More than one in three people would support moves to make tobacco illegal, according to the findings of a BBC survey.
ICM conducted the phone survey of 1,010 adults in England, Wales and Scotland for the BBC Healthy Britain poll on a range of health issues.
The survey found 37% of those questioned favoured the prohibition of tobacco.
It also found that one in five of the smokers surveyed would back a ban.
The BBC’s social affairs correspondent Jane Dreaper says the research suggests that overall, non-smokers are becoming increasingly resentful towards the effects of becoming addicted to tobacco.
Of those questioned, 93% supported increasing and enforcing the penalties for selling tobacco to children, and two-thirds said parents who consistently allow their under-age children to smoke should ultimately face prosecution.
Just over half also thought smoking should be made more expensive, and three-quarters said there should be more spent on anti-smoking publicity campaigns.
Four out of five wanted to see the age at which you can buy cigarettes raised from 16 to 18.
The majority of people believed that would deter teenagers from taking up the habit. A slight majority thought the age limit should be raised to 21.
More than a quarter of those asked were in favour of denying smokers access to NHS treatment for diseases caused by their habit.
The British Medical Association said that would be “unethical” and it did not support such a move.
Melanie Johnson, the public health minister, told the BBC progress had already been made in cutting smoking among young teenagers.
However, she said public feedback to the government’s consultation on public health had not indicated that raising the legal smoking age was a particular priority.
A spokesman for the group Action on Smoking and Health said: “We are strongly against young people smoking or buying cigarettes for others.”
But he said simply raising the legal age for buying cigarettes may not have much effect.
“Teenagers are notoriously sharp at getting round such restrictions and they would be hard to enforce.
“More important may be to stop smoking being seen as a desirable and adult thing to do – stop adults smoking and teenagers are much less likely to start. That’s one reason why we see ending smoking at work as a top priority.”
“ The suggestion that the age limit be raised to 21 shows how hysterical the smoking debate has become ”
Simon Clark, Forest
Simon Clark, of the smokers’ rights group Forest, said, while it supported “reasonable” measures that made it more difficult for people under 18 to buy tobacco.
He added: “However, the suggestion that the age limit be raised to 21 shows how hysterical the smoking debate has become.
“The law needs to be consistent. At present you can have sex at 16, drive a car at 17, and drink alcohol in a pub at 18. Some people would even like to lower the voting age from 18 to 16.
“There needs to be a clear point at which children are legally declared to be adults and are therefore considered mature enough to make their own decisions about their health and lifestyle.”
The government is currently considering whether smoking should be restricted in the workplace, including pubs and clubs.
Its decision will be revealed in a Public Health White Paper, due to be published this autumn.
In the BBC survey, carried out between 20 and 22 August, two-thirds of those questioned were in favour of such a ban.
But while 69% thought government should be trying to change people’s behaviour on smoking – including half of the smokers questioned – 64% think that whether or not people smoke is a matter for them.
More data from the poll will be revealed later this week.
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