A decision on whether to ban smoking in pubs, bars and other public places in Scotland could be taken by Christmas.
Scottish first minister Jack McConnell, a former sceptic on a blanket ban, has promised an announcement about the Scottish Executive's plans before Christmas.
His comments followed a visit to the Irish Republic to assess how its ban has gone down with smokers and drinkers alike.
In a series of TV interviews, McConnell said he had been impressed by the way the ban had worked so far in Ireland.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said it had long been the intention of ministers to increase the number of outlets that were smoke-free, the only question being how and in what time period.
A decision was likely to be made by Christmas "or the end of the year at the latest", he added.
But opponents of such a ban have warned it could lead to lost jobs and trade and added that McConnell was pre-empting a consultation currently being carried out by the Scottish Executive.
by Nic Paton
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