IT'S a tough habit to kick - and one that will land you a £50 fine.

Since the smoking ban came into effect last year it has become illegal to smoke behind the wheel of a taxi, now classed as a workplace.

And since the smoking ban came into effect on July 1, 2007, a total of 12 £50 fines have been dished out to drivers caught flouting the law.

Hackney carriage and private hire vehicle drivers are liable to be fined if they smoke in the vehicles - regardless of whether they are carrying any passengers at the time.

A spokeswoman for City of York Council said: "As a place of work they must be smoke-free at all times."

Judy Horwell, police liaison officer at York Taxi Association, which represents hackney carriage drivers and owners in York, said: "This is the law of the land - that you will not smoke in public areas. It isn't the city council making up this ruling and it's there to be abided by for everybody's sake, and if the drivers are going to carry on smoking in the vehicle knowing what the law is then they're going to have to accept the fines that go with it.

"I don't think it's acceptable that hackney carriage drivers have been smoking in their vehicles - they shouldn't have been doing it.

"It is disappointing the fact that that is the law and they've still smoked."

Judy said she gave Stubit packets - small plastic wallets in which smokers can put their cigarette ends - to drivers so they could smoke more easily outside their vehicles, and that she gave them no-smoking signs.

"But it seems we've got a percentage that it doesn't apply to," she said. "I do find it very disappointing that a minority are letting the trade down. I don't know what action we can take as an association because it's the council that has to enforce it. The only thing we can do really is when we put the newsletter out we can put a piece in there saying we're disappointed that a small percentage of drivers have let the trade down."

Barry Hamer, chairman of York Private Hire Association, which represents private hire vehicle drivers in York, said he was not surprised by the figures, but that he was "disappointed".

Mr Hamer said: "I don't doubt the figures because I've seen people. I'm very disappointed that drivers don't realise that they should respect the law, and disobey it. It's always seemed silly to me that people can sit on an aeroplane for two hours and not smoke. Why do they find it necessary to go against the law and smoke in a private hire vehicle? I don't see why people can't adhere to this law. It's not the council, it's a national law and it has to be obeyed.

"We'll put the figures in the newsletter we're sending out, and say gentlemen, please do not do this'. That's the strongest stance we can take. We can only recommend that they obey the law."