Top town doctor calls for total smoking ban

Dr Arif Rajpura
Dr Arif Rajpura
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Blackpool’s top health chief has called for the resort to become completely smoke-free in a drastic bid to improve people’s chances of living longer.

Director of Public Health Dr Arif Rajpura said people should be banned from lighting up even when walking down the pavement. The call, made in an official council meeting, comes following the publication of new figures showing the resort has some of the worst smoking rates in the country.

And while council bosses admit the move would be difficult to enforce, Dr Rajpura says every effort should be made to ensure people should be encouraged not to smoke at all.

He told a meeting of the council’s Scrutiny Committee: “Can we aspire to a smoke-free Blackpool and go down the same road as places like Los Angeles?

“That we don’t allow smoking anywhere in Blackpool, that should be our aspiration.” He was speaking after presenting a report to councillors which warned around 400 people die prematurely every year in Blackpool as a result of smoking, and a further 8,000 will suffer from smoking related diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

More than a quarter of adults living in Blackpool smoke, compared to the national rate of about a fifth of the population, while 28 per cent of women smoke during pregnancy.

And it comes after The Gazette revealed last week that the cost of treating tobacco related diseases in the resort is more than £7m a year.

The council has already put up signs banning smoking in parks and playgrounds, although the ban is not enforceable.

That move sparked widespread controversy, and fears were raised that a town-wide ban, which would require new legislation to be passed, would deter visitors. Coun Ian Coleman said: “I think it could be detrimental to getting visitors into Blackpool. It is a worthy idea but we have a lot of hoteliers who I think might not agree.”

It is a sentiment backed by tourism bosses in the town.

Stay Blackpool spokesman Claire Smith said: “From a personal perspective, it would make for a far nicer environment. I admire Dr Rajpura, he says it straight.

“But we are a holiday destination and a large part of that for some people is smoking.

“I wouldn’t want to do anything that would put a visitor off from visiting Blackpool and this definitely would put some visitors off. Smokers are getting used to having to smoke outside premises and that’s great.

“But my gut feeling is that while being a wonderful aspiration it would have a detrimental effect on tourism.”

Hugh Evans, North and West Lancashire Chamber of Commerce spokesman, said the idea was “fine in principle” but added: “We appreciate what Dr Rajpura is trying to do but I think our concern would be how it would be enforced and who would enforce it.”

And Dr Rajpura said he believed that, despite the concerns of others, boasting cleaner air might attract more tourists. After the meeting, he told The Gazette: “You can’t smoke in any public place, even the pavement in Los Angeles. That creates a smoke-free environment, which is protection particularly for children and non-smokers.

Coun Eddie Collett, cabinet member for health on Blackpool Council, said while he agreed with the need to tackle the damage caused by smoking, he believed a smoke free Blackpool, much like the signs in parks and playgrounds, could not be enforced.

Coun Collett said: “I share with Arif an absolute determination to stamp out smoking but I would do it by increasing the tax on tobacco.”