Pubs explore legal loophole to allow smoking in venues

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Pubs explore legal loophole to allow smoking in venues

A legal loophole that can turn gaming rooms into smoking lounges is being exploited by pubs in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Bellevue and Woollahra hotels have applied to Woollahra Municipal Council to turn their gaming rooms into unenclosed spaces, which would allow patrons to smoke under NSW anti-smoking laws.

Cancer Council NSW tobacco control manager Alecia Brooks said the state government should close the loophole that permits smoking in a public space if it is regarded as “unenclosed” or at least 25 per cent open because of the installation of “openings” such as air vents, louvres and shutters.

“The smoke in these areas, however, is unable to dissipate as you would expect it in a truly outdoor location,” she said.

“This means that people in these spaces and in nearby locations are being exposed to dangerous levels of secondhand smoke.”

The Woollahra Hotel has submitted a development application for renovations that include turning its sports bar/gaming room an “unenclosed public place” to permit smoking.

Alterations are proposed to create roof voids over the gaming area which would make it less than 75 per cent enclosed, which would allow patrons to smoke under anti-smoking laws.

A similar proposal for alterations to permit smoking in the gaming area of the Bellevue Hotel in Paddington was rejected by a local planning panel, which found the new smoking area was not in the public interest and “smoke drift” could potentially affect the health and amenity of neighbours.

Outdoor designs to allow smoking in semi-enclosed spaces

A Woollahra Hotel spokesman said the proposed design complied with current laws and was not intended to encourage smoking.

“The area will instead be a space that permits smoking for customers to use rather than have them standing on the footpath, which I don’t think would be a good outcome for our neighbours and passers-by.”

A spokesman for Royal Hotels Group, which owns the Paddington pub, declined to comment.

“The DAs are a matter for the Bellevue and Woollahra Hotels and Woollahra Council,” an Australian Hotels Association NSW spokesman said.

A Woollahra Council spokesman said the hotel’s owner had lodged an appeal in the Land and Environment Court against the decision by council officers to reject the new smoking area.

He said the council considered environmental, social and economic impacts as well as smoking laws when assessing development applications.

“Council aims to create and maintain a safe and pleasant environment for our residents and visitors,” he said.

Smoking is not permitted in a public space that is at least 75 per cent enclosed by ceiling and wall surfaces.

NSW Health does not play a role in deciding whether a proposed smoking area complies with anti-smoking laws.

But NSW Health inspectors can issue cautions, fines or commence prosecution for alleged breaches of smoke-free laws, a spokeswoman said.

Ms Brooks said the Cancer Council NSW had lobbied with the NSW government to “close this loophole” to protect patrons and workers in pubs, clubs and bars from the harms of secondhand smoke.

“A decision to ban smoking has a net positive impact on venues as a result of improved health and productivity of employees, reduced health and hazard insurance claims, reduced cleaning costs and minimising of potential litigation costs,” she said.

Woollahra councillor Harriet Price said NSW Health guidelines for determining “an enclosed public place” were open to differing interpretations and had not been reviewed in more than 10 years.

“Smoking and secondhand smoke kills. I cannot comprehend why we are considering purpose-built smoking rooms in our community,” she said.

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