No smoke without fire

The hospitality industry is making moves to protect its workers from passive smoking – but critics claim it is merely lip service.

Last week, five of the biggest pub companies – controlling about 22,000 out of 55,000 outlets in the UK – promised to end smoking at and behind the bar area of pubs by the end of 2005.

Enterprise Inns, Mitchells and Butlers, Punch Pub Company, Scottish and Newcastle Pub Enterprises, and Spirit Group, say not only will they end smoking at and behind the bar, they will move from 35 per cent smoke-free trading floor space at the end of 2005 to 80 per cent by the end of 2009.

But tobacco control pressure group ASH says plans are “utterly inadequate” to protect the health of pub workers and members of the public

Unless an area is completely smoke-free, it argues, smoke will still reach pub employees, threatening their health.

ASH director Deborah Arnott says: “This is a last desperate throw of the dice by the biggest players in the pub trade. They spin their plans as a smoke-free initiative. But they are nothing of the kind. They will fail to protect pub workers from the grim toll of death and disease caused by breathing in other people’s smoke.”

But Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, says the move must reflect customer’s needs.

“Pubs want to provide staff and customers with great work and social environments,” he says. “Clearly, with the number of non-smokers on the increase, companies want to reflect that in the way they run their pubs. We want to see better choice for non-smokers. At the same time, we believe in freedom of choice and a policy that will still allow smokers to enjoy a night out with their friends in the pub.”

However, the hospitality industry is concerned with the lack of action. Personnel Today’s sister magazine, Caterer and Hotelkeeper, last week launched its Stub out Smoking campaign.

In a poll of 1,000 readers, 95 per cent of respondents said they believed working in a smoky atmosphere damaged their health; and 57 per cent said they had already noticed side effects from working in a smoky environment.

Mark Lewis, editor of Caterer, says: “We have long lobbied for industry self-regulation over smoking. But, faced with such a groundswell of feeling among our readership, we feel we can no longer sit on the fence. The ‘courtesy of choice’ approach adopted by many bars and restaurants may allow customers to choose whether or not to sit in a designated smoking area; but it does nothing to save hospitality workers from breathing in harmful smoke.

“It would guard them against the potential threat of litigation from employees claiming they have become sick as a result of passive smoking. And, our survey suggests, it would even help ease the skills problem in hospitality [as] three-quarters of respondents said a company’s anti-smoking policy would make it a more attractive employer.”

Caterer and Hotelkeeper asked:

Do you think working in a smoky atmosphere damages your health?

Yes: 95% No: 5%

Would you choose to work in a smoke-free environment if possible?

Yes: 87% No: 13%

Would a company’s anti-smoking policy make them a more attractive employer?

Yes: 73% No: 27%

Have you noticed any side effects from working in a smoky environment?

Yes: 57% No: 43%

Do you think your managers are taking the passive smoking threat to yourself seriously enough?

Yes: 58% No: 42%

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