News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Total smoking ban best way to narrow health gap between rich and poor, MPs told

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 27 October 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:985
  1. Adrian O'Dowd
  1. London

    Doctors have warned MPs that anything less than a full ban on smoking in public places is unacceptable if the country is to fight the deadly effects of secondhand smoke.

    Representatives of the Royal College of Physicians, giving evidence last week to the health select committee, underlined the futility of the government's plan for partially banning smoking.

    Speaking at the first evidence session of the committee inquiry into smoking in public places, doctors said nothing but a full ban would be good enough to help prevent strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis.

    Carol Black, the college's president, said, “A partial ban will really not be of any help to us at all. There is no excuse for a partial restriction. Preventing smoking in public places is the most certain way of narrowing the mortality gap that we see in cardiorespiratory disease between those of high and low income. There is nothing that this government could do for health that would be better than to actually bring in this ban.”

    The witnesses from the Royal College of Physicians also argued that ventilation systems in bars as well as places that had smoking and no smoking areas did not work in reducing harmful exposure to second hand smoke.

    Richard Edwards, senior lecturer in public health at the University of Manchester, said that the current proposals were wrong, adding, “There is overwhelming evidence that bar staff are the most heavily exposed occupational group. What you are saying is that you are having a regulatory proposal where the people at most risk with the heaviest exposure are exempted [from a smoking ban] and that to me does not make any sense whatsoever.”

    The committee also heard evidence from Department of Health officials and tobacco industry representatives.

    Deputy chief medical officer Fiona Adshead, giving evidence as part of the Department of Health, said that the government's intention was to have all public places smoke-free by the end of 2007, apart from licensed premises, which would be smoke free a year later with the exception of those that did not prepare and serve food.

    “Secondhand smoking is a significant public health hazard,” said Dr Adshead.“At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is to get people to give up smoking because ultimately that is what will make England smoke-free. Providing a smoke-free environment does support and encourage people to give up smoking.”

    Tobacco industry representatives, in their evidence, argued that a ban was not necessary. Steve Stotesbury, industry affairs manager and chief scientist at Imperial Tobacco, said, “If you take the scientific evidence as a whole, it is currently insufficient to establish that other peoples' tobacco smoke is a cause of any disease.” Voluntary agreements were making progress, he added, and there were growing numbers of non-smoking bars in recent years.

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