How to police the smoke ban

THE Smoking, Social Care and Health (Scotland) Bill - or the smoking ban as it's more commonly referred to - will have an impact on the police.

For the law allows a local authority enforcement officer or a constable to issue a fixed penalty ticket to a person in charge of no-smoking premises who permits smoking, or any person who smokes in contravention of the legislation.

While it is difficult to estimate the demand on police resources generated by the introduction of the Bill, it is likely that much will depend on the public's willingness to accept and comply with the new legislation. What is certain is that there will be instances where the police will be called to deal with situations initiated by people who refuse to abide by the law.

The Scottish Executive's view is that there is likely to be wholesale compliance and that the public will self-police the legislation.

If self-policing means intervention by other members of the public then there are likely to be two distinct outcomes. Either compliance by the "smoker", or, a situation when the "smoker" takes exception to the request to stub his or her cigarette out, and a stand-off, or worse, a confrontational situation develops. The latter scenario is almost certain to result in police attendance.

The Executive's view is supported to a certain extent by police colleagues in the Republic of Ireland where, by and large, the public has accepted the legislation, albeit that in the first months after introduction of the law there were significant demands for police to deal with those who refused to comply. Thereafter, though, the demands were reduced.

I suspect that the Scottish experience will mirror that in southern Ireland.

Picture the scene. A busy public bar on a Friday night when a bar worker is informed that there is an individual who is smoking. The bar worker approaches the individual and asks him or her to extinguish the cigarette. If the person complies the matter is resolved. If they refuse, then an offence has been committed.

The guidelines that support the legislation, intimate that the first port of call would be for the attendance of a local authority enforcement officer. If available, the LAEO has the authority to attend and issue a fixed penalty ticket to the individual. Should the individual comply then the matter might be concluded without the need for a police presence.

If, however, an LAEO is not available, or the individual refuses to co-operate, what then? The guidelines are clear - the police are empowered to issue a fixed penalty ticket to offenders.

Our view in the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents is that the primary enforcers of this legislation must be the LAEOs. Demands on police services are such that, inevitably, a request for our attendance to deal with a person refusing to extinguish a cigarette will not be afforded high priority. In this regard, we are confident that this will be a view shared by the public we serve.

The guidelines also make it clear - rightly so - that where there is any evidence of a threat to the safety of anyone, the police should be summoned. This, of course would require a heightened priority.

If, however, the individual is not posing a threat, or causing a scene but quietly refusing to desist then almost certainly he or she will be asked to leave the premises. Failure to comply with such a request is an offence in terms of the licensing legislation and again the police would be summoned.

In addition, powers are also available to LAEOs to force entry to licensed premises when they have reason to believe that an offence is being committed in terms of the legislation. Should such circumstances arise then it is almost inconceivable that they would do so without requesting police assistance.

Even with such scenarios all possible, it is still difficult to predict the implications for police resources. This will be primarily dependent on the public's willingness or otherwise to accept the legislation.

To this end a parallel might be drawn with the introduction of the law that required the wearing of seatbelts. At first, some viewed seatbelts as a nuisance and an unnecessary inconvenience. Ultimately, it was not enforcing the law that changed minds. It was the realisation that there were clear benefits gained by compliance. Hopefully, any initial resistance to the no-smoking legislation will be countered by the benefits.

I believe that once in place, and while it may take the issue of a number of fixed penalty tickets in the initial aftermath of the ban being enforced, the general public will accept the legislation and comply with its requirements.

After all, 50 is a heavy price to pay for a smoke!

• Chief Superintendent Tom Buchan is president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents