The real smoking gun

The
threat posed to US and UK citizens by Iraq has probably grown as a result of
actions in the Gulf, despite the lack of a ‘smoking gun’. Yet closer to home, a
slow painful death awaits 700 people a year as a result of smoke in the
workplace. DeeDee Doke reports

Employers
are being urged to ban smoking in their establishments, after new figures
revealed that environmental smoke in the workplace kills an estimated 700
people in the UK each year.

Especially
affected are UK hospitality workers, who die at an average of one a week
because of secondhand smoke, said Professor Konrad Jamrozik of Imperial
College, London.

Speaking
at a recent Royal College of Physicians (RCP) conference in London, Jamrozik
also noted that passive smoking at work kills almost twice as many UK
hospitality workers as exposure at home.

Those
startling statistics have led the RCP to repeat its call for a ban on smoking
in public places throughout the UK.

“Environmental
tobacco smoke in pubs, bars, restaurants and other places is seriously damaging
to the health of employees, as well as the general public,” said RCP president
professor Carol Black.

“Making
these places smoke-free not only protects vulnerable staff and the public; it
will also help more than 300,000 people in the UK to stop smoking completely.”

The
implication for UK employers is clear, said a solicitor specialising in
personal injury and union-related cases.

John
Hall of Thompsons Solicitors, who also addressed the conference, said: “The
safest way for an employer to avoid difficulties would be to ban public smoking
in confined areas and workplaces. I would argue that the risks to an employer
who doesn’t take steps to sort out this problem are pretty great.”

Hall
rejected claims by employers who argue that hospitality workers voluntarily
accept jobs in pubs, clubs and restaurants where smoking is allowed and
understand the potential risks.

He
compared such attitudes to those of coalmine owners and national coal
authorities who once scoffed at dust-related ailments.

“That
attitude is appalling. We’ve seen large numbers of individuals… have a great
measure of success in attaining compensation from the Government for putting
them in exactly that situation,” Hall said.

“By
adopting an attitude of ‘well, if you have to work, you can expect to be
injured’ is obscene and woefully out-of-date, and leads an employer to a very
dangerous place.

“The
inevitable consequence of ignoring the issue is that there will be litigation,
and as medical science continues to advance and the hazards become more
obvious, the employer will really have a difficult job in defending a case,” he
said.

The
fear that a ban on smoking in their establishments might harm business prevents
many UK employers from taking such a stand, Hall acknowledges.

So
far the commercial results on smoking bans in public places are mixed. In the
US, New York’s bars and taverns report average revenue losses of 15 per cent to
19 per cent since a wide-ranging ban on smoking in most businesses kicked in
last year.

However,
Irish officials reported no apparent effect on the country’s hospitality
industry in the weeks following its newly implemented ban on smoking in public
places.

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