New council crackdown to help stub out smoking

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Smoking could be ‘banned’ in Worden Park and other open spaces as part of a pledge to crack down on the ‘dangerous’ habit in South Ribble.

Councillors have voted to protect the public from the harm of smoking, including second-hand smoking, in the borough.

Lancashire County Council has recently sought to stop people from lighting up in children’s play areas across the county, and Preston has vowed to include e-cigarettes in its smoke-free policy.

In Blackpool, signs have been put up ‘banning’ people from smoking in public open spaces, and it has emerged that London is considering imposing similar restriction, which could mean places like Trafalgar Square are off-limits.

Blackpool’s signs are advisory only, but London is considering the possibility of bylaws.

Now, after signing the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control, South Ribble is also looking into practical ways to limit smoking in the area.

During a discussion at a full council meeting on Wednesday, the suggestion was raised to prohibit smoking in the whole of Leyland’s Worden Park, in addition to the rules imposed by the county council about smoking in play areas.

South Ribble’s cabinet member with responsibility for healthy communities, Coun Phil Smith, told the Guardian: “I personally think it’s a real shame that you should even have to ask people to refrain from smoking in an area designated for children.

“Nevertheless we are putting up signs to that effect. I’d have thought it was simply a matter of common decency and sense, not to mention the fact that this could be classed as anti-social behaviour.

“We are currently looking at new legislation to see if it could provide us with the legal powers we’ve lacked up to now to enforce such a ban in the future.”

He added: “When it comes to reducing smoking we’re ahead of the game in South Ribble, both as a council and as a population, but we recognise there’s always more that could be done.

“Signing the declaration underlines the wide range of work we are already doing to tackle health inequalities by discouraging smoking.”

South Ribble’s Labour party put forward a notice of motion at last Wednesday’s public meeting, which stated: “This council agrees to commit to the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control in order to protect successive generations of young people from the harm done by tobacco, save lives and reduce health inequalities in our communities.”

All members of the council voted in favour, and Labour leader Matthew Tomlinson says he would now like to see the Tory council taking action to ‘keep their promises’.

“I’m really pleased the council is showing this commitment, because as far as health and wealth is concerned, smoking is one of the worst things you can do,” he explained.

“I want to see South Ribble Council working with the NHS and the county council to explore ideas to reduce the damage of smoking.

“We can’t force people to stop, but this is about educating and encouraging people.”

He added that it would ‘certainly be worth exploring’ the idea of following in Blackpool’s footsteps with its advisory ban in public open spaces, and added: “In the run-up to the election in May, we’ll be holding the current cabinet to account to make sure they keep the promises made on Wednesday.”

The council’s main responsibility around smoking is enforcement of the ban in public indoor premises, such as venues and vehicles, which involves serving Fixed Penalty Notices. As in Blackpool, an advisory ban in public open spaces like the whole of Worden Park would not be enforceable, but signage could act to deter people from lighting up on council-owned land.

The council has already carried out a number of initiatives to reduce smoking in the borough, such as raising awareness of its affects at the Leyland Health Mela; working with Lancashire County Council on schemes such as the Lancashire Tobacco Alliance and the annual Stoptober campaign; and acting on intelligence on people dealing counterfeit tobacco.

Multi-skilled officers can also deal with smoking issues when enforcing on joint traffic operations or licensing visits with the police and trading standards, and although South Ribble doesn’t have any shisha (flavoured tobacco) bars, the council already has a policy in place to manage them if anyone ever applied to open one.

Coun Tomlinson read out some ‘chilling’ statistics at last week’s meeting, showing that smoking is more prevalent across Lancashire than the rest of England, and that South Ribble had ‘more than its fair share’ of premature deaths related to smoking last year.

“Deaths from smoking-related diseases tend to be prolonged and unpleasant affairs and are accompanied by long periods of ill health, where interventions from social care and health professionals are needed more and more,” he said.

“District councils may not have a statutory duty to promote public health, but they can be best placed to work in partnership with others to deliver a real change for their communities.”