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Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of the introduction of the Smoke Free Law in England (Part 1)

The Smoke Free Law in England came into force on 1st July 2007. Hilary Wareing; Ian Gray and Paul Hooper of iPiP’s Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre had various connections with the development and implementation of the law we have now.

These are our reflections.


The Long Road


‘In the olden days’ people could smoke anywhere. In fact, it was almost compulsory with most men and a substantial number of women smoking. The effect on others was not seen as important. Passive smoking was just something you put up with (the term second hand smoke didn’t arrive until the 21st Century).

On buses in the winter the windows were kept tightly shut to keep fresh air out and of course all your clothes went into the wash after a night out. When some of us started work smoke free areas were unheard of. Paul recalls working in offices that had smoking side and non-smoking with those that weren’t bothered in the middle.

There wasn’t much of an alcohol policy either which explains why one afternoon a somewhat sleepy smoker accidentally set fire to their tiered in, out and too difficult baskets!

As time passed it became clear that smoking was harmful to both the smoker and those around them. Progress of sorts was made. Smoking policies began to form. Though some of the early ones didn’t make sense. Allowing smoking in offices where there was only one person was obviously a manager’s perk. Voting on whether you could smoke in one area or another led to arguments and people moving from one floor to another just for a cigarette break. In fact, why were we voting on any health and safety issue?

big killLocal authorities were taking the lead on smokefree. Their own policies covered a variety of aspects of tobacco control. Although Paul can remember the first report he wrote for the Environmental Health Committee on the back of ‘The Big Kill’ report in which it was shown that over 2000 people died early in Birmingham. However, not everyone saw the need. The then Chief Officer said, ‘You can write a report if you like but it has all been done!’ (This was 1984)

halfordsThe report covered many issues and led to one of the first car racing events of the era to be held without tobacco sponsorship.

The first no smoking policy in Birmingham City Council, by Paul Hooper, soon followed which went on to be given one of the first ASH Awards. One aspect of the policy was to ‘explore the use of the Health and safety at Work Act 1974 to take action in other workplaces. Although a lot of advice was given and changes made for many years the action was based on persuasion rather than actual legal powers. It was recognised that to create case law the authority would need to serve notice and for that notice to be appealed and then the appeal won. There was reluctance on all sides to incur high legal costs.


hackneyOther councils also produced their own policies. Ian Gray was responsible for Hackney Council’s smokefree policy which also received an award from ASH and the British Heart Foundation as a model corporate policy which prohibited smoking in doors as well as in school grounds.

As early as 1986 Environmental Health magazine carried a cover story on Passive Smoking with an article by Mike Squirrel identifying tobacco smoke as an ‘indoor air pollutant’.eh1

However, during the 1990s the push was for voluntary agreements. Whilst this might be appropriate for some places, it was only ever a half measure and did not help those who worked in the smokiest places., particularly the hospitality sector. The CIEH and HEA produced guidance for local authorities in 1993 on how to make best use of these voluntary arrangements.

sfbVarious guides were published to help people find smokefree places.

By 1998 the weight of evidence was mounting with the report of the Government’s own Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health









Even the ground breaking DH ‘Smoking Kills’ Document in 1998 still referred to a proposed Code of Practice under Health and Safety law (rather than an actual legally enforceable prohibition) and relied on a ‘Public Places Charter’ to let people know what the premises had decided their level of protection would be. Obviously virtually all pubs went for ‘Smoking Allowed on these Premises’

plaqueCIEH Policy on Environmental
Tobacco Pollution
(Adopted by CIEH General Council, 1999)sk

  • There is a significant risk to health from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Unless by their own choice, no-one should be exposed to SHS
  • All places where people are working should be free from SHS
  • Ventilation is not an alternative to a no-smoking policy


Read on on part 2 – The Turning Point

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