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Causeway’s smoke-free success could mean more bans for Melbourne CBD

Melbourne City Council appears set to extend CBD smoking bans after drawing strong public support for its six-month Causeway trial, including a tick from some business operators.

Words by Cristina Natoli
 
Smoke-free, at least for a time, in Melbourne’s Causeway. PIC: MCC

Smoke-free, at least for a time, in Melbourne’s Causeway. PIC: MCC

A council survey of about 200 people revealed wide-ranging support for the ban in the Causeway, a narrow arcade between Bourke and Little Collins Streets and is home to cafes and eateries.

Online comments to council also were overwhelmingly positive. Of the 38 comments posted on the council’s wesbite, 36 welcomed the ban, with some respondents backing fines to support a broader ban at outdoor dining venues across the city.

However, Cr Richard Foster, who heads the MCC’s people city portfolio, appeared to rule out a blanket smoking ban in the CBD.

“Too much, too soon could be difficult for businesses, so I think the better option would be identifying more individual zones in the city that would be suitable for bans to be carried out,” he told The Citizen

“Too much, too soon could be difficult for businesses, so I think the better option would be identifying more individual zones in the city that would be suitable for bans.” — Cr Richard Foster 

A full report on the Causeway ban, which ended last month, is expected to be presented to council within weeks. The survey, meanwhile, has offered a hint about the report’s likely broader conclusions.

“People that were interviewed included passers-by, local residents, visitors to the city, as well as businesses in the area,” said Cr Foster. “These interviews showed a broad range of support for the ban throughout the community. Some businesses in the Causeway even showed a slight increase in takings due to the ban.”

A Citizen survey of city smokers found a mixed response to the notion of smoking bans in public places.

Julie, a real-estate agent who asked that her surname not be published, rejected the bans as an effective tool for helping people kick the habit.

“I would consider myself to be a heavy smoker so bans won’t have any effect on me. If people are told that they can’t smoke in a certain area they will just find another area where they can smoke.” 

Finance broker and fellow smoker Alex Maiorano agreed that the bans would have next-to-no impact on smokers’ habits.

“It won’t really stop me because I prefer to smoke at home rather than in public places,” he said. “I think forcing people to stop is the wrong way to go about it; people need to choose to stop.”

But some smokers, including 22-year-old Damian Romano, saw merit in the bans. 

“Limiting where I can smoke will decrease the amount of smoking that I do and may be what would encourage me to quit.” 

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When asked about the effectiveness of smoking bans in general, Quit Victoria Executive Director Fiona Sharkie emphasised her support. “It is clear that strategies put in place to reduce tobacco use, such as smoke-free areas, are working. The fact that only 13.3 per cent of Victorian adults smoke regularly is a great achievement when a third of Victorian adults were regular smokers as recently as the mid-1980s.”

Tahna Pettman, of Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health, said that smoke-free lanes and public places in the CBD were “the next step” in the public health push. “I think it is a bold move but a good one. Knowing what we know about the dangers of passive smoking, we are not promoting public health by allowing smoking in public spaces. I know other Australian states have already implemented similar bans and they have been quite successful.”

Dr Pettman also noted the importance of having a range of supportive measures for smokers in order for such bans to be really effective.

“Encouraging behaviour change means providing people with solutions, so we should be making sure that smokers have access to the right services like counseling or holistic approaches and increasing the promotion of community health programs.”

Just two of the comments posted on the council’s website complained about the Causeway trial and its implications. Most were strongly suportive of the Council initiative.

“Fantastic initiative,” wrote one respondent. “If smokers can’t be considerate by not lighting up in a crowded area, then legislate against it and let them be fined. I only wish Council had the balls to expand it to other public outside areas in the city.”

Tourists and others commenting on the site also noted stricter laws already in existence in other states.

“City of Melbourne is finally catching up with the rest of Australia and helping those still addicted to quit with positive peer pressure and fear of being ostracised, and taking care of the majority, such as myself, who invest in our health and wellbeing,” commented another supporter. “Can’t wait until all outdoor dining is smoke-free and the City of Melbourne will stink a lot less.”

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THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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