SPICe FAQ – Smoking Outside Hospitals

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We have had quite a few enquiries about what the laws are regarding smoking outside hospitals.

Is it illegal to smoke outside hospitals?

Currently, no, it is not illegal to smoke outside hospitals. NHS Scotland does have a smoke free policy in place which means that smoking anywhere on NHS grounds (including car parks and gardens) is not allowed. However, NHS Scotland currently has no way to enforce this policy and it has been reported that many people ignore this rule. This will change once the prospective regulations in Section 20 of the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016 come into effect.


Section 20 of the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016, entitled ‘Smoking outside hospitals’, contains four broad provisions, including one making it an offence to smoke in a designated zone outside of buildings on NHS hospital sites.

The regulations which will bring the provisions into effect have not yet been laid in the Parliament, but the Scottish Government has advised that this should happen soon after summer recess. The Government has been consulting with health boards to develop the regulations, including on the distance of the perimeter to be applied across all NHS hospital sites and how that perimeter should be applied.

Proposed Fines

The regulations will mean that anyone found to be smoking can be fined up to £1,000 and those found to be permitting others to smoke in the no-smoking area outside of a hospital can be fined up to £2,500.

Further information on the standard scale of fines can be found here:  https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1995/46/section/225.

Parliamentary Debate

During the consideration of the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Bill in Parliament there was considerable debate on the restrictions around smoking in hospital grounds. However, this was more in relation to how designated zones should operate as opposed to the principle of having them at all.

The Health and Sport Committee did have some concerns about having one set distance for the no-smoking area in every hospital. The Committee proposed that every NHS hospital could set their own distance, but the Scottish Government rejected this, arguing:

“We welcome the Committee’s support for the proposal to set an enforceable perimeter within the grounds of NHS Hospitals and we understand the desire to provide a flexible approach to meet the needs of individual hospital grounds. This approach was considered by the Scottish Government when developing the policy. However, we believe it is important that a consistent approach is achieved across all NHS hospital sites in Scotland.”

Why isn’t smoking allowed outside hospitals?

Over 125,000 hospital admissions every year are caused by or linked to smoking, as detailed in the Scottish Government webpage on smoking. People may assume that if they are smoking outside, then it can’t affect patients inside. However, second-hand smoke can still make its way into hospitals through open windows and ventilation shafts. Second-hand smoke is what people who are smoking breathe out and is almost completely invisible and odourless.

The NHS Scotland website www.smokefreegrounds.org explains why NHS Scotland is now smoke free.

Other recent restrictions on smoking?

According to the Scottish Government, each year, tobacco is responsible for one fifth of all deaths and costs the NHS over £300 million. Smoking is now much less prevalent and legislation continues to tackle the issue.

Other changes to the law in Scotland have included:

The Scottish Government recently published its new action plan for the Tobacco Control Strategy. This included a commitment to work with NHS boards and integration boards to reach a consensus on whether vaping should be allowed on hospital grounds. This work is taking place over the summer so further changes may be just around the corner.

Angus Skakle, Work Placement