Smoke-free public places – popular, and they work 1

You would be forgiven for thinking that the debate over Scotland’s legislation on smoking in public places was well and truly over. The formal evaluation has identified a range of measurable health benefits, in our latest YouGov poll 83% of Scots supported it (even a majority of smokers support it) and more and more countries around the world are following suit.

Not to be deterred Freedom 2 Choose Scotland has decided this is the time to once again petition the Scottish Parliament calling for a review of the ban.

In petition PE01451 they claim that ‘no consistent evidential link has been found between secondary smoke exposure and ill health event after decades of exposure’.

Yet the scientific literature on second hand smoke (SHS) has been extensively and repeatedly reviewed at regular intervals by a range of national and international expert groups. These include the UK Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health, the Royal College of Physicians, the U.S. Surgeon General, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. *

These reviews have scrutinised the entirety of the scientific literature on SHS available to them and carefully considered issues of study bias and validity. Multiple independent expert reviews consistently conclude that exposure to SHS causes disease, including heart disease and lung cancer.

The petitioners also suggest that ventilation technology has improved to the extent that it can cope with smoky bars and keep air quality to an acceptable standard. Again we can check this against the views of expert bodies, with appropriate expertise in both health science and engineering fields. Again, they disagree.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers considers the evidence on the health effects of SHS exposure in light of existing and foreseeable ventilation technology and commits to reviewing and updating it regularly in light of changing technology. Their most recent review (from 2010) concludes that:

“No other engineering approaches, including current and advanced dilution ventilation, “air curtains” or air cleaning technologies, have been demonstrated or should be relied upon to control health risks from ETS [Environmental Tobacco Smoke] exposure in spaces where smoking occurs, though some approaches may reduce that exposure and address odor and some forms of irritation.”

and: “At present, the only means of eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure is to ban all smoking activity.”

Everyone is entitled to an opinion – and the opportunity for anyone to submit a petition is a positive feature of our Parliament. But the evidence says that requiring smoke-free public places is a popular and effective health measure which cannot be replaced by expensive, ineffective ventilation systems.

At a recent meeting the Public Petitions Committee passed the petition on to the Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee to consider. We will see what they make of it, and report back in a future blog post.

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One comment

  1. *UPDATE* The Health and Sport Committee considered the petition at its meeting on Tuesday 22nd January. The papers for the meeting stated that “The Committee may find merit in the case put by the petitioner and choose to consider further evidence; or it might conclude otherwise and close the petition.”

    The Committee did not find merit in the case put by the petitioner and decided to close the petition.

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