By Nick Triggle
February 15, 2007
Thousands of council staff are being trained to police the smoking ban in bars, restaurants and shops in England.
Ministers have given councils £29.5m to pay for staff, who will be able to give on-the-spot £50 fines to individuals and take court action against premises.
They will have the power to enter premises undercover, allowing them to sit among drinkers, and will even be able to photograph and film people.
Smokers' groups and industry officials said the plans were a "waste of money".
The smoking ban is due to come into force on 1 July. It covers virtually all enclosed public places including offices, factories, pubs and bars. But neither outdoor space nor private homes will be affected.
The idea of getting public officials to snoop on people is distasteful and disproportionate
Business owners also have a duty to ensure their customers comply - they are liable for £200 fines if proper signs are not displayed and, potentially, fines of £2,500 if they refuse to enforce the ban.
Local authorities have been given the power to enforce the ban so it does not consume police time.
A government-funded course is expected to train 1,200 council officers in the next few months with more expected to follow later.
Councils will use these fully-trained officers to brief other staff on how to enforce the law as many towns and cities will have scores of officers patrolling public places.
The teams will be made up of new staff and existing officers who will be freed up to carry out inspections.
In London, there will be several hundred of the so-called anti-smoking police, with 40 in Westminster alone.
Ian Gray, policy officer for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and chief trainer for the government course, said he expected most councils would take a "softly, softly approach" at first.
"But there will be some occasions where action has to be taken and I am sure the compliance officers will not shy away from that," he added.
"These officers do not have to identify themselves when they go into premises and they can even film and photograph people to gather evidence although this may not be appropriate in many cases.
"There will be two ways of doing this, either staff can go in and identify themselves to the landlord, but they don't have to."
We want to make our presence felt from the start
Liverpool City Council
In Nottingham, there will be about 30 officers patrolling the city, comprised of new staff and existing environmental health officers.
But the council is also exploring the possibility of getting street wardens, who currently aid the local police force, to help ensure the ban is effectively enforced.
Steve Dowling, director of environment and public protection at Nottingham City Council, said: "We have about 100 wardens and they could keep an eye on whether people are smoking in pubs as they go about their other duties.
"But it is not just about pubs and restaurants.
"We will also be looking at the likes of car garages and shops are complying as well."
In Liverpool, there will be a core team of about 20 to 25 staff keeping an eye on public places, although in the first few days after the start of the ban the council is planning to do a mass patrol of the city with 200 staff.
Liverpool City Council official Andy Hull said: "We want to make our presence felt from the start, and while we will probably just issue warnings on the first day, we won't be afraid of making an example of people or businesses if they try to make a stand."
But Simon Clark, director of smokers' lobby group Forest, said: "The idea of getting public officials to snoop on people is distasteful and disproportionate.
"It is like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Smokers will abide the law so it will be a complete waste of public money."
And a spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association added the approach was too "heavy-handed and elaborate".
"In Scotland, there have been just 11 fixed penalty notices issued to premises in the last 10 months, with many councils having issued none at all."