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Scotland to go smoke-free to shake "sick man" tag

Written by: Staff

EDINBURGH, Mar 25 (Reuters) Scotland on Sunday becomes the first part of Britain to ban smoking in pubs, restaurants and workplaces, aiming to tackle the poor public health record that has earned it the nickname ''sick man of Europe''.

Officials say the blanket ban on lighting up in enclosed public spaces, inspired by similar measures in Ireland and other countries in the past few years, will eventually stop some 1,000 deaths a year from passive smoking.

''Scotland has a higher rate of heart disease, of cancer and of strokes than most other European countries,'' said First Minister Jack McConnell, head of the Scottish government.

''It is time for drastic action to change that situation for future generations,'' he told Reuters yesterday.

Surveys show more than 60 percent of people in Scotland support the plan. But around 30 percent of the population are smokers and only a quarter of them favour the measure, which comes into force at dawn on Sunday.

Critics see it as an attack on the traditional lifestyle of the working class who formed the backbone of Scottish society. Publicans are unhappy too, fearing their customers will opt to stay at home once they are banned from smoking in bars.

''For a normal working man, a fag and a pint go hand in hand,'' said Peter Cruikshank, landlord of the Spiders Web pub in Edinburgh, enjoying a cigarette in his wooden-floored bar.

''In here right now I've got eight customers,'' he said, looking round the smoky pub. ''They're all smokers.'' At the bar, John Reid, a 62-year-old former soldier sporting green and blue tattoos on his hands and arms, said the new measure would rob him of a highlight of his day.

''I just think it's out of order. I come down here every day for a drink and have a smoke,'' he said between puffs.

''That's my only pleasure -- a drink and a smoke.'' OUTDOOR PURSUIT Some customers said they would visit the pub less often. Others said they would still come but nip outside for a smoke -- despite Scotland's often cold and rainy climate.

Legislators in England, Britain's dominant nation, voted last month to follow Scotland's lead and introduce a similar smoking ban next year.

Health experts in Scotland are determined to change the lifestyle of heavy smoking and drinking, eating fatty foods and lack of exercise which takes many Scots to an early grave.

While they hope many smokers will take the opportunity to quit, they also say the ban is to protect people such as bar staff from passive smoking which can cause lung cancer, heart disease and strokes.

''It is so clearly a public health issue -- we know that it causes ill health and it's measurable,'' said Sally Haw, senior adviser at Health Scotland, the national public health agency.

''The smoke-free legislation is really the biggest public health intervention for a generation and maybe longer,'' said Haw, who will oversee eight studies to gauge its success.

People smoke more and die earlier in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain. Scottish life expectancy is lower than the European Union average, even though Britain is one of the EU's richest members and the world's fourth largest economy.

Experts offer various reasons for these problems, from the hard-living culture of the heavy industries which once thrived in Scotland to the poverty afflicting deprived areas today.

Reuters CH DB0817

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