9 Conclusions |
131. Many distinguished scientists in this country
and elsewhere have examined the now considerable body of evidence
which shows the health effects of secondhand smoke. The World
Health Organisation, the Chief Medical Officer, the Royal College
of Physicians, SCOTH and the US Surgeon General have all concluded
that secondhand smoke is a serious risk to health. Faced by these
conclusions the previous Secretary of State for Health, Dr Reid
MP, concluded that secondhand smoke was dangerous and proposed
to introduce a ban on smoking in most workplaces. We support this
132. However, Dr Reid also decided on two main groups
of exemptions: for institutions where people live such as prisons,
psychiatric institutions and nursing homes; and for clubs and
pubs which do not serve food. Unfortunately, we are unable to
judge their precise nature because the Bill provides that they
are to be specified in regulations and no draft of these regulations
has been published. This is unacceptable. The Government must
publish a draft of the regulations before the report stage of
the Bill. The situation is made worse because Crown properties
are not included in the Bill. The Government should have informed
the House of this important fact at an early stage. That it did
not has been very misleading. We are also surprised that neither
the MOD, the Director-General of HM Prison Service nor the Home
Office Minister told us that their institutions were not covered
by the Bill.
133. Institutions which are also dwellings, such
as prisons, MOD properties and hospices, present special difficulties.
These institutions plan to ban smoking to a greater or lesser
extent. At least one mental health trust and two Young Offenders'
Institutions have already implemented a ban. Others should follow
suit, although we recognise that there may be a case for carefully
provided exemptions, for example in high security prisons. Staff
should not smoke on the premises.
134. The exemption for clubs and pubs where food
is not served is illogical. It means that the workers who are
most exposed to secondhand smoke, and therefore most at risk,
will not be protected. We have sought from the Government a convincing
rationale for this decision but have not found one. It defies
logic. Dr Reid justified the policy before the Committee in February
2005 on a number of grounds, including the fact that few bar workers
would die from exposure to SHS in pubs.
135. Subsequently the Government's explanation for
its policy has changed. In her appearance before us, the Minister
for Public Health was very well briefed, but the oral evidence
she gave us was unconvincing. We doubt that she believes in the
policy she espoused. Cutting through the Minister's answers, her
defence of Government policy amounted to a statement that 'we
must take people with us'. On further examination this is nothing
more than the dubious contention that because a majority of the
population were opposed to it, a ban in pubs should not be introduced
because the public would not comply with it. The Government does
not oppose a comprehensive ban in principle. It is implicit in
what both she and the Secretary of State told us that once opinion
polls indicate that a small additional shift in public support
for a total ban, the Government will have no objection to one.
In fact, this has already occurred. A majority of the population
now support a ban.
136. The Minister also tried to suggest that the
Government would protect workers by banning smoking within one
metre of the bar, but under questioning admitted that this would
not provide health benefits. The Government is to hold a further
consultation about protecting bar workers but it is hard to see
its purpose since only a ban will provide that protection.
137. The proposed exemptions for clubs and non-food
pubs are opposed by the hospitality industry because they are
unclear and will create unfair competition: pubs where smoking
is banned will lose business to clubs, so will bingo halls. Even
those in the industry opposed to a ban would prefer a comprehensive
ban to the proposed legislation. The exemptions are also condemned
by those interested in public health on the following grounds:
they will discourage the growing culture of eating while we drink;
instead they will encourage an old-fashioned culture of drinking
without food in 'smoking' pubs. The exemptions will undermine
the Government's goal of reducing health inequalities: drink-only
pubs are concentrated in deprived areas. Finally, the exemptions
fly in the face of medical opinion. The Chief Medical Officer
told us that the Government's rejection of a comprehensive ban
went against his advice; this is the first time his advice on
a public health matter has been rejected. He came close to resigning
over this issue. The exemptions are not in line with other legislation
to protect workers' health as the Health and Safety Commission
and trade unions pointed out: workers are not normally exposed
to unnecessary danger regardless of public opinion.
138. The exemptions will reduce compliance and make
enforcement more difficult. Adding to these problems are the low
fines which will be insufficient to deter publicans who wilfully
ignore or obstruct the legislation. The Government's proposals
are a recipe for chaos.
139. During the inquiry the Committee visited Ireland.
There we were able to see in operation an effective comprehensive
ban with no exemptions for any pubs or clubs. It has been a great
success. The exposure to carcinogens in bars has greatly decreased
and improvements to bar workers' health is already apparent. After
the ban came into effect, it rapidly became more popular: it was
voted the best thing to have happened in 2004 in the New Year's
Eve poll at the end of the year. The key to success, we were told,
is clarity and political support, which ensured compliance. In
England, unfortunately, we find muddle and confusion, Cabinet
wrangles and half-hearted political commitment.
140. Since secondhand smoke is a danger to workers'
health, all workers, especially bar staff who are most at risk,
deserve protection. Bar staff should not have to suffer conditions
which are unsafe and avoidable. The Government should introduce
a comprehensive ban which includes all pubs and clubs which employ
staff. As in Ireland, it would be a popular measure, which would
become more popular after it had come into effect. We agree with
the President of the Royal College of Physicians that: "There
is nothing that this Government could do for health that would
be better than to actually bring in this ban, absolutely nothing."
140 Q 72 Back