THREE out of four people in the region want to see smoking banned from workplaces, according to a survey published today.

And 70 per cent would support a change in the law to make smoking at work and in public places illegal.

The results of the survey were released by Smoke Free North-East, a new campaigning alliance which aims to put the region in the forefront of the fight against smoking.

Smoke Free North-East - launched today on World No Tobacco Day - estimates that, every year, 35 people under the age of 65 in the region die from exposure to other people's smoke in the workplace.

Fiona Dunlop, acting director of the campaign, said: "A lot of people don't consider second-hand smoke as dangerous - but it kills.

"Three times more workers are killed as a result of second-hand smoke than from industrial accidents. We are hoping to change those views."

The launch of Smoke Free North-East means that the region is the first in England to set up a body funded by every primary care trust to try to reduce the impact of smoking.

The aim is to bring in workplace smoking bans similar to those successfully introduced in California and Ireland, and due to come into force in Scotland next year.

Meanwhile, the Government has pledged to help more people give up smoking by expanding quitting services.

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint revealed statistics showing that more people than ever before were quitting using NHS Stop Smoking Services - an increase of 63 per cent in 2004, compared with the previous year.

That means that more than a quarter of a million people have quit with the help of the NHS in the past year.

Cancer Research UK also stepped up pressure on the Government to follow other countries and take a strong lead in introducing a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places.

The charity's chief executive, Professor Alex Markham, said: "Stopping smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places is the most effective single piece of action countries can take to halt the damage wreaked by second-hand smoke."

Although the Government is planning to ban smoking in workplaces and enclosed public areas by 2008, health chiefs fear that exemptions for pubs not preparing and serving food will mean the ban is only partly effective.

The Smoke Free North-East campaign, which brings together an alliance of health, public sector and community organisations, will use an orange "Fresh" logo as its trademark.

Ailsa Rutter, acting director of the group, said the results of the telephone poll of 1,202 North-East residents was a huge boost for the Fresh campaign.

She said: "We are pleased that such a high percentage of people are supportive of the campaign.

"It is time to take action to protect the region's health.

"Inhaling other people's smoke has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by 25 per cent and lung cancer by 24 per cent.

"If employers supported the majority of people in this region and stopped people smoking at work there would be considerable health benefits for all their employees, not just the smokers."

Sixty-nine per cent of those polled said they were concerned about their exposure to smoke in pubs or restaurants.

Workers in the hospitality industry are exposed to between four and six times as much second-hand smoke as workers in other industries and have one of the highest rates of lung cancer of all occupations.

John Goddard, manager of the Raby Arms in Hart, near Hartlepool, said since his pub went smoke-free in March 2004 his business has prospered.

He said: "Many new customers are coming in because we're non-smoking and commenting on what a nice change it makes.

"All the staff are happier, without exception."

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