New plans to drastically reduce smoking levels in Wales have been announced.

Chief medical officer for Wales Tony Jewell said the launch marked the start of a consultation on a new scheme called The Tobacco Control Action Plan.

It builds on the Welsh Assembly government’s programme of measures to discourage young people from smoking - and aims to drive down smoking levels to 16 per cent by 2020.

Proposals as part of the scheme include lobbying the UK government on price increases of cigarettes, as well as toughening up existing legislation banning smoking in hospital grounds.

Dr Jewell said: “Just as Wales took a bold step in creating smoke-free environments in public places, the time is right to champion new approaches to further protect children from the harms of second-hand smoke.

“The plan proposes local authorities will be encouraged to introduce smoke-free policies for playgrounds and to initiate a debate on smoking in cars carrying children.

“The NHS should set an example when it comes to creating smoke-free environments and supporting staff to quit smoking. The NHS should also encourage patients to stop smoking, particularly before elective surgery.

“Reducing children’s exposure to second-hand smoke will also help to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“Children are not able to protect themselves from this exposure and it must be shown to be a serious public health risk through the development of legal protections, where appropriate, and policy initiatives.”

A Welsh Assembly government spokesman said approximately 20 per cent of all admissions and bed delays in Wales were attributable to smoking related diseases, which costs NHS Wales an estimated £386m.

The 12-week consultation will end on 18 May.