Research is being considered to assess the effects of a smoking ban in public places.

Brighton and Hove public health officials are hoping to get government cash so they can join forces with their counterparts in Birmingham to carry out a major study.

The assessment would look at the impact a ban would have on society, health, businesses and the environment in both cities.

Officials want to link with Birmingham because its director of public health has said he is keen to make it the first smoke-free city in the UK.

Brighton and Hove City Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Brighton and Hove City Council do not have the power to introduce a smoking ban and there are no government plans to bring in new legislation to allow it.

But PCT healthy city manager Terry Blair-Stevens said the public response to increasing the number of smoke-free areas in public areas had been positive.

He said carrying out the study would give the Government a test bed for canvassing views from the public and businesses without committing itself to bringing in new legislation.

In the meantime, the PCT will be working on encouraging more employers, restaurant owners and businesses to introduce smoke-free areas and promoting courses it runs to help people kick the habit.

At a PCT board meeting yesterday, Mr Blair-Stevens said: "At present, introducing smoke-free areas is voluntary. Our role is to make smoke-free public places the norm rather than the exception.

"The majority of people favour a totally smoke-free environment and we are getting some interesting feedback in other areas.

"The Charter Group, a national body which represents licensed victuallers, has approached the PCT and is keen to work on supporting practical measures to improve the quality of air in licensed premises.

"Locally, restaurants and employers have publicly declared their support for smoke-free environments."

About 1,200 people in the UK are believed to die each year as a result of breathing other people's smoke. Children and babies are harmed more by the effects than adults.

Exposure to passive smoking can increase the risk of contracting smoking-related illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease, and places extra stress on the heart.

It can also trigger asthma attacks and increase the chances of sudden death syndrome.

The study will form part of Brighton and Hove's campaign to become a World Health Organisation designated Healthy City, which it launched on Tuesday

Thursday September 25, 2003