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Max £2500 fine for fleets flouting smoke ban

Date: 13 December 2006   |   Author: Guy Bird

Fleets flouting vehicle-smoking ban could face fines

Fleet managers who knowingly allow their drivers to smoke in work vehicles could face fines up to a whopping £2500 under a new law.

The long-anticipated smoking ban in enclosed public places and workplaces - including business vehicles used by more than one person - will become law from 6am 1 July 2007, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt officially announced last week. All smoke-free premises and vehicles will be required to display no-smoking signs.

However, hidden deep within the recently closed consultation "Smoke Free Premises and Vehicles" is a raft of proposed offences with fixed penalty notices enforceable by local councils - ranging from £50 up to £2500. The proposed 'offence' list includes:

. Smoking in a smoke-free zone - £50-£200

. Failure to put up clear no smoking signs in smoke-free zone - £200-£1000

. Failure to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place - up to £2500

The last two will be of particular concern for fleet managers who will need to act swiftly to update their company handbooks and vehicle interior signage as well as communicate the seriousness of the clampdown to their drivers.

The authors of the 2006 Health Act 2006, in which the legislation is found, said: "We intend vehicles used as a workplace by more than one person, regardless of whether they are in the vehicle at the same time, to be smoke-free at all times. This will protect shift and other workers who use the same vehicle from the health risks associated with second-hand smoke and provide consistency with other non-mobile workplaces."

The law's remit will thus clearly encompass company-owned pool cars, and could also cover company and private vehicles regularly used to transport colleagues for business - even if not for profit - like employee car share schemes.

But sun-worshipping ragtop and coupe/cabriolet drivers could get a partial exemption as the consultation states: "Under these proposed regulations, a vehicle is only to be smoke-free when it is wholly or partly covered by a roof. This means a convertible car would only be required to be smoke-free when the top of the car is in place."

Health Secretary Hewitt said: "Where countries have gone smoke-free the impact on the health of staff has been immediate and positive. And the experience of going smoke-free in Ireland, Scotland, New York and elsewhere has been good for business.

There have been reports of companies in Scotland already penalised under its separate anti-smoking laws - in place since March 2006 - but the English law's draft consultation did attempt a calming note regarding the possible resort to fines: "The approach will be non-confrontational. Enforcement officers will work closely with local businesses to build compliance through education, advice and support. We expect that enforcement action will be considered only when the seriousness of the situation warrants it."

The Smokefree England campaign, launched December 4, will advise the country's 3.7 million businesses on preparing for the introduction of the legislation. The final smoke-free legislation regulations for England will replace the current voluntary agreements. The type and level of fines that make the final law are currently being finalised before been laid out to Parliament shortly.