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.