Recent research carried out across Europe estimated that non-smokers who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke are 20-30 per cent more likely to develop lung cancer as a result. A study by the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority found that non-smoking workers regularly exposed to cigarette smoke also face a 30 per cent greater risk of heart disease. A report by the British Medical Association in November 2002 called for legislation to ban smoking in public places and the workplace. The report concluded that there is no safe level of "environmental" tobacco smoke.
All across Europe, governments are taking action against smoking. The Irish Government announced an outright ban on smoking in the workplace, including in restaurants and pubs. This was to have taken effect from January 2004 but the Minister for Health says that there are still some legal issues to be resolved before a date can be set. The ban will bring Ireland into line with efforts to clamp down on smoking in other EU countries. In Scotland, a consultative process was begun in June 2004.
As things stand, there is no specific provision in UK law requiring employers to ban smoking at work and the debate continues over what action is needed. In 1998 the Government issued a White Paper, Smoking Kills. This was followed by a consultation paper and draft code of practice offering guidance to employers on how to deal with passive smoking at work. The key messages are:
- employers should introduce a policy, in consultation with their employees, on passive smoking at work. The policy should give priority to the needs of non-smokers who do not wish to breathe tobacco smoke;
- non-smoking should be regarded as the norm in enclosed workplaces. Special provision should be made for smoking, rather than the reverse. Smokers should be segregated from non-smokers;
- provision should be made in rest rooms and rest areas to protect non-smokers from discomfort caused by tobacco smoke.
There is an implied term in employment contracts generally that an employer will provide a working environment which is reasonably suitable to enable employees to do their work. Employers are also under a duty to provide adequate ventilation.
Employers are advised to take this topic seriously. In addition to Health and Safety responsibilities, there is a real threat of litigation from workers who blame passive smoking for their health problems. There has already been one well publicised settlement between a London casino and one of their employees, whose asthma was blamed on passive smoking at work.
Employers are also reminded that if they are planning to introduce a "no smoking" rule, they must take particular care to take into account the normal rules which apply when proposing to make changes to terms and conditions of employment.