Suddenly the air is clearer as Scotland stubs out in public

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"Scotland will be proud that it has gone smoke-free ahead of any other part of the UK. The smoking ban is absolutely the right way forward. It is right for Scotland, for our nation's health, our nation's economy and our tourist industry." - JACK MCCONNELL

Story in full SCOTLAND looked to have made a smooth transition to a smoke-free future yesterday as ministers hailed the introduction of the law banning lighting up in public places as the "largest single step" to improve the nation's health for generations.

Despite warnings that the new regulations would be resisted by smokers, it appeared last night that most, if not all, Scots decided to abide by the new rules, which came into force at 6am yesterday.

Around Scotland, local authorities - which are responsible for enforcing the ban - seemed to be following the exhortation of the First Minister, Jack McConnell, to take a "softly-softly" approach to the introduction of the radical measure.

By 10pm, councils in Scotland's major cities said no fines had been issued to smokers flouting the new law.

More than 20 enforcement officials in Edinburgh visited 147 licensed premises on the first night of the ban and reported "100 per cent compliance".

A council spokeswoman said: "Only small problems with signage were experienced in some of the premises. Officers were well-received by both management and the public."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "As far as I am aware, no-one has been issued with a ticket." Aberdeen City Council also reported no problems.

Scotland's eight police forces also reported a largely trouble-free start to the ban, with only two forces - Tayside and Dumfries and Galloway - taking calls from members of the public complaining about people smoking in licensed premises. The calls were referred to the council.

Members of the public are able to contact a national compliance line to register their complaint if they see someone lighting up in a no-smoking venue. A spokesman for the line said he had taken 23 calls by 10pm, only five of which were eventually lodged as alleged breaches of the ban.

Mr McConnell, who was initially sceptical about the idea of a ban, but has now hailed its introduction - ahead of the rest of the UK - as a triumph for devolution, yesterday said the move would help to deal with Scotland's "appalling" health record.

Speaking at Edinburgh airport, where he met people coming off planes to tell them about the new law, Mr McConnell said: "Scotland will be proud that it has gone smoke-free ahead of any other part of the UK.

"The smoking ban is absolutely the right way forward. It is right for Scotland, for our nation's health, our nation's economy and our tourist industry."

In the future, people would view yesterday as the day Scotland took the largest single step to improve its health for generations, he said. Earlier, Mr McConnell insisted the vast majority of people would adhere to the ban, despite research suggesting that more than a fifth of smokers intended to flout the law.

A poll for BBC Radio Five Live claimed to have found that 21 per cent of smokers planned to ignore the law, although there was no evidence of that last night - the first evening of the ban.

While some councils sent out enforcement officers last night to check on pubs, bingo halls and other places, other councils, including Highland and North Lanarkshire, were not deploying their anti-smoking officers until today .

Mr McConnell insisted there was a need to be "realistic". He said: "There are going to be people who will be inconvenienced by the ban, but I believe Scotland is a law-abiding country. People will want to make this ban work in practice."

His message was echoed by Andy Kerr, the health minister, who visited a pub in East Kilbride to see the ban in action.

Asked about the claim that smokers had been made to feel like pariahs, Mr Kerr said: "I appreciate their concern, but I have to say: 'Work with us'. Look at the seat-belt legislation, or not smoking in cinemas. These have become the norms, and I think this will become the norm.

"It's very clear the legislation we've got here. I think in addition to that, the licensees are used to dealing with customers who present a difficulty, whether they've had one too many or whatever.

"Lastly, we've got environmental health officers whose special job is to ensure the ban stays in force. I don't envisage many problems."

Individuals who flout the law face a fixed penalty of 50. The managers of pubs or other premises can be fined a fixed penalty of 200 for either allowing people to smoke or failing to display warning notices.

Refusal or failure to pay the fine could lead to prosecution and a fine of up to 2,500.

As health experts and doctors queued up to welcome the move, a dissenting voice came from lobby group Forest, which claimed smokers were being victimised and urged them to defend their rights and stand up to "bullying by health fanatics".

The group predicted the law would achieve the reverse of what it set out to do by exposing low-income families to more smoke in the home. Neil Rafferty, Forest's spokesman, said: "Scotland is less free than it was last week. Politicians now have a licence to intrude into our private lives, and there is no doubt they will continue to use it."

Thousands of smokers puffed on their final cigarettes on Saturday night.

An Aberdeen pub held a tobacco "wake", a restaurant near Glasgow staged a smoking "Last Supper" and a Clydebank pub had a charity "smoking party".

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association fears 140 pubs could close and that 2,500 jobs may be lost because of the ban.

However, Dr Peter Terry, the chairman of BMA Scotland, said that the day would be remembered as "the time Scotland took a bold and politically courageous step".