SMOKERS who light up near hospitals will face fines of up to £1,000 from next year, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

The Scottish Government has published proposals for implementing legislation that makes it an offence to smoke in areas directly outside a hospital building.

In a letter to health board chiefs, it states the no-smoking zone perimeter should extend to a distance of 15 metres from the building.

Anyone who flouts the ban within the zone will be subject to the same penalties as if caught smoking in a public place – a £50 fixed fine. But, if this is not paid the case will be taken to court, with a possible fine of up to £1,000.

NHS boards in Scotland currently have no-smoking policies in place for their grounds, but the move to make it an offence is an additional measure to tackle a “small minority” who continue to smoke round hospital doors and windows.

However, pro-smoking campaigners attacked the move and said it was “disgraceful” smokers could be fined for lighting up in the open air.

The Scottish Government said the zone will apply only in designated areas within hospital grounds, and would not extend to a public street.

It will be enforced by environmental health officers, although NHS staff will be able to report incidents, and is expected to be in force by late 2017.

The letter states: “The aim of introducing new offences in respect of hospital buildings is to support existing NHS smoking policies in hospital grounds.

“These offences do not replace the existing ban on smoking in the whole hospital grounds or suggest that people could smoke freely further away from buildings.”

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-tobacco charity ASH Scotland, said: “Hospitals exist to protect and enhance the health of the population, so it makes sense that all local health boards have adopted policies against smoking at their facilities.

“The great majority of smokers see this and do not smoke on hospital grounds.

“But when a small minority continue to smoke around hospital doors and windows it is only fair that hospital staff should have additional support to enforce what will soon be the law.”

She added the success of the legislation, which was introduced under the Health Act 2016 earlier this year, should not be measured by the number of fines or prosecutions, but in helping promote a “culture change” to stop the behaviour happening in the first place.

But Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ campaign group Forest, said: “It’s disgraceful that patients, visitors and staff may be threatened with fines for smoking in the open air.

“The impact on non-smokers is minimal so this is a gross over-reaction.

“The only saving grace is that penalties will be restricted to those who smoke within 15 metres of a hospital building.

“In that sense this is a compromise of sorts, but it still discriminates against patients who are in wheelchairs or seriously infirm.

“If they have any compassion regulators would exempt the most infirm patients from these regulations.”

He added: “Expecting local authorities to enforce new regulations on smoking will place an even greater burden on them at a time when most people think there are far more important priorities for local government.”

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said measures such as the smoking ban outside hospitals played their part in creating a “culture change” on tobacco.

She said: “Making it an offence to smoke near hospital buildings is common sense, and it will help NHS boards to enforce their existing smoke-free policies.

“Hospitals are places people go to recover from illness, and they shouldn’t have to walk through clouds of smoke.

“Tobacco remains the biggest cause of preventable death in Scotland, which is why we want to create a tobacco-free generation by 2034.”