Smoke-free Regulations in the UK

Between 26th March 2006 and 1st July 2007, all countries of the United Kingdom introduced bans on smoking in enclosed or primarily enclosed public spaces, with Scotland being the first and England being the last to enforce this legislation. In addition to a ban, it became compulsory to display signs indicating smoke-free areas in order to aid compliance. Issues surrounding the ban had been hotly debated in Westminster, as well as in the wider community, and continue to be contentious.

Why introduce a ban?

The effects of passive smoking, which is the inhalation of toxins from tobacco smoked by other people, have long been observed. Reports by respected bodies such as the World Health Organization and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, as well as the British Surgeon General, show irrefutable links between passive smoking and a raft of serious conditions, including:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Bronchitis and pneumonia

In children, passive smoking can lead to low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Cot Death), the development of asthma and meningitis. As well as the obvious human cost, the monetary cost of passive smoking to the NHS was, and remains, significant.

Areas covered by the ban

With some exceptions, the ban extends to all work spaces – including vehicles used for work purposes – and public spaces which are enclosed or ‘substantially’ enclosed. For example, an old-fashioned telephone booth with a door would be included in the ban, while a new-style booth with a partial cover would not be included. The description of an ‘enclosed’ space states that it should have permanent walls and doors, although a temporary structure such as a marquee would be classed as enclosed because it features walls and doors all around, whenever it is erected. A ‘substantially enclosed’ space is one which is more than half surrounded by walls or doors. Both descriptions regard windows as part of the wall, rather than as a gap. All forms of public transport are automatically considered smoke free.

Exemptions

In addition to public spaces which are less than substantially enclosed, there are some exceptions to the ban. Theatres and TV or film studios are exempt where smoking is essential to the piece being performed, although for filming or public performances only, and not during rehearsals. Nursing homes, workers’ own rooms in oil rigs, psychiatric wards and prison cells (as long as the door is closed) are exempt by reason of them being a de facto home to their residents. A recent ruling states that the ban must be enforced in communal areas of prisons, in spite of fears that this could lead to unrest. Some hotels have been granted permission to designate rooms as smoking areas, and businesses which sell specialist tobaccos are allowed an area for sampling products. While royal palaces are exempt, the members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster agreed to abide by the ban, except for in designated areas.

Enforcement

The smoking ban is enforced by local councils, although failure to observe the ban or, for managers and owners of relevant premises, failure to uphold the ban, makes the individual liable for penalties. Fixed penalties vary:

  • Smoking in the workplace, including in work vehicles – £30, if paid within 15 days, rising to £50, thereafter
  • Failure of an owner or manager to ensure appropriate signage is in place – £150, if paid within 15 days, rising to £200, thereafter
  • Failure of an owner or manager to maintain a smoke-free area – a maximum of £2,500, although no fixed penalty is in place

Anybody who believes the ban is being ignored should inform a member of staff at the establishment, or their local council if the area is one that doesn’t fall under the auspices of a particular building.

Opposition

Many landlords and owners of licensed premises objected to the regulations, stating that their businesses would be adversely affected by them. They requested permission to have designated smoking areas indoors, which was refused, although many opted to install partially covered smoking areas to remain in compliance. Some politicians remain committed to introducing an amendment of this sort in the future.

Just a year after the introduction of the smoking ban in England, the NHS reported a significant reduction in premature births and A & E admissions for heart attacks. It is hoped that a ban on smoking in cars where children are passengers, which will come into effect on 1st October 2015, will see a further reduction in childhood asthma and other smoke-related problems. The aims of the ban have, at least partially, been achieved.