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Smoking Ban: Will you be ready for 1 July?

19 April 2007
Smoking Ban: Will you be ready for 1 July?

As our series on the build-up to the smoking ban continues, we look at the importance of preparing for the big day. Emma Allen reports

Nanny state gone mad or the beginnings of a brighter, healthier England? Whatever your view on the new smoking laws, there's no escaping the fact that the official countdown to a smoke-free nation is now on.

From 1 July, England will join the rest of the UK to ban smoking in virtually all enclosed public places and workplaces. The Government published its final guidelines on 23 March and this month the Department of Health will be sending guidance and signage to the 1.7 million registered businesses across all industries in England.

So what are the new laws? Put simply, the regulations (see panel, page 31) will apply to almost all "enclosed" or "substantially enclosed" premises, including temporary structures such as tents or marquees, meaning it will be illegal to smoke almost anywhere indoors after July. Employers will be legally responsible for making sure premises remain smoke-free for customers and staff alike, with local councils enforcing the ban.

Many businesses have already bitten the bullet, becoming completely no-smoking ahead of the ban. But even if you're not planning to put the ashtrays away until 30 June, it still makes sense to start preparing. That means thinking about legal requirements - such as transforming workplace smoking rooms into smoke-free areas, getting rid of indoor ashtrays and making sure you have the correct signage in place - as well as other areas like staff training.

For operators with outside space, getting ready for the ban is likely to involve at least some outdoor investment, whether it's merely installing ashtrays, sprucing up small patios or investing in more upscale alfresco seating areas. If you're planning a smoking shelter, think about the positioning, advises George Barnes, property and tenanted trade director at Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, which aims to have 200 shelters in place by the summer across its 378 pubs. "Don't make them too far away because people won't use them. Try to create some connectivity with the bar, so people aren't traipsing through restaurant areas," he suggests.

It's also important to allow sufficient time for any necessary planning consent. "On average, our applications have taken about eight weeks, but it does depend on the local council. One took 30 weeks to come through," Barnes warns. He also recommends checking terms of licences - whether customers have to be inside by a certain time, for instance - and for good relations, keeping local residents informed.

As to selecting a shelter, space and budget will obviously play a part, but before you invest it's also worth analysing how it will be used. If your customer base is largely non-smoking, with a few diehards occasionally nipping out for a quick ciggy, there's no point spending thousands. Think, too, about whether you want to provide a separate smoking area for staff. According to manufacturer Parasolar, which supplies parasols and awnings to companies such as PizzaExpress and Punch, basic structures can start from as little as £900, going up to £4,000 for a giant six-metre long by four-metre wide parasol, and for something a little more top-end, prices start at about £10,000. Some councils will be imposing litter fines of up to £50 for those who drop unsightly cigarette butts, so supplying sufficient ashtrays (and emptying them) is another consideration.

For many businesses, creating an inviting outside space is now a priority. At the 17-strong Geronimo Inns chain, plans for the summer include decorative canopies, artwork and outdoor TVs and games for customers, such as darts and giant chess. Chief executive Rupert Clevely explains: "It's about being prepared and thinking a bit outside the box. People won't stop smoking just because of the ban, and if we make smokers feel alienated, they'll simply go elsewhere." Looking to autumn, customers will be able to hire blankets in return for a deposit and Clevely is working on a winter hot toddy menu, which he hopes will entice smokers, even on chilly days.

For hotels, inns and guesthouses, one of the key issues is likely to be whether they offer smoking bedrooms. Under the new laws, subject to certain conditions, hotels will be able to designate one or more rooms as smoking. Legal requirements include clear signage, mechanically closing bedroom doors and, most crucially, making sure ventilation systems don't allow smoky air to filter into any other part of the premises. Using a designated smoking bedroom in any other way, like a TV room for instance, is also forbidden.

However, it's the issue of ventilation that operators really need to think about, according to Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association. "Lots of hotels have air conditioning nowadays and we'd recommend you check exactly how the air is ventilated in the building," he explains. "If you've got a stack ventilation system, for example, it might blow smoke vertically. That means if you make one floor smoking, you must make sure the system isn't ventilating smoky air down to the floor below, into non-smoking rooms."

Unlike Scotland, where the ban was imposed last year, England's laws do not require hotels to have a ventilation system if they are providing smoking bedrooms - merely that, should a system be in place, it mustn't allow smoke back into the rest of the building. For operators without air conditioning, therefore, there's no legal obligation to provide it. "An open window could therefore be sufficient," Couchman adds. He points out however, that if existing ventilation equipment isn't adequate, or effective, most properties are likely to adopt a non-smoking policy throughout. "It wouldn't be worth the expense of adapting or installing a new system just to make a few bedrooms smoking," he says.

Smoking rooms

Couchman says that relatively few hotels in Scotland have decided to keep smoking rooms since the ban. He adds that any operator south of the border that believes a reduced fire risk might produce lower insurance premiums looks set to be disappointed. "Even though technically there's less of a risk, there's little evidence to show that premiums have been cut in Scotland," he says.

Despite the fact that many Scottish businesses have banned smoking totally, some operators in England feel, at this stage, that it's wise to retain some facilities for smokers. Rocco Forte's Brown's hotel in London has 20 smoking bedrooms and intends to keep them after July. For general manager Stuart Johnson, it's about seeing how the market will respond and he doesn't feel it's a complicated issue. "Like any hotel, we've already got mechanical fire doors and each room is ventilated separately so the only real difference for us will be putting the extra signage up," he says. More of an issue, he adds, is the expected downturn in cigar revenue from the bar.

Nevertheless, shrinking demand for smoking rooms, coupled with lower refurbishment bills - not to mention savings on linen with no more cigarette burns in the bedding - means a significant number of hotels in England are likely to be tempted to take the complete no-smoking route come July.

Certainly, making areas smoke-free is likely to involve a serious clean-up, regardless of whether you go completely non-smoking or not. At the Macdonald Holland House hotel in Cardiff, which went smoke-free in January, ahead of the Welsh smoking laws brought in on 2 April, restoring the building to a smoke-free state took longer than expected. "Our building is only 36 months old but getting all the nicotine off the windows and chandeliers was quite a job," recalls general manager Phil Roberts. "We had to sand down most of the tables to get rid of the burns, repaint rooms, put in new carpet and recover most of the furniture as the smell was so strong."

Reporting offenders

Another issue to think about ahead of July is staff training. No-smoking bedrooms might cut back on some housekeeping duties but shifting smokers outside will no doubt mean increased ashtray-emptying and glass-collecting. It's also important that staff understand what to do should customers flout the ban. Although businesses aren't responsible for reporting offenders, a telephone number will be up and running from July (see panel, right).

At Holland House, Roberts says incidents involving rowdy customers lighting up have so far been minimal, but front-of-house staff have been given training in what he calls "conflict management". Anybody caught flouting the ban is challenged, politely. "I've been amazed," he admits. "I was a bit worried about the Six Nations cup night as we had a lot of parties in, but everyone was fine with it. It's been self-policing and we haven't had to be heavy-handed at all."

Getting ready for the smoking ban in England

• From Sunday 1 July, it will be against the law in England to smoke in virtually all "enclosed" and "substantially enclosed" public places, workplaces and in public and work vehicles.

• Any room or space will be considered "enclosed" if it has a ceiling or roof and is totally enclosed. Under the 50% rule, an area will be considered "substantially enclosed" if it has a ceiling or a roof (including fixed or movable structures) with an opening in the walls that amounts to less than half the total wall area. When measuring the size of an opening, doors, windows or any other type of fitting that can be opened or shut cannot be taken into account.

• Indoor smoking rooms will no longer be allowed.

• Hotels and guesthouses are allowed designated smoking bedrooms as long as they conform with regulations - see main story.

• Managers and owners of smoke-free premises and vehicles will have legal responsibilities to prevent smoking and ensure no-smoking signs are correctly displayed. The Department of Health will be sending guidance and signs to every business this month, or signs can be ordered from Smokefree England.

• Local councils will be responsible for enforcing the law. From 1 July a telephone line (0800 587 1667) can be used to report breaches of the ban.

For latest guidance, information and to order signage, go to Smokefree England on 0800 169 1697, www.smokefreeengland.co.uk, or contact your local council.

Rules for smoking bedrooms

Hotels, guesthouses and inns can provide smoking bedrooms for guests as long as:

• Rooms are designated in writing as a smoking area by the person in charge. The British Hospitality Association recommends contacting your local environmental health department to check acknowledgment of this.

• Rooms are fully enclosed, have mechanically closing doors and do not have ventilation systems that ventilate into any other part of the premises (except other designated smoking areas).

• Any room used for smoking cannot be used for any other purpose like a TV room or library.

What are the penalties?

• Anyone caught smoking in a public place will be fined £50 (£30 if paid in 15 days).

• Not displaying the required no-smoking signs could incur fines of £200 (£150 if paid in 15 days).

• Failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place could incur a court-awarded fine of up to £2,500.

Latest equipment

• For jazzing up patios and gardens, Portobello Art can put company logos, photos or artwork on a special waterproof canvas suitable for outdoors. Prices start from £17.50 for a 12in frame. www.portobelloart.co.uk

• Smokin Solutions, which supplies awnings, shelters and furniture, says it has seen a 20% rise in sales over the past month. A new Eco-quartz light (£295 plus VAT) turns itself on and off according to footfall. Other popular sellers include the City Solution package - a 3ft x 2ft awning and two infrared heaters (£1,000 plus VAT) - and floor-standing ashtrays with space for advertising on the front and back (£80 plus VAT). www.smokinsolutions.com

• Giant outdoor games like Connect4 and chess, with prices starting from £40 plus VAT, are available. www.sunshinebits.com

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