The Ulster Farmers Union has lashed out after a farmer was threatened with a fine for smoking behind the wheel of a tractor. UFU deputy president Barclay Bell said it took the smoking ban to extreme lengths.
The farmer had been parked off the road at a filling station in Co Antrim when he lit up a cigarette and was apparently observed by a tobacco control officer. The owner of the tractor then received a notice from Antrim and Newtownabbey Council claiming an official had observed someone smoking in the tractor.
It explained that a tractor was considered to be a commercial vehicle capable of carrying more than one person.
A UFU said as this was deemed to break smoking in the workplace regulations the owner of the tractor, who is also a contractor, has been ordered to give the name of the person smoking or face a fine of up to £1,000.
Mr Bell said: "At one level this is a bizarre and even funny example of excessive red tape, defining a tractor as capable of carrying more than one person."
He added: "It is difficult to understand that in the same month we are being told the public sector has insufficient funds to improve road safety by cutting back hedges and verges in rural areas - yet a local council can afford someone to watch a tractor parked safely off the public road.
"Regardless of where you stand on smoking, in tough financial times it is justifiable to ask whether this is the best possible use of time and money."
The owner of the tractor is a member of the UFU and revealed that the notice they received detailed the registration number of the tractor, setting out the time and location and warning of potential fines - complete with a two-page form to disclose full details of the tractor, the person driving it and the tax status of what they said was "very clearly a John Deere agricultural tractor".
The UFU says this is a warning to farmers that they cannot escape red tape, even in their tractor or off the public road.
A spokeswoman for Antrim and Newtownabbey Council said yesterday that investigations were still ongoing at this stage and no fines or fixed penalties had been issued.
"Under The Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, it is against the law to smoke in work vehicles used by more than one person. A tractor is classed as a work vehicle," she said.
The council has one smoking enforcement officer. The smoking ban was brought into action in 2007, making it illegal to smoke in workplaces, most enclosed public spaces and on public transport. It is enforced by councils.