AS a trainee reporter almost half a century ago, one of my tasks was to meet people who called in at the front office. Usually they wanted publicity for some forthcoming event, like a church "Fayre", or a family success, perhaps a son or daughter gaining a degree.

Others came to complain about damp council houses, or the lack of buses on new estates. But one man arrived two or three times a year on a selfless mission. And from the hundreds of front-office callers I dealt with, he, and the highly original purpose of his visits, stand out.

The man was C James Bowlby. A tall, rangy figure with a brisk, upright walk, he wore thick spectacles and, his most distinctive feature, a shiny all-leather brown suit. Once seen never forgotten.

What brought C James Bowlby about 50 miles from his cottage in Robin Hood's Bay was a one-man campaign: ban smoking. Not merely to create no smoking areas, then largely unknown, or to warn of health dangers, yet to be officially identified. But ban smoking. And the chief plank of his crusade was the complete abolition of the cigarette - an end to its sale and manufacture.

The newsroom regarded CJ as "nuts". A non-smoker myself, from a non-smoking home, I regarded him as "nuts". At that time smokers were the majority, and their smoke was taken for granted. I didn't take exception to working in a smoke-filled room, or even sharing fellow-journalists' smoke over tea and a Kit-Kat in the canteen.

Politely, I jotted down what CJ had to say. I submitted short updates on his campaign, centred on letters to ministers, health chiefs, local authorities, shops, tobacco companies. The scanty coverage never dimmed CJ's passion for his cause, which included freeing non-smokers from the smell and breath-catching fumes of smoking. When I saw him striding off, an amazing, outlandish, figure, I knew he would be back.

Today we can recognise C James Bowlby as a seer and social campaigner far ahead of his time. Putting up with other people's smoke is generally, but still ever-increasingly, considered unacceptable. Therefore does it greatly matter if, in line with new research, passive smoking isn't the health hazard previously claimed?

No. A few years ago my wife and I were in booked seats at the packed opening day of a Headingley Test Match. All day we suffered gusts of smoke from the frequently re-lit pipe of a smoker directly in front of us wafting into our faces. We had paid more than £40 for this pleasure.

Of course, it now goes almost without saying that smoking should be banned in public places where people eat. In my view, most cafs and restaurants that still tolerate smoking, even if in a segregated area, probably now have more to gain than lose by outlawing the habit. And though some pubs might not yet be at that stage, we should nevertheless be moving closer to C James Bowlby by banning smoking in all places that charge for admission, including sporting venues

Bad for your health or not, other people's smoke is downright nasty - and it makes your clothes stink. Perhaps that is why C James Bowlby wore his scrubbable leather suit. Shame I never asked him. features