If leaders at Oxfordshire County Council have it their way, the whole county will be mostly smoke-free by 2025.
The announcement was made last week as the council made a commitment to make Oxfordshire the first region in the country to go smoke-free, aiming to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the adult population to below 5 per cent in the next four years.
Described as a “long game to change smoking culture”, the plans include the proposed creation of smoke-free environments in the region, with outdoor dining areas in newly created pavement areas one of the top targets.
The plans will also encourage employers to stop staff smoking outside their workplaces, while NHS trusts in the area have also been told to implement tougher policies encouraging smokers visiting hospitals and staff working in the NHS to quit.
As a non-smoker, I am uncharacteristically and really quite unreasonably intolerant when it comes to other people’s second-hand fumes. I have turned down many invitations to join my friends in outdoor smoking areas on nights out, preferring to sit alone in smoke-free air. I practically gag every time I’m out jogging and unwittingly run into a stranger’s cigarette smoke. I grimace when I watch someone lighting a fag before breakfast.
Years ago a friend told me she lit up in the centre of New York (where outdoor smoking was banned in public spaces in 2011) and a random passerby gave her a filthy look before sniping: “Eurgh, cut it out.” Obviously I would never dream of doing this because I’m not a total nark, but I can’t say the thought doesn’t cross my mind every time I feel my face becoming engulfed in a stranger’s cigarette smoke.
But even I can see a blanket ban is a step in the wrong direction. Oxfordshire County Council hasn’t yet said how it is planning to enforce its vision of a smoke-free region, but let’s face it, the world doesn’t need more authoritarian figures in replica police uniform or high vis jackets slapping out fines.
No matter how much people like me hate smoking, lots of people enjoy it, and we’ve got to find a way to co-exist harmoniously without heavy-handed intervention from local authorities.
If people decide they want to quit smoking, that’s a different matter. Like most things that are bad for people, the best way to tackle smoking isn’t through enforcement. Nobody is going to stop smoking simply because they’re not allowed to do it in certain places anymore.
Instead of spending money on infrastructure forcing smokers to the fringes of their communities, a harm reduction approach focused on education and dealing with nicotine addiction pragmatically would be more effective.
As much as I personally would love to see the whole world turn its back on cigarettes, after the past 16 months the last thing anyone needs is more restrictions.