Chris Thomas, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), argues YES
Oxfordshire County Council is right to take further action to discourage smoking, such as banning smoking directly outside restaurants and offices. Smoking rates do not come down on their own – they take policy change.
That’s because we still live in a society that promotes smoking as ‘cool’, and where many began smoking decades ago, thanks to the influence of rampant advertising, promotions, and clever branding. When 60 per cent of smokers say they want to quit, it is only right that the government steps in to help them do so.
The public tend to support restrictions on tobacco. For all the fuss made about the indoor smoking ban, public perception research shows it was popular then – and it is even more popular now. Recent studies show that 82 per cent of adults in England support smoke free laws, including the majority of smokers.
But it is not just about health. The rewards for governments and local authorities who take bold action on smoking will be substantial. Tobacco use costs our society £12.9 billion per year – and costs the global economy $1 trillion. As we recover from the economic impact of Covid-19, this kind of economic prize will be even more valuable.
100,000 deaths per year means smoking is more deadly than Covid. And the only known vaccine is bold tobacco control policy. We were willing to lockdown for the pandemic – does that not put an extension of smoke free legislation into perspective?
Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, argues NO
It is nearly ten years since I joined several hundred protestors in the Buckinghamshire market town of Stony Stratford to object to a councillor’s proposal to ban smoking in the street. The policy was roundly rejected by the council and never mentioned again.
In 2015, Bristol introduced a voluntary outdoor smoking ban, but since it was ‘self-policing’, it was largely ignored. A few months later, Brighton and Hove council abandoned plans to ban smoking on the city’s beaches.
Outdoor smoking bans are the kind of eye-catching policy that plays well in the public health echo chamber but has little purchase with the British people. Since there is no conceivable threat to health from outdoor secondhand smoke, a ban offends our sense of fair play and tolerance. We might dislike smoking, but we dislike puritanical busybodies and meddling bureaucrats even more.
Nevertheless, Oxfordshire’s public health director, Ansaf Azhar, has committed to making the region ‘smoke-free’ by 2025. The cornerstone of this project will be a ban on smoking outdoors, but no one seems to know how this will be achieved. Cherwell District Council was recently asked by a member of the ‘health improvement partnership board’ to make all new pavement licences ‘smoke-free’ but this was rejected by the council.
The idea is petty, illiberal and comes at the worst possible time. Battered by lockdowns, the hospitality industry is unlikely to welcome a policy that forces more of its customers to stay at home. The public are keen to see their freedoms restored this month, not to have old freedoms taken away. The nanny statists responsible for this proposal must have a tin ear if they think there is an appetite for more bossy infringements of liberty and business-destroying edicts in the name of public health.
Tobacco remains one of the greatest threats to UK public health. Every year, smoking accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK alone, and half of all life-long smokers will die prematurely. Tobacco is also driving health inequalities, with death rates from tobacco around three times higher among the most deprived social groups, compared to the best off.