Melbourne trials ‘daytime’ outdoor smoking ban to ease business withdrawals

Photo: City of Melbourne



Open air public spaces and meeting places have long been a well-ventilated haven for smokers banished from office building forecourts and alfresco coffee shops.

But the City of Melbourne is, like other cities,  moving to extend its clean air policy to the urban outdoors … at least during the daytime.

It’s a compromise certain to arouse interest in cities across Australia.

Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has said that a 12-month daytime smoking ban will apply in City Square from 6am to 8pm. Another two sites – QV Melbourne and Goldsbrough Lane – have also been endorsed as fully smoke free.

But Melbourne’s Lord Mayor has had to tread a fine line between the interests of public health and comfort and the potential commercial hit that the smoking bans may have on night time businesses in City Square.

“The feedback we received during consultation was very positive, although some City Square businesses felt a late-night ban might have an impact on trade,” Mayor Doyle said. “As a result we will trial a daytime ban for the next year before deciding on whether a 24-hour ban is appropriate.”

Managing the impact of smoking bans on businesses – particularly important for central city councils which depend on commercial rates – requires careful consultation, engagement and negotiation.

In Sydney many hospitality venues, especially bars and pubs, had a decidedly mixed reaction in July to the banning of smoking in areas where food is allowed to be consumed – as well as near entry ways like doors, and the blowback has been on non-smokers.

Instead of banning smoking outright, many bars and pubs instead simply banned eating in outdoor areas to get around the rules in the hope of retaining their puffing patrons.

Where on-premise smoking is banned outright, there have also been complaints from nearby neighbours about groups of patrons collectively lighting-up and spreading smoke to places that were not previously affected.

In Melbourne’s case, to get the City Square daytime smoke-free zone up and running, the matter was put to a vote by the City’s Future Melbourne Committee. It’s still very much a case-by-case approach.

Councillor Richard Foster, who’s the Chair of Council’s People City portfolio, says the City of Melbourne consulted widely in the months before the ban went to a vote.

Surveys found that across the total three sites there was either a supportive or neutral sentiment towards smoking bans, with property owners and managers understandably enthusiastic.

A fuming issue for inner city apartment dwellers on lower floors is that smoke can drift up from the street and into homes, especially when windows or doors are open.

Even so, some business precincts are notably less hostile to smokers than others.

“In City Square, a lower rate of 62 per cent of businesses were supportive of a ban, and we’re listening to that feedback by trialling a daytime ban only,” Councillor Foster said.

For councils it can be a matter of judiciously picking to battle smoking where you can win.

In the City of Sydney, where the CBD smoking issue still smoulders, the upmarket financial precinct of Martin Place was designated for a total ban with little protest from fitness and health obsessed bankers.

Homeless people might feel differently about the smoking bans, especially if they are used as a pretext to move-on people sleeping rough, a tactic reports from the US indicate is a rising trend.

Meanwhile, many of those detained by the government in jails in Australia’s are also being forced to quit thanks to new no-smoking regulations, the latest of which hit New South Wales this week.

Despite the jail smoko bans being justified on the basis of protecting the health of Corrective Services officers in the workplace, a last minute compromise will allow staff living on jail premises to light up in their free time.

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