White Paper Smoking Plans: Big step forwards for public health. But Pubs “Bodge” Just Wont Work

Tuesday 16 November 2004


ASH News Release:  For Immediate Use – Tuesday 16th November
Plans for smoking restrictions in workplaces and enclosed public places in today’s public health White Paper will be a big step forwards for public health, Action on Smoking and Health said today. But the Government’s attempt to exempt some pubs and private clubs is an ”unworkable and unsustainable bodge”.

The White Paper proposes to end smoking in the great majority of workplaces and public places. This will sharply cut the toll of illness and premature deaths caused by secondhand smoke: in May this year Professor Konrad Jamrozik, formerly of Imperial College London, estimated for the Royal College of Physicians that secondhand smoke in the workplace leads to about 700 premature deaths a year, three times the number who die in industrial injuries and accidents[1]. It will also encourage many smokers to cut down or quit altogether: in his report to Government on public health, Derek Wanless estimated that a complete end to smoking in the workplace could lead to a fall in smoking rates of up to 4% (from about one in four adults to close to one in five), an equivalent effect to doubling the price of a packet of cigarettes.

However, there are no good reasons to exempt some pubs and private clubs. The Government’s own Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health has advised that bar staff are the group of employees most at risk from secondhand smoke. Smoking and non-smoking areas cannot be effectively separated, since smoke drifts. Pub employees will still have to work in smoking areas, threatening their health. Independent experts state that any ventilation system would need to produce a “tornado-like” gale to be fully effective in removing secondhand smoke from the air[2]. Any system which requires minimum standards for exempt pubs would greatly increase the regulatory cost to businesses, which could waste time and money applying for exemptions and installing expensive and ineffective systems to meet minimum conditions.  The public health lobby will challenge any attempt by Government to set inadequate safety standards for exempt pubs, and if necessary will look to use health and safety and human rights law to challenge any exemptions in the courts.

Ministers have stated that they expect only about 20% of pubs – those not serving “prepared food” – to be exempted. This would be about 11,000 pubs out of 55,000 pubs across the country. Private clubs not admitting children could also be exempt, following a vote of members.  There are 3,751 licensed clubs in England and Wales (clubs in private ownership) and 19,913 registered clubs (owned by the members). (Source: Department for Culture, Media and Sport Statistical Bulletin Liquor Licensing, England and Wales, July 2003-June 2004).

It is also not yet clear whether the White Paper proposals will apply in Northern Ireland, although Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has said that similar proposals will apply in Wales. The National Assembly for Wales has called for new powers to allow it to introduce a comprehensive workplace ban, as announced last week by the Scottish Executive. Ministers have said that they expect the new legislation to come into effect during 2007 and 2008, a long timescale which health campaigners will wish to shorten.

ASH and the public health lobby will be calling on Ministers to make a clear commitment to legislation in the first session of the new Parliament, and will be calling on the Labour Party to include this promise in their General Election manifesto. ASH also wants the Government to promise a free vote for MPs on a comprehensive ban – ASH believes that a clear majority of MPs now favour such legislation.

Deborah Arnott, Director of Action on Smoking and Health commented:

“The White Paper is a big step forwards for public health. If passed into law, it will save thousands of lives every year, as vulnerable people are no longer exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke at work, and as thousands of smokers are encouraged to cut down or quit altogether.

But Dr Reid’s last ditch defence of smoking in pubs and clubs has led to a ridiculous bodge. There is no excuse at all for the Government to accept that secondhand smoke is a serious health and safety issue, and then to try to exempt some of the employees most at risk. The Government will also find it impossible to set safe standards for pubs and clubs that still allow smoking. MPs should be given a free vote on the issue: there is a now a clear majority in favour of a simple, comprehensive end to smoking in all workplaces.”

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[1] One hospitality worker a week dies from passive smoking, study shows, BMJ, 328 : 1222 doi: 10.1136/bmj.328.7450.1222-a (Published 20 May 2004)

[2] Fact Sheet on Secondhand Smoke, James. Repace, 09/01/99