Monday, March 27, 2006

Lights Out

Take it outside...

This weekend was an historic one for people living in Scotland, as it became the first part of Great Britain to ban smoking in all public places. It was heavily pushed by the Scottish Government - who are desperate to improve the health of a country with a life expectancy 10yrs below the EU average. Despite it being in the media almost continually over the past few weeks - with 20% of smokers prepared to flout the ban, authorities were somewhat relieved when the ban implementation passed off without a hitch.

At this point I should admit to having an interest here - if you don't know, I work as a Cancer researcher - so anything that helps keep people off my database is a good thing (especially on a Friday afternoon). Lung Cancer kills over 36,000 people in the UK each year* - 1/5 of all deaths - and in Scotland 35 people a day die from the effects.** Something needs to be done to reverse this, it's shameful.

But is banning smoking in enclosed public spaces the answer? I'm still not sure if it will persuade smokers to quit - I assume they'll just go outside or smoke more at home. I do know that as a non-smoker I used to hate the stinging eyes and stinking clothes that used to be the result of a night out - so for me, it has to be a good thing. The ban was brought in at 6am on Sunday - ironically on the day the clocks went forward and BST began. So not only did the discrimination of smokers start, they got an hour less in bed too. At least Gordon Brown didn't increase taxes on sausage suppers and Irn Bru.

By a co-incidence, I was in Boston on the day they went no-smoking, and remember plenty of signs encouraging people to smoke one last time 'Wave your butts in the air' is one that stands out. Sydney introduced a 'partial' ban, where bars and pubs had segregated smoking areas - so people who wanted to light up had to traipse to the other side of the bar. It was too piecemeal though, and some places didn't bother, others were totally no-smoking and the 'fag lepers' (as Viz calls them) had to stand outside - not much of a punishment given the Aussie weather.

Here though, it's a different story. You'll be pleased to hear I conducted some exhaustive research yesterday, and found many pubs now have benches and bins outside for smokers. A few more hopeful landlords had installed outdoor seating - but the freezing winds meant there was no Italian Piazza-style drinking on Rose Street, just hunched smokers puffing away in pub doorways. The website of Clearing the Air Scotland has the solution - a smoking shelter, that looks like something birds would use if they were waiting for a bus.

So in my opinion it's a great day for Scotland - fair enough it will annoy some smokers who I've heard complaining about being victimised, and the 'Nanny State'. But they've been victimising me and other non-smokers for years, so who cares. There's some fuss over it now - but soon not smoking in pubs will seem as everyday as not smoking at your desk (something people I work with can still remember). The aim isn't to stigmatise anybody - it's to help save lives and increase Scotland's health. The sooner it's introduced in England and Wales, the better...

[edit - it seems the ever-enterprising Scots have reacted to the ban in ingenious ways already. From the BBC...A man posing as a plain-clothes police officer ordered a woman who was smoking on a Glasgow train platform to pay a £20 on-the-spot fine for breaking the new Anti-smoking legislation. The lone passenger had been smoking a cigarette at Partick station at 1110 GMT on Tuesday when the man approached. He said he was a plain clothed police officer and gave her a fine. The victim handed over the money.

* [Cancer Research UK, 2002]
** [Health Education Authority]