Health

English councils start banning smoking outside pubs and restaurants


Five local authorities have banned smoking in pavement pubs, cafes and restaurants, and others are considering following suit, before a new push by the government to make England smoke-free in less than a decade.

The Covid outdoor eating culture has given the issue of smokers outside pubs and cafes a new visibility. Last summer there was an attempt to push through an amendment to legislation in the House of Lords to make pavements smoke-free, but it failed.

However, Northumberland county council, Durham, North Tyneside, Newcastle, and the City of Manchester have all banned smoking on stretches of the pavement where bars, restaurants and cafes are licensed to put out tables. Although it does not have a policy, all the licences granted by Gateshead also stipulate that pavement cafes must be smoke-free.

Oxfordshire is also planning to ban smoking from outdoor restaurants as part of a major strategy that aims to make the county smoke-free by 2025, which is five years ahead of the government’s plan for England as a whole. It also plans to take tougher action to stop the sale of tobacco to under-18s and work to discourage smoking in homes, cars, play parks and at the school gates.

“Oxfordshire has set itself an ambitious aim to be smoke-free by 2025,” said a statement from the council. “Creating healthy smoke-free environments – including considering proposals for hospitality outdoor seating to be 100% smoke-free – is just one small part of a wider range of county-wide plans.

“At present there are no timeframes for smoke-free pavement licensing proposals and nothing has yet been agreed. Any decision on this would be ultimately the responsibility of our individual district councils in Oxfordshire.

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“Our tobacco control strategy further outlines our smoke-free 2025 plans, which includes creating healthy and family friendly smoke-free spaces, helping people stop smoking in the first place, and supporting those who wish to quit.”

Pro-smoking groups say local authorities such as Oxfordshire should not interfere. Simon Clark, the director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “It’s no business of local councils if adults choose to smoke, and if they smoke outside during working hours that’s a matter for them and their employer not the council.”

The ban on smoking in public places indoors was credited with a big drop in tobacco use in the UK. There are concerns that allowing smoking in outdoor cafes will renormalise the use of cigarettes after a meal or with a drink, especially for those who may have stopped but are tempted to return to the habit out of anxiety and mental health issues relating to Covid and lockdowns.

Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Ash (Action on Smoking and Health), said the pavement bans were popular with most customers. “Our surveys show that two-thirds of the public want areas outside pubs and cafes to be smoke-free,” she said.

“It is not like this is not on anyone’s radar. People complain a lot that if they go outside, they have to sit among smokers.”

Pro-smoking campaigners have said those who object should sit indoors. “But people want to sit outside. They feel safer outside,” said Arnott.

The interest in smoke-free pavements comes before the publication of the latest tobacco control plan by the government on 9 June, which will be debated in parliament on the following day. Campaigners hope for tough new measures to control smoking and help people quit.

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England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has warned that the impact of tobacco is worse than Covid. Smoking had probably killed more people than Covid in the same period, he said. Generally tobacco is estimated to kill 90,000 people a year in the UK.

“Lung cancer is now the UK’s number one killer in cancer. Almost one in five people will die from this,” he said during a lecture at Gresham College in London.

“The reason that people like me get very concerned and upset about this cancer is it’s almost entirely caused for profit,” he said. “The great majority of people who die of this cancer die so that a small number of companies make profits from the people that have become addicted in young ages and then keep addicted to something which they know will kill them.”



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