THE British Medical Association has launched a blistering attack on the National Assembly after AMs voted to spend nearly £7,400 on a smoking shelter for staff.
Members of the all-party House Committee, which meets behind closed doors, made the decision before the summer recess, and the shelter has now been built at the rear of the old Assembly building in Cardiff Bay.
The decision comes as the Assembly Government is about to accelerate its anti-smoking efforts in the run-up to a ban on smoking in public places like pubs and restaurants, due to come into effect next summer.
But one of the reasons cited last night for building the shelter was to stop staff who smoke from catching colds out in the elements.
Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the BMA, said, "We find it quite extraordinary that at a time when the dangers of passive smoking are increasingly understood, and as the Assembly itself prepares to impose a smoking ban in public places, this decision should have been taken.
"It sends out completely the wrong message to members of the public and to other organisations deciding what smoking policies they should introduce.
"There is considerable evidence that supports the case for a ban on smoking in public places, and the Assembly carried out its own extensive inquiry into the issue which confirmed the need to introduce tough measures.
"In the old days, smoking rooms were seen as acceptable, but the dangers from second-hand smoke are now so well documented that there is a need to eliminate them. When the doors of smoking rooms are opened, the smell can be overpowering and is certainly very unhealthy.
"The evidence is that many smokers themselves welcome smoking bans, because they help them in their efforts to give up the habit. Where a facility of this kind is provided, it makes their task more difficult.
"Instead of spending this money on providing a smoking shelter, the Assembly should have used it to help those of its employees who are still smokers to give up.
"Before taking this decision, the Assembly should have thought of the cleaners who will be responsible for cleaning the shelter up. It isn't fair for anyone to be expected to do that."
The House Committee is chaired by the Assembly's Deputy Presiding Officer, Wrexham AM Dr John Marek. He said, "First of all, the House Committee decided in principle to build a smoking shelter two or three years ago, so I don't understand why the BMA has only just woken up to this.
"I, personally, am not a smoker, and would like everyone who does smoke to give up. But I think it's important to understand that smoking is an addiction that many people find very difficult to break. In these circumstances, I believe it is important to find a middle way.
"Obviously non-smokers should not be subjected to passive smoking, but I don't think it is a good solution simply to expect smoking addicts to smoke out on the street. That is going to lead to them catching colds, from which they will have to take time off work. Equally there will be a lot of cigarette stubs on the floor near the building's entrance, as there is at the old Welsh Office in Cathays Park.
"The solution we came up with was to provide a fairly spartan shelter, which nevertheless provides some protection against the elements.
"It may be that in 20 years it will be appropriate not to provide a facility of this kind, but at present there remain a lot of smokers and it would not be right, in my view, simply to force them to smoke outside on the street."