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Express & Star comment: Smoking ban will spark real debate

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

The decision to ban smoking anywhere on the grounds of hospitals in Sandwell is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

Red lines marking no-smoking zones have been painted around Sandwell Hospital

Patients, staff and visitors will be fined up to £50 if they ignore orders not to light up around Sandwell Hospital – a move that in itself will undoubtedly spark debate.

As part of the scheme extra wardens have been drafted in to catch smokers in the act, while security guards will also be utilised, presumably to escort those who are unwilling to comply off the premises.

But the fact that the move coincides with the opening of a vaping shop on the site adds an extra layer of intrigue to the whole issue.

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The man behind the decision, Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust boss Toby Lewis, quotes Public Health England advice suggesting vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.

And he is quick to point out that non-smokers would never be encouraged to take up vaping.

However, while the dangers of smoking are there for all to see, the jury is still out over the long-term impact that vaping has on public health.

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Some studies have concluded that vaping can serve as a ‘gateway drug’ to cigarettes, while it is not yet known whether e-cigarettes can lead to cardiovascular disease.

Regarding the smoking ban, it is hard to have any sympathy for those who want to smoke at a hospital site.

There is no need to go through the extensive list of negatives associated with a habit that costs the NHS millions of pounds and year and killed more than 70,000 people in 2018 on top of that.

If there is one place where people should certainly not light up it is a hospital site, and with that in mind it will be interesting to see if other hospital trusts decide to follow suit.

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Moves geared towards helping staff to kick the habit are also to be welcomed.

But the policy in Sandwell – whether intended or not – appears to be to guide smokers away from cigarettes and towards vaping. Reading between the lines, the idea seems to be that vaping is the lesser of two evils.

We will be watching with great interest to see how this scheme plays out.

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