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The Last Puff

15 May 2007

Former 30-a-day smoker, Iain Murray reflects on a smoke-free Scotland one year on, and highlights the benefits and problems likely to be faced by FMs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as more smoking bans come into force.

I‘GAVE UP’ IN JUNE 2004 AND IN HINDSIGHT, I was very glad I gave up before the smoking ban came into effect in Scotland on March 26th 2006. I can’t tell you how glad I was not to be one of those people standing outside puffing away in minus five and a howling gale.

The smoking ban has had some interesting side effects in Scotland in the last 12 months as well as FM related ones. Some 22,000 people are reported to have ‘given up’ since the ban. Beer sales in pubs are down by 6 per cent. Online Bingo has flourished and a ‘night at the bingo’ is now often a night at a smoking pal’s house! Nightclubs are installing odour enhancing systems given that the stink from a sweaty raver has taken over from the stink of smoke. The dry cleaning industry has seen a fall in sales while off licences have boomed.

Personally, I have found the contrast between going out in Scotland very marked when comparing it with going out on my frequent trips to England. When I get home in Scotland my clothes don’t stink, for obvious reasons it is my wife who informs me her hair does not smell! Eating a meal, even as an ex-smoker, is a wholly more pleasant experience now it is smoke free. Strangely, I seem to be exposed to a wall of smoke outside every pub and outside a large number of offices where smokers tend to ignore the poorly enforced ‘five metre rule’ (the distance they are supposed to be away from the entrance).

I still get a surprise when I am in London and I walk into a smokey pub or restaurant, thinking “who’s smoking” before remembering that they still can. There have been instances where in Scotland you wonder where everyone went - it is the non-smoker who is left alone to dine while the rest of the party troops outside for a smoke. I think smokers are finding new friends easier to make - outside the common bond of being a ‘social pariah’ brings them together.

So what has been the effect for the FM industry? From a service perspective there are numerous implications and from an employment perspective there are many more. The most obvious service which will be affected by the ban is cleaning, not so much in offices where smoking has been banned or contained for years, but places like hospitals, commercial premises and hotels. The problem of smokers standing at the entrances of offices has been prevalent for some time, and signage, bins and even shelters are all already common. You do have to remember now that the signage is compulsory (£150 fine), and the enforcement of the ‘five metre rule’ is for the protection of the non-smoker and is mandatory - another job for the concierge. The indoor smoking rooms are going to be history.

Healthcare premises have been very vociferous in their bans, and have actually insisted that staff go ‘off site’ to smoke. The site of several nurses in a huddle half a mile away from the hospital is quite odd, and I can tell you the cleaner who has to walk the half mile to clear up the fag ends is usually a smoker too.

Shopping centres are finding that their entrances are not pleasant places to pass through and it takes a delicate (if unfamiliar) approach from a security guard to move the smokers back to let the rest of us in without having to carve our way through the smoke. The requirement to constantly clean these areas is proving to be a challenge. What is worse - the cigarette ends or the sight of a cleaner constantly brushing them into a drop down bucket? The cigarette end is also the scourge of a revolving door. Eventually and with enough of them, it stops working so cleaning up cigarette ends has a dual purpose.

Hotels are one of the areas where an exception is granted in designated smoking bedrooms only, but not the bar. I see why there is this exception and as an ex-smoker myself I can empathise with smokers looking for a refuge both last thing at night and in the morning oreven in between. However, there are no nonsmokers who like to get that ‘last room available’ and find it is a smoking room.

From a lifecycle point of view, we plan for higher frequency re-decoration in smoking rooms over non-smoking ones.You don’t need me to tell you to test the fire detectors in those rooms at a higher frequency than any others too. That brings me neatly to a quick aside. If you have any hidden spaces in your buildings where the unscrupulous smoker might try and have a ‘fly puff’, then lock them, because they will! If you can’t lock them, make sure you have them added to the detection system, cleaned out of any rubbish regularly and patrolled, because they will smoke in them.

In maintenance terms there is not a great deal that changes because of the ban, in fact by removing the indoor smoking areas, in a lot of instances it is improved. The air conditioning units in smoking rooms really did get a battering and light fittings were problematic, so you can look forward to saying goodbye to that problem. In maintenance terms it is notthe maintenance that is the problem, it is the maintainers, which brings me onto the second perspective on the ban – employment.

Now much of what I am going to say here might be construed as offensive to our very valued workforce, but the facts of the matter are, there are a very high number of smokers within the ranks of the hourly paid. So from the employment perspective that makes it a big issue in the FM industry.

Firstly, you have to separate out what is legislatively required and what is morally right. From a legislative point of view, simply enforcing all of the rules is your obligation but in so doing you will alienate a large part of your workforce. My advice is to look at it from both sides - protect the non-smokers because that is legislatively what you must do but empathise with the smokers because to ignore them is not a long tem employer’s option.

How is this achieved? With difficulty I am afraid to say. Empathy has to come in the context of firstly complete compliance of the legislation which says that nobody can smoke in ‘substantially enclosed’ premises, and most premises owners have just extended that to mean anywhere on their premises, including the roof and even within their curtilage.

The empathetic employer would undertake an assessment of how a smoker might get their nicotine fix by looking at breaks and the geography, and setting down the rules on paper, explain them to the employee and allow them to work within those rules to have a smoke. The outcome of this is simple - it costs money, as all time does. Not only does it cost money in relation to the smokers, it costs money in relation to the non-smokers as they cannot not be afforded the same break times.

A slightly more ruthless approach would be to afford the smoking employee all of the above, but just not pay them for the time they spend having a smoke. I can tell you that while this is adopted in many instances, it creates quite a bit of disquiet among the staff, on both side of the equation. If you employ hourly paid staff then you will know that even 10p an hour can make a difference to loyalty, so what will a ten minute paid or unpaid break make?

After a year of the ban in Scotland I think it has been very beneficial. I know what a difference not smoking has made to me and anything that assists people to give up is a good thing. The positive side effect is that Scotland’s pubs and restaurants are much more pleasant places to be. The down side for FM is that it means more cleaning in certain areas, a sympathetic look at working practices, probably some cost, but you workforce will be healthier in the long run. So morally it is a ‘good thing’.

● Iain A. Murray is ChiefExecutive, SMC Facilities Management Scottish Chairman, joining the precursor to Members Council. He was elected from Members Council to the Board in 2005 and became Deputy Chairman in 2006.


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