Smoking is an unhealthy habit and we all know the health risks of inhaling the 4,000 chemicals that each cigarette contains. In recent years smoking has become controversial because even passive smoking, i.e. breathing in other people's secondhand smoke, can be detrimental to health.
In 2007 a smoking ban in enclosed public places such as pubs, bars, restaurants and other public buildings was made mandatory throughout the United Kingdom, brought in by the Health Act 2006. Anyone caught lighting up in a public place would be fined, as could the owners of premises who, if consistently found to flout regulations, could face prosecution in court and lose their bar or pub license.
As a result of the public smoking ban, many smokers were forced to stand outside in the cold and the rain, feeling isolated and even shunned by friends, family or colleagues. What was once a social activity suddenly became grounds for exclusion and many proponents of the ban hoped that it would encourage more people to give up smoking altogether.
Nearly a decade on, the NHS says there is no significant difference between the number of people smoking before and after the ban. However, negative effects from smoking and passive smoking do appear to have been reduced. Twelve months after the ban came into effect in England, there were 1,200 less heart attack emergency admissions into hospital. Yet more than 8 million people throughout England still smoke and 80,000 deaths a year are caused by tobacco.
While the smoking ban is certainly a good thing for public health, there has also been opposition from interest groups who believe the ban has had a negative effect on many pubs, bars and restaurants within cities. They also believe that the smoking ban has raised taxes, hurt small businesses and that the health impact of breathing in secondhand smoke has been exaggerated. Add to this the fact that many people believe that the right to smoke is an important freedom, and it becomes easy to see why smokers might ignore advice to stop. Despite the health warnings, if they are addicted to smoking then they will do it, regardless of whether the law is on their side or not. People look for alternatives, for example many smokers are now staying at home instead of drinking in pubs, so they don't have to stand outside in the wind and rain to smoke.
As of April 2014, there are 10 million adults who smoke cigarettes in Great Britain, according to ASH (Action on Smoking and Health). Around 22% of adult men and 19% of adult women are smokers, which is remarkably lower than in 1974 where 51% of men and 41% of women smoked cigarettes, approximately half of the adult population.
While the number of people smoking seems to be decreasing, it's debatable whether the public ban has had any lasting effect, or if it's more related to how the general perception of smoking and awareness of the health issues has changed over the years.