Smokers beware: Your favourite brand of cigarettes may soon become illegal unless the manufacturer agrees to reduce its tar content, according to regulations published in the Government Gazette on Friday.

Brands affected include John Player International Filter, Camel Plain, Craven A Menthol Filter, Gunston Toasted, Gitanes, Gauloises Filter, Gold Dollar and Belmont Filter.

People have three months to comment on the long-awaited regulations, which flesh out the details needed to enforce the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill passed earlier this year.

The health department was unforthcoming on the regulations on Thursday, but a source said they covered four areas - smoking in public places, the maximum amount of tar permitted in cigarettes, advertising in places where cigarettes were sold and exemptions from the ban on tobacco sponsorship and advertising.

The source said it had been decided that at least 75% of all public places, including restaurants, bars, offices, hotels and schools, must be smoke-free.

"As the law states, an area for smoking can be set aside in public places," he said. "What the regulations do is spell out the specifications for that smoking area."

Besides being limited to 25% of the total area, smoking rooms must have a separate ventilation system to prevent passive smoking.

There is also no legal requirement for employers or restaurateurs to provide a smoking area.

"It is up to the employer. Smokers can't demand to be accommodated, but non-smokers are guaranteed fresh air - that is what the regulations are about."

The fine for smoking in a non-smoking area is R200.

The limits on the amount of tar in cigarettes are said to be in line with the latest World Health Organisation recommendations, which stipulate that 15mg of tar and 1,5mg of nicotine should be the maximum. After two or three years these limits will be reduced to 12mg of tar and 1,2mg of nicotine.

It is not only the smokers of brands like Gunston Plain that will be affected. Cigarettes like Craven A Menthol, long targeted at the genteel smoker, are also above the limit. When the limit is lowered, brands like Courtleigh Slims and Kent Filter will be out of bounds.

"Manufacturers will have to reduce the tar content otherwise they cannot sell cigarettes legally," said the source.

The regulations are said to make provision for existing tobacco sponsorships to run their course, and to set a date for the last cigarette advertisements to be published or screened.

Ms Priscilla Reddy, the Medical Research Council's head of health promotion, welcomed the regulations.

"These controls are in line with developments all over the world which aim to improve public health and reduce the burden of chronic diseases on our health-care system."

She said it would be up to the public to police the regulations.

Rothmans International spokesman Abrie du Plessis said the industry was hoping they would be given sufficient time to reduce the tar content of cigarettes.

"When limits were imposed in Europe the manufacturers were given three years to get down to 14mg and another five years to get to 12mg. We are hoping we get a similar time-frame."