In September CIEH took part in World Environmental Health Day (WEHD), an annual event celebrating the contribution of environmental health professionals across the world in protecting the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities.
This year’s theme was ‘Tobacco control - a response to the global tobacco pandemic’ and while the UK has a great record on tackling smoking, many countries have some way to go to reduce the prevalence of smoking and its impact on health.
So on Monday 26 September, CIEH took the lead in the UK to promote WEHD and led an extensive media campaign calling for the extension of ‘no smoking zones’ wherever children play or learn.
This call to action followed results from a YouGov survey we commissioned to find out people’s attitudes towards smoking and protecting children. The results were convincing, finding that 89% of adults in Britain would support no smoking zones in children’s play areas. In addition, 57% of all adults in Britain would support a smoking ban in public parks.
The proposals caused a bit of a stir with some calling them “Orwellian”. The chief complaint was that smokers are considerate and don’t need more restrictions on where they can, or cannot, smoke. To further confuse the issue, some areas of the media reported that we called for a ‘ban’.
At no stage did we call for a ban. Nor are we calling for an extension to existing smoke-free legislation. Instead ‘no smoking zones’ would be implemented locally, and enforced through voluntary codes, encouraging smokers to move away from children in places where they play or learn.
The positives stemming from such a move are numerous. There are benefits to children’s health and wellbeing if you reduce their chances of breathing in secondhand smoke, even in outdoor spaces.
However, health is not the main driver and our proposal is really about influencing positive behaviours. According to the Royal College of Physicians children who live with parents or siblings who smoke are up to three times more likely to become smokers themselves than children from non-smoking households.
It is estimated that, each year, at least 23,000 young people in England and Wales start smoking by the age of 15 as a result of exposure to smoking in the home.
It follows that if we can discourage people from smoking near children in public spaces, it will hopefully reduce the perception among young people that smoking is normal behaviour and help prevent them taking up the habit themselves.
There are many examples right across the country of where no smoking zones are already being implemented by local authorities.
Take Coventry for example, where the local authority has implemented a voluntary prohibition on smoking at school gates across all of its 82 primary schools.
Or how about Nottingham which, following the success of its city centre Beach and Winter Wonderland, now has a completely Smoke Free Summer with a voluntary ban on smoking in all its parks and outdoor spaces
Or even Little Haven in Pembrokeshire, which was the first beach in Wales to go smokefree. Again it was a voluntary prohibition and, despite initial scepticism, the ban has been welcomed by visitors, there is less litter and local businesses and tourist attractions have been given a boost as people have actively sought out the well-publicised smoke free beach.
Based on the impact of these, and other, real examples we would like to see ‘no smoking zone’ implemented not only in children’s playgrounds but extended to public parks, zoos and theme parks. Essentially, wherever children are likely to be spending a significant amount of their time learning or playing.
This is not about being a nanny state. The campaign is anti-smoking not anti-smoker. We are not telling people to stop smoking. Everyone is free to make their own choices and we know that many smokers are respectful of other people and are already careful not to smoke when children are close by.
Our focus is all about helping children and young people. They should be able to have fun and enjoy themselves without seeing someone smoking and thinking this is normal behaviour.
This is a real opportunity to make it easier for children to grow up healthy. Our hope is that voluntary no smoking zones, around children’s play areas, gives us the real prospect of significantly reducing the number of young people who go on to smoke.