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Smokefree legislation has made a significant impact on public health

England only joined the rest of the United Kingdom in having smokefree public places three years ago. But today, the idea of smoke-filled pubs seems like something from the Dark Ages.

MPs voted for the change because they wanted to protect workers from the dangers of second hand smoke. Before the legislation it was estimated that it was causing the deaths of 600 workers each year including over 50 in the hospitality industry. This is more than three times the numbers who die from industrial injuries.

There was no mass civil unrest in those remarkable weeks three summers ago, and unlike the predictions of some, people stopped smoking inside pubs and restaurants almost instantly. Following the legislation, research found the average air quality of bars was comparable to ambient outside air.

Looking at our experience of the smokefree legislation three years on it is clear we have benefited greatly from it. At the time it seemed like a big step but very few of us would want to go back. We should make sure we continue to be bold in improving public health, as Jon Spiers, Head of Public Affairs at Cancer Research UK, explains in this short video:

And here are some more reasons why.

Smokefree legislation is popular

One big reason why people abided by the law so quickly is that it is popular – 80% of people support it in the most recent survey, including most smokers. Interestingly, a landlord in Wales who stood at the last election had the idea of allowing some pubs to be “smoking pubs” and visited 30 pubs in his constituency to test out his idea.

He found that the “consensus was that people didn’t want smoking pubs, they are happy to go outside. It was a real eye opener.” Spain also had a smokefree law with many exemptions but its Parliament has just voted unanimously to have a comprehensive ban – the only criticism from the opposition party is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Smokefree legislation means better public health

Anecdotally, the law may be popular among many of us as we are grateful for not having to ventilate our clothes after going to the pub. But there are more serious health reasons why we should be grateful for it. Research has shown that it motivated an extra 300,000 smokers to quit and in England it has been responsible for a 2.4 per cent fall in emergency admissions for heart attacks – meaning that 1,200 admissions were prevented over a year.

When the change was brought in some worried that people would just smoke more at home. In fact, it popularised the idea that it’s better not to smoke inside at all. Following the introduction of the legislation there has been a rise in the number of homes where no one smokes inside.

There was also a big fear it would have a major impact on pubs, but polls showed that pub goers said the smokefree legislation meant they went to the pub more frequently. In the year the law was introduced there was a five per cent increase in licences to sell alcohol. A survey of pub landlords found some did mention the legislation as an issue, but by far the biggest problem facing landlords at the time was the cost of the beer tie – the agreement on drink pricing between publicans and pub companies. They were also concerned about supermarket pricing and the cost of rent.

Bringing smokefree legislation to the UK was a bold step, but it has proved to be popular, and it will save lives. It is vital that governments now and in the future continue to make and support evidence-based laws to safeguard the health of the population.

Robin Hewings, Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK