Published: 01/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5984 Page 9

Chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson considered quitting over the government's refusal to back a total ban on smoking in public places.

Sir Liam said the government's decision to go against his advice - for the first time during his seven years in post - had left him in 'a difficult position'. He told MPs on the Commons health select committee that he was forced to 'think long and hard' about whether to step down.

'There are some areas where if your advice is ignored and it damages the public health, you would have to consider resignation. I have thought very, very carefully about that. I have spoken publicly in opposition to the government policies on this one area, which is unprecedented for a chief medical officer.' Sir Liam said he believed that a total ban would 'eventually come' and that it would be 'more likely if I stay and continue to champion it'.

At the same evidence session last week, Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow challenged public health minister Caroline Flint on whether bar workers not protected by a partial ban would be 'entitled to avail themselves of the legal protections under the Health and Safety at Work Act [1974] because you have acknowledged that the health consequences of second-hand smoke are clear, proven and harmful'.

Ms Flint indicated that they would not. She said that a partial ban was not brought in as employment law or health and safety legislation, but as a public health law.

She added: 'In terms of those employees [not covered by the ban] what I can say is they will still be better off from our proposals'.

Ms Flint said the government believed a total ban would reduce the percentage of smokers by 1.7 per cent and a partial one would reduce it by 'up to' the same percentage.