Oxfordshire is considering a smoking ban for outdoor hospitality as part of plans to become the first smoke-free county by 2025.

The plans will see employers encouraged to promote smoke-free environments and support staff to quit smoking.

Local NHS trusts will be smoke-free while encouraging smokers using, visiting or working in the NHS to quit.

Local organisations working across the community will be supported to promote smoke-free environments including homes, cars, play parks and school gates.

An Oxfordshire County Council spokeswoman said: “Oxfordshire has set itself an ambitious aim to be smoke-free by 2025. Creating healthy, smoke-free environments – including considering proposals for hospitality outdoor seating to be 100% smoke-free – is just one small part of a wider range of county-wide plans.

“At present there are no timeframes for smoke-free pavement licensing proposals and nothing has yet been agreed. Any decision on this would be ultimately the responsibility of our individual district councils in Oxfordshire.

“Our tobacco control strategy further outlines our smoke-free 2025 plans, which includes creating healthy and family-friendly smoke-free spaces, helping people stop smoking in the first place, and supporting those who wish to quit.”

The Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Strategy aims to reduce the overall prevalence of smoking in Oxfordshire to below 5% by 2025.

The plans will see the council collaborate with other local authorities and the NHS to sign the Local Government Tobacco declaration and the NHS Smokefree Pledge as a commitment to the reduction in the use of tobacco.

In addition, the proposal will also see the local authority tackle the supply and demand of illicit tobacco, raise public awareness, support regional programmes to reduce illegal tobacco and take action to reduce the sale of tobacco-related products and electronic cigarettes to those who are underage.

A report by Dr Adam Briggs, the public health official leading the strategy, found smoking was the leading cause of preventable deaths in Oxfordshire, costing £120 million to the public purse each year.

While 12% of Oxfordshire’s population currently smoke, people earning lower incomes, those with mental illnesses, the homeless and travellers, all have a higher rate of smoking.

Smoke-free is officially recognised by the Government when 5% of the population or less are smokers.

Last year, data from the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), found 2,132 people died from smoking-related causes in Oxfordshire between 2012 and 2017.

ASH also said 23 tonnes of waste, or enough to fill 421 wheelie bins, is gathered in the form of cigarette butts in Oxfordshire each year.

It was also estimated that smoking-related house fires cost the Oxfordshire economy £2.7 million.

However, campaigners have criticised the plans.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “It’s no business of local councils if adults choose to smoke, and if they smoke outside during working hours that’s a matter for them and their employer not the council.

“Nor should it be the role of councillors to force smokers to quit by extending the indoor smoking ban to any outdoor area where there is no risk to non-smokers.”

He added: “The public will want local authorities to help local businesses bounce back from the impact of the pandemic. They will also be expected to focus on issues like employment and housing.

“Reducing smoking rates to meet some idealistic target is not a priority for most people and council policy should reflect that.”