SUBMISSION BY CRAIG FRANCE
I am writing to support Stewart Maxwell's `Prohibition of Smoking in Regulated Areas Bill'. This is based on my own experience of the negative impact of passive smoking on me both in the present as a restaurant diner, and in the past as an employee in a Pub.
1. Experience as an Employee exposed to smoke
In my early 20s I worked for a couple of years as both a part- and full-time Bartender in a number of Pubs in Melbourne, Australia. While that is now over 20 years ago, the memory is still vivid of coming home after an evening shift at the Pub with my clothes and hair reeking of cigarette smoke. I would often experience a hacking cough for an hour or so after I'd left the Pub but I kept myself very fit through running and swimming so figured I was counteracting the adverse effects of the amount of passive smoking I was doing on the job. Such side-effects were just accepted as part of the job.
However, I now experience a mild form of asthma which results in a dry persistent cough whenever I encounter any sort of irritant, be it dust or cigarette smoke and although no causal link can be proven between my exposure to smoke in the work-place on an almost daily basis over a 2-3 year period, I think its fair to suggest that a possibility exists of such a link, the long-term effects of which could be even worse.
For much of the time I was working in this environment, it was out of necessity in order to support myself while undertaking tertiary studies during the day. In retrospect, I resent the fact that in order to obtain part-time work to make ends meet as a student, the only option open to me at that time was to work in an environment that was damaging to my health. My experience has left me with a deep empathy for those young people I see having to work in this same unhealthy environment in Scotland today.
2. Experience as a Restaurant diner
I believe there is supposed to be some sort of voluntary code in place regarding the allocation of non-smoking areas in restaurants. My experience is that this amounts to little more than tokenism. As air, and therefore smoke, does not respect arbitrary lines of demarcation on the floor, the concept of non-smoking areas side-by-side with smoking areas is ludicrous. Any High School biology student knows that the sense of `smell' is actually a key constituent of what we experience as `taste'. As a non-smoker, it takes only a small amount of smoke in the air to noticeably taint the `taste' of a meal. So aside from the well-documented negative health impact of passive smoking, the actual enjoyment of the meal is significantly reduced by even a relatively low level of cigarette smoke.
My wife and I always make a point of requesting a non-smoking area but there is often no such thing. This is not acceptable.
3. Experience of success of Australian smoking ban
My wife and I have made a couple of visits to Australia in recent years and have been hugely impressed by the absence of cigarette smoke in restaurants and indoor areas in general. Proprietors of restaurants, coffee shops and pubs with whom we spoke were universal in their declaration of the success of a legislation-driven approach. They believed that it created a `level playing field' and reported that even smokers were largely in favour of it as it provided them with an incentive to cut back.
The result is that my wife and I found that the pub or dining experience in Australia is way ahead of that in Scotland.
4. Final Statement
It's obvious that we're not going to be able to protect people from
every known carcinogen but there are certain steps we can
take to at least incrementally roll back our exposure to them. Given the acknowledged death-toll and health impacts caused by smoking, I couldn't help but be cynical of a Government's motives for not taking such a simple public health measure as that proposed in Mr Maxwell's Bill. After all, Governments make big money from tobacco tax revenues so they're hardly going to want to dramatically ruffle the feathers of this goose that lays the golden eggs.
Why does the Government ban hard drugs? Presumably because they're
addictive and harmful to the health of the user. With smoking we've got an addictive drug which is not only harmful to the user but to everyone else around them, with an annual global death toll of Holocaust proportions. It would seem to be a little inconsistent to then take no action to protect the public from smoking, particularly when it effects more than the immediate user.
The `democratic rights' and ` freedom of choice' of smokers are expressions which seem to get a lot of airplay in this sort of debate. But I'd like to be able to eat in a restaurant without having my meal spoiled by some other diner exercising their "freedom of choice" to smoke and damage their health, thereby negating my "freedom of choice" not to.
As far as the hospitality industry's fears over loss of trade from a smoking ban are concerned, a simple example can perhaps illustrate how this is a two-edged sword. Last Sunday my wife and I went for a walk from our flat in Newington to Klondike Garden Centre at Mortonhall. We returned past the Stables Bar, a nice cosy pub with an open fire, which serves good food. We would have liked to have stayed for a meal and a pint of Guinness but the strong smell of cigarette smoke put us off and we decided to go home instead. When we got home, we phoned four Italian restaurants but none offered a non-smoking section so we decided to stay in and cook instead! So that was five potential eateries who missed out on our business that evening because they placed the rights of smokers ahead of those of non-smokers. We're not particularly `bolshie' people but Mr Maxwell's Bill has helped raise our awareness of the negative health effects of smoking sufficiently that we're no longer prepared to compromise our health for the sake of a night out. We're not unusual either and have friends and family who will definitely avoid eateries that allow smoking.
Non-smoking areas in restaurants are something of a joke as well, given that airborne smoke fails to recognise any arbitrary line on the floor demarcating smoking from non-smoking areas. Air filtration units seem to be of little benefit in my experience. In fact one particular pub/restaurant in Edinburgh (Montpeliers) seems to have one of these but never bothers to turn it on! I know a number of people who no longer frequent this place because of its excessively high smoke levels!
I endorse this Bill wholeheartedly and look forward to its becoming law. I'm certain that we'll look back in 5 years time, much as the Australians do, with a sense of disbelief that there was a time when staff were expected to work in smoke-filled environments and diners were expected to simply put up with people lighting-up at a neighbouring table.