COUNCIL workers face a total ban on smoking which could see them barred from lighting up in their lunch breaks or even in their own cars.

Thousands of workers at Hartlepool Borough Council are already prevented from smoking in the office and taking cigarette breaks, following moves introduced last year.

However, union chiefs said the new proposals, which could include a ban on smoking for staff whenever they were out on council business, would be unenforceable.

The latest proposals come in a report from the council's chief personnel services officer and were discussed at a meeting earlier this week.

Unison spokesman Ken Natt, who attended the meeting at Hartlepool Civic Centre, said: "We fully support the council's current no-smoking policy in the buildings, but to ban it outside the offices is both a step too far and impossible to police."

The ban could include employees working in open spaces, such as parks, walking between buildings, and even during lunch breaks.

The latest plans follow new Government guidelines and are still under discussion, although Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond called the proposals "a bit extreme".

A spokesman for Hartlepool council said: "The council has a responsibility to promote good health amongst all of its employees.

"The current no-smoking policy is under review, but this is an ongoing process and no final decision has yet been made.."

Mr Natt said: "You have to recognise that people have to make a lifestyle choice and if someone decides they want to smoke, off the premises and in their own time, I can't see how you can possibly legislate against that."

However, he said, he was confident the unions would come to an amicable solution with the council.