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Friday, 14 August 2015

Smoking ban won't be extended

The Royal Society of Public Health has published a report suggesting that the smoking ban should be extended to pub gardens, outdoor eating areas, parks, squares, children’s playgrounds, and outside school gates. They state that the aim is to 'denormalise' (no, that's not actually a word) smoking and make it less convenient, thus encouraging people to give up altogether. The Society claims that 400,000 people have stopped since the ban was introduced in 2007.

I'm not sure this thinking really stands up, judging by the number of pub goers I've seen huddling against the rain around pub doorways. Smoking is notoriously difficult to give up, and I'd imagine that any smokers who chose not to ignore an extended ban outright would simply decamp to areas where it was still allowed.

I also wonder how such a ban could be enforced. With pubs, the responsibility would doubtless be dumped on the licensee who'd be subject to horrendous fines if their customers break the law. Probably the same with cafés and anywhere else with outdoor eating areas, but parks, squares, playgrounds and outside school gates? Who's going to enforce it, especially with severe cuts to local councils and police forces? There is a very simplistic view among so many people that all you need to do is pass a law banning something, and Bob's your uncle! I often see it in the letters pages of the local papers.

The Department of Health has just confirmed that there are no plans to extend the current ban. This is consistent with the original, perhaps ostensible, purpose of the ban, which was brought in under the guise of health and safety in the workplace. Such an argument could not be applied to applying the ban to outdoor areas, so the government would have been overtly and undeniably straying into the area of deliberate control of people's usage of a legal product. I wonder whether the degree to which a wider ban would extend state intrusion into personal freedom was a factor in the government's decision. Or did they just conclude it would be unnecessarily unpopular at a time when they have so many other unpopular things they hope to get away with?

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