A total ban on smoking in enclosed public places would lead to less smoking in the home and reduce the deadly effects of passive smoking, argued a comprehensive study of passive smoking published last week by the Royal College of Physicians. The study said that the estimated 12 200 deaths each year in the United Kingdom from passive smoking were entirely preventable. It recommended that preventing passive smoking at home was a “public health priority” and that helping smokers to stop by having a ban in enclosed public places would lead to less smoking in the home. A smoking ban in all workplaces could save the economy £4bn ($7.1bn; £5.8bn) a year, the report estimated.
Members of the Royal College of Physicians' Tobacco Advisory Group said that the previous health secretary, John Reid, was wrong to have claimed that a total ban on smoking on public would increase smoking in the home. They noted that the number of smoking households that became smoke-free increased from 22% to 37% between 1996 and 2003. And they attributed this to increased restrictions on smoking in public places in that period.
Carol Black, president of the college, said at the launch of the report, “There is very clear evidence of the harm caused by passive smoking, yet, despite this, we feel that among politicians and the public there is confusion over the issue. Our previous health secretary, John Reid, claimed restrictions on smoking outside of the home would lead to more exposure in the home, but we know the evidence would be quite contrary to that. Our report aims to dispel those myths.”
John Britton, professor of epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, said that there was an “unanswerable moral case” to protect all people from passive smoking at work and added, “Smoke free legislation will save lives, reduce health inequalities, save money, and improve pubic health.”
Efforts to minimise the effects of passive smoking in bars, such as installing ventilation and having smoke-free zones were almost pointless, argued Richard Edwards, senior lecturer in public health at the University of Manchester. He said, “The evidence is that these approaches do not work and do not protect against passive smoking.”
The £4bn saving would comprise £832m from prevention of death and disease, £181m from prevention of fires and reduced cleaning costs, and £2.8bn from improved productivity of staff no longer taking smoking breaks.
The college called on the government to introduce comprehensive legislation to make all workplaces and other enclosed public places smoke-free as soon as possible.
Going Smoke-Free: the Medical Case for Clean Air in the Home, at Work and in Public Places is available, priced £16, from RCP Publications Department, tel 020 7935 1174 ext 358.