Delicate balance as smoking law looms

ACROSS the world, there are believed to be 1.1 billion smokers. New laws are coming into force in England this summer banning smoking in workplaces and public places. Many businesses still have to find a balance which allows smokers freedom of choice. LES

ACROSS the world, there are believed to be 1.1 billion smokers. New laws are coming into force in England this summer banning smoking in workplaces and public places. Many businesses still have to find a balance which allows smokers freedom of choice.

LESLEY INNES looks at the measures being put in place across East Cambridgeshire to safeguard health without alienating the smokers.

UP to three million UK workers are exposed to second-hand smoke and about 700 people die each year from inhaling other people's smoke in the workplace.

Workers in the hospitality trade are exposed to up to six times more second-hand smoke than other workers.

But a new law coming into force this summer will ban smoking in the workplace and public places offering more protection for non-smokers.

Across East Cambridgeshire,

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businesses are already signing up to the drive to create smoke-free environments and four out of five people nationally support the new legislation.

But it leaves those in the hospitality trade with a dilemma - how to uphold the law without alienating their regular customers.

The new law came into force in Scotland in March last year and led to the Scottish Licensed Trade Association claiming sales of alcohol in pubs had fallen more than 10 per cent since the ban.

It surveyed 365 of its members and claimed 40 percent of licensees reported a drop in visits by their regulars, with 51 per cent spending less.

East Cambridgeshire publicans have taken the concerns on board and

created outside bar areas to strike a balance aimed at keeping smokers and non-smokers happy.

Licensees at The Cherry Tree and The Ship in Soham know many of their regulars enjoy a cigarette with their pint, as does the landlord of The Town House in Ely.

Cherry Tree landlord, Martin Whitehouse, has invested in a remote controlled 70 square metre retractable roof fitted over his 60-seater outdoor area where smokers are welcome.

He decided to fit the new roof as major work was being carried out on the playground, car park and garden.

Now his new covered seating area has proved a hit with smokers and non-smokers alike.

He said: "In the pub trade there is a high percentage of customers who want to smoke. This is a large part of the market that needs to be catered for.

"When the new smoking legislation was brought in in Scotland the pubs which catered for smokers saw their business increase while the others have lost business.

"The roof wasn't cheap but the area has proved very popular."

Landlord of The Ship, Tony Parramint, has converted an outdoor storage area into an outdoor bar.

Smokers can buy their drinks from the outside bar, complete with ship's wheel, and sit in the specially designated area equipped with tables and chairs and patio heaters.

Tony said: "A lot of our regulars are smokers. They have a pint in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I have been a non-smoker for 22 years but I understand smokers. I think this outdoor bar will be good for us, good for the area and good for people to talk about."

Architects are busy drawing up plans for an outside area at The Town House in Ely's Market Street where smokers and non-smokers will be welcome.

Publican Vince Bartlett said: "I was a smoker once and I sympathise with their plight. I am not on that train now, and thankful for it, but these people are not to be shunned.

"Many of them are desperately trying to give up.

"Our outside area will have Big Brother-style sofas where smokers can still enjoy their pints and we will be able to use it for our beer festival weekend. It will be a multi-purpose shelter.

"There will be a clean air environment inside the pub and I am here to keep everyone happy."

But Zoe Harvey, who promotes Smoke Free Cambridgeshire, warned businesses to check the new legislation carefully before providing outside space for smokers.

She said: "If businesses are putting in shelters for smokers these shelters must have 50 per cent open to the air in order to comply with the legislation. But there is no obligation to provide shelters.

"We are encouraging workplaces not to provide facilities to encourage smokers.

"Most people are really keen to comply with the new legislation and understand the reasons for protecting people from second-hand smoke. I haven't had any objections.

"We have been gradually moving towards this for quite a few years and it has been introduced in many countries across Europe and the world. It has also been such a success in Scotland."

Second-hand smoke hazards

SHORT-term exposure to second-hand smoke can cause headaches, sore throats, dizziness, wheezing and eye irritation.

Being exposed to just 30 minutes of cigarette smoke can significantly reduce the blood flow to and from the heart in a fit and healthy adult.

Long-term exposure can cause serious problems such as heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and respiratory disease.

The National Clean Air Award, an initiative by the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, launched in memory of the entertainer who died from cancer,

possibly the result of passive smoking - is the first UK-wide scheme to reward employers who implement effective workplace no-smoking policies by giving them a prestigious nationally recognised award.

East Cambridgeshire District Council has become the first council in the county to receive the gold award. Its sites went smoke free on August 31 last year; smoking is not allowed anywhere in its buildings or grounds.

Liz Knox, head of the council's environmental services and housing, said: "This award is recognition of the hard work which we have done to become smoke-free. It is important that as an enforcing authority we lead by example and recognise benefits for the staff and visitors to council offices by having a smoke-free environment.