Holyrood committee questions uniform no smoking perimeter in bill

A legally enforceable ban on smoking in parts of hospital grounds has been supported by MSPs on the Health and Sport Committee in its stage one report into the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) Bill.

In the bill, the government is proposing to set a legally enforceable no-smoking area the same distance from hospital buildings for all hospitals grounds in Scotland.

They have not set out in the bill what that distance will be.

The committee has questioned the feasibility of this approach given the diversity of hospital estates. It has recommended the government considers whether each NHS board should be able to propose its own legally enforceable no-smoking perimeter.

The committee has also concluded that the bill may have an unintended consequence of increasing non-compliance with the other no-smoking parts of hospital grounds set by NHS policy, as smokers will be more aware that it is not an offence to smoke in those areas.

On this part of the bill, convener of the committee Duncan McNeil MSPsaid: “There was almost universal recognition that the NHS should not allow smoking in their grounds given the impact tobacco has on people’s health. This is why the NHS already operates a smoke free policy.

“Our committee agrees that there is a particular issue with people smoking around doorways and access points especially given the harm caused by second hand smoke. We therefore agree that such no smoking areas outside hospital buildings should be legally enforceable.

“However, it will be difficult for the same no-smoking distance to be set the same for all hospitals and even more difficult to communicate to patients, families and visitors.

“The devil really is in the detail behind these proposals and it’s vital we get this right if we are to implement a legally enforceable no-smoking area without also introducing a lot of practical difficulties.”

The bill also introduces measures to restrict the sale of Nicotine Vapour Products (NVPs) or more widely known as e-cigarettes.

The committee agreed that whilst the evidence on the extent to which NVPs may be harmful or to assist smoking cessation is still developing, it is prudent to take a proportionate and balanced approach to restricting the sale and advertising of NVPs.

Commenting on this part of the bill deputy convener of the committee Bob Doris MSP said: “You just need to look at our high streets to see how popular e-cigarettes have become.

“So given there is not clear evidence that they are harmless the committee considered it sensible to introduce measures to restrict their sale in line with other smoking products.

“However the majority of evidence we heard pointed to these products proving to be a useful aid in helping people to stop smoking.

“Our committee wants the Scottish government to consider providing national guidance outlining the risks and benefits of using these products to help quit smoking, whilst also supporting more research in this area.”

A new offence of “wilful neglect” would also be introduced if the bill was passed. The committee was content with these proposals but recommended that the Scottish government provides guidance to health and social care organisations on the new offence and in particular their roles and responsibilities.

Mr McNeil said in relation to the new offence: “These proposals will introduce a new offence of wilful neglect and whilst the vast majority of health and social care professional provide extremely good care, this new offence will be an added protection for all patients in Scotland.

The proposed legislation also includes measures which will introduce a “duty of candour”, which is supported by the committee.

Commenting on the duty, Mr Doris said: “Understandably on rare occasions the level of health and social care provided can fall below what we would expect.

“This legislation would mean organisations need to be up front when something has gone wrong.

“We believe the duty of candour proposed in the bill has the potential to lead to wider service improvements as it will apply to organisations rather than individual health care workers.”