The Pope has ordered a ban on one of the few vices available to Catholics and stopped employees buying cigarettes inside the Vatican.

Workers were able to buy up to five cartons of cigarettes a month, which are considerably cheaper than those sold in Italy which are subject to heavy taxes.

But it meant that Vatican employees who didn't smoke were often asked by their friends to buy cigarettes for them.

Greg Burke, a spokesman for Pope Francis, said: "The reason is very simple. The Holy See cannot contribute to an activity that clearly damages the health of people.

"According to the World Health Organisation, every year smoking is the cause of more than seven million deaths throughout the world."

He added: "Although the cigarettes sold to employees and pensioners in the Vatican at a reduced price are a source of revenue for the Holy See, no profit can be legitimate if it puts lives at risk."

When choosing a new Pope, the Vatican lets the world know by smoke signal.

White smoke means a new Pope has been found, while black smoke means they have not found one yet.

In 1863 Pope Pius IX built a tobacco factory in Rome's Trastevere neighbourhood and the old Latin inscription including the word "nicotianis" can still be seen.

A former school building used to educate the children of the factory workers which processed nicotine leaves is now the home of the Pontifical Islamic Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies.

Official Catholic teaching does not condemn smoking although the Church's catechism calls for "reasonable care" of the body.

It adds that "the virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco or medicine."

Previous Popes Pius X, Pius XIII and John XXIII all smoked and it was rumoured that Benedict XVI smoked Marlboro Reds, although never did so openly.