A SHOPPING centre in a north Durham market town will become the latest smoke-free zone from today after a majority of shoppers voted in favour of the ban.

Of the 500 people that responded to a survey, 81 per cent said they were in favour of a smoking ban at Chester-le-Street's St Cuthbert's Walk Shopping Centre - while 61 per cent of smokers also supported a ban.

A poll to find out if residents were in favour of stubbing out the habit in a number of places in the district was carried out by the Stop Smoking Service of Durham and Chester-le-Street Primary Care Trust (PCT) and a review panel of Chester-le-Street District Council.

Members of the district's Stop Smoking Service will be on hand today to give out information on the survey results and inform people of the support available in stopping smoking.

PCT smoking cessation advisor Ian Miller said last night: "We applaud the stance the shopping centre is taking on smoking and the positive impact this will have on public health.

"More than 5,500 people die in the North-East from smoking-related diseases, such as coronary heart disease, cancers, stroke and many other conditions.

"However, this statistic hides the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer poor health as a result of active or passive smoking."

He added: "In order to reduce the number of people exposed to tobacco smoke, health organisations across the region are working with other organisations such as local authorities to reduce tobacco consumption.

"In particular, we are all looking to increase the number of smoke-free public places and work places."

A spokesman of St Cuthbert's Walk Shopping Centre said: "The local authority and the PCT approached us with the idea of going smoke-free.

"After consultation with our tenants, and in line with the overwhelming support from the public, we took the decision to make the centre smoke free.

"We hope that people will notice an improvement in the shopping environment as a result of this move."

Anyone seeking advice about giving up smoking can contact their GP surgery or the Durham and Chester Stop Smoking Service on 0191-374 4109, or 0191-374 4121.