Wales has extended the prohibition on smoking at hospitals, schools, and playgrounds, with violators to face a £100 fine. Wales is the first of the UK nations to introduce this ban.
This is in addition to various restrictions on the practice, including a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces in place since 2007 and a ban on smoking in cars with children in place since 2015.
The Welsh government, governed by left-wing party Welsh Labour, said the measure was to discourage adults and children alike from smoking by making it appear less normal, and encourage the already partaking to quit.
Two hospitals in the country’s south have installed a button-activated speaker system to remind people hospitals are smoke-free. In 2016, a similar mechanism was tried at hospitals across Wales, where an announcement recorded by local school children would play upon pressing a button.
Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing, and the Welsh Language Eluned Morgan said she was “immensely proud to have brought into force this law”, and “[t]his legislation will benefit the health of future generations in Wales, as fewer children will be exposed to smoking”. She concluded, “[w]e need to do everything we can to combat the harmful effects of smoking.”
The government was criticised by many smokers rights groups. Simon Clark, Director of the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco compared the law to “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, saying: “There is no evidence that smoking in the open air poses a risk to anyone else’s health, including children.” The director further explained, “Banning smoking on hospital grounds is particularly unjust because it targets smokers who may be stressed and in need of a comforting cigarette. Most smokers use their common sense and don’t smoke around small children. They don’t need politicians telling them how to behave.”
Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing, and the Welsh Language Eluned Morgan. Image: Llywelyn2000. CC-BY SA4.0
Wikinews contacted Eluned Morgan’s office to know more about this ban.
What is the core objective of this law? If everything works out as you had intended, regarding this law, how would the future of Wales (in terms of smoking) look like?
We are bringing in this legislation to protect people from being exposed to harmful second-hand smoke, help those trying to quit and reduce the chances of children starting smoking.
We are committed to our longer-term goal of making more of Wales’ public spaces smoke-free and helping people to make positive changes to their health and wellbeing. We intend to progress work to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas of cafes and restaurants and city and town centres.
How do you respond to the criticism the government is trying to “micro-manage people’s lives”?
The law is being introduced to protect the public’s health, both from harmful second-hand smoke and to support those trying to quit. We hope to denormalise smoking among children and young people so they are less likely to start in the first place.
Do you think it is an individual informed adult’s right to smoke? Why, or why not?
Smoking is the biggest cause of early preventable death in Wales. We have brought in this legislation as we need to do everything we can to combat the harmful effects of smoking and to support people to make positive choices for their health. We hope that by increasing the number of smoke-free areas it will improve the health of people in Wales, but there will still be places where adults can smoke.
Where should someone smoke, if they so choose?
The smoke-free law only applies in areas set out in the legislation.
Does the current ban on smoking in playgrounds only apply when there are kids present, or should it be during all times? Can you please elaborate?
All public playgrounds in Wales will be required to be smoke-free all of the time. Even if there are no children in the public playground, the playground must be smoke-free at all times. We know that reducing the number of young people taking up smoking saves lives. Therefore, restricting smoking in areas where children and young people go regularly, like public playgrounds and school grounds, will help to make smoking behaviour appear less normal and reduce the chances of children and young people taking up smoking.