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No ifs or butts… complying with the new smokefree law

18 July 2007

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Jane Bonehill

Training Director
DenMed Training and Consultancy

Jane is a technician member with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Europe’s leading body for Health and Safety professionals. Jane holds office on a range of Health and Safety advisory committees, has produced a series of Health and Safety advice sheets, and is a licentiate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Jane works with primary care trusts and general practices around the UK, giving presentations, delivering certificated training courses, and providing consultancy to assist primary healthcare teams in managing Health and Safety

Why has the law been introduced?
Public opinion research shows that people are more aware of the effects of “secondhand smoke”, also known as passive smoke, and the positive health effects of going smokefree.

The primary aim of the smokefree law is to protect people, including those at work, from exposure to harmful effects of other people’s smoke. Healthcare workers are unlikely to be a high-risk occupational group, due to a large number of premises already being smokefree. However, the law applies to all people at work.

How does the law affect practices?
Most practices and healthcare premises have been smokefree for sometime, as this probably formed part of your health promotion strategy. You may also have identified the need to manage risks associated with fire safety, perhaps as a result of your own internal assessment of fire risks and/or the need to adhere to the requirements of your insurance company.

However, don’t assume you are already doing enough – you now need to ensure you are meeting the requirements of the new smokefree law.

What must practices do to comply?
Review and revise your existing situation

  • Remove indoor smoking rooms/areas.
  • Remove ashtrays and cigarette bins.
  • Assess the location of existing outside smoking areas/shelters:
    • Are they situated at a suitable distance from the building?
    • Can cigarette smoke blow in through windows?
    • Does it encourage littering of the area?
    • Is it necessary or appropriate to provide an outside area/shelter (there is no legal requirement to do so)?
    • If you do provide an outside area/shelter, does it comply with planning laws and/or workplace smoking regulations?

Develop a smokefree policy

  • This could be incorporated into your existing Health and Safety policy. If you employ five or more people it must be in writing.
  • There must be a clear purpose as to why the policy has been introduced. This should include reference to the smokefree law and the practice’s commitment to reducing the risk to people’s health.
  • You must consult with employees to ensure they fully understand and agree to the content. This will encourage
  • cooperation.
  • Roles and responsibilities should be clearly stated. This must include all personnel and attached staff, and customers/patients/visitors/contractors.
  • Communication of the policy is vital to its success. All staff must be informed and their understanding confirmed – this applies to existing and new staff.
  • The policy should be reviewed periodically to check it is working, and if necessary revised.
  • You may want to include a statement on noncompliance and its consequences – this should include disciplinary action for staff.
  • The policy should be displayed in public areas.

Train staff

  • Raise awareness of the impact of the law on both the practice and individuals.
  • Promote positive messages about the new law and advice on how to quit smoking.
  • Ensure they are aware of how to recognise incidents of noncompliance.
  • Develop their skills in dealing with conflict and responding to incidents in order to resolve them effectively.

Display signs
Signs must:

  • Meet minimum legal requirements.
  • Be displayed on entrances to the practice and in prominent places to inform people before they enter the building.
  • Be displayed in “work vehicles” if used by more than one person.

Manage noncompliance

  • Managers and those in charge of the practice have a legal responsibility to ensure premises are smokefree. Managers are accountable for staff and all visitors to the practice (including patients).
  • Point out and make people aware of the no-smoking signs.
  • Ask them to stop smoking and briefly explain the smokefree law.
  • If an employee is found smoking, remind them of the practice smokefree policy and the consequences of not complying. If they refuse to stop, you may want to start disciplinary procedures.
  • If a visitor to the practice (eg, patient) refuses to stop smoking, you may want to ask them to leave the building and/or refuse to treat them – seek advice from your primary care trust (PCT).
  • If a customer displays threatening behaviour, call the police.
  • Record details of all incidents and report to the PCT as a “critical incident/significant event”.
  • Call the smokefree compliance line to report breaches – but only if you feel this action is appropriate – on 0800 587 1667 (please note information will be forwarded to the relevant local council).

What are the penalties if someone breaks the law?
Local councils are responsible for enforcing the smokefree law in England. They have similar powers to other law enforcement officers, and can enter your premises at any reasonable time to check compliance. The following penalties apply for those who break the law:

  • Smoking in smokefree premises or vehicles – anyone who smokes is liable to a fixed penalty notice between £30 and £50 depending on when its paid, or a court-awarded fine up to £200.
  • Failure to display no-smoking signs – anyone who manages or occupies premises/ vehicles is liable to a fixed penalty notice between £150 and £200, depending on when its paid, or a court-awarded fine up to £1,000.
  • Failure to prevent smoking – anyone who manages or controls premises/vehicles is liable to a court-awarded fine up to £2,500.

It is a criminal offence not to comply with the smokefree law. Practice managers could be at risk and held accountable if the practice fails to act appropriately.

What else should be considered?

  • Vehicles used for domiciliary visits. If the vehicle is used to visit patients at their home or residence by more than one person, it must be smokefree.
  • Transporting patients in practice vehicles. If a member of the public is being transported, the vehicle must be smokefree at all times.
  • Visiting patients in their home. The smokefree law does not apply to people smoking in their own private homes. Practices may want to consider how they will protect staff who could be at risk of exposure to “secondhand smoke” when visiting such patients.

Where can you get more information?
If you are in any doubt about compliance with the smokefree law, you may want to contact your local council for advice. For some further sources of information, see Resources.

At the time of writing, it is too soon to give accurate information relating to compliance with the new law in England. However, it is understood this will be compiled from local council enforcing authority inspections, which will include details of any penalty notices or fines issued.


Health and Safety Executive

Royal College of Nursing
Website contains details on protecting community staff from exposure to secondhand smoke

Trade Union Congress (TUC)
Website contains guidance for people who work in other people’s homes

Office of Tobacco Control – Ireland

Smokefree Law Scotland

Smokefree Wales

Smokefree England