SMOKING is responsible for one-third of all deaths in Southampton, the Daily Echo can reveal.

A shocking new government-commissioned report shows that 35 per cent of people in the city - 42 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women - die from smoking-related illnesses.

The grim figure was the highest in the south of England outside London, according to the hard-hitting study by the Health Development Agency.

A HDA spokesman said the figures meant smoking had to be considered an "epidemic" in the city.

The report also reveals that 35 per cent of people in Southampton still smoke - putting themselves at risk of potentially-fatal illnesses including cancers, heart failure and respiratory diseases. Only 29 per cent of city smokers had quit, according to the study which looked at deaths of adults aged 35 or over between 1998 and 2002.

The study came amid growing demands for the government to outlaw smoking in public, including pubs, offices and restaurant.

It will publish a Public Health White Paper this month.

Former health minister John Denham, Labour MP for Southamp-ton Itchen, said the statistics were "very worrying".

Should there be a smoking ban? See today's Spotlight feature under the More News section of 'This is Southampton'.