28 May Smoking in stadia undermines COVID-19 safety protocols
This World No Tobacco Day, Healthy Stadia is calling on governing bodies of sport, national associations, leagues, and clubs to implement emergency No Smoking policies to help reduce transmission of coronavirus ahead of the summer of sport and 2021/22 football season.
The coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted the delivery of professional sports events across Europe and indeed around the world, with fans prohibited from attending sports stadia given significant concerns associated with the potential for viral transmission amongst fans.
With countries now ramping up vaccination programmes and much of the sports industry mobilising to prepare for the return of fans, albeit in a reduced capacity, Healthy Stadia has significant concerns over the potential for smoking of tobacco and e-cigarette products to undermine COVID-19 safety protocols.
Smoking tobacco and e-cigarette products produces exhaled smoke and can cause irritation of the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs which can lead to coughing and sneezing. Both have the potential to generate aerosols, and in the case of infected individuals, these aerosols could contain coronavirus which have the potential to contaminate surroundings and surfaces.
Viral transmission can also occur through contact between an individual’s hands, face, and cigarette or e-cigarette. Smoking tobacco and e-cigarette products are therefore possible modes of transmission for the virus for both smokers and non-smokers.
Consequently, smoking should be considered a risk factor for disease transmission particularly in potentially crowded sports stadia, where the ability to practice social distancing is limited or advice to socially distance has been withdrawn from national or regional government.
In response to fears over transmission, many governing bodies of sport, national associations, leagues, and clubs are now mandating the use of face coverings, as part of COVID-19 safety protocols, throughout the duration of sports events – but in order to smoke, face coverings must be removed.
In Belgium, a general smoking ban was implemented in football stadia in October 2020 to aid the safe return of fans during the pandemic and to discourage fans from removing their mask at any point during an event. Following consultation with clubs, local authorities, and politicians, the ban applied to the first and second tiers of the Pro League as well as the Croky Cup Competition. A statement read:
“The ban on smoking is introduced because the removal of the (face) mask for smoking is not a valid exception to the obligation to wear a mask. In addition, areas reserved for smokers are areas at risk for gatherings and contamination”.
On Tuesday 25 May, the General Assembly of the Pro League approved a proposal to make the temporary smoking ban permanent due to the obligation to wear a mask and therefore from the 2021/22 season, all Pro League matches will be No Smoking.
There are many sports stadia and multi-purpose venues across Europe that now prohibit the use of tobacco and e-cigarette products and most of these stadium policies are underpinned by national or regional tobacco control legislation. However, millions of fans in countries with weaker tobacco control policies and weaker enforcement procedures remain at risk from both second-hand smoke and increased risk of coronavirus transmission.
This World No Tobacco Day, Healthy Stadia is therefore calling on the sports industry to implement emergency No Smoking policies to reinforce measures such as the wearing of face coverings and to help reduce transmission of coronavirus ahead of the 2021/22 season.
If your stadium is in a territory with weaker tobacco control laws or you would like assistance with enforcing national or regional legislation, Healthy Stadia can help. We have developed a Tobacco Free Stadia Declaration which can help you develop robust No Smoking policies to protect fans from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.