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The smoking ban is coming

May 18 2009
Smoking rates among homeless people are much higher than among the general population Smoking rates among homeless people are much higher than among the general population
The ban on smoking in public places is coming soon, but what will it mean to our readers? On July 1st, England will bring in legislation to prevent smoking in enclosed public spaces. As the date looms closer and closer, we are constantly reminded about what the ban means and what awaits people who choose to defy it. With very few exceptions, all indoor areas will be smoke-free, which means that hostels, shelters, refuges, drop-in centres and other facilities for homeless people which currently allow smoking, will have to enforce the ban. As Paul Fox and Paschal O'Neill, chairs of Smokefree Camden, put it: "Smoking rates among people who are homeless are much higher than among the rest of the population. However, many people who work with the homeless do not regard smoking as a priority." Day centres and hostels, where the majority of volunteers and workers who help the homeless community are found, have started to amend their policies, and some have enforced the ban before it officially comes into effect. At west London's Broadway Living Centre, visitors have enjoyed a smoke-free environment since March 2005. Manager Bev Johnson recalls that she worried at first that enforcing their non-smoking policy might drive people away. But after two years, Mrs Johnson said that "the number of people coming to the Centre doesn't seem to have dropped, and users are self-policing." Most smokers are now to be found in the garden, which they will continue to use even after the official date passes. "Despite some grumblings, we received no official complaints," said Mrs Johnson. But the centre's early smoking ban was not the only one. The Manna Society also went smoke- free during 2005, and manager Paddy Boyle has also seen no decrease in their average of 150 people a day. The veranda is the only place where smoking is allowed. Mr Boyle says that "unless someone rules that people should not smoke there," things will remain the same in the post-ban era. St Martin's centre has also been operating a non-smoking policy since late January. A survey of their new three-storey wooden- floored building recommended a smoke-free environment. Mick Baker, director of services, said that it made sense to implement the ban after the move, and since then it has been enforced with "relatively small problems," which quite surprised him. "Unfortunately we do not have a courtyard area, so people must go outside to smoke," said Mr Baker, who pointed out that smokers should consider the centre's location next to the National Portrait Gallery and use their discretion so as not to disturb anyone. "We have good contacts with the local police and so far we have received no complaints whatsoever," added Mr Baker. With statistics showing a higher rate of smoking in the homeless population, there was concern that enforcing the ban in day centres would not go down easily. But feedback from hostels in Scotland and Northern Ireland - which have had smoking bans long before England - has shown that implementation and enforcement of the non-smoking law does not produce any serious problems. "Enforcing a ban in staff and communal areas of hostels has not been a problem, but a smoking ban in bedrooms was felt by some to be unreasonable and unenforceable," reads a report by Homeless Link. "Allowing smoking in rooms has, in some cases, increased isolation, particularly among older people with alcohol problems." However, as Manchester's Booth Centre co-ordinator Amanda Croome says, centres can successfully work with smokers by tweaking some of their programmes. Centres can allow friends and visitors in private rooms if the centre has no outside area for people to smoke and generally socialise. "We have provided an ashtray outside. We have smoking breaks in the activity sessions. Now staff and people using the centre - smokers and non- smokers - all say how much nicer the centre is," said Ms Croome. Still, the focus of the ban is not to marginalise the home- less smoking society but rather to convince them to quit. Nearly a quarter of Londoners say that they plan to try and give up just in time for the ban, and the city's officials are trying to get that figure up everyday. Towards this end, a special bus has been commissioned to travel around London giving a countdown to the date of the ban and offering information about how to give up smoking. Dr Sheila Adam, the regional director of public health, said: "We know the danger to health from second-hand smoke and the more we can do to protect people from breathing in others' smoke the better."
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