Published: 30/06/2005, Volume II5, No. 5962 Page 9

'Personally I would like a whole, all-encompassing ban. However, the next best thing would be to phase a ban in over the next few years, ' reveals one director of public health based in the south of England.

He is responding to the Department of Health's consultation on banning smoking in public places, launched last week (see story, left).

Directors of public health are a pragmatic bunch: they know they cannot change the state of the nation's health overnight, and as much as they would like to see an outright ban most believe that the government will not have the courage to go so far.

'We must handle any ban or attempt to reduce smoking prevalence among our population sensitively, ' argues one northern primary care trust director of public health.

'We should not tell people that it is an evil, bad thing that they should not do because they will become entrenched.

'We need to make sure the message about protecting staff from second-hand smoke is maintained, ' they add.

Despite the cynicism of some public health directors about a governmental change of heart, there were whispers around Whitehall earlier this month that health secretary Patricia Hewitt was considering following the lead of Ireland, which introduced a total ban last year.

A public health director based in the South believes that phasing in an outright ban would be a 'good compromise to give people plenty of notice'.

'I work across the PCT and local authority and we must acknowledge the effect an outright ban will have on businesses.' He adds, however, that the local authority did not want to 'waste time campaigning locally for a ban that could easily be imposed by national legislation'.

Who knows, perhaps the government has misread the mood of the public and this consultation will show clear support for an outright ban - or perhaps not.

Until then as one director of public health puts it: 'We will carry on with the drip-drip approach to getting the message across'.