Britain is not doing enough to stop people from smoking, public health experts have warned.
Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, the researchers said Britain was in a “timewarp” and people should have been given more help to quit.
They pointed to the fact that adult ex-smokers have outnumbered smokers in Australia since 1989.
Yet the UK has still to reach that landmark, despite smoking causing a death every five minutes.
The researchers backed calls from some health care groups and charities for a ban on smoking in workplaces, pubs and restaurants.
It is estimated that half of people who continue to smoke will be killed prematurely by their habit.
The authors of the report say the government must make more effort to persuade the third of British adults who still smoke - compared with 20% of Australians - to give up.
Professor Konrad Jamrozik of Imperial College London, one of the authors of the report, who is from Australia, said: “It is extremely hard to fathom why a nation that has led the world in documenting the harm done by smoking has been so slow to act on the evidence and adopt a comprehensive programme of tobacco control.”
Professor Jamrozik, who is from Australia, was heavily involved in campaigning for stricter tobacco control measures there.
He added: “The UK is paying the price for its delay in adopting the full range of effective strategies to help smokers give up and dissuade young people from taking up the habit.
“That price is the death of one Briton from smoking every five minutes.”
Professor Jamrozik said the most crucial move was to introduce smoke-free policies in public places and workplaces.
He said: “When introduced with adequate explanation and advance notice, smoke-free policies are well respected, and several studies have now shown that they have no adverse economic impact on the hospitality industry.”
Ian Willmore of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health backed the researchers’ calls.
He told BBC News Online: “The recent report on health in the UK by Treasury advisor Derek Wanless identified a workplace smoking ban as probably the single most effective and simple thing the government could do to cut rates of smoking rapidly.
“Stopping smoking in the workplace is a very effective way of encouraging people to give up.”
But Simon Clark, of smokers’ rights group Forest, said: “These calls for bans on smoking in public places are almost becoming daily events.
“But there is clearly no overwhelming public demand for such a ban.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “We are having a public consultation in which we are looking for people’s views on the issue of smoking and asking of we have the balance right.
“Those views will be fed into a white paper in the summer.”
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD