Forward thinking Preston leads smokefree initiatives prior to official ban

The smoking ban was officially introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2007 but Preston City Council was ahead of the curve, introducing smokefree initiatives as early as 2005.

no smoking pub,restaurant 

Ahead of the curve  

Andy Howard joined Preston City Council’s Health and Safety Regulatory team in 2004 and has been involved in smokefree initiatives from the off. 

The smoking ban may have been introduced in England in 2007 but Preston was well ahead of others in implementing smokefree initiatives several years beforehand. 

Working with neighbouring councils and NHS partners in the North West, in 2005 Preston Council banned smoking in all council buildings. 

This was particularly controversial as there were concerns from some quarters that attendance could be reduced at certain council-owned venues, such as the Guildhall. 

Furthermore, the council introduced new licensing policies which enforced taxi cabs to go smokefree. 

Behind the scenes, Environmental Health Manager Eirian Molloy was driving through further smokefree initiatives from an education and public health point of view, networking with colleagues in local authorities in Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester. 

Contact was also made with colleagues in Dundee Council who had been at the forefront of earlier smokefree implementation in Scotland. This resulted in a hectic three-day visit to Dundee by Eirian and the Smokefree Lead of Preston’s Primary Care Trusts were instrumental in planning the successful approach subsequently taken in Preston. This complemented the regulatory activities being led by Andy.   

Their success was recognised when Preston Council, alongside Preston’s Primary Care Trust (PCT), was awarded the National Clean Air Gold Award for their “outstanding commitment” in providing smokefree environments for employees and people who use their premises. The high-profile award was launched by the Roy Castle Cancer Foundation, and was endorsed by Asthma UK, British Lung Foundation and CIEH. 

The council and PCT also joined forces and facilitated smokefree and smoking cessation activities with their own staff and leading employers in Preston, including Royal Mail and James Hall Ltd. 

Implementing the ban 


smokfree preston 
 Preston's smokefree team in 2007 


In the build-up to 1 July 2017, Preston Council conducted various activities for almost a year to ensure businesses and local communities were prepared for the ban before it came into effect. One of the first, and most successful, initiatives was appointing a Smokefree Compliance Officer in 2006 to help with the preparations. 

The local authority prioritised their efforts by engaging with the high-risk sectors, businesses that were associated with smoking and could fall foul of the new regulations. This saw Andy and his colleagues visit the pubs and clubs of Preston, giving them advice about what their new responsibilities were and providing free relevant signage. 

Andy and his colleagues also engaged with local school children so they were also aware of the ban. Taking inspiration from a school in Dundee, the council and PCT helped pupils at a local primary school release 100 balloons to symbolise the 100-day countdown to the smokefree legislation being introduced. 

A banner was also designed by the children and a community arts group for National No Smoking Day in March 2007 during that critical countdown to 1 July and was displayed at the Guild Hall in Preston. The fire brigade also attended on the day to support the event and give out awareness leaflets about the fire hazards of leaving lit cigarettes around the home  

By the time of the ban, Andy and his colleagues had facilitated drop-in advice days, delivered information packs to 3,700 businesses and worked with the local media on a myth-busting news article to help further share the key messages. 

On the day itself, Andy recalls that it was a Sunday and his Environmental Health colleagues turned up at the offices extremely early. 

“Of course we all wanted the implementation to go as smoothly as possible,” said Andy. “But it helped that we laid on a tasty breakfast as we knew it was going to be a long day for all involved. 

“After breakfast and a briefing, my colleagues and I went out into the City to spread the word that the ban was now in effect, while doing quick spot checks at pubs and clubs. We also had a stall at the local shopping centre to further raise awareness amongst parents and children.” 

The council’s approach was to educate and support businesses and local residents rather than be seen as a draconian enforcer. According to Andy, this meant that levels of compliance in Preston were extremely high around 98%. 

Lessons learnt in Preston 

Regionally there were the odd problematic business who wanted to make a stand, such as a pub in neighbouring Blackpool where the proprietor publicly defied the ban and allowed people to smoke. 

Andy believes that the success in Preston was largely down to the local authority carrying out continued checks and engagement activities with businesses across Preston. It was also key to the success of the Council’s work that over 80% of the public, whether smokers or non-smokers, were supportive of the new law and recognised the huge benefits it could bring.  It also helped that the new regulations were self-policing as most people were aware of the law and there was an element of peer pressure at play. 

Similar to other local authorities, however, Preston does still experience some problem areas. 

“10 years on and we are still having major problems with shisha bar operators who will not comply with the smokefree laws,” said Andy. “But it’s not just the laws we’re worried about as there are a number of health risks for people smoking shisha and the staff who work there.” 

For example, some shisha bars have only partially open smoking shelters when the regulations require 50% of the structure to be open to the elements. Andy and his colleagues have even come across some shisha bars that are fully enclosed. 

To tackle rogue shisha bar operators, the council has worked with the police to enter into premises and prosecute the worst offenders. Andy and his colleagues have also engaged with the council’s planning team, so that shisha bar applications are picked up early and new owners are provided with a bundle of information, setting out their responsibilities and what they needed to do before opening. 

Albeit isolated incidents, taxi drivers have also been known to flout the smoking ban as they don’t consider their vehicle a public place or a workplace. The licensing team have made it clear that new and renewed licenses are provided on condition that smoking is not allowed and where education fails, the council issue fixed penalty notices to the worst offenders. 

Andy Howard said that 10 years on, we often take our smokefree environments in public places for granted 

"Gone are the days when your clothes smelled of smoke after a night out or having to breathe in someone else’s smoke while enjoying a drink in a pub,” said Andy 

“The smokefree laws definitely rank up there as one of the most successful pieces of public health legislation introduced since the Clean Air Acts. However there is room to update the regulations to consider modern challenges, including shisha bars and e-cigarettes.” 

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