The Australian Capital Territory was the first jurisdiction in Australia to ban smoking in restaurants. Smoking was still permitted in outdoor areas, which led to heavily rugged up diners sitting outside on cold Canberra evenings. In 2009, the legislation was extended to include outside areas where food and drink are served.
In 1976, 43 per cent of Australian men and 33 per cent of women smoked. Every conference room and office was equipped with ashtrays and people happily puffed away during meetings. Smoking in restaurants was normal. Non-smokers just had to put up with the wafting aroma of cigarettes combining with the flavours of their meals.
This situation continued throughout the 1980s. Some restaurants did put minor restrictions on smokers. “Please, no pipes or cigars until after 10pm” read a note on the menu at Melbourne’s Fleurie in 1986.
The ACT legislation to ban smoking in restaurants and other public places was followed by similar laws in Tasmania (1997), New South Wales (2000), Victoria (2001), Queensland (2002), Northern Territory (2003), South Australia (2004) and Western Australia (2006). In the following decade, regulations and laws in all states have further restricted the areas where it’s permissible to smoke.
Smoking in the outdoor areas of restaurants was permitted in most jurisdictions until the mid-2000s. Today different states have different laws governing these areas and the provision of designated smoking zones.
In New South Wales, in 2013, the Parramatta Council overturned a smoking ban for outdoor eating places after pressure from local traders. However, statewide legislation in 2015 brought the area into line, to the dismay of proprietors of the areas “sisha” restaurants.
In Victoria, an area is not considered an outdoor dining area if only drinks and/or snacks are served in that area. The term ‘snacks’ is defined as pre-packaged, shelf-stable foods and fruit (provided the fruit has not been cut up prior to serving). However, the area is not defined as “outdoor” if it has a roof and walls where “the total area of the wall surface exceeds 75% of the notional wall area.” Whatever that means.
As of 2016, only 16 per cent of Australian men and 12 per cent of women smoked. And thanks to the laws against smoking in restaurants we can all enjoy a dining experience where the only aromas are those rising from the plate in front of you.