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If people had been asked two years ago which western European countries were among the least likely to make their public places smoke-free, many would have put Ireland and Italy near the top of their lists, if only because of the well deserved reputation of those countries’ inhabitants as hospitable and easy going, attributes associated, however unfairly, with relative lack of action on difficult public health issues. Recent developments in both countries have shown the fallacy of such easy stereotypes. However, while they have joined the list of models to which other would-be smoke-free countries are paying close attention, they both have populations in the millions and the administrative infrastructure that goes with such size. At recent conferences, Irish and Italian representatives have met colleagues from much smaller countries whose admiration has been tempered with a touch of “size matters” envy, borne of fear that the inevitable resistance of tobacco interests, and tobacco influenced hospitality trade bodies, would simply overwhelm their best efforts.
Step forward the latest European success story, Guernsey. Although it is one of the larger Channel Islands, between the UK and France, Guernsey has a population of only 65 000. It is a British dependency, but has its own legislature, known as the States of Deliberation. At the end of March, the States voted to ban all smoking in enclosed public and work places, with few exemptions. The vote in favour, by 29 members to 12, reflected a massive swing in public and political opinion since the matter was last considered by the States in 2002.
The proposed measures will be based broadly on the Irish law. Public health officials hope to keep exemptions to the minimum for clarity of drafting and ease of enforcement. Exemptions will probably be confined to “residencies”, such as long stay wards, nursing and residential homes, and some hotels may allow smoking in certain rooms. Landlords, hoteliers, and restaurateurs will have a year’s notice to prepare non-enclosed outside smoking areas like those used in Ireland, if they wish.
The move builds on Guernsey’s established reputation as a leader in tobacco control in small jurisdictions. In 1996, it banned all internal advertising and tobacco promotion, raised the legal age of purchase from 16 to 18 years, and agreed to spend an increasing amount of revenue from cigarette tax on promoting non-smoking among young people and assisting adult smokers to quit through the island’s own quitline, with free nicotine patches. The latest validated adult smoking prevalence is 23% for males and 19% for females.
Guernsey’s lead is likely to have a knock-on effect: its sister island of Jersey immediately announced it would like to introduce similar measures, rather than just a ban in premises selling food, as previously agreed by its legislature. And bearing in mind that the Irish law attracted enquiries from island states in the West Indies, perhaps Guernsey’s influence will be even more widespread.