Karuna Henderson and Matthew Willis, both 17, enjoy the smoke-free atmosphere at Hudson's cafe, Dickson. Photo: Melissa Adams
Critics said anti-smoking laws would send eateries and bars broke, but business was booming at smoke-free tables at Dickson cafes when Karuna Henderson and Matthew Willis enjoyed lunch recently.
The 17-year-olds are among the first generation of Canberrans who have barely been exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke, thanks to a crackdown that began 18 years ago with an Australia-first ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces.
The restrictions have since been extended to include outdoor eating and drinking places.
Karuna, whose mother Terri Henderson is a member of the lobby group Canberra ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), says that while some of her friends smoke, seeing graphic anti-tobacco material around the home has ensured she will never take up the habit.
'I've never lived in an environment with family smoking, I've never experimented with it," she says.
The Smoke-Free Areas (Enclosed Public Spaces) Act, which came into force on December 6 1994, prohibited smoking in areas such as shopping centres, theatres and hotels.
Some exemptions were initially included for premises with liquor and or gaming licences and for smoking by performers on stage during theatre productions.
Restaurants had to ensure at least 50 per cent of their seating was smoke-free.
Terri Henderson says it seems almost unbelievable, 18 years on, that people once smoked inside supermarkets.
"I can't think of a single person who would ever think you should be able to smoke in a shopping centre now," she says.
Smoking was banned inside public service offices in 1987.
Canberra ASH president and Dickson GP Alan Shroot says that every day he sees the health benefits in patients of the gradual decline in smoking rates and passive smoking.
"All of the youngsters who used to come in would be smokers – you could smell the tobacco on them," he says. "People are living longer. I suspect – although I haven't done a study to prove it – there's less respiratory trouble."
Canberra ASH wants further restrictions, including at outdoor events and festivals during the Centenary of Canberra.
It also wants pedestrian areas in town centres progressively made smoke-free, smoking restrictions on the Canberra Hospital campus enforced and greater assistance for people to quit smoking.
Chief Minister and Health Health Minister Katy Gallagher has promised to pursue smoking restrictions in a range of public places including swimming pools and playgrounds, sporting events where children are present, covered bus interchanges and large events.