SHOULD smoking be banned in Wyre Forest's public places is the question members of a council watchdog are to put to residents.

Smokers and non-smokers should tell councillors whether they want the district to be a smoke-free zone, members of Wyre Forest District Council's housing, health and rural affairs policy and scrutiny panel have agreed.

Panel chairman, councillor Chris Nicholls, said: "It is a responsible move for our policy and scrutiny panel, to look and see exactly what the people of Wyre Forest think.

"We want to find out whether there is a groundswell of feeling for a partial ban, a full ban or no ban."

The move follows a talk by Karen Wright, acting director of public health at Wyre Forest Primary Care Trust, to panel members about the dangers of smoking.

Under new legislation, smoking will be banned in all enclosed public places and workplaces and all pubs and restaurants preparing and serving food by the end of 2008.

Mr Nicholls went on: "I think we have a duty to be proactive rather than wait for things to happen so I don't see any harm at all. It is responsible to consult on this huge health issue."

The panel would investigate the reaction of district residents over the next few months, Mr Nicholls said. The district council has no powers of its own to ban smoking.

The news comes after it was announced last month that smoking would be banned from The Penny Black, one of Kidderminster's main pubs, from May, 2006.

The Ye Olde Crown Inn in Bridge Street, Stourport will also ban smoking from next May as part of a nationwide ban by pub chain, JD Wetherspoons.