly as lighting up a cigarette yourself. It contains the same toxic substances as the smoke inhaled by smokers. The only difference is that passive smoking is not addictive. Cancer Research UK has loads of information and is only too delighted to pass it on to journalists.

For example: nearly 85 per cent of smoke in a room is caused by sidestream smoke (the smoke that drifts off the end of a burning cigarette) in which the concentration of toxins is much greater than the concentration that is ‘filtered’ through the length of the cigarette being smoked.

The Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health estimated there are several hundred deaths a year from lung cancer and further deaths from heart disease caused by tobacco-smoke pollution. There is also strong evidence that passive smoking significantly increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, and middle ear disease.

Around 70 per cent of smokers say they want to quit smoking, and the ban is expected to provide the impetus they need. The NHS offers free group and one-to-one support sessions.

Using nicotine replacement therapy – including gum, patches and lozenges – increases success rates up to four times. There are also two prescription- only drugs, which help reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Tips on how to give up, the benefits of quitting, and relevant case studies are always popular with readers, and QUIT, the stop-smoking charity, can help with them all.

As a smoke-free nation, England can look forward to a healthier future. A future where people are fitter and live longer. It is the largest single step to improve our health for generations.

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