Regulating the smoke ban 10 years on

As we approach the tenth anniversary of smokefree legislation in England, we are looking at various aspects of the legislation and its impact. This article by Tony Lewis, Head of Policy at CIEH, looks at how the legislation is enforced.

As I look back over the past decade since the smoking ban was first introduced, I think we can agree it has been one of the more successful examples of public health legislation.

Smoking rates have declined, visiting places like pubs and restaurants is a more pleasant experience, and non-smokers in the workplace or in public buildings do not have to breathe in second-hand smoke against their will.

To recognise this landmark legislation 10 years on, we’ve been speaking to our members and the wider profession — the very people that enforced the ban when it became law — asking them to reflect on what it was like to get businesses ready, while enquiring what challenges, if any at all, remain today.

We’ve spoken to a wide-range of colleagues from Leicester and Nottingham to Kirklees and Bristol. It was also important we spoke to Environmental Health Professionals (EHPs) in Northern Ireland and Wales as it tends to be the devolved regions who are public health trail blazers.

Across the board, our colleagues have said that implementing the ban was relatively easy. Many local authorities received additional funds from the Government and used this to engage with businesses early on, providing a summary of the new legislation, information about their responsibilities for staff and the public, signage, smoking policies, and how to help staff access cessation services.

Broadly, our members have told us that businesses were happy to comply with the ban. This meant that when 1 July 2007 rolled around, there were relatively few cases of people flouting the new rules.

And where EHPs did find people ignoring the ban, they engaged with the perpetrators and educated them rather than following an enforcement pathway. This reflected the approach of many; that the ban was as much about influencing changes in behaviour rather than stopping people smoking.

But it’s not been completely smooth sailing as sometimes when one problem is solved, others pop up.

We’re being told that shisha bars are causing headaches for many local authorities. Many of the clientele are young people as it’s a fashionable activity to engage in, those taking part are sitting there for hours smoking and staff are also breathing in air dense with smoke. There are clearly health implications of this activity

Wider issues relate to complying with regulations that say 50% of the structure needs to be uncovered. Many owners are originally not from the UK and are not necessarily aware what they need to do when setting up their business, while also getting lost in a myriad of different council departments. Furthermore, some bars have been found to be operating under the radar and naïve of fire safety regulations.

A big problem but many councils are now taking an engagement-led approach where they are talking to shisha bar owners and providing education and guidance to help them get things right.

Another problematic area for EHPs are people who drive for a living and smoke in their work-based vehicles. This group of people think the ban doesn’t apply to them as it’s not a building. The majority of cases have again been dealt with through education but there have been still some occasions where EHPs have to engage in enforcement activity.

Looking back I think the key success for all concerned has been the behavioural change. Colleagues, who now lecture on the subject, have remarked that when they tell their students that people used to smoke at work or in public places, they are incredulous.

It just goes to show that if you get the right blend of education and enforcement then landmark pieces of public health legislation can be comprehensive successes.