Cardiff EHP leads implementing smoking ban locally and across Wales

Today Alastair Tomlinson might be found at Cardiff Metropolitan University lecturing in environmental health but 10 years ago he was right at the heart of initiatives to implement the smoking ban both in Cardiff and across the whole of Wales.  

 smoking pub 

Wales leads the way 

As with the majority of public health initiatives, the smoking ban came into effect in Wales on 2 April 2007 three months before England implemented the new regulations. 

Prior to the new regulations coming in, Cardiff Council’s Alastair Tomlinson was completing a nine-month secondment to the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). It was here that Alastair was working on public health initiatives and at the same time, the Welsh Assembly passed through the necessary legislation to introduce the smoking ban in all commercial premises. 

By the time Alastair returned back to his desk at Cardiff Council, the 22 local authorities across Wales were gearing up to implement the ban and Alastair was given a hybrid role to co-ordinate the All-Wales Working Group, while leading the local team in Cardiff. 

The All-Wales Working Group saw civil servants working closely with their local authority-based EHP and Trading Standards Officer colleagues. They were also joined by public health colleagues from the National Public Health Service for Wales, Keep Britain Tidy, the WLGA and CIEH. 

Alastair was responsible for leading the working group’s activities, which was set-up to co-ordinate implementation and enforcement plans across Wales, while ensuring they carried out the Government’s wish to support businesses to comply rather than imposing draconian prosecutions. 

This saw the working group produce enforcement guidance for local authorities and liaise with licensing and planning teams on various issues, such as how to erect effective smoking shelters. They also negotiated with the Welsh Government to secure adequate resources to enforce the ban and monitor compliance across all of the Welsh local authorities. Many valuable lessons were learned from the experiences of EHPs in the successful introduction of similar legislation in the Republic of Ireland (2004) and Scotland (2006). 

At the same time, Alastair led Cardiff Council’s efforts to implement the ban locally. This saw the local authority engage with commercial businesses, as well as their representative bodies, to ensure they were up to speed with the new regulations, that they had the right information and also the relevant signs to put up across their businesses. 

The council also worked with the local media to help further raise awareness amongst businesses and local communities of the new regulations. This saw Alastair conduct a number of interviews, most notably with BBC Breakfast and Newsbeat on BBC Radio 1.   

New regulations come in  

On 2 April the new regulations came into effect and Cardiff Council wanted to make a big impact in the first week of the ban. This saw the entire environmental health department pull together to go out and engage with businesses. 

Streets were divided up across the team and their aim was to visit around 1,000 'high risk' premises, including pubs and restaurants, licensed premises, and even garages. Offices were largely left alone as the vast majority had been smokefree for a while beforehand. 

Across Wales, Alastair said that councils conducted approximately 7,700 visits and witnessed 99% compliance across more than 1,800 licensed premises, including pubs, bars and members clubs, in the first month of the new regulations. 

“Despite being such a massive bit of legislation impacting on so many businesses, at the time we generally saw high levels of compliance,” said Alastair Tomlinson. 

“This was largely made possible by the wide-spread public support for the new regulations and if there were any issues, it was mainly around where no smoking signs should be properly located.” 

Legacy of the smoking ban 

10 years on and Alastair believes that there are definite lessons to be learnt. First, there was a genuine partnership between Government, local authorities, local communities and businesses, where everyone had their part to play in the implementation as opposed to being top down. 

There are also the health benefits, which have been largely positive due to reduced exposure to carcinogenic smoke. As a result, incidents of heart disease and heart attacks have reduced. 

However, some problems still persist despite it being a decade since the smoking ban was first introduced. There are still examples of people smoking in work vehicles, which is difficult to enforce. Shisha bars also presented problems in metropolitan areas in Wales as the owners often didn’t realise the ban applies to them or are not necessarily informing their local authorities that they are in operation. 

Nonetheless, with the success of the smoking ban in 2007, the Welsh Government is spearheading further legislation to reduce the harmful impact of smoking. The Public Health (Wales) Bill, which is set to become legislation in summer 2017, includes measures to prohibit smoking in school grounds, hospital grounds and public playgrounds. 

A decade has since passed and Alastair says that attitudes have completely changed and highly doubts anyone today would think about lighting up in a pub. 

“I have since become a lecturer in environmental and public health and I regularly use the smoking ban as a positive case study, demonstrating effective policy-making and how local authority-based officers can have a real influence on both the front-line and national campaigns,” said Alastair Tomlinson. 

“Looking back you can see that success was not just down to new regulations but also how much engagement we conducted with local communities and businesses. I tell my students that if you are willing to lift up your heads and get lots of people involved as early possible, then success will be more easily achieved.” 







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