Smokers who enjoy lighting up at work could have just a year to indulge their habit if the powers contained within summer 2007's Health Bill come into force.
As part of the Bill, which is still to be approved by parliament, smoking will be banned in all enclosed public places apart from licensed premises that do not serve food, or private members' clubs. Smoking outside offices could also be banned if there is a "risk of harm from second-hand smoke due to inevitable close grouping of people", according to health minister Lord Warner.
But while this may be good news for the nation's lungs, as 99% of employees are expected to work in a smoke-free environment, is it also good news for HR?
Doing nothing for 12 months and then blithely announcing that smoking is now illegal during office hours is unlikely to boost the collective morale. Given that one in four people in the UK is a smoker, any large organisation will have a significant number of staff who feel unfairly victimised. For example, smoking rooms will be illegal once the new law is in place, so there will very few places left to take a cigarette break.
But Ian Willmore, spokesman for anti-smoking pressure group ASH, believes the smoking ban is an opportunity for HR to take a more proactive role in improving workers' health. "Employers shouldn't penalise smokers - this is a chance to make [improving employee health] easier," he says. "About 70% of smokers say they want to quit - and this should help. Whatever happens, people will smoke less if they don't smoke at work."
Around 100,000 people in the UK die from smoking-related illnesses every year, and the government hopes that by 2010 the new law will lead to 600,000 fewer smokers - reducing absence rates and the cost to employers.
According to the Office for National Statistics, two million people now work in places where smoking is allowed anywhere, and eight million where smoking is allowed in certain areas. "This is not always respected, and is hard to enforce," says Willmore. "For instance, a smoking room may not keep all the smoke in. Every smoking room should have a capsule doorway, but many don't."