The historic Health Act 2006 was judged by many to be the most significant piece of public health legislation since the Clean Air Act of 1956, fulfilling more than two decades of lobbying and campaigning from the environmental health profession.
The act prohibited smoking in all enclosed UK workplaces, including pubs, bars and restaurants. Wales and Northern Ireland went smokefree in April 2007 and England in July 2007. The Republic of Ireland had introduced smokefree laws in 2004. Opposition to the legislation, which had always been a minority pursuit backed by powerful vested interests, evaporated in the face of almost universal public acceptance.
The passage of the UK-wide legislation came about in the face of considerable opposition, much of it funded, overtly and covertly, by the tobacco industry (once it was introduced, the measure enjoyed almost universal public acceptance).
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) had laid much of the groundwork. As the 2005 election approached, with pro-health charity Ash, it had produced a Smoke Freedom Toolkit for local authorities. CIEH policy officer, Ian Gray, lobbied MPs and other stakeholders around the country on the need for comprehensive smokefree legislation, without exemptions such as ‘smoking rooms’ or the law only being applied in premises serving food. Arguing that staff and customers in pubs and restaurants must be protected from the effects of environmental tobacco pollution, for the CIEH, it was ‘all or nothing’.
Many environmental health professionals contributed to the introduction of the smokefree law. As well as Ian Gray, who led on lobbying for the CIEH, the contributions should be noted of EHPs Maurice Malcahy and Mike Garton. Mr Malcahy carried out important research in the Republic of Ireland on the health damage to bar workers causes by passive smoking, widely disseminating his findings and campaigning for smokefree laws in the republic. In 2004, Mr Mulcahy’s work was acknowledged by the CIEH’s president’s award.
In England, as CIEH policy officer with responsibility for health and safety, Mike Garton recognised that environmental tobacco smoke should be seen as a workplace health issue. Mike had been an officer in the Merchant Navy, principal EHO with Brighton Borough Council, then a popular consultant and trainer. He was awarded an MBE in 1997 and died tragically prematurely in 2005. He placed pressure on the Health and Safety Executive, which was initially resistant, to include the dangers of environmental tobacco pollution on its occupational health agenda.