Select Committee on Health First Report

Annex 2: Public opinion

1. The Office of National Statistics carries out a multi-purpose survey called the Omnibus Survey to provide data to Government departments and other public bodies. The survey is carried out most months. The results for 2004 were used to create a picture of public attitudes towards smoking in public places and restrictions thereon.

2. 64% of respondents supported restrictions on smoking in pubs, an increase from previous years (56% in 2003, 48% in 1996). When asked in more detail about smoking restrictions, 47% thought that pubs should be mainly non-smoking with smoking allowed in designated areas, while only 16% thought that pubs should be mainly smoking with designated non-smoking areas. 31% thought that smoking should not be allowed anywhere, a significant increase in the figure from the previous year (20%).

3. Choosing Health referred to the findings of an Opinion Leader Research (OLR) survey, which, it said, demonstrated that people "do not […] believe that this [protecting workers from SHS] requires a complete ban in all licensed premises". The survey was published in June 2004 and was commissioned by the King's Fund. However, the research does not seem explicitly to support this contention. 68% of respondents thought that a ban on smoking in workplaces, including pubs, bars and restaurants, would be the most effective way to reduce the health risks of smoking. There was no question inquiring whether or not people believed that something less than a complete ban is necessary.

4. ASH has pointed to other surveys to demonstrate that public support for a ban on smoking in public is substantial and growing. A poll conducted for ASH by BMRB (the British Market Research Bureau) in July 2005 asked: "The Government has announced plans to make most enclosed public places smokefree from 2008. Would you support a proposal to make ALL enclosed workplaces, including pubs and restaurants, smokefree?" It found that 73% of respondents agreed with the proposition (although support was only 42% among smokers). This confirms the findings of a MORI poll of April 2004, which found that 54% strongly supported the introduction of legislation similar to that in Ireland, with 25% tending to support it (79%, therefore, being broadly in favour).

5. ASH has also commissioned surveys from YouGov which reinforce the picture of increasing public support for a ban on smoking in public. The way in which the question is framed is important; respondents can be asked whether or not they support the introduction of a ban on smoking in all public places and workplaces, including pubs and bars; or they can be given a list of public places and workplaces and asked which they think should be smoke-free. When YouGov posed the latter question in August 2005, only 41% of respondents indicated that pubs and bars should be smoke-free. However, another YouGov survey conducted in December 2005 asked both questions. In response to the first, more general question, around 70% of respondents supported a comprehensive ban (71% in England and Scotland, 70% in Wales and 78% in Northern Ireland). When the second, so-called 'à la carte' question was posed, the number of respondents choosing pubs and bars as places which should be smoke-free was slightly (but not significantly) lower: 66% in England, 70% in Scotland, 67% in Wales and 71% in Northern Ireland. This indicates firstly that the phrasing of the question affects the results, but also that there is now a substantial majority of opinion in favour of a comprehensive ban. Moreover, opinion is clearly moving very swiftly in favour of a comprehensive ban; support which was at 41% in August 2005 has become 66-70% in the space of four months.

6. The Chairman appeared on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours to participate in a phone-in discussion on smoking in public. The BBC subsequently produced an analysis of the responses to the discussion from members of the public.[142] Over a two-week period, the producers of the programme received over a thousand e-mails, telephone calls and letters. Of these responses, 60% were in favour of a comprehensive ban. Only 22% favoured no ban. There was no support for the Government's proposals for a partial ban. Some respondents also expressed concern that the Government's proposals would widen health inequalities. One wrote "This policy will add to health inequalities between rich and poor as most pubs that don't serve food are situated within the poorest communities".[143]

7. Responses to opinion polls clearly depend on the questions which are asked. However, what is clear is that there is a trend of growth in public support for the idea of a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places and workplaces. The Committee has also heard from the Director of ASH that public support in the UK is currently higher than it was in Ireland prior to the introduction of the smoking ban there.[144] ASH has also pointed out that support for a ban in New York was only 30% when it was introduced. Yet New York and the Republic of Ireland have successfully implemented a ban on smoking in public.

142   Ev 119, Volume III. Back

143   Ibid. Back

144   Q 429 Back

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Prepared 19 December 2005