No ‘British Bodge’ on secondhand smoke: Reid warned.



Monday 25 October 2004

ASH MEDIA RELEASE: For Immediate Use – Monday 25th October 2004
Health Secretary John Reid has been warned by health campaigners not to try a “British bodge” on workplace smoking restrictions. The warning comes after Reid was reported to be resisting pressure from No10 for legislation ending smoking in the workplace, on the Irish model.

Instead, Dr Reid has said that he will adopt a “British way” in relation to policies on healthcare. He has stated that: “I will not transpose automatically what other countries have done to people in England. We have to find our own way of doing things.”

(www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/oct/19/immigrationpolicy.smoking). Meanwhile Dr Reid’s predecessor, Frank Dobson, has warned the UK government not to settle for a “pathetic compromise” on the issue. Speaking to a conference of global health experts in Edinburgh, Mr Dobson said he had been a supporter of a ban on smoking in public places for a long time. But he warned that there is a danger we will come up with some stupid, pathetic compromise,” he said (news.scotsman.com/health.cfm?id=1235672004). Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has warned that any of the compromise solutions on offer will fail to protect people most at risk from workplace exposure to secondhand smoke, and will also fail to help the Government meet its ambitious targets to cut the number of smokers.

The Government has made a number of attempts to find a policy short of ending workplace smoking by law. But none are satisfactory.

The “Voluntary” Option

  • The pub and restaurant trades created a voluntary Public Places Charter”. In its progress report published in April 2003, the Charter Group revealed that 46% of restaurants and pubs surveyed still allowed smoking throughout, with 22% having separate smoking and non-smoking areas. Less than 1% banned smoking completely. Even Dr Reid has accepted that “the status quo is not an option”, an admission that the voluntary approach has failed. However, leading pub chains, with 22,000 out of 55,000 outlets in Britain, promoted their own scheme in the hope of staving off legislation. They are promising to end smoking at and behind the bar area of pubs by the end of 2005, and to move from 35% smokefree trading floor space at the end of 2005 to 80% smokefree by the end of 2009. Neither move would adequately protect bar staff or customers (www.ash.org.uk/media-room/press-releases/pub-trade-splits-on-smoking-ban)

The Local Option

  • The Labour Party’s “Big Conversation” consultation floated the idea that local Councils should be given new powers to end smoking in their own areas. But even big restaurant and hotel chains that would back national legislation to end smoking oppose this option, because it would sharply increase their regulatory costs – it would leave them with different rules on smoking between different cities, and possibly even between different London Boroughs. Labour has not indicated how it will respond to the Welsh Assembly’s request for powers to end smoking in all workplaces in Wales, or to the Association of London Government’s call for similar powers for the Mayor and London Assembly. Liverpool Council has promoted a Private Bill to get the powers necessary to act – but local politicians and campaigners have made it clear they would prefer a national smokefree law.

Exempting Pubs

  • Dr Reid’s aides have floated the idea of exempting “wet led” pubs (those whose main business is drinks sales) from any new law. This would leave bar staff exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke – the group now identified by the Government’s own Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health as at most risk. The latest – leaked – SCOTH report states that: “overall exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in the population has declined somewhat as cigarette smoking prevalence has continued to come down. However, some groups, for example bar staff, are heavily exposed at their place of work and almost half of all children still live in households with at least one smoker.” (www.ash.org.uk/media-room/press-releases/leaked-government-report-shows-extent-of-health-damage-from-secondhand-smoke)

Data from Government surveys, calculated by ASH and checked by the Office of National Statistics, show that across Great Britain 2.2 million people still work in places where smoking is allowed throughout (8% of those in work), and 10.4 million work in places where smoking takes place in designated areas (38% of those in work). Professor Konrad Jamrozik, formerly of Imperial College London, has estimated for a conference of the Royal College of Physicians that 700 premature deaths are caused each year in the UK by exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace: the figure for bar workers is one a week. (www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news-media/press-releases/one-hospitality-worker-dies-every-week-passive-smoking).

The Department of Health’s own performance targets (2004 Spending Review PSAs) promise to “reduce adult smoking rates to 21% or less by 2010, with a reduction in prevalence among routine and manual groups to 26% or less.” The current prevalence rate for all adults is 26%. The Wanless Report to Government on public health, published in February 2004, stated that “a workplace smoking ban in England might reduce smoking prevalence by around 4 percentage points” (www.ash.org.uk/media-room/press-releases/wanless-report-gives-powerful-backing-to-case-for-smokefree-law).

Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH, comments:

“Dr Reid’s apparent reluctance to end smoking in the workplace is amazing. Here is a Health Secretary with an unprecedented political opportunity to take a major step forwards in public health. He has public opinion on his side. He has the backing of the Prime Minister. He has the support of most MPs. In short, he is standing in front of an open goal, with the keeper tied up in a corner, and with a big white arrow helpfully pointing in the right direction. And yet he seems determined to blast the ball miles over the bar.

He risks going down in history as the health minister who missed the chance to save thousands of lives and to help end the biggest cause of preventable death in the UK. And all because of some misguided notion about the ‘pleasures’ of the working class. None of the British bodges put forward so far have the remotest chance of success. Smokefree workplaces are a public health necessity. Let’s get on with it.”

 

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