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England Bans Smoking in Closed Public Places

It is the beginning of a new era for smokers in England. No more lighting up in closed public places, including in pubs and private clubs. Other parts of Britain already have such bans. Delana Gbenekama reports from London.

Smokers. They used to be easy to spot -- in pubs, restaurants, offices. But that is changing.

A new smoking ban against lighting up in enclosed public spaces went into effect July 1st. It is part of the government's efforts to reduce smoke-related illnesses and death. Liam Donaldson of the Health Department says the ban will save thousands of lives.

"We have already introduced a wide range of measures to control tobacco-related disease, including restricting advertising and promotion of tobacco,” says Donaldson. “But secondhand smoke, exposing people who don't smoke to the cancer-causing effects and adverse effects of cigarette smoke is something that we wanted to stop."

Businesses can no longer have smoking rooms. And they must display "no smoking" signs and maintain smoke-free work vehicles. Those who fail to meet these requirements face fines of more than $5,000. For non-smokers here in London, the ban brings sighs of relief.

"I don't smoke, but I work in a pub,” says a pub worker. “So, oftentimes you go home smelling of smoke. Yes, from my point of view, it's going to be good that I won't go home smelling of smoke so much."

Others see the ban as an opportunity to quit smoking. "I have been smoking for nearly about 10 to 12 years now,” says a smoker. “For me it's a positive ban which in a way is a blessing in disguise because I have been trying with nicotine patches and chewing gums."

But the smokers' advocate group FOREST -- short for Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco -- vows to fight the ban. Spokesman Simon Clark. "The idea that the rights of smokers and the rights of non-smokers are mutually exclusive is absolute nonsense,” says Clark. “With modern, up-to-date ventilation systems, you can accommodate smokers and non-smokers quite happily."

The Health Department predicts that about 600,000 people will kick the habit as a result of the ban. But it is not expected to have a long-term impact on the $24 billion U.K. tobacco industry.

Chris Ogden of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association says, "There will be an initial dip in sales,” says Ogden. “For example, in Scotland when the ban came in about a year ago, initially there was about a four percent drop, although that's recovered. And we expect the same sort of thing to happen here."

Opponents of smoking say they will now be able to enjoy a smoke-free environment. But for smokers, it means either quit or move outdoors to light up.