Opposition MPs and unions predicted dire consequences when the ban on smoking in prisons was instituted.
What’s actually happened? Corrections Minister Judith Collins reported there’s been almost no fires since the smokes were banned:
The ban has been in place since 1 July. It followed 12 months of careful planning and preparation by Corrections staff, supported by the Ministry of Health and Quitline.
“I would like to congratulate the Corrections Department for the successful implementation of this policy,” Ms Collins said.
“There has been a noticeable improvement in air quality within our prisons since the ban came into effect.
“Since 1 July there has also been a significant reduction in the number of fire and arson-related incidents. There were only four such incidents in July and one so far in August compared to 18 incidents in the month prior to the ban.
“The result is that our prisons are much safer and healthier places for Corrections staff.”
Labour copped a lot of flack for banning smoking in bars because of the way they did it. Instead of promoting it as an OSH issue for staff – with which it would have been very difficult to argue – they took the nanny-state we-know-what’s-good-for-you approach.
By contrast, the smoking ban in prisons was instituted as a workplace health and safety measure, a by-product of that will be better health for prisoners.
Smoking used to be socially acceptable almost anywhere.
Forty years ago it was rare for people to ask if others minded if they smoked, even in the homes of non-smokers.
Gradually that changed and people started asking, though at first it was a token gesture in the expectation that no-one would say no.
Then as legal restrictions on smoking in enclosed public places increased it became socially unacceptable elsewhere. Now it’s rare for a smoker to ask if anyone minds if they smoke, they don’t expect to smoke inside.
There’s nothing glamorous about standing outside in all weathers getting your tobacco fix and I’ve wondered why that, combined with steep increases in prices, hasn’t led to a decrease in people who start smoking. At last it has.
The Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) survey which has been run yearly since 1999, showed 5.6 percent of students aged 14 to 15 (year 10) smoked daily, compared to 15.6 percent when the survey started.
The survey also revealed 64 percent of students had not taken a single puff of tobacco, compared to 31.6 percent in 1999.
An encouraging trend revealed in the survey was the reduction in smoking across different ethnicities, the report’s author Janine Paynter said.
“We’re seeing that some of the inequalities in tobacco use are closing and it is particularly encouraging to see a decent reduction in the daily smoking rate for Pacific girls,” Dr Paynter said.
The easiest place to stop smoking is before you start and it is very unusual for adults to start.
A drop in the number of young people starting is an encouraging sign that smoking may at last be a dying habit.
“It’s nearly afternoon tea time and we’re still okay,” one of the women behind the counter said to her co-worker.
“Why shouldn’t you be okay?” I asked.
“Three of us have given up smoking,” she said. “When the price went up again we decided we couldn’t afford it any more.”
Some might call them nanny-state measures, but I have no problem supporting smoke free laws.
Smokers’ right to indulge their addiction comes a very distant second to other people’s right to breathe uncontaminated air.
It’s a filthy habit and while I understand that once addicted to tobacco it’s very difficult to give it up, I’ve never understood why anyone would want to take it up in the first place. It’s even more difficult to understand now it’s illegal in indoor workplaces and smokers are forced on to the streets where they huddle against the weather getting their fixes.
I’ve never had a problem with the imposition of tax on tobacco either because high price must be an incentive to quit.
However, there is a point where taxes get so high it creates a black market. That’s happening in Australia where home-grown tobacco – called chop chop has a ready market. Cigarette smuggling is also a problem there and in Britain where young women are being offered free holidays abroad if they’ll smuggle cigarettes back with them.
That’s why I don’t support Hone Harawira’s call to ban cigarettes completely.
On Q&A this morning he said:
I’d like to see the production sale and manufacture of tobacco in Aotearoa banned yeah. I think that unlike alcohol and other drugs which people like, with cigarettes most people actually want to stop more than 80% of smokers want to stop, so it’s not like there’s going to be a black market, it’s an opportunity for us to do something to help this country become healthy.
He’s wrong. Prohibition doesn’t work.
Making it even more difficult for people to smoke in public places, exerting social pressure, doing whatever can be done to show it’s an unattractive, unhealthy and stupid thing to do might work. Banning tobacco completely won’t, it will only create a black market.
Southern European attitudes to drinking have always been held up as sensible ones we should emulate.
“The French/Spanish/Italian people drink more than we do but you don’t see them binge drinking,” we say.
But now you do.
In Spain and Italy locals told us that young people have learnt from other cultures. They no longer sip sensibly on wine over long, leisurely meals. They’re throwing back spirits and RTDs and drinking to get drunk.
As their drinking has deteriorated so has their behaviour. Drunken violence, property damage and voiding of stomach contents from one or more orifices in public places have all increased.
Just like here.
We can change the age at which people can purchase alcohol, we can change the number of outlets selling alcohol and the hours they are permitted to do it. But unless and until we change the attitude to drinking we won’t solve the problems of alcohol abuse.
Whether it’s police drinking in their own bars or students partying in the streets, it’s not the age nor the hours that is the real problem, it’s the attitude and changing that takes time.
It’s no longer legal to smoke in enclosed public places in many countries and it’s no longer regarded as a mature or glamorous thing to do.
The attitude to smoking has changed but more than 30 years after the anti-smoking message began, people are still taking it up. It’s going to take even longer to change the attitude to alcohol and the behaviour which goes with drinking to excess.
Part way through a story on the inadequacy of hand washing facilities in many public loos I came across a new reminder on the dangers of smoking:
So what should people do in the meantime, if they have to use a public toilet where there is no soap or anything for drying hands? Dunedin City Council senior environmental health inspector Judy Austin suggests carrying a small bottle of hand sanitiser (at a cost of around $3) could be a solution.
It was small enough to be popped in a handbag or pocket or carried in a car glove box. It could be used in those situations where there was no visible dirt on the hands.
Smokers needed to be aware of the risk of lighting up soon after using it as the alcohol could ignite and burn hands or the face.