Let us hope Kylie Minogue’s diagnosis with breast cancer, which has been linked to smoking for some years now, serves as a timely reminder to the Bracks Government and the Liberal Party Opposition that the exemption of balconies, verandas, courtyards and marquees which are up to 75 per cent enclosed, is a shameless and calculated affront to both the spirit and the stated goals of the proposed anti-smoking legislation.
The Guidance Note on the Elimination of Environmental Tobacco Smoke (2003) of the National Occupational Health and Safety Council (NOHSC), which is the pre-eminent national body for the establishment of occupational health and safety standards within Australia, has stated the following:
- Elimination of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke should be achieved by prohibition of smoking in the workplace - indoors and in enclosed or partially enclosed areas;
- Smoking should only be permitted in areas that have full, open-air, natural ventilation and where environmental tobacco smoke cannot drift or be drawn into non-smoking enclosed areas.
The chief health bodies throughout Australia, including the Cancer Council NSW, the AMA, the National Heart Foundation, Action on Smoking and Health Australia and Asthma NSW support the view of NOHSC. For these bodies, the overriding principle is that smoking should not be permitted within any structure, be it temporary or permanent, that has a roof or ceiling that could fully or partially impede the upward flow and dispersal of air and smoke.
Clearly, partially enclosed verandas, balconies or marquees would fall under this category and should be rightly regarded as enclosed public spaces. To suggest otherwise is a complete nonsense and a contemptuous misrepresentation of the obvious. NOHSC makes no distinction between fully or partially enclosed public places and neither should the State and Territory Governments.
In accommodating the perceived concerns of the hospitality sector - which numerous studies have proven to be largely without merit, at least with respect to patronage, but excluding consideration of revenue from problem gamblers and the self-serving demands of the tobacco and gaming lobby (whose ongoing capacity to corrupt public policy appears to know no bounds) - the Bracks Government has done a great disservice to the people of Victoria.
Victorians have shown an enthusiastic willingness to embrace bans on smoking and the Bracks Government has delayed the eventual prohibition of smoking in all enclosed and partially enclosed areas of pubs and clubs for many, many years, if not decades. This is a truly shameful outcome.
The decision of the Bracks Government to exempt so-called outdoor drinking and dining areas, such as marquees, verandas, courtyards and balconies, which are up to 75 per cent enclosed, was not unexpected by the anti-smoking lobby, as it is broadly in line with the position taken by the ACT Government, with the support of the Liberal Party Opposition. In the ACT, however, the exemption of partially enclosed public places has been expanded to include indoor rooms that comply with the nonsensical 75:25 ratio rule. This constitutes an even grosser example of the corruption of public policy and the pursuit of the public good, which has accompanied the protracted debate surrounding smoking in the workplace and the announcement of the latest round of anti-smoking legislation.
The glaring inconsistency of the Tobacco Amendment Bill as introduced by the Victorian Health Minister, Bronwyn Pike, is breathtaking in its shameless audacity . On the one hand, the Minister spoke at great length of the perils of smoking, both active and passive, and of the community’s growing acceptance of the prohibition of smoking in various venues. Yet at the same time she announced exemptions that would expose, in particular, young adults to the very same dangers that she made mention of. There is, of course, no scientific or medical basis upon which the exemptions could have been based and the Minister wisely chose to offer none, no doubt hoping no one from the media would press her for an explanation of the unforgivable. Her silence on this aspect of the Bill speaks volumes. The root cause of the exemptions is obvious to all and cannot be hidden in a wave of political spin.
The appalling slowness with which the Bracks Government has addressed the issue of smoking in the hospitality sector has, to a very disturbing and troubling extent, been made possible by the steadfast reluctance of the WorkCover Authority to faithfully fulfill its commitments with respect to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This is notwithstanding its public acceptance of the NOHSC Guidance Note regarding ETS and its declaration that it is practicable to prohibit smoking in the workplace and that nil exposure is the appropriate standard.
WorkCover Authority’s website proclaims that employers who fail to abide by the OHS Act will be forced to do so by WorkSafe inspectors. Sadly, this is a gross misrepresentation of WorkSafe’s activities in the field. The corruption of public policy that is so evident in the drafting of the Tobacco Amendment Bill has, therefore, extended beyond our elected parliamentary representatives and has seamlessly expanded into the highest levels of the public service. This should be a grave concern for all Victorians.
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