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Smoked Out: the hyper-regulation of smokers in public places

Wed 21st October, 2015

A new Manifesto Club report argues that outdoor smoking bans are driven by council officials and public health bodies rather than in response to health risks or public demand.

The report, Smoked Out: The hyper-regulation of smokers in public places, shows how outdoor bans are often introduced by officials seeking to 'improve the image' of a town or institution, or to 'comply with official guidance'.

The report includes new FOI data showing the time and resources spent on enforcing bans, often in the face of public opposition.

• Glasgow hospitals spent almost £400,000 in one year on 17 no-smoking officers to patrol hospital grounds. These officers were so unpopular with the public that several chose to resign.

• Three other health authorities employ 'smokefree' wardens to patrol their sites and intervene with smokers. • Blackpool council spent £275,000 on no-smoking signs in parks and play areas. Some of these signs were removed after they were branded 'monstrous' by residents.

• The report highlights the 17 authorities that together have erected 1570 signs in play areas and 486 outside schools, at a total cost of over £340,000.

The report notes that outdoor smoking bans are often justified as a way to "denormalise smoking" and to limit children's exposure to 'smoking behaviours'. In response, report author Dolan Cummings questions whether authorities should be in the business of reshaping public norms.

He also argues that such restrictions could "have consequences other than those intended": "At least the occasional glimpse of an actual smoker in the street or park will confirm (to children) that the habit is mundane rather than exotic."

The report argues that councils are using children as 'ventriloquists' dummies'to enforce outdoor smoking bans. Signs are often written in kids' handwriting, bearing messages such as 'Consider tiny lungs', 'Kids' rights count', 'Show you care - don't smoke - it's not fair' (Nottingham City Council beach), 'Don't be a fool, smoking isn't cool - don't smoke in my space' (Carmarthenshire).

Cummings commented: "Children don't draw these posters spontaneously. They are being used. They are being told to tell adults to stop smoking."

The report also highlights cases where signs wrongly suggest that smoking outdoors will affect the health of children. One sign outside a London hospital showed an image of a baby and read, 'Please do not smoke here - my little lungs are nearby', though the area was well away from hospital doors.

Smoked Out criticises current moves by Scottish and Welsh governments to enforce hospital smoking bans with on-the-spot fines. 'It's hard to see how these punishments can be enforced with any reasonableness or humanity. Will patients be fined? Will their worried relatives be escorted from the site?'

Report author Dolan Cummings said: "There is absolutely no need for bans on outdoor smoking, especially in open windswept areas such as Brighton beach. Where problems arise, these can be dealt with through measures such as the provision of ashtrays and smoking areas, or through a mutual sensitivity between smokers and non-smokers. Smokers are being pushed and blackmailed out of public spaces, and there is no good reason for this. An accommodation can be reached."

The report is published in collaboration with the smokers' rights group Forest. Forest director Simon Clark said:

"Tobacco is a legal product. Ten million adults must be allowed to light up in outdoor public places without harassment or worse. Smoking is generally a matter of civility. Most people are civil to one another and they don't need legislation or even voluntary bans dictating how they behave in public spaces. Tolerance, common sense and good manners must be allowed prevail without more rules and regulations designed to control people's behaviour beyond what is fair and reasonable."

Download the report here.

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