Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Smoking ban hits the most vulnerable

Last night I was talking to the manager of a sheltered housing project which homes vulnerable young people, often with mental health issues, many of whom have difficulty socialising after experiencing abuse, and in some cases are asylum seekers.

New Labour’s ill conceived smoking ban is shortly going to have a serious negative impact on these vulnerable young people. (Thanks to one of the comments to this post, I have checked the legislatioon, and residential care homes where nursing or personal care is provided are exempt, but sheltered accomodation is covered by the act.)

Let’s be clear. I have no problem with a restriction of smoking in public places to provide non-smokers with the opportunity to live without being exposed to smoke. The problem is that New Labour have removed all choice, and not allowed premises that provide a choice for smokers. The cheerleaders for this ban seek to impose their own lifestyle choices onto others by law.

Residential housing projects have been categorised as public places under the act, and must enforce it or face a £2500 fine and a criminal record for staff members. The stupidity of the law has already led to a one year delay in its implementation into mental hospitals, but sheltered housing projects have to implement it from 1st July 2007.

Currently these homes have a smoking ban in the bedrooms, and provide two lounges: one for smokers, and one for non smokers. This is now illegal.

Bear in mind that these premises are home for their residents. Not only are they entitled to smoke if the wish in their own home but in fact most do smoke. Smoking rates are highest in the most socially marginalised parts of society, and to be honest the potential health risks of smoking are often the least of their problems.

Under the new law, the smoking lounges must be shut, and the bedrooms must now be used for smoking. So all that has happened under New Labour’s brilliant law, cheered on by so many on the left, is that the smoke has moved from one part of the building to another.

But this is not a change with neutral impact. There is now an increased fire risk, as it is much more likely that there will be a blaze from someone falling asleep in bed with a cigarette. What is more, the smoking lounges created a degree of socialisation for vulnerable and excluded people, who will now be sitting alone in their tiny bedrooms. It gets worse, the bedrooms are small, and my friend advises me that because soft furnishings absorb the smoke and stink, the rooms will gradually have the soft furniture, carpets and curtains removed, to be replaced with hard chairs, laminate floors and Venetian blinds. This is the austere environment that the New labour zealots wish to push vulnerable people, because the Islington dinner party set don’t approve of smoking, and wish to criminalise and exclude anyone who doesn’t agree with their choices.

The anti-smoking zealots said they supported a total ban on (specious) health and safety grounds, ignoring all evidence about the efficacy of extraction systems in removing any risk from second hand smoke. But for the most vulnerable in care homes, the smoking lounges had extraction systems, but the bedrooms will not. So for the most vulnerable and at risk the situation is worse.

The class bias of the legislation is also clear froom the fact that smoking is banned in the expensive nurseries where middle class parents can afford to send their children, but not in the homes of child minders where working class children go. An egalitarian approach would have insisted instead on air extraction systems for child minders' homes, and subsidised their installation and running costs. Parental choice is an inadeqaute solution, partly because the choices people can make depend on their income, and partly becasue parents who smoke are less likely to object to a child minder who smokes.

How any socialist can support this vindictive, class-biased legislation is beyond me.

Of course common sense could have prevailed and sheltered housing could have been excluded from the legistlation, but then so could private clubs. Instead a blanket ban is being imposed as a knee jerk, socially repressive measure.


Louisefeminista said...

I think some places have been exempt from the smoking bans like prisons and secure units but not psychiatric hospitals. I know from working as an MH advocate majority of people I talked to and represented smoked and banning them from smoking will not relieve their distress but more likely to increase it. The smoking room will be gone.

AN said...

Exactly, i don't think the opponents of smoking are taking into account at all the social importnace of the smoking rooms, and also the amount of reassurance some poeople find in the rituals of smoking, sharing cigarettes, etc.

This is partly a capitulation to new labour's drive for social conformity, where the left have been inadequate in their response.

But it is also part of a moral panic, where any attempt to discuss actual risk levels, compared to preceived risk levels, is engulfed in moralism, and individualism.

Anonymous said...

You can read the regulations (which is where most of the substance of the proposals is contained) on the www.opsi.gov.uk website, and you'll see that there are exemptions for some of the places you've mentioned - eg where people smoke in residential care homes.

Having said that, I'm not hugely keen on the legislation either ...

AN said...

No you are wrong anonymous, the exemption applies only to care homes, not to sheltered accomodation.

The Care Standards Act 2000 only applies to premises that provide nursing or personal care.

Personal care is defined as looking after people who are unable to look after themselves without assistance.

Sheltered accomodation is a different concept where there is a warden on the premisis, but the vulnerable residents fend for themselves in terms of food, laundry, etc.

It is this latter category, which is fully covered by the punitive terms of the act. A housing sector which often includes young people fleeing domestic violence or sexual abuse or who have been living on the street, or have been discharged from psychaitric care homes

Eddie said...

I've got to say I'm more than a bit troubled by the line that is being argued here.
Let's be clear, there is not going to be a blanket ban on smoking, end of story.
That's clear isn't it ?
There will be a ban on smoking in enclosed public places.
I'm writing from Scotland where there has been such a ban for over a year now.
The smoking room of the sheltered housing project can decamp to the great outdoors to smoke together there.
There's a really worrying line from AN's post and that is a willingness to adopt the victim mentality of the most downtrodden.
"All we've got left is the solace of the baccy, and now they even want to stop us smoking".
Bullshit they do, it's banned in public enclosed palces because it damages everyone's health.
You can always smoke elsewhere.
Leftists should be congratulating the authorities in the UK for finally adopting public health measures long overdue and advocating for them amongst the most down trodden.
The evidence from Scotland is that there has been an immediate benefit for bar workers health.
This is what the smoking ban is about, public health.
Buying into the 'Blair government wants to control my life' crap is nothing more than acceptance of the arguments of the libertarian right.

CiarĂ¡n said...

I think you're trying to use this one extreme case of a possible fault in the legislation as a stick to beat the entire thing. It's also completely disingenuous to try to browbeat it as being fundamentally anti-working class. (People in Islington don't like smoking! Really?!)

Your arguments on ventilation are actually class-biased though. Any extraction system that's capable of clearing the air of smoke and the particulates too is way out of the price range of all but the wealthiest of bars, hardly the type to cater to working class people. So if you believe the legislation should only extend to installing extraction systems on the premises, then only the rich and trendy will be free of smoke.

Am I a zealot? Yes, probably. I used to work in a bar and I can tell you that I'd rather "force my lifestyle choices" onto smokers than let them force their second-hand smoke onto me, because me wanting a bit of clean air in the place isn't going to cause health problems for any smokers. Obviously the same can't be said for their lifestyle choice.

AN said...

Ciaran and Eddie.

I speciifically went out of my way to say that i support the restriction of smoking, and extending a ban to some public spaces.

However, we can only unxderstand this legislation if we place it in context.

i) The general approach of New Labour to enforcing social conformity through law: ASBOs, CTOs, and other areas of socialy repressive legislation.

ii) The nature of the moral panic, where the line bwteen health risk and inconvenience is blurred.

The general thrust of the legislation is sound on public health grounds.

But becasue it fits into the moral climate of enforcing social conformity, New Labour have extended the ban beyond what could undisputably be justified on public health grounds, with a not very hidden aganda of making life so difficult for smokers that they give up.

Now encouraging people to give up smoking is itself a laudable public health bjective, but it should not be the role of the state to enforce this theough bans, but it should provide an encouraging frame work.

The moral panic has encouraged an exaggerated public misunderstanding of the true risks of passive smoking, and led many people to conflate and confuse being inconvenienced/discomforted with being at risk, which is not the same thing.

We live in a complex modsdern industral society where many of our activities put other people at risk. For example, driving, both in the physical act of propelling the vehicle fast produces risk, but the exhaust emissions are also a heath risk.

Some acceptance of risk is necessary to make our society work. BUt over the issue of passive smoking a moral panic has been induced to supress any questioning of whether the risk is acceptable or not, or whther there were alternatives to the legislation being set to maximum not minimum effect.

the balance of this legislation veered away from the principle of minimising state interference on peoples' lives, and the debate was muddied by anti-smoking campaigners who frankly just disapprove of other people smoking.