In this week’s instalment of citizen journalism, AHA Western Australia CEO, Bradley Woods, criticises the banning of smoking in al fresco dining areas in Fremantle and Perth, claiming it undermines legislation restricting the use of tobacco products indoors.
“To date, smoking inside of pubs, taverns, hotels, restaurants and other licensed premises has been banned in the interests of public health by the Western Australian Government. Those who want to have a smoke over a beer or glass of wine have been driven outside. Depending on the independent policies of individual councils, this can mean smokers are provided with limited facilities or subjected to the elements.

Indoor smoking bans in Australia and overseas have had a significant impact on the hotel industry. Over the past two years, hoteliers in WA have invested over $25 million to provide smokers with comfortable and convenient outdoor smoking areas that do not impact on the non-smoking patrons inside.

However, due to individual local government policies, some businesses have been unable to provide adequate outdoor smoking areas. For these businesses, indoor smoking bans have created significant challenges by moving smokers outside and away from the control of the venue.  

Licensees have been faced with negating flow-on effects such as cigarette butt litter, neighborhood noise, footpath congestion, drink spiking as a result of drinks being left unattended, and pressure on security staff through an increase of patron traffic entering and temporarily exiting venues.

In many cases, licensees who haven’t been able to secure the use of public land for smokers have seen their venues lose smoking patrons to other venues better able to cater to their needs.

The AHA can provide all levels of government with clear evidence that suggests there is not an overwhelming desire for smoking to be completely banned from licensed venues. Many people continue to use tobacco products despite being forced into sectionalised areas of pubs and taverns. 

Outdoor smoking bans enforced on licensed venues undermine the public’s acceptance of indoor bans, and could mean more smoking in the home and other areas not regulated by councils. They also don’t hold wide-ranging community support, which is why just one per cent of councils nationwide have opted to ban smoking on footpaths.

The decisions by the Fremantle and Perth city councils to ban smoking in al fresco dining areas will be a logistical nightmare. 

Who will police such restrictions? It would be unfair to expect the State’s licensees to absorb the cost of ‘smoking rangers’ considering they already operate in the most restrictively onerous regulatory trading environment in Australia.

Any council that adopts such restrictions will have to erect signs on every street and will have to employ smoking police. These councils run the risk of diminishing the authority of our council officers who are currently enforcing council by-laws that have the support of the community by making them enforce regulations that don’t have community support. 

There is also the issue of what levels of financial penalties will apply to breaches in the legislation. Could such initiatives be misconstrued as revenue raising?

One of the biggest criticisms of local government authorities in WA is that there is a significant lack of consistency between jurisdictions in regard to planning and licensing issues. In regards to banning smoking in al fresco areas, we will also be faced with major inconsistencies in enforcement, penalties and areas in which bans are applicable.

Also, the majority of alfresco dining areas located on public land are just metres away from adjacent footpaths and roads where it will be acceptable to light up and allow smoke to drift over diners.

These bans push the envelope too far with respect to local governments’ authority and are seen by many voters as a ‘civil liberties’ issue. Smokers are aware of the health risks posed by smoking – that they choose to continue to do so outside where they don’t harm others is a matter for them and not for local government.  

In other states, Premiers have signalled their concern over council smoking bans.  Both former Premiers Carr and Bracks have indicated to councils in NSW and Victoria that they should not introduce bans. 

This is because footpaths, building entrances, and al fresco dining restrictions are inconsistent with and counterproductive to State Government approaches to addressing indoor smoking in hospitality venues.”

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The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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