The British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, which has energetically campaigned for a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces, said that the Minister’s decision not to introduce an immediate total ban in Northern Ireland was very disappointing.
Dr Brian Patterson, BMA(NI) Chairman, said: "We welcome Minister Woodward’s announcement today but anything that falls short of a total ban would not provide protection for all workers and non-smokers.
"We fully appreciate the difficulties the Government faces when attempting to introduce legislation of this nature. The Republic of Ireland faced the same problems yet were able to find solutions. Similarly in Scotland where comprehensive legislation is currently going through in preparation for a total ban there in April next year.
"The ban on smoking in the workplace has been a major success in the south of Ireland. This is a very small island so one must ask why people living in the north should be denied the same health protection as those living in the Republic.
"We know that the majority of people here want the full protection that a complete end to smoking in all public places offers. This is further demonstrated by the 91% who voted for a total ban in the recent consultation.
"We congratulate the Minister on taking the step forward in recognising that passive smoking must be stopped. However he must make sure that it is stopped for everyone and only a total ban will achieve this. There can be no inequity where public health is concerned.
"We urge him to take the same bold step as the Republic of Ireland and Scotland and when does he will find the British Medical Association strong in its support of him."
Dr Peter Maguire, the BMA’s Deputy Board of Science Chairman and consultant anaesthetist in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry, said the BMA campaign would continue for a complete ban. "I cannot express enough our frustration and disappointment that the health of all Northern Ireland workers is not protected in the same way as in the south of Ireland.
"Doctors have campaigned vigorously for the introduction of a complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and this campaign will continue until we achieve that goal.
"Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable disease that we see every day as doctors. It is our duty to speak out and ensure that all workers, especially those in the hospitality sector, are assured of a healthy, safe working environment."