Brighton could be set to join Bristol, New York and Hong Kong in banning smoking in some public areas, as the town council considers a ban on lighting up on the beach.
We wondered if City Hall would ever step up and stub out smoking in London's parks and public spaces. It's not a new idea — anti-smoking campaigners have frequently called for a ban — but it's one which polarises opinion.
Who has introduced a ban?
Local authorities don't need City Hall to impose a ban in their open spaces; they already have the power to do it themselves. We checked on their smoking policies and found only a handful of councils, including Waltham Forest, Hackney and Islington, have smoke free children's playgrounds. Royal Parks, who run a number of the capital's open spaces, including Victoria Tower Gardens and 10 Downing Street as well as the eight Royal Parks, only appears to have a playground ban in Kensington Gardens.
Smokers working at Canary Wharf (albeit private land) will also have noticed the appearance of smoking shelters in an attempt to keep the rest of the area smoke free. Anyone caught sparking up in the wrong place could be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice by Tower Hamlets council.
Last year London Mayor Boris Johnson commissioned a report investigating the possibility of extending the smoking ban to outside spaces. And not just in parks. Following his predecessor's successful banishment of pigeons from Trafalgar Square, if the Mayor decides to act upon Lord Darzi's recommendations, smokers could find themselves excluded from one of the capital's landmark open spaces. It's probably fairly safe to assume that we won't see a ban just yet — the Mayor called the proposals 'bossy and nannying'.
Policing the parks
So could we introduce a smoking ban in London's outdoor spaces? Since nothing's preventing City Hall or individual local authorities imposing a ban, how would it be enforced?
The Met patrols some parks, with private security companies picking up others, but if you throw in a load of open spaces which are also tourist hotspots then cover starts looking pretty thin. We asked GLA Conservative Group leader and 2016 Mayoral hopeful Andrew Boff if he thought a smoking ban was on the cards:
I am against any proposal to ban smoking in open air public spaces. It would be almost impossible to enforce such a move. Educating people about the health risks associated with smoking, without the state trying to control behaviour via statute, will always be my preferred solution. Personal liberties and freedoms are hallmarks of our political system, and a smoking ban extension could lead to other less palatable policies down the line.
Outdoor smoking bans make no sense. Smokers don’t need self-righteous campaigners regulating their behaviour. We’re in danger of creating an incredibly censorious society in which regulations are based not on potential harm to others but on people’s personal preferences. It’s worrying and it has to stop.
Since the government, as well as City Hall, has said it has no plans to introduce smoking bans in outdoor areas, it seems likely that any initiatives will come from local authorities. Until then, Trafalgar Square's smokers won't follow pigeons in exile.
Would you like to see a ban on smoking in parks and outdoor spaces? Tell us in the comments.