It’s a big day in Scotland. Two hours and thirteen minutes ago the laws designed to create public places and workplaces free of environmental tobacco smoke came into force. Personally, I’m a big fan and consider this to be one of the biggest steps in public health that Scotland will see in a generation. Apart from making workplaces and public places far more pleasant, the major benefit is that people seeking employment in traditionally smoky occupations such as bar work will no longer be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke simply by virtue of their choice of work, often a choice made from necessity rather than vocation.
Signs have been starting to appear on shops and offices around the place; we were up in Oban yesterday doing that hateful thing – shopping for new shoes for PTC – and admiring the variety of signage that people were putting at their doors. There’s a problem here for the authorities to tackle, in that the law prescribes the size of notice that must be visible and what must be on it. The notice has to be a little smaller than A4 size (slightly larger than US letter size) and state that (a) the premises are no-smoking, (b) that it is an offence to smoke in them, (c) that it is an offence knowingly to permit smoking and, (d) give the identity of a person on the premises to whom complaints about smoking can be made. The Scottish Executive have sent out information packs with sample notices to the vast majority of businesses and those packs included sample notices that could be used. Interestingly, most of the signs that have been put up are smaller versions, almost as if people are shy if using the larger versions that the law requires. It will be interesting to see how the local authorities approach this issue in the wider context of enforcing the law.
It is clear from the approach that Scotland has taken that this is not an anti-smoker law, rather it is a positive measure designed to create smoke-free public places and workplaces. Inevitably, the focus of attention will be at the policy’s pinch-point, which are pubs and bars and that’s where the media will be looking for the I-told-you-so sort of stories which masquerade these days as proper reportage. There will be many people – probably the most vocal – who will bang on about civil liberties and nanny-statism, but it is worth remembering that it is on exactly these grounds that the most powerful arguments were made and won in favour of the measures. After all, a policy which encourages people to smoke less, reduces exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and which could encourage thousands of people to quit has to be seen as a positive thing in terms of health outcomes and quality of life for the population of Scotland as a whole.
I mentioned earlier on that this shouldn’t be seen as an anti-smoker measure; the thrust of the law is the creation of smoke-free environments and that is reflected in the greater duties being placed on those who are employers or premises managers and actually smoking is a lesser offence in comparison.
The next few months will be interesting. My personal view is that there will be wide acceptance, even some enthusiasm, for the new measures, but there will always be a few folk out there spoiling for a scrap. Hopefully, a sensitive and good-humoured approach from the authorities will see us through the early days and all of Scotland will be proud to add smoke-free public places to welcome visitors who come for all of her other attractions.