Northern Ireland smokers flout law in work vehicles
Five years after Northern Ireland went smoke-free, drivers of work vehicles are still the biggest culprits when it comes to flouting the law, it has been revealed.
Today is the fifth anniversary of legislation banning smoking in the workplace, and in closed public spaces, as well as in vehicles such as taxis, buses, vans and lorries.
But while pubs and restaurants have shown a 98% compliance rate, Department of Health statistics have revealed some smokers are ignoring the law and lighting up behind the wheel while driving a work vehicle.
A Tobacco Task Group was set up in 2006 with representatives from local authorities, including Belfast City Council, to ensure a consistent approach to enforcement of the ban.
Diane Herron, Secretary of the Tobacco Task Group, said: "The introduction of the smoke-free legislation has been very successful, certainly from a compliance point of view.
"However what we have found is that some people still think nothing of smoking in their work vehicle, even though this is against the law.
"In the last nine months of 2011, there were 533 fines and 16 prosecutions for lighting up behind the wheel but unfortunately we suspect the figures to be higher.
"We carried out two vehicle surveys across Northern Ireland in 2010 and 2011 to try to get a feel for how big the problem really was.
"In the 57,000 work vehicles we surveyed, more than 1,800 people were spotted smoking.
"With this being the fifth anniversary of the smoke-free legislation, we're hoping to raise awareness around this issue and remind drivers that they will be fined £50 if they're caught smoking behind the wheel of a work vehicle."
Other statistics show that from April-December 2011, one person was prosecuted for smoking in smoke-free premises and eight people were prosecuted for failing to prevent smoking in smoke-free premises across Northern Ireland.
Staff from Belfast City Council and colleagues from the other 25 district councils are planning a strategy to reduce the number of people who smoke while driving a work vehicle, and to raise awareness about this aspect of the legislation.