People should be banned from lighting up in parks and squares across the UK in order to deter young people from taking up smoking, a former health minister has demanded.
Lord Darzi, a leading surgeon and health minister under Gordon Brown, argues that a ban would help denormalise smoking and ultimately lead to fewer people using cigarettes.
Darzi makes the call in an article he has co-written in the BMJ medical journal with Oliver Keown, a clinical adviser and policy fellow at Imperial College London. It would be “a logical progression” from the prohibition of smoking in pubs, restaurants and other enclosed public spaces in 2007, they say.
“If we are to celebrate the cultural and community assets that parks and community spaces represent and, concomitantly, to protect children and young people from the normalising effect of observed smoking behaviours, then extending the smoking ban to other public spaces will have a positive effect”, they write.
“Expanding smoking prohibition to broader public spaces will undoubtedly have a positive effect on our population’s health”, they add, citing the example of New York, which in 2011 banned smoking in all public spaces, such as parks, squares and beaches.
The call divided medical opinion, however. Professor John Britton, chair of the tobacco advisory group at the Royal College of Physicians, which represents hospital doctors, said it had supported extending smoke-free legislation to parks and other outdoor areas where children may gather since 2010 “to prevent any passive exposure to smoke that might occur and prevent exposure of children and young people to smoking behaviour”.
But Professor Martin McKee, a leading public health expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, disagreed. “There are good arguments on both sides. Public opinion is increasingly opposed to smoking anywhere in public but in this case social pressure may be better than legislation,” he said.
Forest, the smokers’ rights group, dismissed the call for a ban as misguided, unnecessary, not based on evidence and a step towards creating “a world only puritans can inhabit”.
“Smoking in an open space is completely different to smoking in a pub or sports stadium. People are moving around and if anyone is exposed to tobacco smoke it will be for no more than a second,” said Simon Clark, its director.
Writing in the same issue of the BMJ, Professor Simon Chapman, a renowned Australian campaigner against the tobacco industry, condemned Darzi and Keown’s plan as unethical, unjustified and reminiscent of the sort of repressive rules seen in North Korea.
Proponents of a ban “may concede that smoking in wide open spaces such as parks and beaches poses a near homeopathic level of risk to others, but they point to an indirect negative effect from the mere sight of smoking. This line of reasoning is pernicious and is redolent of totalitarian regimes in their penchants for repressing various liberties, communication and cultural expression not sanctioned by the state,” said Chapman.
“If it is fine to tell smokers that they cannot be seen to smoke anywhere in public, why not extend the same reasoning to drinkers or to people wolfing down supersized orders in fast food outlets?”
This article was written by Denis Campbell, health correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th February 2015 12.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010