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Report: Local authority war on smoking a “moral crusade”

Councils are dramatically overstepping statutory smokefree requirements, imposing draconian smoking and vaping bans on their own workforces and on outdoor public spaces.

According to a new report to be published on Monday 21st September by Forest, smoking is no longer seen merely as a health risk to the consumer but as a moral offence to be kept ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Freedom of Information requests were made to 340 local authorities in England and Wales, and 32 local authorities in Scotland, 283 of which provided a response.

Over 100 councils banned smoking outside council buildings and on council grounds. Islington Council ordered its staff to move 50m away from all buildings before lighting up. Ipswich banned workers from smoking next to council vehicles. Slough Council requested that employees do not smell of smoke while at work.

One London council, Hammersmith and Fulham, told its staff that “any part of a private dwelling used solely for work purposes will be required to be smoke-free.” It added that “Family members should not be allowed to smoke in the home worker’s office.”

In total, 68% of councils had a policy restricting smoking and vaping for their employees in working hours. 49 councils banned smoking and vaping breaks entirely, even if workers were clocked out. The policies included bans on smoking and vaping while walking between work appointments.

Many councils, says the report, are introducing outdoor smoking bans by stealth. 29% of councils banned smoking and vaping in at least one outdoor space. These bans were enforced with fines by councils including Guildford, North Somerset, Mansfield, Leeds, Cheshire West, Wrexham, Pendle, and Enfield.

Denbighshire banned smoking in civic centres, country parks and outside facilities. Nottingham Council and Rushcliffe banned smoking at council events. Bracknell Forest banned smoking in council-managed open spaces. There were also bans on smoking on beaches in Pembrokeshire and Swansea.

Josie Appleton, author of the report, said:

“This isn’t about the risk of passive smoking, it’s a moral crusade. Smoking is being treated as a shameful activity that should never be seen in public spaces or near official buildings.

“Absurdly, some councils are stopping their workers from vaping too, which makes it harder for smokers to give up. It would be better if councils focused on providing public services, rather than interfering in the lifestyle choices of their employees and residents.”

‘Smokefree Ideology: How local authorities are waging war on choice and personal freedom’ is published by Forest on Monday 21st September 2020. The local authority responses were collected between March and August 2020. To download a copy click here.

Simon Clark

Mission & Vision



Forest’s mission is to protect the interests of adults who choose to smoke or consume tobacco.


Our key aims and objectives are to:

  • counteract the “denormalisation” of smoking, and smokers
  • prevent further restrictions on the purchase and consumption of tobacco
  • establish closer links with other tobacco-friendly groups at home and abroad
  • build support among consumers of tobacco and other similarly threatened groups
  • highlight the increasingly intrusive nature of Big Government in the lives of private individuals