Compliance with legislation restricting smoking in licensed venues in Victoria

Letcher T, Lipscomb J, Wakefield M, Durkin S

CBRC Research Paper Series No. 16

The objective of this study was to assess compliance with Victorian legislation that was implemented on 1 September 2002, restricting smoking in gambling venues and licensed non-gambling venues. Trained fieldworkers visited a sample of 42 gambling venues and 33 licensed non-gambling venues in the Melbourne metropolitan area between Thursday and Sunday evenings (9 pm to 12 am) in July 2003 to observe aspects of compliance with the legislation. Observation was unannounced and unobtrusive, although fieldworkers were instructed to be open about their activities if they were approached by staff. A minimum of 10 minutes was spent at each selected venue.

Based on three critical aspects of the legislative requirements (presence of correct signage, required number of smokefree rooms, and no unchecked smoking behaviour in designated smokefree areas), only 48% of venues were compliant with the legislation, including 48% of gambling venues and 49% of non-gambling licensed venues. Overall, 21% of gambling venues and 33% of licensed non-gambling venues did not have the correct number of smokefree rooms operating at the time of the observation. In fact, 2% of gambling venues and 33% of non-gambling premises had no smokefree room at all in operation. These results suggest that there is confusion for venue operators in these requirements. Unchecked smoking was observed in 7% of gambling venues (all in the non-gambling rooms) and 6% of licensed non-gambling venues. This suggests that compliance is high where the rules are clear (ie, smoking is not permitted at all, and was not observed, in gambling rooms).

Ashtrays were observed in the designated smokefree rooms of 17% of gambling venues (all in the non-gambling rooms) and 6% of licensed non-gambling venues. If we considered the presence of smoking-related objects in designated smokefree rooms, such as ashtrays, as one of the criteria for non-compliance, the overall compliance level would be reduced to 45% (reduced to 43% in gambling venues). Tobacco smoke could be smelled in the air in the smokefree rooms of 24% of gambling venues and 12% of non-gambling venues, indicating that the current legislation provides inadequate protection from secondhand smoke for patrons and staff.

The current legislation pertaining to licensed venues represents a ‘compliance jungle’. The configuration of some venues does not permit ready classification into number of rooms, and therefore the application of partial smoking restrictions can be difficult for venue operators to assess and enforce. The only way to truly protect patrons and staff from exposure to secondhand smoke is the introduction of complete bans.