Public attitudes to smoke-free environments in Northern Ireland

The smoke-free legislation is designed to protect workers and the public from the serious health effects of second-hand smoke and its introduction has received overwhelming support across Northern Ireland.

A major public consultation regarding the introduction of the smoke-free legislation was carried out by the DHSSPS between December 2004 and March 2005. The consultation received more than 70,000 responses to questions about strengthening existing controls on tobacco use in Northern Ireland. Over 90% of respondents to the consultation expressed support for comprehensive controls similar to those already in place in the Republic of Ireland. Following the consultation, on 17 October 2005 the then Health Minister, Shaun Woodward announced his intention to introduce comprehensive legislative controls to protect employees and the public from exposure to second-hand smoke in Northern Ireland.

Further consultation exercises were carried out from 6 March to 5 May 2006 and from 25 September to 3 November 2006 on draft regulations underpinning the Order. Views were sought on a range of issues including the proper definition of ‘enclosed’ and ‘substantially enclosed’ premises, requirements for the content and display of no smoking signs, exemptions to the legislation, and arrangements in relation to fixed penalty notices.

This legislation will save lives. It will protect workers and the public from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke which increases the risk of stroke, lung cancer and heart disease.

Prior to the public consultation about the introduction of smoke-free legislation, research was commissioned in 2005 to monitor public opinions on smoking in public places.

This was a follow-up to research previously commissioned in 2004 and aimed to assess the attitudes of the general public in Northern Ireland to smoke-free environments in general, and legislation to make all workplaces smoke-free. The survey was also designed to assess the general public’s awareness of the risks of inhaling other people’s tobacco smoke.

The 2004 survey entitled Smoking in public places – what the public thinks found that although the public is aware of health risks associated with passive smoking, this is mainly restricted to knowledge of lung damage with other risk awareness being very low. The survey also demonstrated that public attitudes to a completely smoke-free environment are positive, although the strength of feeling was dependent on the particular setting.

For example, 82% of the general public preferred hospitals to be completely smoke-free, while over half preferred cafés and restaurants to be completely smoke-free, and 34% would like to see pubs and bars completely smoke-free. Results also showed high support for a ban on smoking in workplaces (61%), with only 16% opposing such legislation.

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