Is it right and is it possible to ban tenants from smoking in social housing accommodation?

I hate smoking. Always have.  Back in the late 1980s I was regarded as being completely unreasonable if I asked that just one colleague smoked at a time in a staff meeting held in a small room.  It was about individual freedom of choice, I was told, although no consideration was given to my freedom to choose not to work in a smoke-filled environment.

How things have changed.

However, the proposal from Professor John Middleton from the Faculty of Public Health, who has said that tenants moving into social housing should have a no smoking clause in their tenancy agreement. His intentions are very worthy – to protect children from second-hand smoke.

There will, inevitably, be the freedom of choice argument against Prof. Middleton’s proposal. There is also the legality.  Without primary legislation, I cannot see how such a clause in a tenancy agreement can be enforced.  Smoking might be disgusting, it might be anti-social, it might har, the smoker and those around them, it might be inconsiderate.  But it is not illegal to smoke …. Unfortunately.  Policing what a tenant does, beyond the legal terms of the tenancy agreement and the law, is not the role of landlords.

But good on Prof, Middleton for raising the debate.

Let’s ban alcohol and drugs from the beach and city parks

This is the text of my latest Opinion column first published in the Brighton Argus on Wednesday 22nd July 2015)

If Brighton and Hove City Council are to ban smoking from public parks and the beach, can I suggest that they go further by banning and enforcing alcohol and drug use as well.

Recent reports of needles in the toilets on The Level and injecting in the Dorset Gardens Peace Park are just the tip of the iceberg.  I was told about an incident in the last month where two Council employees were observed challenging a couple drinking larger in the Pavilion Gardens, but ignored a couple of older women drinking gin and tonic from cans and a couple smoking cannabis.

As someone who walks my dog on The Level, there are times of day when that area can be particularly unpleasant.

I would strongly support a ban on alcohol, drug and tobacco use in our parks and on the beach. But for such a ban to work, it must be enforced. Sadly, over the years, successive administrations of all colours have allowed a drift from front-line employees to desk-bound officers.

Gone are the Parks Police of yesteryear, replaced by much higher paid policy, strategy and co-ordinating staff who produce great policy and strategy documents but who make little difference to the lives of ordinary people who use our parks.

Given the saturation of alcohol outlets in the City and associated social and health problems (thanks to the deregulation of licensing by the Blair government) wouldn’t it be great if there were a few oases in the town where cigarettes, alcohol and drugs were absent?

Is the tide turning against alcohol?

At work in the 1980s, I was regarded as an unreasonable extremist for asking that just one person smoked at a time during team meetings. It was not uncommon for four or five people to smoke at the same time within a small office.

It was in January 1983 that the Cannon-ABC chain of cinemas made all its premises totally smoke-free, the first chain to do so. Until December 1992 you could still buy tobacco from hospital shops. Smoke-free regulations covering all indoor work-places in England, including bars, clubs and restaurants, came into force as recently as July 2007. (Some places, such as certain smoking hotel rooms, nursing homes, prisons and submarines (!) were initially exempted, as were Royal Palaces).

Just six years later it is hard to imagine ever returning to an era where offices and cinemas had a fog of cigarette smoke and the smell of tobacco smoke sat heavily on people’s clothes and hair, even of non-smokers.

In 1985 I would not have predicted that there would come a time when to light up in a closed environment, on public transport, or in a restaurant, would be regarded as very anti-social and would, in fact, be banned by law. But the health arguments have been won and public opinion has turned.

Today I might be regarded as an unreasonable extremist for questioning the role, cost, health consequences, and anti-social nature of alcohol in society. But the health arguments are powerful, and public opinion might just be on the turn.
The report published on Sunday by the Centre for Social Justice, No Quick Fix, highlighted the growing problem associated with alcohol:

“While frequent alcohol consumption has decreased, dangerous drinking is on the rise. The most widely abused drug in the UK, alcohol, is causing increasing harm to society. Currently the bill stands at £21 billion a year. Alcohol-related deaths have doubled since 1991 and liver disease is now one of the ‘Big Five Killers’ and the only one which is increasing.
“Serious drinking has increased: alcohol-related admissions to hospital have doubled in a decade and are continuing to rise. Increasing readmissions to hospital show that treatment is not working.”

The Health Count survey 2012, found that 13% of the population never drink, 27% drink less that once a week, and 28% drink once or twice a week. For the majority, 68%, alcohol plays little or no part in the their lives. Yet alcohol dominates cultural attitudes and social settings, just as cigarettes once did.

I wonder whether, in twenty years time, we will look back with amazement at today’s libertarian attitude to alcohol. Increasing anti-social behaviour, an alcohol-fuelled epidemic of health problems, and the increasing cost to the public purse, will force something to be done. I just hope it won’t take twenty years.

(This post first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent, 6th September 2013)