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Monday, September 11, 2006

Smoking shelter

It seems somehow trivial on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 to be talking about the erection of a smoking shelter at the National Assembly for Wales, but the issue has been raised in this morning's Western Mail so I felt that it was appropriate that I addressed it, especially as I was one of those who was instrumental in getting this shelter built.

Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the BMA, said, "We find it quite extraordinary that at a time when the dangers of passive smoking are increasingly understood, and as the Assembly itself prepares to impose a smoking ban in public places, this decision should have been taken.

"It sends out completely the wrong message to members of the public and to other organisations deciding what smoking policies they should introduce.

"There is considerable evidence that supports the case for a ban on smoking in public places, and the Assembly carried out its own extensive inquiry into the issue which confirmed the need to introduce tough measures.

"In the old days, smoking rooms were seen as acceptable, but the dangers from second-hand smoke are now so well documented that there is a need to eliminate them. When the doors of smoking rooms are opened, the smell can be overpowering and is certainly very unhealthy.

"The evidence is that many smokers themselves welcome smoking bans, because they help them in their efforts to give up the habit. Where a facility of this kind is provided, it makes their task more difficult."

I am not sure what the BMA believes that the new anti-smoking legislation will achieve. The Committee that investigated this issue were quite clear that it should seek to protect workers from the effects of second hand smoke by banning smoking in workplaces. It is effectively a health and safety measure. It is not and never has been a total ban on smoking, nor does it stop people smoking in every public place. Some may believe that this is what is needed but they have not yet won the argument with the general public.

Once the ban comes in on 1 April 2007 then smoking will be forbidden in enclosed places of work however there will be provision for employers to provide outdoor smoking areas that can be enclosed on three sides if they have a roof. Without this provision the ban will be unworkable and will not gain acceptance. That, at least, is the Irish experience.

The Assembly's smoking shelter is entirely in keeping with that policy. By moving the smoking area outside the building we have protected a large number of workers from the effects of second hand smoke, whilst ensuring that people still have the freedom to choose if they smoke or not.

The BMA have to get real on this. They will not get rid of smoking overnight. They cannot take away people's rights to make personal choices. The legislation must be framed in that context and many workplaces will be following our example in the months ahead in ensuring that this important principle is followed.
I agree totally.

The BMA should stop sticking their noses into people's lives.
I abhor smoking, but if people want to smoke they should be allowed to, and with a smoking shelter they can without inflicting their smoke on others (so long as I get the same amount of time for 'smoking breaks' that is)
This is a comment from John Jenkins of the BMA who e-mailed it to me rather than posting it direct:

"This response rather misses the point. The BMA fully understands the intention of the smoking legislation. The BMA led the campaign to protect workers' from the effects of second hand tobacco smoke. And despite the inference, the BMA does not support a 'total ban on smoking'.

The issue here is simple: it is duplicitous for the Assembly to restrict and discourage workers' from smoking whilst spending thousands of taxpayers' money on new smoking facilities for theirs. This action sends a mixed message to other workers' and the Welsh public. Surely, this funding would have been better spent on measures to help Assembly workers quit?

However, I do hope you won't be playing such an 'instrumental' role in encouraging other Welsh businesses and public bodies to follow suit. Surely they will look at this example and see this as an opportunity to access taxpayers' money to fund similar facilities.

I just wonder if you will be as keen to offer the same financial support or, as I expect, you will be telling business and other public bodies to 'get real' instead."

I think that John is missing the point. The Assembly is acting in its capacity as an employer and making provision for its staff in accordance with the provisions that will be contained in the legislation. It is for other employers to do the same. It is not the Assembly's job to sponsor them. Yes we are restricting people from smoking in the workplace but we will not be exempt from those provisions.

As an employer the Assembly spends a lot of money looking after its staff, this is good practice. I am sure that the BMA would not argue that just because the Assembly provides a creche for example (and I am sure it will one day) then it should subsidise other employers to do the same.
the ciggarette smell was far less intrusive from the smoking room than it is from the shelter... you can't get in to the building now without smelling the smoke.

stupid place to put it.
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