Outdoor areas and secondhand smoke: some facts

Secondhand smoke (SHS), also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is a mixture of two forms of smoke that come from burning tobacco: mainstream smoke (the smoke exhaled by a smoker) and sidestream smoke (the smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, or tobacco burning in a hookah.

Prohibiting tobacco use in outdoor areas such as parks, playgrounds, beaches, access areas, outdoor restaurants and football stadia provides several benefits. As there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and exposure to secondhand smoke can occur in outdoor areas, bans in areas where people congregate can be justified on health grounds, particularly for those at increased risk of respiratory problems e.g., asthmatics.

Cigarette butts and other tobacco product wastes are the most common items picked up in urban and beach cleanups worldwide. Prohibiting smoking in these areas will greatly reduce cigarette butt litter, thereby enhancing the locations both visually and environmentally, and reducing fire risk.

Only 18 per cent of our population are now daily smokers. The experience in other countries like Canada and the UK is that smoke free outdoor spaces contribute to the normalisation of tobacco free lifestyles, making the healthy choice the easy choice.

“Denormalisation” strategies aim to make smoking-related behaviours less visible. Prohibiting tobacco use in outdoor areas reduces visibility and will also contribute therefore to the reduction of the social acceptability of smoking. Denormalisation of smoking assists young people in making healthy choices around experimenting with tobacco, assists current smokers in considering the decision to quit and facilitates continued abstinence in ex-smokers.

ASH Ireland initiated the ‘outdoor smokefree’ project in Ireland and has been pivotal in its success. Over the past eight years, ASH Ireland has advanced the ‘outdoor smokefree’ project in Ireland through engagement with county councils, national sports bodies, the Office of Public Works, Iarnród Éireann, and the third-level education sector. In line with Irish society becoming better informed on the health risks, there is a general momentum towards ‘outdoor smokefree’; the denormalisation of smoking is widely accepted and the industry has lost its clout with the decision-makers and society.

In Dublin, the Aviva stadium is entirely smokefree and Croke Park is partially so. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is currently working on a smokfree trial project with a number of its clubs. Over 80% of our public playgrounds are smokefree, as are two third-level education institutions, with others deeply engaged in the ‘going smokefree’ process. Many of our hospitals are now smokefree, an initiative being driven by the Health Service Executive.