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Now Executive warns: no smoking at home

Scotsman/HAMISH MACDONELL | December 22 2005

Public asked not to light up before visits from public sector workers

Key points
• Letters to be sent asking for no smoking one hour before public worker visits
• Plan to draw smokers' map of Scotland identifying where smokers live
• Smoking ban to come into force 26 March 2006

Key quote
"Does your organisation know which of the homes visited by its staff are occupied by smokers? If not, it would be advisable to develop such a list. Once the situation relating to individual properties is ascertained, steps can be taken to reduce the exposure the staff might face" - Executive published guidelines on the ban on smoking in public places

Story in full THE public are to be told not to smoke in their own homes as part of plans to protect public sector workers from the effect of passive smoking.

The move is the latest part of the Scottish Executive's ban on smoking in public places, which will come into force on 26 March next year.

Ministers have told councils, health boards and social work departments that they should compile a "smokers' map" of Scotland, focusing on those who regularly receive visits from officials and carers. This would identify individual households where a smoker is resident.

The smokers would then be sent letters asking them not to smoke for one hour before a council worker or health worker called round. Public bodies have also been advised to use the smokers' map to ensure that any workers who suffer from breathing problems are kept away from the homes of smokers.

But the Executive advice, which was issued to all councils, health boards and care service-providers yesterday, was derided as a "bureaucratic waste of money", and "politically correct nonsense".

There are tens of thousands of people who get visits from public sector workers at home. Many council house tenants receive official visitors for a whole variety of reasons; women with babies are visited by midwives and health visitors; the elderly and infirm often get called on by social workers and home helps; and the sick are visited by GPs.

Critics warned that the compilation of accurate and detailed lists would take time and resources.

Murdo Fraser, the deputy leader of the Scottish Tories, said: "This is a huge bureaucratic burden being put on local authorities and other public agencies when we are supposed to be promoting efficient government and a reduction in bureaucracy. This is simply going to lump a huge additional cost on to all those who comply with it."

Mike Rumbles, a Liberal Democrat MSP on the parliament's health committee, said: "This is politically correct nonsense, it is political correctness gone mad. We have a good law to prevent passive smoking harming people by banning smoking in enclosed public places. Public places, not private spaces. What is the Executive doing getting involved in people's homes?"

The Executive's ban on smoking in all public places comes into force at the end of March next year and, as part of the work to prepare the country for the change, the Executive compiled a glossy 50-page booklet to advise public bodies how to enforce the ban.

Much of the publication is clear and logical, explaining what the ban will mean, how it will be enforced and what the role of employers will be. But it also contains new Executive guidelines on smoking in private homes, which is not covered by the ban.

Ministers said they wanted to make sure they did everything possible to protect council workers, health professionals and social service personnel who, as part of their work, have to go to private homes where smokers live

The advice asks public bodies: "Does your organisation know which of the homes visited by its staff are occupied by smokers? If not, it would be advisable to develop such a list. Once the situation relating to individual properties is ascertained, steps can be taken to reduce the exposure the staff might face.

"Measures that can be taken include writing to all those who will be visited to ask them, and those who may be with them, not to smoke during the visit, and ideally not to smoke for an hour or so before the visit is scheduled to take place."

The guidelines go on to advise public sector managers to protect those with breathing difficulties from going to the homes of smokers and rotating other workers around other homes, to make sure they do not have to go to the same smoky environment twice in succession.

Although the guidelines are intended to cover the houses of those who get regular home visits, it is possible the advice might extend much wider and some councils might use it to cover all those who get any sort of public sector visit.

They could do this by putting a standard request on all letters which advise of any sort of visit, from a planning officer to a environmental health official, asking the recipient to refrain from smoking for the duration of the visit.

The move was defended by Unison, the public service union. A spokesman said there were concerns about the exposure of public workers to smoke in private and residential homes and there had to be guidance to help protect them.

He said: "Nobody is in a position to say that people should not have the ability to do what they wish in their own space. But there is a knock-on effect on the people who work in these areas and, to cover those, we would have to make sure that proper risk assessments are done and the risks are removed where possible and minimised where it is not possible to remove them."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive stressed that councils and other bodies were not expected to incur any extra costs as a result of the new guidelines.

She said: "The list could be compiled in the course of the day-to-day duties of those who make home visits." And she added: "There will be no additional funding for this because there are no additional costs."

The spokeswoman conceded that some health and council workers might refuse to continue home visits to those who stubbornly continued to smoke, despite requests to stop.

But she insisted this would almost certainly not happen because most, if not all, of those people who were asked would stop smoking for the duration of a home visit.

Andy Kerr, the health minister, said: "We have made it clear that residential accommodation is exempt from the legislation. For it to be otherwise would be an infringement of human rights.

"But we recognise there are instances where people will have to visit a residential property to do their job - and this guidance will help ensure that workers are exposed to passive smoke as little as possible."

According to a survey published by the Scottish Executive, support for the smoke-free legislation has remained at 58 per cent since August, with 92 per cent of people aware of the new laws.

Awareness of the risks of passive smoking increased from 83 per cent in May to 90 per cent in November. However, just 7 per cent of smokers said the ban would help them quit smoking.

The number of people who did not allow smoking in their homes remained consistent at 42 per cent.

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