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  Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday September 22, 2003


Should smoking be banned in public places?

As smokers become increasingly stigmatised, many pubs and restaurants are thinking about banning smokers. Inside Out looks at whether Midlanders will be fuming mad if smoking bans get the go-ahead.

Smoking was once seen as glamorous, sophisticated and sexy, but not any more.

Smokers are increasingly shunned and barred from lighting up, and things are likely to get worse.

The Midlands could be one of the first places in Britain to introduce New York style smoking bans in bars and public places.

Supporters of the ban say that it could save thousands of lives but smokers could be left fuming mad.

Government Health Warning

120,000 smokers die every year of smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer and heart attacks, six times the number killed in road accidents.

The British Medical Association estimates that at least 1,000 people die in the UK every year as a result of exposure to other people's tobacco smoke.

Smoking in public places could be a thing of the past

Despite the health warnings smokers seem to be everywhere but their habit could be curtailed drastically if local Health Authorities have their way.

War on tobacco

According to the World Health Organisation, one out of every two long-term smokers will be killed by tobacco.

From 1985-2000, tobacco has killed more than 60 million people in the developed countries alone, more than died in World War Two.

In the Midlands it's a similar story with high mortality rates from smoking-related illnesses in the UK.

Snuffed Out

The Health Authority in the Midlands is concerned about the statistics particularly as smoking is the world's number one preventable killer.

Rod Griffiths
Smokers complain that they're being stigmatisedSmokers complain that they're being stigmatised

Dr Rod Griffiths, Director of Public Health for the West Midlands, says that he would support Birmingham banning smokers from shops, pubs and restaurants.

"This is the way the world is going Birmingham has been renowned for its forward thinking and its mottos is 'forward'."

"The forward position is to stop smoking."

"What I'd like to see is an extension of no smoking to big shopping malls, the larger stores, and a substantial number of restaurants and pubs so people who don't smoke can go anywhere and not be subjected to smoke."

Passive Smoking

Pubs remain one of the few sanctuaries for smokers at present but they are at the front line when it comes to the arguments over the dangers of passive smoking.

We decided to put the arguments to the test using bar man and non smoker Steve Coleman.

Carbon momoxide test
Smoke gets in your eyes - Steve takes the test

Steve took a carbon monoxide test that was normal, followed by a saliva test to detect nicotine levels that had been breathed through his body.

Toward the end of his shift we returned to test Steve and found a 50% increase in both nicotine and carbon monoxide in his body.

Smoke-Free Zone?

But what would be the effect of declaring war on tobacco, and would smokers be happy to comply with any ban on smoking in public places?

The main reasons people give in support of a ban are to improve their own health and the health of others, to to reduce unpleasant smells, and prevent environmental damage

But opponents of a ban claim that a ban would be a breach of civil liberties.

Anthony Worrall Thompson
Anthony Worrall Thompson is against bans on smoking

Smokers at Birmingham's Old Joint Stock pub weren't impressed by the idea.

"I think it's a terrible idea - it infringes on people's rights," says one regular. Another described the idea as "appalling".

Celebrity chef Anthony Worrall Thompson is also firmly against any plans for Birmingham to go smoke-free.

"It's going to make your city look even messier and you're going to have people standing outside offices on the pavement and outside bars dropping cigarette butts," he argues.

The City That Never Smokes

The Midlands isn't the first place to consider banning smoking in public places.

California was one of the first places to introduce a no smoking policy five years ago. Other American states like Delaware and Maryland have followed.

In March 2003, New York's Mayor introduced a controversial smoking ban in the city's 20,000 bars, clubs and and restaurants.

This was despite resistance from bar proprietors and the city's 1.3 million smokers.

Smoker lighting up
Smokers complain that they're being stigmatised

Bars that flout the ban are liable to fines of $400. Inside Out travelled to New York to investigate whether the smoking ban was having the desired effect in cutting smoking.

No Smoke

Reaction to the smoking ban in New York has been mixed. Some businesses claim that trade is down and that smokers are deserting bars in droves.

Others say that that the effect on businesses has been minimal although smokers are now going out onto the streets to enjoy a smoke.

This has led to problems of noise in residential areas and complaints about the growing heap of cigarette butts outside venues.

There is some evidence that smokers are staying home or indulging in behind-doors smoking sessions in hotel rooms.

It's probably too soon to assess the full impact of the ban in New York particularly on businesses.

In California, where the ban has been in place much longer, there's evidence that bar sales haven't been affected.

73% of Californians now support the ban as opposed to 65% when it was first introduced.

Smoke and the City


Pro the ban:

Smoking bans can help to reduce tobacco consumption.

Second-hand smoke is a serious hazard for staff working in bars and restaurants.

Smoking is a greater cause of death and disability than any other single disease (World Health Organisation).

Non smokers should not have to get smelly and breathe in smoke.

Smoking bans are a key to reducing smoking and health problems.

Children are vulnerable to passive smoking in restaurants and cafes.

Against the ban:

Smoking bans are an infringement of civil liberties.

A smoking ban can have a detrimental effect on trade in bars and restaurants.

No smoking bars are no fun.

A smoking ban will kill the pub trade.

Bars and restaurants have to police the 'no smoking' regulations, and this can lead to friction with customers.

Smoking bans stigmatise smokers.

Why jeopardise smokers and not drinkers - both are bad for your health.

Back in Britain, it was no surprise to find that drinkers in the Old Joint Stock pub in Birmingham disagreed with bans on public smoking.

Some publicans are also concerned that irate smoking customers could get aggressive with bar staff.

It's a fear borne out from experiences in New York where a Manhattan bouncer was killed earlier this year when he tried to enforce the tough new anti-smoking laws.

But it's not a view shared by pensioner Mo Davidson who suffers from emphysema after 40 years of smoking.

She is permanently connected to an oxygen supply, and strongly supports banning smoking in public places.

"Smoking causes disease, it causes illness and it puts people like me where I am today," she says.

A Breath of Fresh Air?

More cities and regions in the UK are looking at the idea of smoking bans with the aim of cutting down smoking- related diseases.

In August 2003 Pizza Hut became the first major UK restaurant chain to ban smoking in all its eating places.

Its goal in snuffing out smoking was to protect its customers and staff from the dangers of passive smoking.

In the Midlands there are already signs of diminishing tolerance towards smoking in public places.

Smoking is already banned on the New Street Station in Birmingham.

Some cafes and restaurants have also banned smoking.

It's a trend that many more malls, bars and restaurants are set to follow.

But how will smokers react?

Fuming mad?

Simon Clarke from tobacco lobby group Forest says that more evidence is needed on the effects of passive smoking.

"At the moment there is no conclusive research one way or the other," he says.

"Yes, let's have more research but let's not let politicians introduce draconian bans," he contends.

Many smokers also argue that no smoking areas and segregation is the best way to satisfy both the pro and anti-smoking lobbyists.

What Do You Think?

Do you think that smoking should be banned in public places
in the West Midlands?

Is this the thin end of the wedge for smokers? Or do non smokers have the right to breathe in fresh air?

See also ...

BBC - New Rule to Snub out Smoking
BBC - Global Warning on Smoking
BBC - New York's Withdrawal Symptoms
BBC - Last Smoke in New York
BBC - Health - Smoking
BBC - Are Midlands Smokers Scuppered?

On the rest of the web
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
World Health Organisation
Smoke at Work
BBC Inside Out - No Smoking Bars

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Douglas and Jennie Hird
No human being has the right to inflict injury of this nature on his fellow being. If he wants to commit suicide by smoking this horrible weed then he should do so in private and not in any public place or near any innocent child.

Tym Fern
We like to walk down the road to one of our locals, but often we are put off by the fact that when we get home we have to shower, wash our hair and hang our clothes outside to get rid of the awful smell of the smoke that permeates everything. If it sticks to surfaces so easily then it must be absorbed by the lungs as well. I am all for civil liberties but what ever you do should not affect the enjoyment or well being of others, smoking in certain places is, at the least very unpleasant for the majority that do not smoke. If I drink a pint of bitter it does not affect the person sitting next to me; if I smoke then I do infringe the civil liberties of that person. Lots of things that we do every day from driving a car to switching on a light, thus increasing pollution, cause a degree of harm or infringement to others. These activities have arguably become essential parts of modern life. Smoking is not, and it should not be done where it affects others

Dr.Jenny Bywaters
I thought this was an excellent article, but was surprised that the BBC broadcast did not explain the link between FOREST and the tobacco industry- it is an organisation with a vested interest in promoting smoking. As a doctor whose only interest is in protecting the health of the public, I strongly support the view put forward by Prof. Rod Griffiths: non-smokers should be ale to visit public places in Birmingham without being exposed to tobacco smoke, which is both a health hazard and an unpleasant nuisance. As a mother whose daughter has recently been working in a city centre pub, I find it very worrying that bar staff are exposed to this danger at work. The freedom of smokers to smoke has to be balanced against the right of others to breathe clean air.It is surely only a matter of time before all public places become smoke-free zones: citizens of Birmingham should be proud to lead the way.

Maggie Thompson
I am all for a ban on smoking in public places - particularly pubs. I simply do not go to pubs BECAUSE I cannot stand being in a cigarette smoke environment - it stings my eyes, makes me cough and lingers on my clothes leaving a disgusting stale stink.

I am fit and healthy and object to being forced to passive smoke by people inconsiderate enough to force me to indulge in their habit. Perhaps a 'Smoke Watchers' organisation could be formed to help smokers kick the habit in the same way the 'Weight Watchers' helps people lose weight?

paul smith
The arguments against banning smoking are a farce eg: - if a ban infringes civil liberties, inhaling someone else's smoke is an even greater infringement. - if your celeb chef is worried about litter, then enforce tidiness with litter wardens. - if a ban harms pub/restaurant trade, then come on pubs owners, get creative! - 'why jeopardise smokers, not drinkers' - its quite clear that smoke does more damage. I could go on ... The people quoted on your film being against a ban sounded so incredibly selfish - I hope they listen to themselves! BAN SMOKING NOW!!

Heather Barwick
Smokers always say they have the right to smoke. Fine but I cannot choose whether I breathe in their smoke or not. I have a chronic lung condition, as a result of a childhood illness - not my fault. I have displastic lungs and a 50% function. I have great difficulty with people who light up in public places - even in non-smoking areas. I've received abuse when I've asked them to go elsewhere. The more places people smoke the fewer choices I have. Already I prefer not to go into large towns, closed spaces. You'd be surprised how poor the air quality is in most large shops. Air con. is no answer. I avoid parties and big social occasions, thereby earning the party-pooper name. I'm now 56 and have got used to it but it's no fun. I'm enormously pleased that increasing numbers of public places are now no-smoking. Smokers are selfish. It is they who should be abolished, hidden banned. let them smoke themselves to death in an enclosed space. leave the fresh air to the rest of us!

Paul Carter
I agree that smoking should be segregated, but at the end of the day if I am willing to pay my money and take my chances with health, etc then I should be able to enforce my right to smoke. I feel that this is just another way of the government telling people what to do and how to live their lives. In history wars have been fought for people to have rights, why are our rights being taken away now!

I have worked in bars on broadstreet in Birmingham, and by the end of the evening my eyes would always be stinging from the smoky atmosphere. It worries me what that smoke has already done to my lungs. Although such establishments try to discourage anti social drunken behaviour, there is no control of the amount of smoke being exhaled into the air, and even air conditioning does not dissipate it. This is a far more insidious health threat. i think banning smoking in all public places would be very difficult to enforce, not to mention overly restrictive, but it would definitely be beneficial to have designated non smoking leisure zones.

h smith
It is upto the pub / restaurant owner to decide whether smoking is allowed on their premisis - Not the council/goverment.

I would prefer to see much better extraction/ ventilation combined, where appropriate, with segregation in public places. With effective ventilation (which is desireable anyway for a range of health and comfort reasons) this really should not be an issue. I also feel that it is unhelpful when 'experts' make statements which are highly questionable. If Dr Rod Griffiths genuinely believes noone objects to New Street Station being non smoking I can only assume that he has been very selective in who he asks. This station is effectively outdoors and to suggest that tobacco smoke is any more harmful in this particular location than any other fumes and air borne particles that are in abundance seems very dubious. I would suggest a very significant minority of New St Station users for whom no provision is made do object.

Mrs Janet Morris
I am a 20 a day smoker, but I FULLY AGREE WITH A TOTAL BAN ON SMOKING IN PUBLIC PLACES. I know what I do is unhealthy for me, and yet I continue to smoke, which is my choice. However, I do not feel that non-smokers should be forced to breathe my smoke. Smoking is basically a selfish act, and smokers tend to go on about their rights to smoke, but do not allow for the rights of non-smokers. It has to work both ways. Smokers could still carry on their habit in their own homes or even outside!

Gill Bashford
I hope Birmingham will lead the way and implement a smoking ban in all public places. Hopefully the rest of the country may follow suit. Not only will this make it a healthier place, it will make it safer regarding fire risks.

Tim Byrne
I'm a 35 yr old Australian,living here for the past 7 yrs.25 yrs ago the government/health officials launched a campaign to reduce &stop smoking etc.The results are amazing.You are a social outcast if you light up in public.The usual arguments raged back & forth but most business found a major increase in trade due to smoking bans.The slogan that was used or the 2 main slogans were "smokers yuk,we get half your muck" so i couldve told you that the blokes increase would be 50% ish and the other slogan was "kiss a non smoker enjoy the difference" so come on Gt Britian get with it.

Andy Botherway
Smoking is a dangerous, filthy, antisocial habit which harms people who don't smoke. It is an infringement of MY liberties to be subjected to smokers in public places. What would the reaction be to me walking around a public building with a spraycan containing a known carcinogen? I'd be evicted immediately! This is what smokers do. A public ban now is the only sensible answer, and it will bring people back to Birmingham Centre.

Rebekah Barker
I am a smoker. I personally think this is MY choice and it is MY choice to smoke in my local pub. Most bars/clubs have no smoking sections and smoking sections so where is the problem? I can't see one. If smoking is banned in all public places I can see bars/clubs etc losing a lot of buisness because I, for one, would just stop going. Why should I stand out in the cold to have my cigarette when there are already smoking and no smoking sections? This is blatent discrimination. Our society doesn't stand for discrimination against racial minorities, women, sexual orientation and the disabled so why should discrimination against smokers be allowed?

Did the barman from the Joint Stock have negligable levels when tested before his shift ? If so, a 50% increase by the end of his shift is still negligable, after all, isn't a 50% increase of nothing still nothing ? Now do a similar test before he walks the streets of Birmingham and see what his CO2 levels are.

I am 68 years old,I have smoked for 52 of them, and think people are getting paranoid over this, I lived in London most of my teen years and used to go to jazz clubs and pubs, where there was a hell of a lot of smoke, it has not affected me

in any way, and during the war it helped many people to combat stress, as for passive smoking, I think its a load of old rubbish, when you look at the amount of people that servived the war during which 80% of people smoked then, and lets face it, if it was not for the smokers the old age pension would be a lot smaller than it is now, and thats only one thing that the tax pays for, so get off our backs, you do what you want and we will do as we want.

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