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86% support smokefree law - 10 years on

On the 10 year anniversary of smokefree law, health and council leaders are hailing it as one of the most important and popular pieces of legislation to protect health in a generation.


86% of North East adults support "smokefree" in 2017 and only 5% oppose the law, which was introduced on July 1, 2007, to protect people from secondhand smoke in pubs, restaurants, bars, shops, offices and workplaces, including workplace vehicles.


Smoking rates in the North East began to fall dramatically from 2005 as a major campaign for a Smoke Free North East began, and continued action to tackle smoking has resulted in the largest drop in smoking in England between 2005 and 2017.


Politicians voted for the Health Act in 2006 which prohibited smoking in virtually all workplaces and enclosed public places. Decades of evidence established beyond doubt that breathing in other people's cigarette smoke is bad for health, increasing the risks of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, COPD, as well as making respiratory problems worse; causing asthma attacks, headaches, coughs, sore throats, dizziness, and nausea.


For the anniversary, Fresh has launched a major campaign – Secondhand Smoke is Poison – aimed at encouraging people who still smoke around children in the home to take it outside, or to quit. Figures suggest that despite exposure among children falling, more than one in 10 North East children are still exposed at home.


The North East has seen:

  • 86% support for smokefree law in 2017 among North East adults, with only 5% opposing it (YouGov, 2017).
  • 97% compliance from day one of the law, with many businesses going smokefree voluntarily before the 2007 law came into force. In 2006, 750 North East organisations won National Clean Air Awards - a third of the national total.
  • Fewer heart attacks – in the year after smokefree legislation, there was a 2.4% reduction in hospital admissions nationally for heart attacks, with 1,200 fewer emergency admissions in a single year. In the three years following the law's introduction, there were almost 7,000 fewer hospital admissions for childhood asthma.
  • The largest fall in smoking rates in England since 2005, when 29% of North East adults smoked. Rates plummeted down to 25% of people smoking in 2006 and 22% in 2007 as smokers prepared for the law and became more aware of secondhand smoke. New figures in June 2017 show the latest North East smoking prevalence to be 17.2% - the lowest rate on record and nearly 218,000 fewer people smoking since 2005.

Levels of exposure among bar workers (the group with the highest occupational exposure to secondhand smoke) reduced significantly and respiratory health improved after the legislation was implemented. Prior to implementation 67% of workers reported one or more respiratory symptoms compared with 40% one year later.


Fresh was set up in 2005 to campaign for a Smoke Free North East and ran the Wreath campaign to raise awareness and prepare people.


Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, which campaigned for the law from 2005, said: "Smokefree law was something that was not only badly needed but also wanted by the majority of people. It continues to be one of the most popular laws in recent history, as well as one of the most important for people's health.


"The law was always about reducing high levels of exposure to smoke in workplaces and enclosed public spaces, but it also raised awareness of the harm of smoking and made a lot of people think about tobacco smoke in a completely different way.


"Smoking rates have nearly halved in just over a decade and I firmly believe we can look forward realistically of getting smoking down to 5% of adults or fewer within the next decade. It will take action at national level – we are now calling for a licencing scheme to help tackle sales of illegal tobacco and sales to children. We also need to treat tobacco dependency as a fundamental part of every patient's treatment within our NHS."


Andy Nicholson, general manager of The Library bar in Saddler Street, Durham, has worked in the pub trade for 29 years, but quit smoking in 2003 after his son was born and says he could never imagine going back to the days of smoky pubs.


Andy said: “The smoke-free law has been the best thing to happen to the trade and I don’t imagine many people would go back to the days when people smoked. The silent majority completely support this.


“Pubs have evolved – they were once places which didn’t serve food, allow women or show live sport. It’s also allowed us to become more family friendly places during the day which for most has been great for business.”


Prof Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health for Newcastle City Council, and regional Directors of Public Health lead for tobacco, said: "A decade ago many of us would have been coming home from work, or a night out having been exposed to smoke, and 35 North East workers were estimated to be dying every year as a result.


"The North East has made fantastic progress over the last 12 years with a 41% drop in smoking; a phenomenal positive change. We have also seen a decline in smoking related diseases and the lowest youth smoking rates on record. However, smoking is still our biggest killer and most smokers start as children. We are committed to making smoking history for more families in this region.


"Many politicians looking back on their careers will see the smoke free law as their greatest achievement in office. It brought about a profound social and cultural change as well as its huge impact on wellbeing and health. For public health it remains a landmark – an outstanding example of popular and effective action. I am very proud to have had even a tiny part in its achievement."


Peter Wright, Environmental Health Manager at Gateshead Council and Chair of the North East Public Protection Partnership, said: "Before smokefree law, bar staff in pubs were being exposed to levels of tobacco smoke up to six times the average office worker.


"Almost overnight pubs and restaurants became places where customers and staff could breathe clean air and very few people would now turn the clock back.


"Despite dire predictions it could not work, most businesses and most smokers were prepared for the law thanks to a very high profile regional campaign and work by environmental health, and there was almost total compliance from day one. While nobody would claim everyone who smoked welcomed it at the time, most understood the reason why and deserve credit for respecting it."


Mark Rycraft, Centre Manager for Middleton Grange Shopping Centre in Hartlepool, said: "Since the smoke free law took effect, the centre has seen a definite improvement, offering a much cleaner and healthier shopping experience to our customers. We now consider Middleton Grange a great family friendly destination that is a safe environment to bring children.


"We're huge advocates of promoting a positive lifestyle and through our Health and Wellbeing programme we promote the benefits of quitting smoking. Since the law came into effect several of our staff members have subsequently quit smoking."


In addition, 91% of North East adults support the 2015 law which prohibited smoking in cars carrying children, and only 11% of North East adults think the Government is doing too much to limit smoking (YouGov).


Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: "The last decade has seen enormous steps nationally but the North East deserves special credit for the work it has done in driving down smoking even faster than the national average. The region historically had the highest smoking rates and arguably the toughest challenge, but the joined up working of local authorities and the NHS shows what can be achieved and has had national and international recognition."


The facts about tobacco smoke

  • Secondhand smoke is a mix of the smoke from the lit end of a cigarette and the smoke that a smoker breathes out. Non-smokers who breathe in secondhand smoke take in toxic chemicals the same way smokers do. Smoke from the end of a cigarette is even more toxic and has smaller particles which make their way into the lungs and the body's cells more easily.
  • Evidence shows nearly 85% of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless, which means it lingers long after you can see it or smell it.
  • When a cigarette burns, it releases a cocktail of over 5000 chemicals - and more than 70 can cause cancer. Some are found naturally in the tobacco plant, some are absorbed by the plant from the soil, air or fertilisers, and some are formed when tobacco leaves are processed or are added by the tobacco industry. Others form when a cigarette burns, so are only present in the smoke coming off a cigarette.