Wales is to become the first country in the UK to ban spectators from smoking on the sidelines of children’s football games.
The Football Association of Wales (FAW) will ask all 522 junior clubs in the country to tell parents and other spectators not to smoke during matches and training sessions for children aged five to 13.
Health bosses and the Welsh government back the move, which the FAW argues will help stop the habit becoming “normalised” for children and prevent the risk of passive smoking.
The initiative will be phased in over two years. Though it is being heralded as a ban, it will be up to individual clubs to write a no-smoking rule into their codes of conduct, and coaches and club officials will have to try to enforce it.
The FAW says it hopes eventually to extend the measure to older children. Vaping will not be covered but the hope is that if smoking is halted, vaping will also peter out.
David Adams, the technical director of the FAW Trust, which is responsible for the development of football from the grassroots up, said: “This was part of a review of matchday culture. We don’t want children to see smoking as normal.”
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “Voluntary bans like this one help protect children from seeing smoking as an acceptable and normal behaviour and can help prevent them from taking up smoking in the first place.”
Regulations banning smoking in public playgrounds and in the grounds of schools and hospitals are due to come into force in Wales next year.
A report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published this year revealed that almost 10% of 15-year-olds in Wales say they smoke regularly – higher than in the other UK nations.
Suzanne Cass, the chief executive of Ash Wales, which works to make the country smoke-free, said: “Currently in Wales there is an urgent need to address youth smoking prevalence, which is still at an unacceptable level. When children witness adults lighting up in everyday settings such as football pitches, they come to see smoking as a normal lifestyle choice rather than the deadly addiction that it is.”
Simon Clark, the director of the smokers’ group Forest, criticised the move. “Smoking in the open air does not put anyone else’s health at risk, nor is there evidence that the sight of a non-family member smoking pitchside encourages children to start,” he said. “The number of adults who smoke on the sidelines is extremely small and most eyes will be on the football.”