CHINESE herbal medicine patches could help millions of UK smokers to quit, says a North-East scientist.

Dr Philip Cheung, of Durham University, has investigated claims that a herbal patch has helped more than a million Chinese give up smoking.

In a separate piece of research, Dr Cheung has called for pubs, cafes, stations and airports and other places where smokers are separated from non-smokers to strictly enforce bans.

It follows his research in Spain which showed "horrendous" concentrations of cancer-causing airborne particles at university buildings where smoking was not controlled.

"We really need to take passive smoking more seriously in the UK," said Dr Cheung.

Last week, Dr Cheung completed a scientific trial which could have huge repercussions for British smokers.

Dr Cheung's unpublished findings, exclusively revealed in The Northern Echo, show that the Chinese herbal patches have a far higher success rate than conventional nicotine patches.

Working with a Chinese student via the Internet, Dr Cheung recruited 49 smokers.

After a course of treatment lasting nine days and costing £18 per person, 25 of them - nearly 52 per cent - gave up smoking. Another 17 managed to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

More importantly, checks after three months showed that 21 of the 25 were still not smoking.

This success rate of 84 per cent compares very well with the 20 to 30 per cent average success rate enjoyed by nicotine replacement patches.

The treatment is said to be more effective for smokers who have smoked for less than ten years and between ten and 20 cigarettes a day, suggesting that this could be useful for young smokers.

Instead of taking six weeks to work, the Chinese patches take a matter of days.

Dr Cheung is hoping to conduct a larger trial of the patches in the UK and Europe.

"The herbal patches were approved for use in China in 2001 and there are claims that a million smokers have been cured," said Dr Cheung.

The zhong mai ye ke patch is applied to the wrist and works by making cigarettes taste foul.

Dr Cheung, director of the Centre for Comparative Public Health at Durham, will send the research to Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, when it is published.

Smoking facts

* 70 per cent of UK smokers want to quit.

* Cancers and circulatory diseases caused by smoking kill 120,000 Britons every year.

* This is six times more than road accidents, other accidents, poisoning, murder, manslaughter, suicide and HIV infection put together.

* Even after smoking for 20 or 30 years, your health will still improve when you give up.

* A million smokers try to quit each No Smoking Day - about 100,000 succeed.

* The NHS Smoking Helpline can be contacted on 0800 169 0 169 to get details of clinics and services in your area and to receive counselling.