Health Milestones For Wales

Today marks an amazing new start for the health of everyone living in Wales. At 6am this morning all public places in Wales became smoke-free and everyone in the country will also now benefit from free prescriptions.

The two landmark measures put Wales at the forefront of illness prevention in the UK and could help to reverse the nation’s appalling sickness record. No other country in the UK has abolished prescription charges – fees went up again in England and Scotland yesterday to £6.85.

And Wales joins the ranks of numerous other countries worldwide which have outlawed smoking in all public places, including Scotland and Ireland – but not yet England.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said, ‘This week will see the biggest move in decades to improve the health of the people of Wales with the introduction of free prescriptions and the ban on smoking in enclosed public places. These will dramatically improve the health and well-being of the people of Wales and help reduce the long-term pressure on the NHS.’

Wales was the first country in the UK to vote for smoke-free legislation, which will see smokers consigned to the streets and other designated smoking shelters. But it has taken more than four years to secure the necessary legislation from Westminster – England will go smoke-free in July.

From today smokers in Wales lighting up in pubs and clubs face the prospect of a £50 fixed penalty notice or a fine of £200 if convicted. Penalties will be even steeper for employers who allow smoking to continue on their premises – up to £1,000 for not displaying the necessary signage and £2,000 for allowing people to smoke.

Although 500 enforcement officers have been recruited to determine compliance, it is expected that the non-smoking majority will police the ban – special hotlines have been set up to report non-compliance.

But despite the penalties, experts insist that the ban is not designed to stop people smoking, instead it will protect people from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

Health Minister Dr Brian Gibbons said, ‘The evidence on the destructive and damaging effects of second-hand tobacco smoke is the main driver for the change in the law. We estimate that the smoke-free legislation will prevent more than 400 premature deaths each year among non-smokers in Wales from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease.

‘The Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health found that there is an estimated 24% increased risk of lung cancer, and 25% increased risk of heart disease in non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. These are startling statistics and the changes will make an enormous difference to people who are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke in work, such as staff in pubs, nightclubs or bingo halls.’

It has also taken four years to scrap the prescription fee, a move which will benefit thousands of people with long-term health problems but which could cause a surge of people demanding GP appointments to avoid paying the price-tag of over-the-counter medicines.