PLAY areas across County Durham could be declared smoke-free zones if the public backs a council proposal.

Durham County Council is expected to consult residents about plans to introduce a voluntary code banning people from smoking at outdoor play areas.

The idea has been put forward by the County Durham Tobacco Control Alliance, which includes Durham County Council.

The alliance believes by reducing children’s exposure to smoking and making it less socially acceptable they are less likely to take up the habit themselves.

Coun Lucy Hovvels, cabinet member for safer and healthier communities, said: “More than 80,000 people die from smoking related diseases every year in England.

“We want to prevent as many of those deaths as possible, not just by encouraging people to stop smoking, but by deterring them from taking up the habit in the first place.

“We know from research that young people are most at risk of becoming smokers if they grow up in communities where smoking is the norm.

“Making our play areas and play parks smoke-free is one of the ways in which we could change that social norm and hopefully prevent young people from taking up smoking.”

The council’s cabinet members will be asked to approve a six month consultation period when it meets at The Witham, in Barnard Castle, on Wednesday, June 11.

If that goes ahead and the public support the scheme 178 play areas owned by the county council would be declared smoke-free.

The owners of the remaining 129 play areas would be asked to sign up to the voluntary code, placing posters and stickers at play areas advising people not to smoke.