Government consultation document ‘opens door’ to ending smoking in all workplaces



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Monday 20 June 2005

ASH Media Release: Immediate Use, Monday 20th June 2005

 

Government Consultation Document “Opens Door” To Ending Smoking in All Workplaces
 

The Department of Health’s consultation document on smokefree legislation, published today (http://www.dh.gov.uk/assetRoot/04/11/37/20/04113720.pdf), opens the door to ending smoking in all public places and workplaces. And the document provides further evidence to support the public health lobby in pushing for the Government to drop its previous plans to exempt some pubs and membership clubs from planned smoking restrictions. In addition, the Government has also offered to give the National Assembly for Wales the powers it is seeking to bring in comprehensive restrictions in all workplaces and enclosed public places in Wales (page 3).

 

Although the Government is consulting on its manifesto pledge, which includes exemptions, the document also raises the option of “a full ban in all enclosed public places and workplaces”. And the Regulatory Impact Assessment in the document shows that the “partial ban” option would sharply reduce the benefits of the legislation. Benefits from the partial ban – including production gains to employers, reduced sickness absence from work, and NHS expenditure saved through lower smoking rates – are estimated to be worth from £2,842 to £3,616 million. But the benefits from a complete ban are estimated at £3,374 to £3,784 million. Net benefits (after likely costs are included) are given as £998 to £1,486 million for a partial ban, and £1,344 to £1,754 million for a complete ban (page 35).

 

The Government’s existing proposals would already affect many more people than simply those involved in the pub and restaurant trades. About 2,182,000 people across Great Britain work in places with “no restrictions on smoking at all”. This is 8% of those in work. And 10,366,000 people work in places where smoking takes place in “designated areas”. This is 38% of those in work.

 

The consultation document seeks views on the “merits and practicalities” of the proposed exemptions. ASH believes that the Government is likely to drop the exemptions after criticism both from the public health lobby and from the hospitality trade. The exemptions would be hard to enforce, would make the legislation unnecessarily complicated, would lead to unfair competition in the hospitality trade, and would undermine the legislation’s public health benefits.

 

Under the partial restrictions proposed in Labour’s election manifesto, exempt pubs would be concentrated in poorer communities. These communities will have higher than average smoking prevalence rates, and will be suffering from the sharp health inequalities that the class distribution of smoking brings. Many membership clubs – for example Labour Clubs – will also be in such communities. Research undertaken by Northamptonshire Primary Care Trust and local authorities in the country shows that 54% of pubs and bars in Northamptonshire serve only drinks and would be exempt from the controls on smoking in public places. In the borough of Corby, an area where mortality rates are significantly higher than the national average, 85% of pubs and bars would be exempt.

 

Tim Clarke, chief executive of restaurant and pubs group Mitchells & Butlers has also warned that “the enforced specialisation between food and smoking risks commercially incentivising more pubs than the [Government] currently anticipates to remove food and retaining smoking throughout.”

 

Employers in exempt premises whose staff became ill from secondhand smoke would still face legal actions for compensation – several such cases have already been settled for substantial amounts and others are pending.

 

The proposal to prohibit smoking in the “bar area” of exempted pubs would fail to provide adequate protection for employees or members of the public. Smoke drifts. Ventilation systems are not a suitable solution.   The cancer-causing particulates in cigarette smoke, invisible to the human eye, are too small to be trapped by the filter and so are just re-circulated. Even tobacco manufacturers Philip Morris admit on their website that, despite being expensive and difficult to maintain, ventilation systems are “not shown to address the health effects of secondhand smoke”.

 

ASH Director Deborah Arnott commented:

 

“The Government was always obliged to consult on the proposals as included in their Election manifesto, which allowed for exemptions for some pubs and clubs. But it is clear that the exemptions are unworkable, would undermine the health benefits of the legislation, and have no support at all from the hospitality trade. We are confident they will be dropped once the Government assesses the result of the consultation process. We are now within sight of the most important public health reform for thirty years.

 

Ending smoking in every workplace will protect non-smokers from the damaging effects of other people’s smoke, and will encourage thousands of smokers to quit their lethal habit. Smokefree laws have worked in Ireland, the US and elsewhere around the world. Our message to Patricia Hewitt is: seize the moment – you will never get a better opportunity to make such a simple and dramatic improvement in public health.”

 

ENDS

 
Contact: Ian Willmore 020 7739 5902 (w) 07887 641344 (m)