Briefing: England prepares for the smoking ban

It's out with the ashtrays and in with fresh air, but hardened addicts will puff their way through the final week of freedom at last-ditch 'smoke-ins'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Why is smoking in public being banned?

Medical experts agree that secondhand smoke kills and that there is no safe level of exposure. The growing concerns over the health risks of passive smoking, which accounts for more than 12,000 deaths in the UK each year, are behind the ban on smoking in public places, which comes into effect from 6am next Sunday.

Next week it will be illegal to smoke in almost all enclosed public spaces across England - including workplaces such as pubs, cinemas, offices, factories and public transport. Outdoor smoking shelters will need to have at least half the area open to the elements to avoid being termed an enclosed space. Anyone wanting to report smokers breaking the law will be able to call a freephone hotline, 0800 587 1667.

Ninety-five per cent of people are aware of the new law, and it has the support of more than 70 per cent of regular pub-goers, according to a new Department of Health survey.

Are there any loopholes?

People will still be allowed to smoke outside and at home. This will include parts of residential care homes, barracks, psychiatric hospitals and prisons. Hotel guests can light up if they book into a smoking room. And performers will be able to smoke if it is necessary for "artistic integrity". The Commons and Lords have committed to going smoke free from 1 July.

Doomsday predictions of the effects on business have yet to materialise; restaurants and pubs are gearing up for a surge in non-smoking customers.

How will it be policed?

There'll be a softly-softly approach. Most local authorities have only recruited a few temporary staff to deal with the ban; the Government hopes it will be self-regulated. Smokers who defy the banface a fine of up to £200. Businesses that fail to display no-smoking signs or that turn a blind eye could be fined £2,500. Ironically, Cherie Blair has been hired to help a London nightclub owner fight the ban in the courts.

Anti-smoking campaigners claim four million smokers will use the ban to try to quit, but the Department of Health estimates that less than 10 per cent of England's 10 million smokers will give up. Each year, smoking causes more than 100,000 deaths in the UK and costs the NHS about £1.7bn.

How are smokers celebrating their last week of freedom?

A number of "smoke-ins" will take place - with a "Revolt in Style" smoking dinner organised by smoking group Forest at the Savoy in London tomorrow. In contrast, Smokefree England is running events to welcome the ban.

Where else has smoking been banned?

England will be the last part of the UK to bring in a smoking ban, following Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Smoking has also been banned in a number of public places in countries such as Ireland, New Zealand and Norway, as well as parts of Australia, Canada and the United States.

What's next?

Smokers will be prevented from fostering young children under new guidelines to be published on the day the smoking ban comes into force. Employers are encouraged to give people time off to go to stop-smoking clinics. Many local authorities no longer allow staff to have cigarette breaks and Liverpool City Council is threatening to boycott smokers who refuse to stop smoking during home visits from council staff.