Three years after the smoking ban controversially came into force in England, a substantial proportion of smokers want to see restrictions extended to children’s play areas and smoking in cars. Just under half of smokers support a ban in play areas, while 61% support a ban in cars with children.
Surveys by YouGov, commissioned by the anti-smoking organisation Ash, suggest the ban is increasingly popular with the public as a whole. More than three out of four people want it to be extended into other areas of public life, a statistic that is likely to be seized upon by health campaigners.
Around 80% of people in England now back the ban in workplaces, including pubs and restaurants, compared with just over 70% when it was implemented three years ago this week (a ban was introduced in Scotland in 2006). Among the general population, 73% support a ban in children’s play areas while 77% want a ban in cars carrying children, according to exclusive findings of the survey shared with the Observer.
The findings are based on five separate surveys carried out by YouGov. The first was conducted in April 2007, almost three months before the legislation came into force, and the last was carried out in March 2010. The polling suggests some of the greatest changes have taken place in the attitudes of smokers.
Half of all smokers now support the smoke-free law, and nearly one in four strongly supports it. Opposition among smokers appears to be ebbing away with only one smoker in six strongly opposing the ban. The change appears to be underpinned by a deep-seated shift in smokers’ attitudes, according to Ash. It claims smokers are increasingly aware of the danger from secondhand smoke, with 75% believing it is harmful to children’s health.
Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said the findings showed the government had to act. “Smoking just one cigarette, even with the car window open, creates a greater concentration of secondhand smoke than a whole evening’s smoking in a pub or a bar,” Shovelton said. “A ban on smoking in the car with children would prevent some of the 22,000 new cases each year of asthma, caused as a direct result of passive smoking. This overwhelming evidence of public support can no longer be ignored, and as the only UK charity supporting everyone affected by lung disease we are calling for this legislation.” An early day motion in parliament demanding a ban on smoking in cars where children are present has been signed by 40 MPs.
But Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, warned politicians to think twice before implementing further changes to the law. “Any attempt to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas or private spaces, including cars, will be resisted strongly,” Clark said. “Smokers are fed up with being the whipping boys for politicians and campaigners like Ash.”
Growing support for the ban is consistent with attitudes in other countries such as Ireland, which outlawed smoking in public places in 2004. But Ash said that despite the legislation one non-smoker in eight continues to be exposed to tobacco smoke during their work, often at the entrances. The group also claimed there was no objective evidence the hospitality industry overall had suffered as a result of smoke-free regulations. “England’s smoke-free law has been a huge success and has attracted more support with each passing year since it was implemented,” said Martin Dockrell, director of research and policy at Ash. “The tobacco industry managed to scare smokers and the hospitality trade into opposing the law at the time, but three years on opposition has all but vanished.”
A survey on behalf of the Office for National Statistics indicates that there has been a net increase of 3% in the number of people going to pubs since restrictions were imposed. But Clark said it was “ridiculous” to suggest the ban had not had an impact on pubs and clubs. “The evidence is staring people in the face,” he said. “Thousands of pubs have closed since the ban was introduced.”
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