Wales is to become the first country in the UK to see smoking banned on the side-lines of children’s football games in a historic move by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) and FAW Trust.
The decision by the FAW to introduce a no smoking policy on the side-lines of its small-sided, children’s football games has been welcomed by Health Minister Vaughan Gething and follows a campaign by ASH Wales aimed at de-normalising smoking and preventing children from ever taking up the habit, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and increased risks faced by smokers.
It is launching the policy today to mark World Heart Day which is run by the World Heart Federation and supported by UEFA and Healthy Stadia.
In the first grass-roots country-wide initiative of its kind in the UK, FAW and FAW Trust will ask all small-sided football teams to apply the policy during games and training sessions for 522 junior clubs, 3,159 teams and 42,232 players across Wales.
The new FAW policy will see smoking banned from the side-lines at football matches across Wales for ages 5-11-years old from September 2020, followed by 5-12-years from September 2021 and then 5-13-years from 2022.
Research has shown that children are highly influenced by the behaviour of adults in their lives, such as parents and sports coaches. Children with a parent who smokes are 70% more likely to smoke themselves. The Smokefree Sports Cymru campaign aims to raise awareness of this intergenerational habit with 9% of 15 to 16-year olds in Wales still smoking and more than 6,000 children taking up smoking every year in Wales, according to Cancer Research UK. The policy will also ensure that more children are protected from exposure to second-hand smoke.
A pilot smoking ban was trialled at Rhondda & District Football League’s mini and junior football games and at the South Wales Women’s and Girl’s League junior matches before the decision was made to introduce the policy across Wales.
The FAW and FAW Trust policy comes ahead of new regulations banning smoking in playgrounds and in the grounds of schools and hospitals as part of the Public Health (Wales) Act, that are due to come into force next March.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “I welcome the work undertaken by the FAW to ban smoking on the side-lines of all children’s football games in Wales. 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.
“I remain committed to take further action to de-normalise smoking in more public places, particularly those where children are likely to be present and plan to introduce a ban on smoking in outdoor care settings for children, school grounds, hospital grounds and public playgrounds on 1 March 2021.
“I would encourage anyone who wants to quit smoking to contact Help Me Quit, the NHS Wales service on Freephone 0808 163 3129 or visit HelpMeQuit.wales to request a call back. Smokers who use cessation support are up to four times more likely to succeed.”
Dr David Adams, FAW Trust Technical Director, added: “As a parent of children who take part in grassroots football, I am delighted with our partnership with ASH Wales and that the FAW and FAW Trust are leading the way to help the next generation of children grow up recognising the health risks associated with smoking.
“This step change is also part of our wider agenda to ensure children’s first experiences of small sided football are positive.”
According to ASH Wales’ latest YouGov survey, 82% of adults in Wales are in favour of banning smoking in outdoor areas where children play sport.