In two weeks, new laws will be introduced in Wales to create more smoke-free spaces, a Professor in Respiratory Medicine, has revealed it is a great opportunity for the country to “storm ahead of the rest of the UK.”
The legislation, being brought in across Wales on St David’s Day, 1st March 2021, will build on the smoking ban introduced in 2007 and mean outdoor spaces including hospital grounds, school grounds, children’s playgrounds, as well as outdoor areas of children’s daycare and childminding settings will be smoke-free. Anyone found breaking the law by smoking in one of these areas could face a £100 fine.
Wales is the first part of the UK to introduce such measures and Keir Lewis, Respiratory Lead at Hywel Dda University Health Board, says they build on powerful stop smoking legislation introduced by the Welsh Government over the year.
He says, “Anything that can help save lives and reduce the burden of illness in Wales should be celebrated. We may not always win the Six Nations, but we can win this one.”
It is hoped making more places in Wales smoke-free will reduce the chances of children and young people starting smoking in the first place– a huge benefit to the next generation.
Professor Lewis says, “When you’re 16 or 17, you think you’re going to live forever. You don’t think about how your actions will affect you later in life.
“We’re all too aware of the harms smoking can do to health and have been for some time. We know, for example, that children whose parents smoke have been found to take more time off school due to conditions like asthma and chest infections.
“We also know children learn and pick-up habits from their parents and those around them growing up so the biggest chance we have to stop children smoking is to encourage more and more adults to quit.”
Many smokers have already been motivated to give up smoking due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it is hoped this new legislation will encourage even more to.
NHS Wales’ Help Me Quit service saw a rise in people asking for help quitting in 2020 and worked to ensure that all smokers were supported by expert advice over the phone and with free medication.
Professor Lewis adds, “Smokers’ lung defences are lower, so they are more prone to infection – including viruses – than those who don’t.
“We also know from global research that once a smoker catches COVID-19, it is a worse prognosis for them. They deteriorate quicker.
“They’re 2-3 times more likely to end up on an intensive care unit – or even die – when compared to somebody of the same age with the same illnesses who doesn’t smoke.”
Research carried out at the end of 2020 by ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Wales and University College London also found an estimated 33,000 Welsh smokers had quit smoking since the start of the pandemic.
Chief Executive, Suzanne Cass, says: “Smoking is the biggest cause of early avoidable death among adults in Wales and places an enormous burden on our NHS, costing it an estimated £302million a year.
“We welcome this legislation that aims to denormalise smoking in the eyes of young people, encourage smokers to quit and protect others from the harms of second-hand smoke.
“Reducing smoking prevalence is an urgent public health priority and could save thousands of lives every year as well as addressing the stark health inequalities that exist across Wales.”
Professor Lewis concludes, “I applaud the Welsh Government’s bravery in introducing this new legislation, which strengthens the ground-breaking smoking ban introduced in 2007 even further.
“Wales has higher rates of respiratory illness when compared to other countries – like England – so anything Cardiff Bay can do to reduce them is a good thing.”
Those looking to quit smoking are encouraged to access Wales’ free NHS support service, Help Me Quit, on 0800 085 2219 or www.helpmequit.wales/ for help and support, including access to free stop smoking medication.