Smoke-free zone

THIS summer, smoking in all public places in England will be banned. In the run up to the change in the law, companies have been urged to help their workers give up smoking but is it the responsibility of employers or down to individuals.

THIS summer, smoking in all public places in England will be banned. In the run up to the change in the law, companies have been urged to help their workers give up smoking but is it the responsibility of employers or down to individuals. Katy Evans reports.

ONCE seen as an acceptable, even encouraged past time, smoking is finally getting its comeuppance.

Scotland banned smoking in public places last March, with Wales joining rank just over three weeks ago. Northern Ireland will follow suit this Monday and England's ban comes into force on July 1. So what better time to promote a stop smoking campaign?

Yesterday, Nice - The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - suggested employers take an active role in helping their employees to quit by letting them attend stop-smoking session during working hours.


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A spokesperson for the organisation, speaking on Radio 4, said employees who smoke have on average eight extra sick days per year than non-smoking colleagues, meaning businesses are losing out financially.

At present, smoking costs the NHS an estimated £1.5 billion each year and costs industry an estimated £5 billion in lost productivity, absenteeism and fire damage.

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Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice, said: “The recommendations include making information on local stop-smoking services widely available at work and where feasible, if there is sufficient demand, providing on-site stop smoking support.”

According to the Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT), smoking is the leading cause of preventable morbidity and premature death in England, resulting in around 86,500 deaths per year.

Simon Hughes, smoke-free officer for Waveney District Council, supports employers who want to encourage staff to quit smoking, even if it means taking time out of the normal working day.

“The problem is that PCT stop-smoking sessions are often during the day when people are at work. Employers should see these sessions as an extension of health and safety in the work place.”

Mr Hughes feels it would be beneficial in the long-term of employers support their staff.

“If employers are willing to give staff time off (to go to the clinics) they will reap the benefits in the long term - it's a win-win situation,” he said, citing fewer sick days as one example. But he said it would be up to individual companies how they managed the time and what allowances they would make.

Simon Clark, director of the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, felt workers should not attend stop-smoking clinics during working hours.

“It's generally acknowledged these quit smoking courses are not very successful - it's a matter for willpower. And they are likely to be open to abuse - people will take advantage as they have an excuse to take time off work.”

Jeffrey Keighley, from Suffolk Stop Smoking, thinks employers should allow staff time off to attend free sessions, as long as they make up the time later.

“These people are not coming just to get out of work for an hour,” he said. “Employers are increasingly flexible these days and it's a good opportunity for them to show how flexible they can be by letting employees attend sessions and then make up the time.

Mr Keighley runs lunchtime sessions around Suffolk, which are always packed. The organisation has a 70% success rate after four weeks.

“Three out of four smokers do want to quit. It's very hard to go cold turkey but if you offer support, twice as many will quit; if you give support and nicotine replacement therapy, four times as many will quit.

“To bring about change you have to give people support. Employers will get something out of this: sickness rates will go down; people won't have to retire as early due to medical conditions.”

Mr Keighley said the health benefits of stopping smoking were almost immediate: blood pressure returns to normal in 20 minutes; in 24 hours, carbon dioxide leaves the body.

“Giving up smoking is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your health,” he said, adding that one in two smokers will die earlier than they would if they didn't smoke.”

Sam Revill, health improvement practitioner for Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT, said employers should also consider the public perception. “Businesses might not want people smoking outside their offices as it could create a bad impression to potential customers,” she said, adding that the PCT where she worked had been smoke-free for two years.

Archant, which owns the East Anglian Daily Times, has already put out notices seeking employees to take part in a stop-smoking programme in conjunction with Suffolk NHS. If enough join up, the programme will take place one lunchtime per week. Last year, the same course attracted 12 participants.

Rob Diamond, an Archant employee and former smoker, gave up thanks to hypnotherapy but is in favour of these courses. But he said it's mainly down to people's will power than anything else.

“You have to be in the right frame of mind and want to quit. I had decided I wanted to do it. If I had not done hypnotherapy I'd have tried a course at work but even with NHS courses you can easily fail. It's up to the individual not to cheat.”

But should companies really be responsible for the negative habits of their employees? So far, employers have to maintain a certain level of responsibility with regards to health and safety, so is this the next logical step? Or is it evidence of an increasingly Big Brother-style society? And if companies are so keen to improve the health of their employees, and to improve productivity and lessen sick days, will alcohol be the next target? And what about the vending machines in most offices, stocked with sugary, salty, fatty snacks? But while alcohol and sugar are without doubt health hazards, smoking affects others. Banning it from public places is one step towards a healthier Britain but unless people are encouraged and given support to give up, we are likely to see even more

groups huddled together outside office buildings than ever before.

Suffolk Stop Smoking sessions are run at locations around Suffolk every day except Sunday. For information about your nearest clinic, call 0800 0856037 or visit www.suffolkstopsmokingservice.co.uk.

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