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Smoking in Public Places - A Consultation on Reducing Exposure to Second Hand Smoke


Smoking in Public Places
A Consultation on Reducing Exposure to Second Hand Smoke
Key Findings from Focus Group Research


7.1 This chapter considers the positive and negative perceptions of the impact of the introduction of a ban on smoking in public places. Most of the discussion in the focus groups focused on the impact of legislation in pubs and other licensed premises rather than in other enclosed public places and therefore much of this section concerns views about pubs, restaurants, clubs and bars. We then go on to consider some of the alternatives to a complete ban, and the perceived advantages and disadvantages of each of these.


7.2 Views on a total ban on smoking in all public places and the reasons behind these are very varied and often relate to the particular circumstances of an individual. Whether or not an individual is a smoker is obviously an important factor in play. Although smoker status is significant, there are other criteria that affect an individual's opinion. These include:

  • Whether or not the individual has children

  • Area of employment

  • Age

  • Experience of smoking related illness affecting them or people they know

  • Experience of exposure to second hand smoke at different times in their life

  • Like / dislike of "big brother / nanny" state and issues relating to freedom of choice.

7.3 Some respondents agree that the time has come for some sort of change through legislation to reduce the impact of second hand smoke on non-smokers. There are only a very small number of respondents (primarily, but not solely, smokers) who are against any sort of change at all. Even most hard core smokers, convinced that passive smoking is of negligible impact on health, would be prepared to accept certain measures, even if they are not in favour of a complete ban. Indeed, few would object to some sort of restrictions being introduced in premises where food is served, at the very least. Some respondents perceive this to be a necessary compromise in order to avoid an outright ban.

7.4 However, it is by no means straightforward as to exactly what level of change should be introduced. Many people that we spoke to in the focus groups are not in favour of a total ban for a number of reasons. Furthermore, there is extremely varied opinion about the extent of the measures that are felt to be appropriate and desirable.

7.5 Focus group members spoke of both positive and negative consequences of a ban.


7.6 Respondents identified a number of positive outcomes from the introduction of a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public places. These include the following:

  • Improvement to the social environments

7.7 The improved comfort of individuals in all enclosed public places is undoubtedly an outcome that is widely desired. Non-smokers would no longer be subjected to the smell of tobacco on their clothes and hair after a night out. They can enjoy a meal knowing that it will not be spoiled by another person lighting up beside them. Some respondents expect that this will make a huge difference in restaurants.

7.8 There is a view that a ban will result in an increase in the number of individuals going out for drinks or meals, and that they are more likely to do so more regularly, knowing that they will not be affected by second hand smoke. This could serve to boost the economy of the licensed trade and hospitality sector rather than destroying it.

7.9 Contrary to the views of those who are against the ban who argue that smokers will stop going to the pub, there is a view that many people go to the pub to meet their friends and get out of the house. They do not go to the pub merely to drink and smoke. A ban would not, therefore, prevent some people continuing to go to the pub.

  • Improved health for all

7.10 Banning smoking in public places is expected to impact positively on the health of the population in a number of different ways.

7.11 Firstly, non-smokers will no longer be the victims of second hand tobacco smoke, thus reducing the risks of smoking related illnesses for this group.

7.12 Secondly, there is a strong belief that some smokers would smoke fewer cigarettes in the course of an evening because of the inconvenience of going outside. Some would be more likely to give up. As some respondents indicate, many smokers are keen to give up but find it extremely challenging to go to the pub when they are trying to give up smoking. This is due to the strong association between smoking and drinking. It is often in the pub, surrounded by others smoking, that the smoker-quitter yields to the temptation of the cigarette.

"My daughter has given up smoking several times but she's with a group, you know. They go to the pub and they're smoking in the pub and she goes back onto the smoking. I am sure that if she couldn't smoke in the pub she would manage to give up her cravings…but there's the temptation…. If the two were separate I think it would help her to quit."
(Inverness, non-smoker, pub customers)

7.13 The removal of convenience and temptation is also expected to positively impact on those who are currently part-time smokers and who only smoke in the pub in the evenings and at weekends with their friends.

  • Scottish Executive image

7.14 Some respondents commented that the Scottish Executive may wish to present a positive health image, whilst still retaining revenue from tobacco sales.

"They (the Scottish Executive) want to look good. They want to come up with health issues. They want to say that but they still want the revenue as well."
(Ayr, NHS)

  • Opportunity to make a difference

7.15 In contrast to the view that a smoking ban is indicative of a nanny state, others believe that this would also be a chance for the Scottish Executive to take a positive and assertive stance on an issue of significant public concern.

  • It will quickly become the norm

7.16 There was also a view amongst those in favour that it would only be a short time before people started to accept the measures and that they would quickly get used to the new situation.


7.17 In contrast, those against a complete ban tend to predict negative consequences and often use what they consider to be pragmatic arguments to make their case.

  • Economic consequences

7.18 One of the most significant fears is that a ban on smoking will have a detrimental impact on business within the licensed trade and hospitality sector. Many respondents predict a severe loss of business as they believe that many smokers will stop going to the pub if they are not allowed to smoke there.

"You'd stay at home and get a carry out instead."
(Inverness, smoker, hospitality and licensed trade)

"The pubs would go to the wall and it would be the end of pub culture in Britain."
(Aberdeen, manufacturing, engineering, construction and transport)

7.19 This is identified as being a particular concern for the smaller pub and independent landlord who may be struggling to make ends meet as it is.

7.20 A knock on effect of the economic down turn is perceived to be a loss of jobs across the industry and rising pub prices as landlords would have no choice but to subsidise their loss of business by increasing prices. The closure of pubs would ultimately result in a lack of choice for the customer.

  • Infringement of personal liberties

7.21 A number of respondents view a complete ban as an excessively draconian measure which is an infringement of personal liberties. This is particularly because cigarettes are legal so, therefore, people should be allowed to smoke them.

"It's an erosion of choice, civil liberties."
(Aberdeen, manufacturing, engineering, construction and transport)

7.22 They consider this to be a step too far and evidence of a "nanny state." They argue that people are perfectly capable of looking after themselves and making their own decisions.

  • Health argument is not sufficient rationale

7.23 Some respondents also feel that the health argument in itself is not sufficient rationale for the ban. Some would argue that, if the health implications are so severe, not only should the government ban smoking completely, they should also ban many other things that pose a threat to public health.

"They don't legislate about the amount of fat on a piece of meat, do they…Are they going to ban the car next?...If you are going to do it for smoking then you have to do it for everything else."
(Aberdeen, manufacturing, engineering, construction and transport)

7.24 In relation to this view, a number of respondents point out the importance of presenting the law as a measure to protect people when they are at work, rather than as a measure to protect the health of the general population . There is greater justification for the state to interfere in people's personal affairs and habits if they are doing so to protect the environment of individuals whilst they are at work, as work is a necessity for the majority of the population.

  • Government will lose tax

7.25 Many respondents draw attention to the large amount of tax that the government currently receives from the sale of cigarettes which will start to be eroded if people smoke less. No respondents, however, are able to provide figures on taxable income achieved through taxation on tobacco or the cost to the NHS of smoking related illnesses.

7.26 Some respondents believe that tobacco based income is the main reason that the government will not ban smoking completely, even when it is accepted that smoking is harmful to the health of the smoker. It is perceived that the government allows people to smoke and charges them a hefty sum to do so. Therefore, banning smoking in enclosed public places is regarded as hypocritical.

7.27 The cost to the NHS of smoking related illness is generally not believed to outweigh the income that the government makes from cigarette sales.

  • Driven by a fear of litigation not public health

7.28 There is also the view held by a small number of respondents that the government is merely trying to cover their backs to avoid the threat of litigation in the future. They have to be seen to do something to protect the population from the health effects of smoking, in case smokers attempt to sue in the future.

7.29 Respondents in one group were aware of a court case in another country where a waitress sued her employer for failing to protect her from a smoky working environment after she had been afflicted by a smoking related illness.

  • Difficult to enforce

7.30 Many respondents also argue that it will be very difficult to enforce and police such measures, particularly in Scotland where it is believed that people are more likely to resent orders that are imposed by higher authorities. It is felt that many people will just ignore the law or that it could provoke reactionary behaviour. It is also felt that Scots are likely to violate the laws.

"What do you do if it's a night when you don't have security on, and someone decides to have a smoke especially if it's a female manager on? What is she going to do about it?"
(Inverness, smoker, bar owner, licensed trade and hospitality sector)

7.31 Others point out that attempting to enforce such a trivial measure will be a waste of police time and that the government should be spending money on more important issues.

7.32 There are some predictions that an increase in fighting and violence outside pubs could result as smokers find themselves outside the pub for a smoke in the company of other smokers and they could get into an argument and fight. This is viewed as particularly likely to happen when people have been drinking.

7.33 Some also mention the practical difficulties of having smokers going in and out of a venue where entry is controlled by security staff particularly if there is queue and/or payment is required for entry as is the case for most after hours venues and night clubs. This could result in friction between door staff and smokers.

7.34 Smokers are also concerned about the winter weather conditions which will make going outside for a smoke extremely unpleasant. Again, this is expected to contribute to a reduction in people going to the pub.

  • Negative impact on community fabric

7.35 There are also some concerns for the impact of a ban on elderly individuals who live alone and for whom going to their local pub for a pint and a smoke is a pleasure. It would be very difficult for elderly pub customers, who are not very mobile or fit, to go outside every time they wish to smoke and the end result would be an end to their social life in the pub.

7.36 On a similar note, some non-smokers feel that if smoking friends are obliged to go outside it will impact negatively on social interaction between them and spoil a night out by splitting up a mixed group.

"I would rather my friends were with me in the pub, smoking away, than outside. You know, I mean how can you have a night out when all your friends are outside?"
(Aberdeen, manufacturing, construction, engineering and transport)


7.37 Amongst those who are not in favour of a complete ban, there is support for intermediate policy levels and/or alternative forms of action.

  • Ventilation

7.38 The introduction of the use of ventilation is regarded by some as an adequate solution on its own. Some respondents are strongly of the opinion that ventilation removes all the harmful effects of smoking from the air.

7.39 As mentioned earlier, few respondents are aware that ventilation fails to remove most of the harmful carcinogens from the air. However, one of the down sides to ventilation, that some respondents note, is the expense of installing the equipment and the need for it to be monitored and inspected by an external body on a regular basis, resulting in additional expense to the proprietor.

  • Designated or separated areas

7.40 Others would rather see ventilation combined with the introduction of designated or segregated areas enabling non-smokers to sit in a smoke free zone within every pub or restaurant. Some believe that this would be the most appropriate solution as it would respect the needs and rights of smokers and non-smokers.

7.41 However, there is considerable discussion over how effective the introduction of designated or separated areas might be and there is some feeling that these would not work successfully. Firstly, many respondents point out that designated areas that are not separated by a physical impermeable barrier make little difference because the smoke merely drifts across from one side of a pub or restaurant to another.

7.42 Secondly, whilst the introduction of separated areas would overcome the problem of drifting smoke, respondents feel that there are other problems associated with this. As pointed out in the focus group discussions, small venues which have only one room would not be able to offer a separate smoking area and respondents felt that this could mean that they would be obliged to become entirely non-smoking. Some respondents also pointed that these businesses could then find themselves competing on a non level playing field against pubs that have the flexibility to offer a variety of smoking and non-smoking areas.

7.43 Thirdly, both segregated and designated options are recognised as being difficult to enforce, particularly when customers are drinking alcohol and many note that the rules are likely to be violated, particularly as the night wears on. These measures will also result in mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers being split up or non-smokers having to sit in the smoking area regardless in order to socialise with their smoking friends.

  • Restrict smoking at the bar

7.44 This is a policy that is already in place in many bars and pubs. However, there is a feeling amongst some respondents that this again is not very effective as smoke knows no boundaries. Therefore, its potential for protecting those who work in pubs is minimal.

  • Restriction where children are likely to be present

7.45 As mentioned earlier, some respondents recommend the introduction of policies to restrict smoking around children. These already exist in many enclosed public places where children are present and could be extended to all such areas.

  • A staged approach

7.46 Some respondents recognise that a staged approach to introducing such restrictions would help people to get used to the changed circumstances. In particular it would enable pub landlords and owners to have time to adapt themselves as required.

7.47 A similar suggestion is for the introduction of a complete ban on smoking in all public buildings in the first instance, enabling these areas to function as "trail blazers" in the implementing of a new policy. The ban would therefore cover local authority offices, schools, community centres, public health centres and leisure facilities, hospitals and prisons. These are sites that some would consider appropriate for setting a good example for the rest of society.

  • Preference for voluntary action

7.48 Some respondents suggest that pub owners/landlords should decide for themselves. There is a lack of awareness amongst respondents that a voluntary code of practice to which all businesses in the sector can sign up has already been introduced and that it has had limited success.