Smokeless zone: This county plans to be the first smoke-free region in the UK

·3-min read
The outside areas of bars, restaurants and offices are all set to become smoke-free zones in Oxfordshire. (Getty Images)
The outside areas of bars, restaurants and offices are all set to become smoke-free zones in Oxfordshire. (Getty Images)

An English county is taking steps to become the first smoke-free region in the UK, with local businesses being encouraged to stop people smoking in outdoor areas.

In a move that coincides with the end of lockdown, having a cigarette will be prohibited in areas outside many bars, restaurants and offices in Oxfordshire.

The area is aiming to go smoke-free by 2025, as part of a plan agreed by public health officials before the pandemic.

Smoke-free is officially recognised by the government as when 5% of the population or fewer are smokers.

Read more: More than 300,000 UK smokers may have quit due to coronavirus, survey finds

The priorities for Oxfordshire's smoking strategy this year include creating more spaces where people feel "empowered" not to light up.

This includes encouraging employers to stop people smoking outside their workplaces, or for hospitality businesses to create smoke-free areas in newly formed pavement dining areas.

In Oxfordshire having a cigarette will be prohibited outside of bars, restaurants and offices. (Getty)
In Oxfordshire having a cigarette will be prohibited outside of bars, restaurants and offices. (Getty)

Oxfordshire's public health director Ansaf Azhar has described the strategy as a "long game" to change smoking culture, with the aim of preventing deaths from diseases linked to tobacco.

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."

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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 Professor 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.

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A report by Dr Briggs said smoking was the leading cause of preventable deaths in Oxfordshire, costing the public purse £120m each year.

While 12% of the county's population currently smoke, there is a higher rate among those earning lower incomes, those with mental illnesses, the homeless and travellers.

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.

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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 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.".

Additional reporting from SWNS.

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