Smoke-free plans for London parks and squares

In collaboration with the Press Association

A move described as the biggest public health drive in the world includes plans to make 40 per cent of London smoke-free.

“This is an exciting initiative that puts health at the heart of our capital" - Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK

The proposals from former health minister Lord Darzi suggest banning smoking in Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and all London’s parks.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in London, resulting in 8,000 early deaths each year. Around 1.2 million people in London smoke.

The surgeon and chair of the London Health Commission (LHC) said his “Better Health for London” plan aims to make London the healthiest major city in the world by 2024.

Lord Darzi, who was appointed to lead the LHC by London Mayor Boris Johnson in 2013, will unveil six steps aimed at tackling the health threats posed by tobacco, alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise and pollution to people living in the capital.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Making Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and London’s parks smoke free. This would be achieved using the country’s byelaw powers.
  2. Mandatory traffic-light labelling on restaurant menus. In a bid to help people make healthier food choices, all chains with more than 15 outlets would be required to show traffic-light labelling on their menus. This gives an easy-to-see warning of how much fat, sugar, and added salt is in a product.
  3. Oyster card discounts for commuters who walk to work. The plan would see workers earn points by tapping in or out with their Oyster or contactless card at least one mile from their registered office. Employers will be expected to finance the scheme.
  4. Restrictions on junk food outlets near schools. New junk food outlets would be prevented from opening within 400m of schools under new planning rules.
  5. Pilots for a minimum price for alcohol. The minimum price for a unit of alcohol would be set at 50p in boroughs affected by problem drinking.
  6. Speeding up air quality measures. Pollution-reduction measures would also be increased.

Lord Darzi, a cancer surgeon at St Mary’s Hospital, has proposed the appointment of a London Health Commissioner to help push through the changes.

“Londoners’ waistlines are expanding, since we eat too much and exercise too little. More than a million Londoners still smoke, and there is significant harm from problem drinking,” he said.

“Too many children get off to too poor a start in life. We can do better: the healthiest choice isn’t always easy and isn’t always obvious. The goal is to make each of those millions of individual decisions that bit easier.”

“A truly great global city is a healthy city. London aspires to be the world’s healthiest major global city. That means a city that helps its people to make healthier choices, it means a city that focuses on improving the health of the most vulnerable and it means providing consistently excellent care for people when they need it.”

The plans include strategies to reduce the number of obese or overweight people in London. Currently, half of all adults in the capital - 3.8 million - fall into this category.

Research from the LHC shows that London now has more obese and overweight people than New York, Sydney, Sao Paolo, Madrid, Toronto, and Paris.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, warmly welcomed the proposals.

“This is an exciting initiative that puts health at the heart of our capital. It’s right that London should aim to be a world leader in promoting healthy lifestyles and cement this commitment by making our central parks and squares smoke-free places.

“More than four in 10 cancers are preventable and this plan will support Londoners in reducing their risk of getting cancer in the future,” he said.

Park image by Luis Alberto Martinez Riancho, licensed under a CC-BY-2.0 license via Flickr