Jonathan Redvers Harris considers the ‘No smoking’signs and on a lighter note how it might affect vicarages

On 1 July 2007, the Smoke-free (Signs) Regulations 2007, made under the Health Act 2006, came into force. These require the positioning of signs, at least A5-sized, as prominently as possible at every entrance (not just external entrances) displaying the ‘No smoking symbol’ (a burning cigarette enclosed in a red circle with a red bar through it, the Regulations explain), and the words ‘No smoking. It is against the law to smoke in these premises.’

Where an entrance is a secondary one, used solely by those who work there (and ‘work includes voluntary work), then the sign need only bear the no-smoking symbol, and not the wording.

While many would not object to the positioning of such notices at the entrance to a church hall which is hired by the community for various activities, it is worth pausing before rushing to deface the entrances to church vestries, bell towers, all doors in porches, even doors on the top of church towers at the top of spiral staircases, and all entrances to and from other smoke-free premises’ (such as a separate vestry or an adjoining church hall), and then to remain eternally vigilant against vandals or other notice removers.

Passive resistance

The effects of this law, upon places of worship of all faiths, are manifestly absurd. I would encourage all incumbents, and priests in charge – those with control of the building upon whom this sign-placing duty rests – not to put up the signs on any entrance to the church, with the exception of an adjoining church hall. If ever charged with an offence then we can, surely, rely on the specific defence, in section 6 of the Act, ‘that on other grounds [that is, other than various other defences relating to ignorance of the need for the premises to be smoke-free or ignorance of the fact that signs were not being displayed] it was reasonable for him not to comply with the duty’.

For it is reasonable not to comply, because there has never been a custom or practice of smoking tobacco inside our historic

church buildings. It is reasonable because the canon law of the Church of England specifically enjoins the maintaining of the principles of decency in the House of God, in consecrated ground (Canon F13) and is concerned that church buildings should ‘not be profaned by any meeting [which could be extended to ‘sign or ‘notice’] for temporal objects inconsistent with the sanctity of the place’ (Canon F15). And it is reasonable because an incumbent or priest in charge has no right to affix permanent signs (there is no indication in the Act or Regulations that these signs are temporary) all over a historic building without the Chancellor of the diocese’s permission.

A non-issue

The issue at stake in relation to places of worship, of course, is that the plethora of ugly and disfiguring signs is completely unnecessary, addressing a non-issue – there is no smoking anyway. Where clerics, or at least those who enjoy the occasional puff on a pipe in their studies, will need to be more careful is in relation to their parsonages.

It could be argued that, under section 2(2)(b) of the Health Act, part of someone’s own home could be deemed ‘smoke-free’ (making it illegal to smoke, ever, there, and necessary to have the required signs) if it is a place ‘where members of the public might attend for the purpose of seeking or receiving goods or services from the person or persons working there.’ This applies even if members of the public only attend occasionally. Clearly there are strategies that could be adopted here, such as making clear – either orally, or even by a discreet sign – that parishioners entering the parsonage are not ‘members of the public’, but personally invited guests.

Oh, and if in your church there is a reproduction of Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World, with Our Lord knocking on the door, there is no need, as yet, to adjust the painting to include a 70mm red circle around a graphic representation of a burning cigarette with a red bar across it.