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Smoke-free Scouting

This page looks at the issues that smoking raises in Scouting, both for adults and young people. It explains how The Scout Association's Safety Policy relates to smoking, provides some facts and offers guidance.

Thanks to hard-hitting government advertising and prominent health warnings on cigarette packets there can be few who are not aware of the harmful effects of smoking.

The guidance is not about the rights and wrongs of smoking, but aims instead to offer information and stimulate discussions among leadership teams. It is hoped that this will allow you to make sensible and informed decisions at local level.


During 2006 and 2007, new legislation came into force around the UK to ban smoking in public places.

'Virtually all enclosed public places and workplaces will be smoke free. This means that it is against the law to smoke in the indoor parts of places such as pubs, bars, nightclubs, cafes and restaurants, lunchrooms, membership clubs and shopping centres.'

This includes Scout buildings, Scout huts, Minibuses etc. It also includes marquees and tents at camps or activities, although a risk assessment will probably show that it is not advised to smoke in these areas anyway.

Signs need to be placed on the main access points into buildings and in vehicles. These are detailed (and in some cases available free) on the various government websites detailed later.

Electronic cigarettes

Although smoking an electronic cigarette is not illegal, Scouting strives to provide role models for young people through adult leadership. In this instance it is recommended that the smoking of an electronic cigarette device is not conducted in front of your people, just the same as traditional cigarettes are not smoked in front of young people.

Smokers may argue that young people are not in danger from passive smoking so it’s ok to smoke an electronic device. However taking into account adults must be role models, the behaviour that adults display by smoking such devises is a strong negative image.

Research has shown (Bates 2003) that young people are influenced by adults and their behaviour and we would ask that Leaders look at their own conduct and consider would I smoke traditional cigarettes in the same way that I am smoking an electronic cigarettes?

We would like to commend anyone trying to give up smoking as we recognise that it brings many challenges for the person involved. If anyone needs further advice or support the Scout association recognised organisation such as www.quit.org.uk

Leading by example

As an adult in Scouting, you are a role model for the young people in your care. Young people are impressionable and will inevitably be influenced by adults' behaviour – especially that of those whom they respect.

One of the most effective ways of helping young people to develop is to allow them to learn by doing. Quite often a Leader will demonstrate a particular skill and in turn will expect a young person to learn the skill. If a young person sees an adult Leader smoking they may copy in their desire to be 'grown up'.

The Scout Association's Policy

The Scout Association has a key policy which requires Scouting to be provided in a safe manner without risk to health, so far as is reasonably practicable (Policy, Organisation and Rules, The Scout Association). For further details of The Scout Association's Safety Policy please see Policy, Organisation and Rules, Chapter 2, Page 3.

Adults and smoking

There are currently about 10 million adult cigarette smokers in the UK and another three million who smoke pipes and/or cigars (Ash.org.uk; 2013, Great Britain). In Scouting, we understand that our adult leaders and members have the right to smoke and we recognise that people have a choice. Ideally, we would like members to stop smoking but when you are dealing with people who offer their time on a voluntary basis, we have to be careful what restrictions we impose. We must also acknowledge however, that non-smokers have rights and choices too.

Getting the balance between those who do and those who don’t is the difficult part.

Passive smoking

The majority of adults who choose to smoke are aware of the harmful effect of smoking, and with government and charity campaigning many adults and young people are now aware of the harmful effect of passive or second-hand smoking? However If adults don’t like smoking, then they can make a decision about the environment they are in and can also choose to talk to the smoker. An eight-year-old Cub Scout however, is much less likely to voice their opinion.

Coping with young people who smoke

At some time, as an adult in Scouting, you will come across young people who choose to smoke. There are a number of ways in which adults can deal with young people who smoke, but the ultimate aim should be to support and inform the young person of the harmful effect of smoking on themselves and others.

A young person can legally smoke when they are aged 18. Sometimes we will come across young people who are under the age of 18 and choose to smoke. We must treat these young people the same as any other young person but must also consider the effect on the rest of the group.

Please note that the following is guidance only. It should be used as a basis for your own local rules. Leaders can also use the guidance as further points of discussion, between a leadership team.

The law now ensures that all Scouting premises are smoke free. This includes premises, which are rented on section nights and also buildings on campsites. It is important that no leader smokes around young people.

Not only does smoking around young people subject them to passive smoking, but it also increases the fire risk. If you do smoke, try to refrain from smoking during a section meeting. The majority of section meetings run for two hours or less and any adult should be able to refrain from smoking for such a short period of time. No leader who smokes should be expected to refrain from smoking for events that last longer than a couple of hours.

They should however be expected to deal with this in a sensible manner. The smoker should make sure that they do not subject any adult or young person to their smoke, i.e. on a weekend camp a leader who smokes should arrange a place that is out of sight and away from young people. Great care should be taken on camp, especially around tents and in wooded areas.

Remember, leaders lead by example. Any young person over the age of 18 who smokes should be expected to follow the same rules as adults. Smoking around their peers is not acceptable. When dealing with a young person under the age of 18, great care should be taken. It is important that you help the young person, to deal with their smoking. Sometimes you may need to consider communicating with the parents.

As a leader it is unacceptable to allow young people (under 18) to smoke while in your care.

The key to these guidance points is common sense. We all have a responsibility to make sure we offer Scouting to young people in a safe environment. The well-being of the young people in Scouting is paramount and we must ensure that no young person is subjected to tobacco smoke. This also applies to anyone who does not wish to be subjected to tobacco smoke.

Some common sense advice

Get help to stop smoking

There are many reasons for giving up smoking, not least the cost to your pocket and your health.

To get help to stop smoking and to read about people who have managed it, visit:




Northern Ireland





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