Oxfordshire is set to ban smoking outside as lockdown comes to an end.
The county, which has unveiled plans to become the first region in the country to go ‘smoke-free’ by 2025, will begin the crackdown on smoking later this month.
The move will see smoking at outside bars, restaurants and offices banned and will also see the creation of spaces where people feel ’empowered’ not to smoke.
Employers are being encouraged to stop workers smoking outside offices and factories, while smoke-free areas will be created in al fresco dining areas.
Local NHS Trusts have also been told to implement tougher policies encouraging smokers visiting or working in the NHS to quit.
And ‘smoke-free environments’ will also be created in homes, cars, play parks and school gates – though it remains unclear how Oxfordshire County Council will enforce the stringent new rules.
A spokesperson for Oxfordshire County Council told MailOnline that while strict timeframes for the proposed ‘smoke-free’ areas had not yet been agreed, it remained the responsibility of individual district councils to implement the plans.
They also said there were no plans as of yet regarding enforcement or signage.
Councillor Andrew McHugh had attempted to make all new pavement licenses smoke-free but the proposal was rejected by Cherwell District Council, which said the easing of coronavirus restrictions was ‘not the time to impose more rules on businesses.’
Following the move, a furious smokers’ lobby group, The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest), hit out at the plans, saying it was ‘no business of local councils if adults choose to smoke.’
Oxfordshire is set become the first county in England to become ‘smoke-free’, with outdoor dining areas and workplace break spots as the top targets to go smoke-free. (Stock image)
The plans hope to change smoking culture and also aims to prevent deaths from diseases linked to tobacco. Pictured: Groups of people sit outside a Young’s pub, called the Kings Arms in Oxford
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The campaigners added: ‘If [workers] smoke outside during working hours that’s a matter for them and their employer not the council.’
Elsewhere Mark Oates, from the consumer advocacy group We Vape, said he feared the move would impact those who used vaping products in the future.
He told MailOnline: ‘Oxfordshire County Council should concentrate on educating current smokers of the alternatives and quitting tools, rather than just persecuting them further.
‘We can see in five years this ban moving onto vapers when there is no evidence of passive vaping causing any harm and Public Health England and Cancer Research both stating vaping is an effective quitting tool and infinitely safer than smoking.
‘This is just a further attack against smokers when we should be advising them on the best ways to quit tobacco, which we know causes more deaths from cancer than anything else.’
Described as a ‘long game to change smoking culture’, the plans will see the creation of ‘smoke-free environments’ in the region, with outdoor dining areas in newly created pavement areas and workplace break spots as the top targets.
The plans will also include encouraging employers to stop the habit outside offices and factories, or by creating smoke-free areas in newly created pavement dining areas.
The council, which aims to prevent deaths from diseases linked to tobacco, also hopes to cut the prevalence of women who smoke at the time of delivery to below four per cent by 2025.
The plan will see the council collaborate with other local authorities and the NHS to sign the Local Government Tobacco and the NHS Smokefree Pledge as a commitment to the reduction in the use of tobacco.
In addition, the proposal will also see the local authority tackle the supply and demand of illicit tobacco, raise public awareness, support regional programmes to reduce illegal tobacco and take action to reduce the sale of tobacco related products and electronic cigarettes to those who are underage.
Oxfordshire’s public health director, Ansaf Azhar last week said the move aimed to ‘create an environment in which not smoking is encouraged’.
He said: ‘It is not about telling people not to smoke.
‘It is about moving and creating an environment in which not smoking is encouraged and they are empowered to do so.
‘But that is not going to happen overnight.’
Dr Adam Briggs, the public health official leading the strategy, added: ‘We have got a condition that is entirely a commercially driven cause of death and disease.
‘It is impossible to be on the wrong side of history with tobacco consumption.’
He also referred to figures given by the chief medical officer Chris Whitty at a recent conference, who said more than 90,000 people died from tobacco related diseases in 2020, compared with 75,000 from Covid-19.
Meanwhile head of Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service, Jody Kerman, said: ‘Good regulation and effective enforcement can help stop young people from taking up smoking, whilst also helping those who want to quit to do so.
‘In addition, the trade in illegal tobacco brings crime into our neighbourhoods, helps fund further criminality and puts honest businesses at risk.
‘That’s why we’re determined to clamp down on it.
‘We’re exploring some innovative ways to dispose of the significant amount of illegal tobacco products we have seized in Oxfordshire, designed to maximise economic and environmental benefits for residents.’
A report by Dr Briggs said smoking was the leading cause of preventable deaths in Oxfordshire, costing £120m to the public purse each year.
While 12 per cent of Oxfordshire’s population currently smoke, people earning lower incomes, those with mental illnesses, the homeless and travellers, all have a higher rate of smoking.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said more than 90,000 people had died from tobacco related diseases in 2020, compared with 75,000 from Covid
The plans will include encouraging employers to stop the habit outside offices and factories. Pictured: Diners sit outside on the terrace of Oxford’s Trout Inn
Andrew McHugh, a member of the health improvement partnership board, said he had asked Cherwell District Council, where he is a councillor, to make all new pavement licenses smoke-free.
Pavement licenses allow restaurants and bars to place tables and chairs outside their premises.
The council denied the request, saying that the easing of coronavirus restrictions was not the time to impose more rules on businesses.
But Dr Briggs asked members of the board, who sit on different councils around Oxfordshire, to make similar requests in the near future.
A pro-smoking campaign group called The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest) has criticised the plans.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: ‘It’s no business of local councils if adults choose to smoke, and if they smoke outside during working hours that’s a matter for them and their employer not the council.’
We Vape director Mark Oates added: ‘There are 3.2milion vapers in the UK and nearly every single one was a tobacco smoker.
‘ It is simple common sense to advise on these safer options rather than persecuting people for something they have been doing for years and ultimately fails in stopping them dying from a smoking related disease.’
Mr Oates also warned England will miss its 2030 smoking free target by at least five years due to ineffective messaging.
Nearly one in four people in manual jobs smoke compared to one in ten of those in professional roles, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Cigarette packets currently show blackened lungs, amputated toes, depictions of erectile dysfunction and states the fact smoking kills.
But this messaging is ineffective to smokers, according to campaigners, who are calling for a review of government measures to eradicate smoking.
Mr Oates said: ‘We are not going to hit the 2030 smoke free target because of ineffective messaging. The warnings on cigarette packets are stupid and don’t work.
‘Seeing a pair of blackened lungs on a table doesn’t cut through with smokers. It’s gory and if anything makes them smoke more through stress – they have told us this for years.
‘What works is informing them of the success stories – the viable alternatives and how useful they can be.
‘Fifty to 70,000 quit smoking each year in the UK with the help of vaping. That should be on packets.’
Smoke-free is officially recognised by the Government when five per cent of the population or less are smokers.
Last year, data from the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), found 2,132 people died from smoking-related causes in Oxfordshire between 2012 and 2017.
ASH also said 23 tonnes of waste, or enough to fill 421 wheelie bins, is gathered in the form of cigarette butts in Oxfordshire each year.
It was also estimated that smoking related house fires cost the Oxfordshire economy £2.7million.
Government initiatives to cut smoking rates have been introduced regularly over the years in the UK in an effort to reduce smoking.
Health warnings on packaging became mandatory in 2002, adverts were banned in 2003 and smoking indoors was banned in 2007.
And officials followed up the measures in 2017 with a policy that meant all branded packaging had to be replaced with plain greenish-brown boxes.
There are currently 6.9million smokers and 3.2million vapers in the UK.
Those aged 25 to 34 years had the highest proportion of current smokers (19 per cent), according to ONS.
In 2019, the government set its 2030 smoke free target and in Scotland the target was set for 2034. Northern Ireland and Wales have yet to set a date.