Indoor Smoking Banned in England

In a country where pubs and private clubs abound, the debate over how extensive a ban on indoor smoking should be often became heated and involved personal attacks. In the end, however, Parliament voted by a wide margin of 384-184 to impose a total ban on indoor smoking in public places.

In March 2004, Ireland barred smoking in public places. Bans in Scotland and Northern Ireland will become effective over the next 13 months. The local parliament in Wales has also said it will seek a complete ban on indoor smoking in public places. England’s ban is expected to take effect in 2007.

The vote defied the re-election campaign position taken by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had supported a partial ban that would have permitted smoking in private members’ clubs and pubs that do not serve food. That proposal would have allowed smoking in drinks-only pubs.

But opponents of that policy said passive smoking would still damage the health of workers in clubs or pubs, regardless of whether food was served or not.

In the weeks leading up to the final vote, anti-smoking factions had stepped up their campaign for a total ban. Two reports that were largely based on internal tobacco company documents were particularly compelling.

In a strongly worded research paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a team of highly qualified experts concluded that the air filtration system the tobacco industry, especially British American Tobacco (BAT), has touted as the answer to environmental (second-hand) tobacco smoke, simply does not work and thus, does not protect the public.

In reaching their conclusion that the only safe way to protect people from second-hand smoke in public places is to introduce a comprehensive ban on smoking in all such places, the team analyzed “internal corporate documents from BAT held in depositories in Minnesota and Guilford set up as a result of litigation against tobacco companies, and documents from online databases of tobacco documents (www.tobaccodocuments.org).”

What the researchers found was a well orchestrated plan by the tobacco industry to “create public doubt about and refute the scientific evidence on the adverse health consequences of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.”

Despite compelling evidence that the air filtration system was ineffective and did little to remove the “harmful gas phase smoke constituents including carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds,” BAT concluded that the system “was a cost-effective way for removing ETS (environmental tobacco smoke)…would prove a useful device to incorporate into specific environments where BAT might want to…gain commercial advantages over its competitors, and should result in ‘direct benefits in terms of…brand (or corporate) awareness and image transfer.”

A BAT scientist even went so far as to write that the company’s interest in the system was primarily, “To negate the need for indoor smoking bans around the world…”

Documents showed that BAT continued to install the system in public places like a Brussels airport lounge, even though the company knew the unit to be inadequate, and used it as a vehicle by which to heavily advertise Barclay cigarettes. In essence, BAT had turned the ineffective air filtration system into a billboard “to market BAT’s products.”

BAT also targeted the hospitality industry with a marketing campaign “pushing a so-called ‘smoker resocialisation’ initiative, which aimed to portray smoking in a ‘more positive and stylish context’ and to lobby against smoke-free public places.”

Remarkably, the team found from internal documents: “Although BAT’s board of directors was not convinced of the effectiveness of air filtration units, the Colt units continued to be installed at locations worldwide even in the face of failed performance.”

As time progressed, the units changed shape and size but remained ineffective. Removing the smoky haze from a room is about all they did. Yet the same BAT scientist, Nigel Warren” seized on this illusion of safety as promoting a “possible perceived solution to the ‘problems’ of smoking in public.”

Throughout its campaign, BAT was found to be more concerned with its public image as “accommodating smokers and non-smokers through the use of filtration and ventilation methods” than anything else.

A summary of the researchers’ findings is as follows:

  • “Ventilation and air filtration are ineffective at removing environmental tobacco smoke”
  • “Despite this knowledge, BAT extensively promoted these technologies to the hospitality industry”
  • Internal documents show such strategies were viewed as viable solutions to circumvent smoking restrictions and gain global marketing opportunities”
  • A total ban on smoking in public places is the only way to protect all employees from environmental tobacco smoke”

Only days after these revelations of highly questionable conduct by British American Tobacco (BAT), another new indicated that BAT and ITL (International Tobacco Limited) had developed a marketing strategy specifically designed to hide the high level of toxicity of their so-called “low tar” brands.

In the study published in The Lancet, David Hammond and colleagues at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, reviewed internal company documents and found that BAT and ITL devised a strategy to get around some extremely negative data concerning the actual toxicity of their “low tar” cigarettes.

According to the documents, the cigarette makers were aware that smokers typically draw puff volumes almost double the size of the International Standards Smoking (ISO) machine, which is used in standard testing protocols. When that fact was taken into consideration, these “low tar” brands delivered potent levels of tar and nicotine to smokers.

The companies looked to maximize the discrepancy between the low machine yields, which is commonly the information used in marketing campaigns and printed on cigarette packages, and the levels of tar and nicotine actually inhaled by smokers.

These cigarettes were then marketed as low-tar alternatives to other cigarettes in order attract health-concerned smokers.

The study found that BAT used this strategy despite the health risks to smokers, and ignored ethical concerns voiced by senior scientists within its own ranks.

“Overall, these documents depict a deliberate strategy whereby BAT and ITL (Imperial Tobacco Limited) designed products that would fool their consumers and regulators into thinking these products were safer or less hazardous when they were not,” the study authors wrote.

“Moreover, this product strategy remains in place today, as does the tool of its deception, the ISO cigarette testing protocols. The current review leaves little doubt that the ISO standards should be discarded in favor of new standards that meet the needs of consumers and regulators, rather than those of the tobacco industry.” (Sources: HealthDay News 2/8/06; Medical News Today 2/8/06; BMJ 1/28/06; The Lancet Online 2/7/06)

The new law is good news for tens of thousands of pub workers and others employed in public places and, according to British government, it will also prompt some 600,000 people to quit smoking.

As in other countries where similar total bans have been enacted, not all of the citizenry is pleased with the new law. Some smokers, interviewed on British television, said the decision was one more sign of the government encroaching into the private lives of the people.

Antismoking groups, however, are excited about the ban. Alex Markham, the head of Cancer Research UK, called it “the most important advance in public health for 50 years,” while Ben Youdan, of the group No Smoking Day, said, “Compromises can’t be made when protecting people against a killer.”

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