The Bickerstaffe Record

The world beyond West Lancashire

The smoking ban a year on

07.20.08 | 2 Comments

There’s been a debate on the ‘members-only’ discussion forum about a petition now circulating calling for the introduction of a limited number of ‘smoking licences’, which would give “the owners of pubs and clubs freedom to allow people to smoke on their property………allowing business owners to decide how to run their businesses and customers to weigh up health risks for themselves.”


It is all part of an interesting ‘one year on’ debate about the England ban on smoking in public places, recently picked up by the BBC online which makes reference to ‘unintended consequences’,but doesn’t actually cover them as full as it might. 

For me, the issue is less about freedom of choice, more about these unintended consequences for public (and especially child) health.   In terms of the’ freedom question’, I’m generally at the regulatory end of the spectrum when it comes to public health – I’d be quite happy to legislate on the requirement for the MMR vaccination on the basis of current scientific knowledge and the need to retain herd immunity (the best example I know of ‘for the greater good’). Likewise, though less securely because the science is less certain, I think there may be a case to back water fluoridation nationwide in the interests of dental health – that’s a debate that will start to rage over the coming months.  

The problem with the smoking ban, though, is precisely that of unintended consequence, and the fact that we don’t yet know enough about it. Research from the

US shows that: “that smoking bans in public places can perversely increase the exposure of non-smokers to tobacco smoke by displacing smokers to private places where they contaminate non smokers, and in particular young children.”  

I think this is something worthy of much greater investigation, but intuitively I can envisage it happening, especially in poorer areas where there is a smaller range of leisure options (and smaller-size accommodation). In fact, in an ‘unintended’ sort of way, John Reid may have been right when he backed the rights of working class smokers back in 2004 and got a right slagging for it. Further, the effects of the ban may be exacerbated by the cheapness of supermarket booze, leading to increased consumption by those ‘forced’ to smoke at home because they can’t at the pub.  

Of course, on the other hand I accept that this is only one study and that British bars are very different from US bars (not least in the growth of beer gardens as an alternative smoking area, which the petition conveniently ignores), but I’d like to see more evidence that there is no significant ‘perverse displacement’ before the smoking ban gets my full, full endorsement.  

I won’t be signing or supporting the petition as it’s not to my mind got the right focus, but I do think we need to keep in mind the real effects of the ban before we consign it to perpetuity. 



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