Smoking in Outside Spaces



Some local councils, such as Blackpool in the North West, implemented voluntary smoking bans in outdoor areas, such as children’s playgrounds, to try to reduce children’s exposure to second-hand smoke, known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and change cultural attitudes to tobacco by ‘de-normalising’ smoking.

Other councils  indicated they may seek to introduce smoking bans in outside spaces, such as pub gardens and pavement cafes. Outdoor smoking bans are being proposed as a way of meeting local public health responsibilities. In 2016, a voluntary ban on smoking on beaches was introduced in Little Haven and Caswell Bay in Wales.

Sheffield Council’s Tobacco Control Strategy 2017-2022  refers to: “extension of Smokefree environments to protect from the harms of secondhand smoke and to change social norms around smoking”. 


What is ETS?

Second-hand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is a mixture of exhaled mainstream smoke and side-stream smoke released from a smouldering cigarette and diluted with ambient air. It is not the same as smoke inhaled by a smoker.


What are the risks of ETS in the open air?


ETS is rapidly dispersed in the open air. Two key studies (1) conclude that ETS is not present at all upwind or more than 2 meters away from a smoker.
No evidence demonstrates that the duration of outdoor exposure — in places where people can move freely about — is long enough to cause substantial health damage…in trying to convince people that even transient exposure to secondhand smoke is a potentially deadly hazard, smoking
opponents risk losing scientific credibility (2)’
(Professor Michael Siegel, Boston University School of Public Health)


Are there reasons other than reducing ETS exposure for introducing outdoor smoking bans?


Other reasons given for introducing outdoor smoking bans are to prevent children from seeing and copying adult smokers so called ‘modelling behaviour’; stopping gangs of teenage smokers hanging around playgrounds; and concerns about litter from cigarette butt stubs.

Modelling behaviour has been researched extensively, but while there is statistically strong evidence for parental and older sibling smoking as a predictor of youth smoking, there is no reliable evidence at all that outdoor smoking bans have any effect on modelling or smoking initiation.

Councils may therefore wish to consider whether education programmes and services aimed at familial smoking would be more effective.


Do the public support such a move?


Forest has commissioned extensive polling and research into public attitudes and behaviours with regards to smoking in outside spaces.


In summary:

  • A majority of the public do not believe that smoking in parks and on beaches should be banned.


  • Research conducted into smoking in four parks across London – Queen’s Park, St James’ Park, Victoria Park and Queen Mary and Mile End Park found that the number of people smoking in the four parks under observation represented an insignificant proportion of visitors, comprising an average (weighted) of 1.6% of total park visitors.


  • A copy of the FOREST report is available here




(1) Klepeis. Ott Switzer, 2007, Real-Time Measurement Of Outdoor Tobacco Smoke Particles, accessed at and J.C. Hall, J.T.
Bernert, D.B. Hall, G. St.Helen, L.H. Kudon, and L.P. Naeher, Assessment of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke at Outdoor Bars and Family Restaurants in Athens, Georgia, Using Salivary Cotinine, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 6: 698–704 accessed at

(2) Professor Michel Siegel, 5 May 2011, New York Times, A Smoking Ban Too Far, accessed at nytimescom/2011/05/06/opinion/06siegel.html