Smoking ban in England: Preparing to go smoke-free

When the Health Act 2006 comes into force next summer, it will outlaw smoking in virtually all indoor public places and workplaces. Ross Bentley finds out how employers are preparing for the regulations.

Throughout England and Wales, employers are preparing for the Health Act 2006. Due to come into force on 1 July next year, it will outlaw smoking in virtually all indoor public places and workplaces, including work vehicles.

But what steps have some employers already taken and what issues have they faced along the way?

Knowing new smoke-free rules were pending, George Dix, works director at Essex-based manufacturing company Transporter Engineering, surveyed all 87 employees three months ago to find out how many were in favour of a smoke-free workplace. With a 66% majority wanting a smoke-free site, Dix decided to act sooner rather than later and recently banned smoking on the shop floor.

As part of this initiative, Dix drew up a formal smoking policy for the company and sent out literature containing advice on giving up smoking and contact details of support groups.

Practising what he preaches, Dix is in the third month of quitting cigarettes and says things are going well.

Phase out

With smoking banned from the beginning of this year in the spectator areas at Headingley Carnegie Stadium, Yorkshire’s premier cricket and rugby venue, HR manager Kellie Gummerson has been overseeing the phasing out of smoking in staff areas.

Following the announcement of the new legislation, a staff focus group was formed to look at the issue. As a result, smoking was banned in all offices but the staff room kept as a temporary haven for smokers.

“However, non-smoking employees complained this arrangement meant they couldn’t use the room, so shortly afterwards the room was designated a non-smoking area,” says Gummerson.

Stadium staff who want a cigarette have a designated outdoor area to go to. The space sits between two buildings, has an overhead cover and a number of smoking bins. This is fine during the week, but on match days the area is a thoroughfare for sports fans attending matches, meaning staff are not allowed to smoke there.

“The issue of where staff can smoke on match days is still unresolved,” says Gummerson. “Staff understand we can’t have them standing there, or stepping out of the gates to have a cigarette when the stadium is busy – it’s just a bad look.”

Gummerson isn’t alone in struggling to come to terms with legislation that will force employees in need of a smoke outside at a time when public perception of smoking is hardening.

In April, Personnel Today reported that high street retailer Marks & Spencer had banned staff from smoking outside its stores and ordered them to cover up their uniforms when smoking outdoors. This came shortly after smoking inside company premises and vehicles was banned.

The article featured a number of leaked memos. One said: “When smoking outside, staff must ensure no part of their uniform is visible to link them to M&S, ie, logos or company name.”

Another memo, from HR director Keith Cameron, said: “To protect the image of the company, smoking will not be allowed in areas visible to customers/visitors entering or leaving an M&S building.”

Creating a bad impression

Smokers congregating at entrances and creating a bad impression on visitors is also an issue facing Pauline Spicer, office manager at construction firm Parker Bromley.

The company’s Kent-based headquarters have been non-smoking for some time and the firm has run a number of initiatives aimed at helping staff to quit. However, the problem of smokers crowding outside doorways and leaving cigarette butts lying around will not go away. “We did have a number of smoking bins attached to walls outside but they have been removed by local youths,” says Spicer.

Spicer will not be drawn on solutions to the problem and says she is reserving judgement until after a meeting, to which all staff have been invited to discuss the issue, takes place later this month. “We plan to have a decision drafted into our smoking policy by 1 March 2007,” she says.

Some employers have found that their current stance on staff smoking falls in line with the forthcoming legislation and that they simply had to formalise this practice into a policy document to comply.

At Moore Nurseries in Nottinghamshire, proprietor Geoff Moore has drawn up a document which lays out rules on smoking in the workplace that have existed informally for a while. According to Moore, neither staff nor customers can smoke in the inside sales area or canteen, although they will continue to be allowed to smoke in the outside growing areas and car park.

A bumpy ride

It is also worth looking north of the border for examples of best practice in this area, because similar smoke-free legislation has been in force in Scotland since March 2006.

At the Port of Leith Housing Association in Edinburgh, smoking was permitted in designated areas of the office until 2004. Then the association, mindful of the legislation proposed by the Scottish government, made a commitment to work towards a completely smoke-free environment.

According to personnel officer Lorraine Tait, all employees were consulted and information on support to stop smoking was made available. Smokers were also invited to attend a support group during working hours, where they were offered personal action plans. The final draft of the policy was approved by committee and implemented from 1 January 2005.

Fruit and chewing gum was bought on a weekly basis throughout January and February 2005 to help smokers, while a mentoring scheme was established where smokers could contact a ‘buddy’ and meet for a coffee and chat if they were having a difficult time.

For other employers in Scotland the transition was not so smooth. In October, seven nightshift workers at a Morrisons supermarket branch in Aberdeenshire instructed their lawyers to take their employer to a tribunal after losing an appeal against dismissal for breaching company rules on smoking during breaks.

The nub of the issue was that staff banned from smoking on the premises were unable to go outside the building at night for security reasons. The employees were caught by CCTV cameras having a cigarette break on the premises and were subsequently dismissed.

They argue the company should provide alternative arrangements for smokers, while Morrisons says it had offered all staff help to quit when the ban on smoking in Scotland came into force.

Back south, some progressive employers have used the publicity around the impending legislation to come up with innovative proposals on how their staff can be protected from passive smoking.

One such employer is Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. Its principal health and safety adviser, Alyn Dinham, oversaw the introduction of a blanket ban on smoking on council premises on National No Smoking Day last year. Having seen a number of people quit smoking as a result, and sickness absence figures reduced, Dinham is determined to develop new non-smoking initiatives. “This law is about more than smoking at work. It is about a shift in social attitudes towards smoking and most smokers acknowledge they have to compromise,” he adds.

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