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Victorians expect to be able to eat and drink outside without being exposed to secondhand smoke and nearly three-quarters of a million of them will visit cafes and restaurants more often every year if smokefree outdoor areas are created, according to new research from the Cancer Council Victoria.

However, public expectations and the benefits for businesses won’t be met unless comprehensive laws to protect patrons and staff are implemented.

The large research study by the Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer shows that:

  • 22% of Victorians said they would visit cafes and restaurants more often if an outdoor smoking ban was introduced
  • Only 5% of Victorians said they would visit cafes and restaurants less often.
  • This means that more than 700,000 Victorians would visit these venues more often each year if outdoor areas were smokefree.

In addition, the study tested public opinion on Queensland’s smokefree model, in which smoking is only allowed in designated outdoor smoking areas of licensed venues.

There was high support for this approach, with 71% of Victorians agreeing that smoking should be restricted to “outdoor areas of bars, pubs and clubs with a designated area separated from patrons by at least two metres”.

Even 88% of current Victorian smokers also supported this model.

More than half of all Victorians, including 52% of former smokers and 15% of current smokers, report they have avoided sitting outside at cafes or restaurants in the past year due to people smoking.

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White says the findings demonstrated overwhelming public support for comprehensive protection from tobacco smoke when both dining and drinking in outdoor areas.

“The state government has announced that smokefree outdoor dining will be the norm across Victoria by August 2017, but it’s clear that most Victorians want this protection to also cover outdoor drinking areas,” she says.

“Victorians expect to be able socialise outside without being subjected to secondhand smoke, irrespective of whether they are having a sandwich or a coffee.

“It’s terrific that the Andrews Government is consulting with public health experts, businesses and other authorities such as liquor licensing regulators on new smokefree dining and drinking laws.

“This new data will give the Government confidence that smokefree laws in drinking and dining areas will not only be good for health, they will also be good for business,” says Dr White.

The alternative to the Queensland model is the NSW model, where smokefree protection applies only to outdoor dining areas. This has created a perverse incentive for some NSW venues to stop serving food outside altogether, and instead devote their outdoor area to smoking and drinking.

Dr White says Quit is aware of a case in Sydney where a woman was berated at length by staff at a well-known coffee chain for eating a piece of toast in an outside area while another customer was smoking. This created a situation in which the venue was breaching smokefree dining laws.

“Most Victorians support outdoor smokefree laws for good reason – they protect staff and patrons from dangerous and unpleasant secondhand smoke, and they support smokers trying to quit,’’ Dr White says.

“We don’t want Victoria to fall into the trap that has occurred in NSW, where smokefree laws that apply only to outdoor dining areas have created widespread confusion for patrons and an enforcement nightmare for venues.’

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