Public health experts have condemned chancellor Gordon Brown's move to divert money from cigarette duties directly to the NHS as 'ethically wrong'.

UK Public Health Association spokesman Donald Reid said the government's move was 'a way to become more popular' which would be 'very ineffective'.

The UKPHA said it was 'in favour of higher taxes on tobacco', but the money should go on 'better welfare', measures to help smokers quit and improvements in access to primary care.

Hugh Mills, chief executive of Sperrin Lakeland Health and Social Care trust, felt there were ethical problems in taking the money. 'The idea of people being encouraged to contribute to the NHS by smoking is not one I'd feel happy with, 'he said.

But other NHS managers were not ready to reject the cash. County Durham health authority chief executive Ken Jarrold said, 'I don't object to it in principle. There's no question that the NHS needs the resources', while Ros Lowe, chief executive of Hounslow and Spelthorne Community and Mental Health trust, said: 'The reality is people will smoke. '

Barbara Kennedy, chief executive of North West Anglia trust, said: 'There is a link between coronary heart disease and smoking - this is one way of trying to meet the costs. '

But Roger Sirman, finance director at the Homer ton Hospital trust in east London, wanted money from tobacco taxes 'to contribute to existing budgets, not specific targets'.