Workers are enjoying a healthier atmosphere in workplaces, including pubs and clubs, with the longer term benefit saving hundreds of lives every year and greatly reducing the likelihood and extent of serious chronic illness. Department of Health research found high levels of support for smoke-free by both the public and from businesses. Three quarters of adults support the law and 79% believe it will have a positive effect on public health. Even smokers support the new law, with 47% in favour and 37% still opposed to it.
In the North-East the support is slightly lower, 67% of adults support the law and 72% say it will have a positive impact on health, a difference which reflects the higher rates of smoking in this region. We also endure much higher levels of ill-health and smoke related illness especially in the region. The fact is that smoke-free legislation will provide a major boost to improving health in the North-East.
The reaction to the introduction of smoke-free laws was that this was ‘nanny-statism’, adults should be left to make their own decisions, whatever the dangers. The counter to this was that smoking in workplaces and public spaces also inflicts these dangers on individuals who would choose not to smoke.
Some of the other health challenges we face don’t necessarily facilitate the same arguments.
The current consultation on a regional public health strategy highlights the impact of drinking too much alcohol, including increasing the risk of domestic violence, and poor diet on public health. The excellent ‘Fresh North East’ campaign showed the value of campaigning with positive health messages, helping us all understand the real impact of smoking on not just the health of the smoker but on everyone in the smoker’s environment.
Poor health in our region has a severely negative impact, socially and economically, and is one of the major characteristics holding the region back. There is clearly a case for trying to change attitudes to excessive alcohol consumption and poor diet. But we should also note it’s not quite that simple.
Poverty and deprivation are not just the result of poor health – they also provide a major barrier to tackling it. A key challenge for improving the health of the region, therefore, also requires making sure there is integration between other strategies; economic, housing, spatial and transport strategies all need to be cohesive and complementary.