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Charities welcome smoke-ban proposals by health trusts in Northern Ireland

By Victoria O'Hara

Health charities have strongly welcomed government plans to ban smoking across every health trust in Northern Ireland.

The action is due to be introduced within 12 months after Health Minister Jim Wells announced that all the facilities will become smoke-free. A smoking ban will apply to all patients, staff and visitors while they are on HSC premises.

Set to be in place by March 2016, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS) said it commended the move, announced to coincide with No Smoking Day. A ban is already in place in the Western Health Trust, which spearheaded a smoke-free policy in March 2014.

Currently 22% of adults smoke in Northern Ireland, which is approximately 308,000 of the adult population. Among manual workers this rises to 30%, and 15% of pregnant women smoke.

Mr Wells said smoking was the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland, killing around 2,300 people each year.

"Under smoke-free legislation, which was introduced in 2007, smoking is not permitted in any enclosed or substantially enclosed public or workplace," he said.

"While the legislation has been very successful in terms of compliance, there have been some issues raised around people smoking at the entrances to buildings, particularly hospitals."

The minister added to treat smoking-related illnesses in Northern Ireland was costing in the region of £164m a year.

Andrew Dougal, chief executive of NICHS, said the plans would be welcomed by all health campaigners.

"I commend the minister on this move," he said.

"It's really another step in ensuring that smoking is no longer considered normal in society. This conveys to the public how dangerous smoking is and how dangerous second-hand smoking is. Smoking must not in any way be associated with a hospital or health services premises.

"This will be welcomed by any organisations, charities and individuals concerned with health."

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