Calls to bust smokers in public areas, poll

A SINGLE fine has been issued in the Hunter under anti-smoking laws the NSW government introduced in January last year – sparking calls for tougher enforcement.

Many residents are fed up with breathing second-hand smoke outside shopping centres, office buildings and other public places. There are calls for a crackdown and changes in community attitudes to ensure smoking is significantly reduced in these areas.

Coal Point resident Jim Sullivan, a former council environmental health officer, said the laws were not being enforced: ‘‘They’ve got to bump up the education program and the enforcement and not put this back on to councils.’’

Mr Sullivan said most people were ‘‘sick of breathing other people’s smoke’’.

NSW Health inspectors are authorised to enforce  bans and issue up to $550 penalties for those who fail to comply.

A Health Department spokeswoman said about 30 NSW Health inspectors worked ‘‘across the state’’. Mr Sullivan said health officers ‘‘have enough on their plate’’ and many weren’t employed to be ‘‘smoking policemen’’.

‘‘It’d be one of their lowest priorities,’’ he said.

He said the ‘‘best people to enforce it would be parking rangers’’.

‘‘They’re used to booking people – they’re tough bastards,’’ he said.

‘‘They’d book people as quick as lightning.’’

The NSW Health Department said the first priority in enforcing the laws had been ‘‘educating the community to provide the opportunity for smokers to adjust their behaviour’’.

‘‘This has included regular compliance monitoring at all public outdoor sites covered by the legislation and the issuing of cautionary notices to people seen to be in breach,’’ a spokeswoman said.

Monitoring done last year showed ‘‘a high level of compliance with the new rules on smoking in public places’’, she said.

The laws ban smoking ‘‘within four metres of a pedestrian entrance or exit’’ at public buildings, including shopping centres and offices.

Additionally, the bans apply to sportsground spectator areas, railway platforms, bus stops, taxi ranks and within 10 metres of children’s play equipment.

One in five Hunter people smoke, state figures show.

NSW Health said 35 fines had been issued in NSW under the new laws since January 2013.

‘‘This includes one fine in the Hunter region,’’ it said.

The department said compliance with the laws was high when people were ‘‘aware of where they cannot smoke’’. 

It said a Cancer Institute NSW survey found 85per cent of respondents were ‘‘aware of the new smoking bans in certain outdoor public places’’.  

University of Newcastle Public Health Professor Kypros Kypri said laws with ‘‘relatively low enforcement’’ could produce improvement because many people obey the law.

‘‘They can be substantially enhanced with good enforcement and governments should be telling us what they’re doing to enforce the new laws,’’ Professor Kypri said.

NSW Health said the second stage of managing the laws, which was in force now, involved ‘‘strengthening compliance and enforcement’’.

The ban will apply in outdoor dining areas from July 2015.

Also from that date, smoking will be illegal within four metres of an entry to a licensed premises, restaurant and cafe.

Cancer Council NSW regional manager Shayne Connell said his organisation advocated for a community-led push to change behaviour.

Mr Connell urged people to complain to owners of places where people smoke.

This included places like Hunter Stadium and shopping centres, where ‘‘people have to walk through a wall of smoke to get through the automatic doors’’.

In total, NSW Health said it issued 4453 smoking fines in NSW from January 2013 to March 2014.

‘‘During this period, 319 fines were issued in the Hunter region for smoking offences,’’ the NSW Health spokeswoman said.

Most of these fines were not issued under the new smoking laws, but public transport laws – which police and transport officials enforce.

When the government announced the new laws it said there was ‘‘no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke’’.

‘‘In adults, breathing second-hand tobacco smoke can heighten the risk of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer and worsen the effects of other illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma.

‘‘It is even more dangerous for children, as their airways are smaller and their immune systems less developed.’’

Mr Sullivan questioned why the government does  not ban smoking ‘‘across the board’’.

‘‘We all know it’s killing people and costing taxpayers a fortune,’’ he said.

‘‘I guess they say prohibition doesn’t work.’’

OPINION - By DAMON CRONSHAW

BREATHING in second-hand smoke is disgusting and offensive.

The NSW government’s introduction of anti-smoking laws almost 18 months ago sought to tackle this blight on society.

The laws banned smoking within four metres of entries and exits to public buildings, including shopping centres and offices.

 Four metres is not enough.

The ban extended to spectator areas at sportsgrounds, railway platforms, bus stops and taxi ranks. Some smokers may be abiding by the laws, but many are not.

Smokers might say they have a right to smoke, but why should they have a right to subject others to poisonous fumes?

The government must do more to stand up for the rights of non-smokers. It says the first phase of managing the laws was about education.

That’s fair enough. It wouldn’t have been right to immediately send compliance officers on the warpath to issue $550 fines.

But now it’s time for a crackdown.

If this proves too hard, a total ban on smoking should be considered.

This might send smoking underground, but perhaps that’s where it belongs.