The long-awaited smoke-free legislation is here, giving us all a breath of fresh air.
Environmental health officials from all 26 local councils will be out in force from this morning onwards, helping businesses come to terms with the changes and checking compliance rates.
So what, exactly, is an 'enclosed place' and where else can you enjoy an indoors puff, other than in your own home?
While it is now completely illegal to light up a cigarette in an enclosed place, there are a few exceptions to the new rules.
In a nutshell, all premises open to the public must be smoke-free from now on. However, premises open to the public that are not used as a place of work only have to be smoke-free during the times they are open to the public.
For example, this would apply to a stately home which may only be open one day a year.
In addition, all premises used by more than one person as a workplace must be smoke-free. The legislation also applies to vehicles which are used by the public or which are used by more than one person for work.
An 'enclosed' workplace refers to premises that have a ceiling or roof and, except for doors, windows and passageways, are wholly enclosed, either permanently or temporarily.
'Substantially enclosed' refers to premises that have a ceiling or roof but where there is an opening or an aggregate area of openings in the walls which is less than half of the area of the walls.
A 'roof' includes any fixed or moveable structure or device which is capable of covering all or part of the premises as a roof, including, for example, a canvas awning.
The Government has announced exceptions to the rules, which has caused disappointment in some quarters.
- Private accommodation;
- A designated bedroom in either a hotel, a guest house, an inn, hostel or members' club;
- A designated room in a residential care home, a nursing home, hospice or research and testing facility;
- A designated room in residential accommodation in a mental health unit (for one year only);
- Prisons, young offenders' centres and remand centres;
- A designated room used as a detention cell or exercise cell in a police station (for one year);
- An interview room within a Child Abuse and Rape Enquiry (CARE) suite (for one year);
- Specialist tobacconists (for sampling purposes).
Dr Brian Patterson of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland recently spoke of his disappointment that hotel bedrooms are exempt and called on all hotels to extend the law to cover them anyway.
The new laws don't extend to work done in someone's home to provide personal care, domestic work and maintenance or service work.
This includes, for example, a home help working in the home of an elderly person.
Sam Knox, chairman of the Chief Environmental Health Officers Group, welcomed the changes.
"Today marks a major step forward in the protection of public health. Smoke-free environments contribute to cleaner air as well as healthier environments and will make a tremendous difference to people who were regularly exposed to smoke at work," he said.
"Environmental health departments across Northern Ireland have been working closely with businesses over the last six months, delivering a co-ordinated information service on smoke- free legislation by visiting premises, holding seminars and developing materials to help businesses get ready for the new law.
"Evidence suggests overwhelming public support and business awareness for smoke- free legislation, and we therefore anticipate high levels of compliance, with a consistent and proportionate enforcement approach only being taken for blatant or persistent offenders."
Any business owner or manager who still requires help and guidance on smoke-free legislation can contact their local district council's environmental health department to receive more information.
The penalties, and how they will be enforced
- Smokers could receive a £50 fixed penalty notice if they break the law
- The law requires those responsible for premises to stop a person smoking there. The same applies to vehicles. Failure to comply may lead to prosecution for which the maximum penalty is £2,500
- All businesses must display no-smoking signs, remove all ashtrays, inform anyone found smoking that they are breaking the law, request they extinguish their cigarette or leave, and refuse service to any offenders
- If it is an employee and not a customer found smoking, normal disciplinary procedure for anti-social or illegal behaviour in the workplace should be observed
- The legislation will be enforced by district council environmental health officers who have the power to enter any premises
- A compliance line is now open. Any breaches of the law can be reported to 0845 603 2500
- For further information on the legislation, look up www.spaceto breathe.org.uk