Over time regulators have prohibited smoking inside public spaces, increased the minimum age for tobacco sales, placed bans on tobacco advertising, imposed mandatory health warnings on packaging and, last year, even prohibited the sale of tobacco products from vending machines. Such measures have been imposed through a gradual introduction of health protection regulation.
The latest step in this development was the removal of tobacco displays from large shops (with a ban on tobacco displays for smaller shops to be implemented in 2015). The removal of cigarette branding, says Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, will deter young smokers from starting smoking through the removal of 'glitzy packaging'. The UK was not the first to introduce the latest measure; some other European countries had already been implementing the prohibition. On the whole, experiences in other countries indicate that the graduated regulatory approach being followed in the UK may be effective. In Canada, for example, there has been a gradual decline in teenage smoking over the last decade.
So what can we expect next on the smokeless horizon? Well, the government are currently considering whether they will require plain packaging on tobacco products. Again, if the ban on plain packaging were to go ahead, Britain would not be the first to impose it. Despite the threat of legal action and international arbitration, Australia's Upper House approved a ban on the use of trademarks and brand logo on tobacco packaging. In addition, groups like the BMA have called for a ban on smoking in all vehicles. Similar legislation exists in other countries aimed at protecting children from the effects of second-hand smoke in cars.
Unless there was a total ban, it is unlikely that improvements in smoking reduction can ever be attributed to regulatory changes alone. Changes in the law are playing one part in a wider social marketing campaign; one in which society increasingly seeing smoking as distasteful and unsociable. Its clear that action will need to be taken to address issues such the black market in tobacco and apparent inequalities in UK health. However, success in other countries like Canada and Finland will be enough to convince politicians that, where it comes to tobacco control, nudge-nudge regulation works.
Rather than policing the government have made clear that the primary focus of the regulator will be to assist businesses in complying with legislation. As such local authorities are expected to reduce the number of proactive inspections taking place and divert resources towards high risk premises and towards initiatives aimed at achieving outcomes.
As a result inspectors may be able to spend more time educating and engaging high risk or non-compliant businesses to change.
The government have also indicated that their intention to encourage co-regulation. Co-regulation will usually involve industry complying with a set of rules that have been agreed between the regulator and industry. The business might then be left to audit and manage risks themselves without proactive intervention or inspections. The model is best suited to larger companies with multiple premises – those who are aware of what they need to do to achieve compliance and are committed to making it happen.
The primary authority scheme operated by the Better Regulation Delivery Office (formerly LBRO) is at the forefront of government plans to transform enforcement and will go part of the way towards delivering co-regulation.
Primary authority schemes are put in place where a local authority forms a partnership with a business who operates in a number of local authority areas. The idea is that businesses benefit from a single point of contact rather than having to deal with multiple authorities. As such, enforcing authorities must liaise with the primary authority before taking enforcement action who may block the action if it is not consistent with planned arrangements.
The scheme is to be advanced further by the incorporation of an element of earned recognition. Through earned recognition regulators will be expected to take more account of the time and effort spent by businesses on compliance through a reduction in intervention and agreed inspection plans.
Over 250 local authority environmental health departments are now implementing the new food hygiene ratings scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scottish authorities are committed to a slightly different scheme called the Food Hygiene Information Scheme).
Apart from the potential for customers using the scheme to choose where to eat, it has been reported that ratings are also influencing decisions made on tenders and prospective business investment. Businesses are also starting to use the ratings to identify reputable suppliers with the potential for the termination of long-term contracts. The scheme has therefore started to have a growing significance and potential for impact on the industry.
Whatever your view on the scheme getting a good score is important for businesses and operators are advised to find out more about the scheme and brief managers on its significance. ENcentre can provide operators with the information they need to score highly and detail what action operators can take if they are awarded a poor rating.