With almost half of Britons unaware that it will be illegal to smoke in public places from 1 July, new figures reveal there has been a dramatic slump in the number of smokers kicking the habit.
Anti-smoking campaigners are now calling on the Government to capitalise on the ban by running stop-smoking adverts and increasing tobacco taxation.
Spending on stop-smoking adverts was slashed from [pound]22m in 2005 to only [pound]13m in 2006, according to information released this month under the Freedom of Information Act. This was accompanied by the figures for people quitting smoking falling by 10,000 - from 76,000 during April to June 2005 to 66,000 for the same quarter in 2006.
But the Government hit back last night, stressing it is on track to reduce smoking to 21 per cent of the population by 2010 and that the ban's sole objective is to protect people from smokers rather than make smokers quit.
Andrew Black, head of the Department of Health's Smokefree campaign, said: "This isn't about a witch hunt against smokers - it is about promoting healthier and cleaner atmospheres."
A new opinion poll being released by the Department of Health this week will show that 99 per cent of businesses say they are ready for the ban. Officials claim that 88 per cent are said to have no confusion or worry over it, but they admit that just 68 per cent know that it is just weeks away from actually happening.
This figure is even lower among the general public, with Public Health Minister Caroline Flint admitting earlier this month that 45 per cent of the overall population do not know that the ban comes into force on 1 July.
In the final run-up to the ban, employers will be reminded to close down smoking rooms and a new television advert, warning people that they risk being fined if they refuse to comply, will be shown in the two weeks before the ban begins. …