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New smoking law ‘will combat health problems’ on St Helena

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Banning smoking in public premises on St Helena will improve the health of smokers and non-smokers alike – including children.

And that should mean less spending on medical treatment, according to senior environmental health officer Georgina Young.

She said islanders would be given help to give up smoking, and nicotine patches are being imported.

In a radio debate on the island’s new smoking rules, she said: “We are looking at protecting public health in the wider community – looking at protecting children and pregrant mothers breathing second-hand smoke.

“Almost 24% of non-smokers suffer from health conditions from being in a smoky environment,” she said in the panel discussion on Saint FM on 20 June 2012.

The new Tobacco Control Ordinance makes it illegal to smoke on public premises, including pubs, bars, workplaces and even some vehicles, except in separate areas designated for smoking.

The minimum legal age to smoke in a public place will rise from 16 to 18 – under-18s will still be able to smoke legally in private places, including their homes.

“It will ultimately improve the health status of St Helena,” said Georgina.

“We won’t see the effects overnight, but it will reduce the health budget on drugs to treat those conditons of people affected by smoking. We should look at it positibiely in that respect.”

Smoking is thought to be a significant problem on St Helena, though exact figures are not in the public domain.

It is also a problem because of the island’s very high incidence of diabetes – one of the highest in the world, at about 14%.

Diabetes UK says:

Smoking is now proven to be an independent risk factor for diabetes, and amongst diabetics it increases the risk of complications.

Diabetes complications already include heart disease, stroke and circulation problems. Smoking adds to the risk of developing all of these things.

In some cases, smoking can double the likelihood of these conditions, as well as doubling the chances of suffering from kidney problems and erectile dysfunction.

Community nurses took part in public consultation presentations in May 2010 when the smoking ban was being prepared, explaining the negative effects of the habit.

Some bar owners on the island fear the ban will harm their business, and the owner of the White Horse in Jamestown has asked for her entire pub to be exempted from the ban.

Georgina said: “Those concerns were the same as voice when bans came into effect in the UK. From a health perspective, we need to look at it in holistic way.”

A campaign has started to help islanders prepare for the lifestyle change.

“Environmental health staff will be visiting retailers and there’s been some work in schools,” said Georgina.

“There’s always an option of people buying into a smoking cessation programme, and the department is getting some products now to help with that.

“I understand [nicotine] patches will be probably on the ship coming. I can’t speak whether it’s going to be free but it will be available.”

Georgina was asked whether help was being offered to under 18s who can legally smoke in public at the moment but would not be able to do so after 1 July.

She said: “The health promotion team does work with youth on making informed choices. we can only do so much.

Hazel Wilmot, owner of The Consulate Hotel in Jamestown, said even non smokers have to pay the price of the island’s tobacco addiction. “Smoking is a matter of choice,” she said, “but tax is not. I have to support medical facilities for smokers suffering chronic conditions.”

Jeremy Cairns-Wicks of St Helena police – which will enforce the smoking restrictions – said: “There is going to be transitional issues but looking at the long view, overall society is going to be much healthier.

“It is going to be frowned upon for us to smoke. In years to come hopefully there will be hardly anybody smoking.”

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