Liverpool City Council has introduced a voluntary no smoking code to all of its public play areas. The Play Smokefree code aims to reduce the number of youngsters who start smoking after being influenced by those who do.
Three out of four children are aware of cigarettes before they reach the age of five, according to the heart health charity Heart of Mersey (HoM), which is behind the initiative. Nationally, an estimated 330,000 children under the age of 16 try cigarettes for the first time each year.
“People smoking in children’s play areas in a fairly common sight, and as such can be perceived by youngsters as a harmless, acceptable, everyday activity. The reality is that this is a habit that is highly addictive and it kills”, says the charity’s Tobacco Control Programme Lead, Jo McCullagh. She added: “A child who smokes just one cigarette doubles their chances of becoming a regular smoker by the age of seventeen. We want to use this voluntary code to de-normalise smoking in areas where children play and learn and protect children in the very environment in which they should be safe.”
More than 40 Liverpool play areas will be covered by the code, which has been developed by HoM in partnership with Liverpool City Council and the Cheshire and Merseyside Tobacco Alliance.
Although the scheme is voluntary, support is high among smokers and non-smokers alike in Liverpool, with more than 94% of those surveyed stating that they are in favour of the scheme.
Park wardens have undergone training to increase awareness of the code with play area visitors, and colourful Play Smokefree signs designed by children will remind people not to light up. However, the onus is on local people themselves to make the scheme a success.
Dr Paula Grey, Director of Public Health for Liverpool, said, “Efforts to discourage uptake of smoking in children and young people are on-going because we have a duty to protect our children from starting something that could ultimately kill them. Children learn their behaviour from adults. If children see smoking as a normal part of everyday life they are more likely to become smokers themselves. I think that, knowing this, most adults would agree that not lighting up in a children’s play area is not too much of a sacrifice and I hope people will support us by observing the Play Smokefree code.”
The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Sharon Sullivan launched the scheme making reference to the role parks play in helping Liverpool residents’ live active, healthy lifestyles. This voluntary scheme empowers local communities themselves to change their smoking behaviour. Discouraging smoking around children in play areas will help to reduce the number of young people in Liverpool that smoke.
Internationally, smoking in public housing play areas and parks is already banned in Spain, Hong Kong, Latvia, Singapore and in cities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA, including San Francisco and New York. Locally, seven Councils across Cheshire and Merseyside – Cheshire East Borough Council, Halton Borough Council, Knowsley Council, St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council, Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council, Warrington Borough Council and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council have already implemented a voluntary smokefree code across a total of 602 outdoor play areas