The battle against the tobacco industry will be spearheaded by European directives, not homegrown legislation or court actions, health secretary Alan Milburn has told MPs.

Mr Milburn promised to look at evidence presented to the health select committee by solicitors Leigh Day and Co, who argued that health authorities could claim damages against tobacco companies for the cost of treating smoking-related diseases.

But he made it clear that he agreed with Department of Health lawyers, who advised against legal action. 'It isn't that I'm against in principle - what I'm interested in is what works.'

It was more 'sensible' for legislation controlling the tobacco industry to operate at a European-wide level, Mr Milburn said.

The DoH is involved in negotiating an EU directive to introduce maximum nicotine and tar levels, force manufacturers to reveal ingredients, place extra health warnings on cigarette packets, and ban the use of terms such as 'low tar' and 'mild'.

Since appearing before the committee, Mr Milburn has published a list of 600 cigarette additives on a DoH website. The list - provided by the industry under a confidential agreement with the previous government - reveals that cigarettes are packed with flavour enhancers, and toxic chemicals, including formalde - hyde, amonia and hydrochloric acid.

He urged the committee to join him in pressing the industry 'very hard' to reveal which brands contain which ingredients. But he avoided any hint of the nanny state: 'I believe that smokers, in the end, have the right to smoke.'

He brushed aside a suggestion that he should consider banning smoking in public places. 'I'm prepared to give the hospitality industry the benefit of the doubt to make these voluntary arrangements work.

'I don't want the police, who are already under pressure, to have to do another monitoring exericise.'

The committee focused in particular on the supply of cigarettes to children, but Mr Milburn refused to countenance banning vending machines or new penalties for retailers. 'The real issue here is about enforcement.'

Mr Milburn, aided by public health minister Yvette Cooper, stoutly defended the government's£60m smoking cessation policy, including a single week's free supply of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

Conservative MP - and smoker - Simon Burns said: 'We have had people tell the committee that nicotine addiction is harder to overcome than heroin or alcohol addiction. The NHS provides support to get people off heroin - and it isn't just for one week.'

Mr Milburn insisted that NRT was only one part of a support package.