30/04/2009

Commercial Drivers 'Worst Offenders' On Smoking Ban

Just under 90% of NI people being fined for breaking the smoking ban in Belfast are commercial vehicle drivers.

Van drivers, taxi drivers and other motorists - those who make their living behind the wheel - are being branded as the worst offenders when it comes to smoking in an 'enclosed space'.

Two years into the controversial introduction of the legislation in Northern Ireland, the Belfast City Council has released details of the fines it has handed out in the past two years.

A statement said that, of the 230 fixed penalty notices issued, around 88% were in relation to people smoking in vehicles.

They said that anyone caught smoking in a work vehicle is subject to a £50 fine.

Overseeing enforcement is Cathal Mullaghan, Chairman of the Health and Environmental Services Committee.

"We understood there would be a 'bedding-in' period for the legislation and council staff have worked tirelessly with businesses and employers across the city to explain how the law affects them and their workers," he said.

However, it is clear that drivers are not so easily convinced: "We want to remind anyone who drives for a living that smoking behind the wheel is against the law and must be stubbed out," he continued.
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All work vehicles that are used by more than one person are required by law to display 'no smoking' signage. Signs are available free of charge from Belfast City Council's environmental health department.

Failure to display the signage is also an offence and attracts a £200 fixed penalty notice.

Meanwhile, there is continuing debate over the possible ending of tobacco products being displayed in shops across Northern Ireland.

The NI Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, is proposing that the Assembly which make all retailers put tobacco products 'under the counter' and out-of-sight.

The move has been met with support from leading healthcare and cancer support charities who have called for MLAs to give their backing to the potentially life saving proposal.

Michael McGimpsey has confirmed that he intends to bring the matter before the Assembly in the coming months.

Cancer charities and other politicians have indicated their support for the proposal with the Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast and Member of the Health Committee, Sue Ramsey among those who have welcomed the move by the Health Minister to remove cigarette displays by 2010.

"I recently wrote to the Health Minister to enquire whether or not the legislation brought through Westminster would be extended.

"I welcome the fact that the Executive have now approved this measure and hope that it will pass through the Assembly with ease," she said.

See: Cigarettes To Go 'Under The Counter'

(BMcC/JM)

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