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Smokefree legislation has made a significant impact on public health

England only joined the rest of the United Kingdom in having smokefree public places three years ago. But today, the idea of smoke-filled pubs seems like something from the Dark Ages.

MPs voted for the change because they wanted to protect workers from the dangers of second hand smoke. Before the legislation it was estimated that it was causing the deaths of 600 workers each year including over 50 in the hospitality industry. This is more than three times the numbers who die from industrial injuries.

There was no mass civil unrest in those remarkable weeks three summers ago,  and unlike the predictions of some, people stopped smoking inside pubs and restaurants almost instantly. Following the legislation, research found the average air quality of bars was comparable to ambient outside air.

Looking at our experience of the smokefree legislation three years on it is clear we have benefited greatly from it. At the time it seemed like a big step but very few of us would want to go back. We should make sure we continue to be bold in improving public health, as Jon Spiers, Head of Public Affairs at Cancer Research UK, explains in this short video:

And here are some more reasons why.

Smokefree legislation is popular

One big reason why people abided by the law so quickly is that it is popular – 80% of people support it in the most recent survey, including most smokers. Interestingly, a landlord in Wales who stood at the last election had the idea of allowing some pubs to be “smoking pubs” and visited 30 pubs in his constituency to test out his idea.

He found that the “consensus was that people didn’t want smoking pubs, they are happy to go outside. It was a real eye opener.” Spain also had a smokefree law with many exemptions but its Parliament has just voted unanimously to have a comprehensive ban – the only criticism from the opposition party is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Smokefree legislation means better public health

Anecdotally, the law may be popular among many of us as we are grateful for not having to ventilate our clothes after going to the pub. But there are more serious health reasons why we should be grateful for it. Research has shown that it motivated an extra 300,000 smokers to quit and in England it has been responsible for a 2.4 per cent fall in emergency admissions for heart attacks – meaning that 1,200 admissions were prevented over a year.

When the change was brought in some worried that people would just smoke more at home. In fact, it popularised the idea that it’s better not to smoke inside at all.  Following the introduction of the legislation there has been a rise in the number of homes where no one smokes inside.

There was also a big fear it would have a major impact on pubs, but polls showed that pub goers said the smokefree legislation meant they went to the pub more frequently. In the year the law was introduced there was a five per cent increase in licences to sell alcohol. A survey of pub landlords found some did mention the legislation as an issue, but by far the biggest problem facing landlords at the time was the cost of the beer tie – the agreement on drink pricing between publicans and pub companies. They were also concerned about supermarket pricing and the cost of rent.

Bringing smokefree legislation to the UK was a bold step, but it has proved to be popular, and it will save lives. It is vital that governments now and in the future continue to make and support evidence-based laws to safeguard the health of the population.

Robin Hewings, Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK


Mike August 10, 2010

I don’t know what world you are living in but as an entertainer who relies on the pub and club trade for a living I can tell you categorically that my experience and that of all others I know in my profession is of empty pubs and clubs and more venues closing week by week as a direct result of the smoking ban. The only reason 80% of what is left of current pub goers are in favour of the ban is because most smokers don’t go to the pubs now so wouldn’t be included in the survey. Let’s face it, if someone is paranoid about the effect of people smoking around them, they are also likely to be equally as concerned about the effects of alcohol on their health so wouldn’t be regular pub goers anyway. As for the health risks of second hand smoke, they have never actually been properly proved and are at best ambiguous and at worst figures and research is manipulated to give desired results. Ask the 1,000’s of people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods in the license whether they support the smoking ban. I whole heartedly agree there are places that quite rightly, in the interest of comfort of all, that smoking should be refrained from but a pub or club is not one of them.

Niki July 3, 2010

Interesting how quickly we get used to a different way of being as it’s unthinkable now to willingly spend an evening in a smoke-clogged pub. Not so long ago, smoking while sitting at a table in a restaurant was an acceptable thing and people would even light up a cigarette in between courses!
Stopping Smoking in public places was a bold step and one that was met with a lot of fear – wonderful to now see the positive effects that it has on people’s health.