LONDON (Reuters) – Smoking in London’s parks and public spaces like Trafalgar Square should be banned, according to a report that has been welcomed by health workers and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg but slammed as “outrageous” by a pro-tobacco lobby.
The report, commissioned by London Mayor Boris Johnson, aims to combat the threats posed by tobacco, alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise and pollution and bills itself as the biggest public health drive in the world.
Its author, surgeon and former Health Minister Lord Ara Darzi, said the “Better health for London” blueprint could equally well be applied to all Britain’s cities.
Around one fifth of Londoners still smoke, causing 8,400 early deaths each year, and as many as 67 schoolchildren in the capital take up the habit every day, it said.
“The Mayor should use his byelaw powers to make Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square smoke free,” Darzi said in a statement. “It would be a powerful message for the iconic centre of our city and the political heart of our country to become smoke free.”
Johnson should also use his influence over the Royal Parks, the board of which he appoints, to introduce a ban, while local councils would pass similar byelaws for their open spaces.
London has 20,000 acres of parks and open space, covering 40 per cent of the city, more than any other world capital.
Britain banned smoking in public workspaces including bars and restaurants in 2007 and huddled groups of smokers puffing away outside office buildings are a common sight in London.
Smoking is already banned in parks in several other global cities, including the 800-acre Central Park in New York.
Former New York Mayor Bloomberg called the London plan a “major achievement.”
He added in a statement: “Breathing tobacco smoke whether indoors or outdoors is harmful to your health. That’s why we made Central Park and all of New York City’s parks and beaches smoke-free, along with all indoor workplaces.”
Johnson himself was due to unveil the plan later on Wednesday but has not yet endorsed its recommendations. He has said that if a ban were to be considered, there would have to be clear evidence it would have direct health benefits.
But the idea has already drawn fire from pro-smoking lobbies.
“A ban on smoking in parks and squares would be outrageous,” said Simon Clark, director of Forest, which campaigns on behalf of smokers. “There’s no health risk to anyone other than the smoker. If you don’t like the smell, walk away.”
He added in a statement: “The next thing you know we’ll be banned from smoking in our own gardens in case a whiff of smoke travels over the fence.”