In 1954 80% of British male adults smoked. Today that figure is 27%. The massive change in British social habits and resulting improvement in public health over the last 50 years is attributed to one man, a doctor, Sir Richard Doll.

It was Doll, who in 1954 was co-author of the first study to show the link between smoking and lung cancer. What may seem obvious to us today was a mystery 50 years ago. Doll toured hospitals and noticed a high number of smokers were dying of lung cancer. The statistics from these hospital visits were the basis of his study linking smoking and lung cancer. Such were the social differences then, that when the findings were announced by the British Minister of Health, the minister chain smoked throughout the press conference.

There have been numerous studies and reports since then, all of them bad news for smokers. Last month the longest running study on the effects of smoking was published in Britain in which 34,000 doctors were studied over a period of 50 years. The results show the effects of smoking to be even worse than expected but the effects of quitting better. The study shows that up to 66% of persistent smokers will die prematurely because of their habit. It also shows that even smokers who stop at as late as 50 years of age add another 6 years to their lives on average.

Since the Second World War Britain has been a 'social society' with free healthcare. Thus the British Government has taken upon itself the role of 'nanny' to its citizens. In the 1950s we were warned that "Coughs and sneezes spread diseases" and we were told to "Trap your germs in a handkerchief". Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent educating the public about the dangers, not only of sneezing, but driving without seat belts, driving under the influence of alcohol and of course the dangers of smoking. By contrast Switzerland treats it citizens as adults who can make their own decisions. With the notable exception of the 'Stop AIDS' campaign, raising public awareness to the dangers of public health has been at best low key. Now finally the Bundesamt für Gesundheit (BAG) has realised that Switzerland's poor record on smoking needs urgent attention.

We have already started to hear the usual arguments from the tobacco lobby. At least these days they do not attempt to convince us that the medical evidence is flawed. But expect to hear that when the price for 20 cigarettes is raised to fr5.10 that the 'pain limit' has been reached and any further price rises would be pointless. 27% of Britons still go on paying at over fr10 for 20 cigarettes.

It has been said that banning advertising of tobacco products makes no difference to sales. This is absurd! In that case, why do tobacco companies spend millions on it every year? Alternatively, if advertising does not work they should not object to its ending. Banning the advertising of cigarettes is vital as advertising tries to show that smoking is safe on the simple principle that if it really were dangerous the authorities would not allow it.

The Irish Tobacco Manufactures Association reports takings in bars and pubs down by between 12% and 15% since Ireland banned smoking in all bars and restaurants earlier this year. It is simply too soon to draw any conclusions, other than fewer people in Ireland will die prematurely through smoking and passive-smoking related diseases. However, in California where such legislation has been in force since the mid 90s, the conclusion is that the smoking ban made no overall difference to sales and, significantly, now only 17% of Californians smoke compared to the US national average of 25%.

We have heard that a smoking ban in restaurants and bars would be impossible to enforce in Switzerland. Try lighting a garden fire on a Sunday and see what happens. Likewise, lighting a cigarette in a restaurant when it is banned would bring a sharp and instant response from other customers.

There will always be examples raised in defence of smoking, like heavy smokers who live to be 100 years old. Statistically it's possible, though improbable. Sir Richard Doll, who stopped smoking a pipe in 1954 and is now an active 91-year-old, has sharp words for the tobacco companies: "Nowadays, they are run by people with no morals, because they went into an industry knowing they were selling a product that kills people".

A revolution in our social habits is starting: a revolution that will eventually prove to everyone that asking non-smokers to be tolerant of smokers it as absurd as asking pedestrians to tolerate being run over by cars. In another 50 years not only will we all live longer and more healthily because no-one smokes, the idea of smoking in a bar or restaurant will be as unthinkable as spitting on the floor of that establishment is today.