Time To Bin Smoking
|The Sunday Times||
1 June 2007
It is now illegal to smoke in enclosed public spaces in England. But some authorities are planning to go further.
When the comedian Vic Reeves feels like having a cigarette in his nearest “local”, he won’t have to worry about the smoking ban that came into force in England today. Instead, he will simply take a short stroll to the bottom of his garden where he has built a bar in his shed.
“It’s my bar and it’s a government-free area. I can do what I want there,” he says. “I smoke my fags and drink my booze. I say, ‘Hello lovely tobacco, we are going to be friends for quite a while yet’.”
He adds: “I don’t believe in passive smoking. I think people should buy their own.”
The law that comes into effect today bans smoking in virtually all “enclosed and substantially enclosed public spaces”. Offices, factories, pubs, clubs, restaurants and public transport will all fall under its ambit. It’s going to change the social habits of smokers such as Reeves and the singer Amy Winehouse, and many people are bristling with defiance.
Dave West, owner of the Hey Jo erotic nightclub in the West End of London, has enlisted Cherie Blair for a legal challenge to the ban. Tomorrow night he plans a “mass light-up” protest at his club.
“I think this is a massive infringement of civil liberties, and I’m prepared to go eyeball to eyeball with the authorities and take this all the way to the European courts,” he said. “They can fine me if they want, I don’t care. On Monday night we’ll have cigarettes coming out of our ears, we’ll be giving thousands out for free. Let’s see what they do then.”
What the authorities could do under the new law is slap hefty fines on him and the smokers. Since 6am this morning smokers who defy the ban face a fine of up to £200, while businesses that fail to display no-smoking signs or turn a blind eye to smoking on their premises face fines of up to £2,500.
It is the widest smoking ban ever introduced, and Labour hopes it will be one of its most enduring legacies through improving the health of the nation. Caroline Flint, the former health minister, said: “This is the most important public health legislation for decades, if not for 50 years, and as far as I’m aware it’s the biggest exercise of its kind in the world. I feel very excited and we are hoping very much that it will go as smoothly as possible.”
Already, however, there is confusion and contradiction. You can still smoke in your own home - but not, for example, if you are holding a work meeting there. It is illegal to smoke in a company car - unless it is a convertible with the roof down, in which case it is legal.
While theatre audiences will not be allowed to smoke at the bar during the interval, the performers on stage can smoke if necessary for “artistic integrity”.
Exactly what “enclosed public spaces” are covered may also cause dispute. Dozens of councils, colleges and hospitals have already agreed measures to extend the smoking ban outdoors to areas including playgrounds, car parks and communal areas.
Local authorities in Middlesbrough, Cleveland and Derwentside, County Durham, have banned smoking in playgrounds and on football pitches. Gateshead college has banned smoking across its 11-acre site. More than 30 primary care trusts have also introduced outdoor bans.
These strictures may not be legally enforceable, but passengers sneaking a quick cigarette on railway platforms should beware. Under railway bylaws those caught smoking on platforms, whether covered or not, face a fine of up to £1,000.
Though it might appear obvious that a ban will be good for the nation’s health, this, too, is open to question. In Scotland, where a ban has been in place since last year, health officials are concerned that children are being put at greater risk because people are smoking more at home after being banned from smoking in pubs.
So is this an invasion too far by the nanny state, or a public health revolution? Can the ban be enforced? And is it likely to stop people smoking?
AMA RIVERS, from Droylsden, Manchester, began smoking when she was eight years old. “Initially it was just a bit of fun,” she said. “Both my mother and father smoked, and I thought it would be good to be like them. I used to steal a cigarette and take it out the back of the house. I liked it, it calmed me down.”
By the time she was 17, Ama was smoking more than 20 cigarettes a day. Today, as a 24-year-old mother of three, she would like to stop smoking for good and hopes the ban will help her to do so.
“I’ve tried before,” she said, “but when you’re out and other people are smoking it makes it difficult. I’ve got to do it, for the sake of the kids.”
The government hopes that 600,000 smokers will give up their habit as a result of the ban.
At present 24% of adults or 10m people in England smoke, with an estimated 86,500 dying of smoking-related diseases each year. More than 600 deaths are thought to be caused by passive smoking in the workplace each year. The cost to the NHS of smoking-related illness is estimated at £1.7 billion.
On the other hand, the ban will have a big economic cost as well. The greatest impact is likely to be on pubs. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) believes up to 10% of England’s 50,000 pubs could be forced to close as regulars opt to smoke and drink at home.
One group, Freedom to Choose, which counts 800 pubs, hotels and businesses among its members, has filed papers with the High Court asking for a judicial review.
Other opponents have taken a more novel approach. Bob Beech, a landlord of the Wellington Arms in Southampton, attempted to claim diplomatic immunity from the ban by declaring his pub was an embassy for the uninhabited Caribbean island of Redonda. The Foreign Office, however, did not take the same view.
The ban also requires the introduction of millions of no-smoking signs outside offices, shops and pubs. While sign-makers are rubbing their hands at the unprecedented boom, many employers are fuming. Those who fail to display “no smoking” signs face a £200 on-the-spot fine.
Antony Worrall Thompson, the celebrity chef, described the signs as “architectural pollution”. He said: “Why should I spoil my restaurants with these stupid signs? To me it’s getting crazy.”
Sally Low, head of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, is also concerned. She said: “It’s bureaucratic lunacy. It is quite astonishing that the government is coming out with this in such a heavy-handed way.”
The government, however, hopes the ban will be self-regulating. Many councils are planning to take a “softly, softly” approach and resort to verbal warnings rather than fines.
Local authorities have been given £29.5m to implement the ban, but many have spent the money on advertising campaigns rather than training enforcement staff. In Scotland, only one smoker and one business have been taken to court since the ban was introduced in March last year.
The exemptions to the ban may prove more problematic. In prisons, smokers must be given the choice of smoking or nonsmoking cells. In a system that is already bursting at the seams, prison wardens and governors believe it’s an invitation to trouble.
The Prison Officers’ Association believe it is “inevitable” that some inmates will try to sue the prison service if wardens are unable to find nonsmoking cells for them.
The ban is also creating controversy in care homes, where some owners are warning that they may be forced to turn away elderly smokers, who will no longer be able to indulge their habit in public areas. While residents will technically be allowed to smoke in their rooms, in practice many staff fear it poses too much of a fire hazard.
Frank Ursell, head of the Registered Nursing Home Association, said: “In the long term we will have to say we can’t cope with people who smoke. I think it’s very sad but the fire risk of leaving elderly and infirm residents to smoke on their own is simply too much. The law is the law.” WILL the ban stop people smoking? The experience in Ireland suggests that the government’s hopes of hundreds of thousands of people giving up are overoptimistic. While 16,000 Irish initially quit after the ban was introduced there in March 2004, the trend has since reversed, though experts suspect this may be down to the influx of migrants from eastern Europe.
In Scotland results are more promising. Since the introduction of the ban in March last year, 15,000 people have given up smoking.
There is, however, growing concern among health officials in Scotland that people are choosing to smoke and drink at home rather than go out to pubs, putting their children at greater risk from secondhand smoke. Dr Laurence Gruer, director of public health at Health Scotland, said: “There is very good data from a number of studies that young children exposed to parents’ smoke at home are more likely to suffer sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory tract infections and develop asthma. They are also more likely to start smoking.”
Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer, believes that renewed public health campaigns are needed to persuade parents not to smoke in front of their children. He has also called for a return to annual tobacco price increases of 5% above the rate of inflation, a policy last used in the late 1990s.
“The evidence has shown over the years that increasing price is a very good way of reducing smoking prevalence,” he said Donaldson also revealed that the government will be putting graphic picture warnings on cigarette packets showing the health effects of smoking. They may include blocked arteries, rotten teeth and gangrene.
Four hundred years of huffing and puffing
Tobacco smoking started among Native Americans and Sir Walter Raleigh is often credited with bringing it to Europe. Although this is not strictly true (the Spanish had already been introduced to it) he did help greatly increase its popularity in the English court
King James I of England was an early critic, saying smoking was a “custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs”
Cigarettes contain hazardous chemicals including benzene (associated with leukemia), formaldehyde (used for embalming), ammonia (a cleaning fluid), arsenic (a poison), carbon monoxide (a lethal gas) and hydrogen cyanide (also deadly)
77 billion cigarettes are sold every year in the UK
Over 70% of two-parent households on income support smoke, spending up to 15% of their disposable income on tobacco
The “standardised mortality rate” for those between 35 and 69 among nonsmokers is 15%. For smokers it is 45%
Passive smoking may reduce your life span by as much as a year
Quitting at 60 can still add 5-7 years to your life span.
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