A THIRD of all deaths among people over 35 in South Cheshire are smoking related according to a shock report into the nation's health.
The study from the Health Development Agency (HDA) came as the Government outlined plans yesterday to introduce a partial ban on smoking in public places.
Government chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said the country is in the grip of a 'smoking epidemic' with more than 100,000 deaths a year linked to tobacco smoke.
The study, carried out at the University of Portsmouth, looked at deaths among over-35s. It found that on average more men die of smoking-related illnesses than women, and these illnesses are more deadly in lower-income areas.
The figures for the Central Cheshire Primary Care Trust state between 1998 and 2002, 37% of deaths among men in the area were caused by smoking compared to 23% among women.
Numbers of smokers in parts of South Cheshire are relatively low, with only 23% of the population indulging in the habit. But in areas such as Crewe North, where 37% of people smoke, it is hoped prohibition schemes will have a drastic effect on the health of the community overall.
Yesterday's Government white paper stopped short of an outright ban but indicated that smoking bans in offices, restaurants, cafés and pubs serving food could be introduced as soon as 2007.
The move comes in the wake of mounting pressure to follow the lead of Ireland and Scotland by enforcing a complete public ban after studies have brought the danger of passive smoking to public attention.
Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council backed proposals last month to prohibit smoking in its public buildings such as Crewe's Lyceum Theatre and Nantwich Civic Hall.
Smoking has already been banned inside Crewe's Market Centre and a number of companies have enforced their own voluntary schemes.
McCormick's Café Espresso and sandwich bars in Crewe and Nantwich reported a 20% rise in profits after it banned smoking on its premises two years ago.
But pubs fear the impact even a partial ban could have on their business.
Andrew Teece, manager of the Gaffers Row pub in Victoria Street, Crewe, said: 'Personally I am against a ban on smoking in pubs because this is where people come for a fag and it is taking away people's rights.
'I understand the non-smoker's position on this but if you look around, so much of our custom comes from smokers it will have a terrible effect on business if we start turning them away. You just cannot tell someone who is spending £70 a night that they have to go outside for a fag.
'Perhaps what the Government should be doing is offering pubs grants to improve ventilation or to create self-enclosed smoking rooms so non-smokers are not affected.'
'At the least, if they are going to enforce a ban they should help provide covered outdoor areas where smokers can go in peace.'
But Central Cheshire Primary Care Trust, which runs a campaign called Smoke Free Cheshire offering support to those who want to quit, welcomed the proposals as a major step forward in the fight to improve standards of health.
Wendy Meredith, PCT director of public health, said: 'Smoking is Cheshire's biggest cause of preventable illness and early death. Ireland and Scotland looked at the evidence and delivered the most important improvement to public well being in the last 50 years. We simply must follow suit.
'The right to enjoy smoke-free air is denied to the vast majority of people. There is support for legislation to enforce a smoking ban and to create a smoke-free society.'