|The hospitality trade faces an ever rising threat of legal action from employees whose health is damaged by secondhand smoke, Action on Smoking and Health warns today in a registered legal letter to all the major hospitality trade employers. The letter could form part of any future court cases for compensation from employees whose health is damaged by secondhand smoke. The best defence for the industry would be to back smokefree legislation, ending smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places.
ASH has been working with the trade union and personal injury lawyers Thompsons to identify such cases, particularly in the hospitality sector. Some cases have already succeeded and others are current across a wide range of UK employers. For example, Thompsons are acting for a young solicitor (age 28) suffering from asthma, with the lung capacity of the average 56 year old exposed to secondhand smoke in an office where smoking was allowed throughout. They are also acting for a computer technician who suffered bronchial shock and an exacerbation of his dormant asthma condition within minutes of working on equipment in a hospital doctor’s office.
ASH previously sent registered letters to all major hospitality trade employers in January 2004, warning them that the “date of guilty knowledge” under the Health and Safety at Work Act is now past, and that employers should therefore know of the risks of exposing their staff to secondhand smoke. Employers who continue to permit smoking in the workplace are therefore likely to be held liable by the courts for any health damage caused. Even if some pubs and membership clubs were exempted from smokefree legislation, as the Government is currently proposing, employees in such workplaces made ill by secondhand smoke could still sue for compensation.
Since the previous ASH letter the Government’s Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) produced a definitive summary of the evidence on the health damage caused by secondhand smoke . SCOTH reported that”some groups, for example bar staff, are heavily exposed at their place of work”. In a major study for the British Medical Journal, Professor Konrad Jamrozik of the University of Queensland has estimated that exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace:
· causes 54 premature deaths each year among hospitality industry employees – or more than one a week
· causes more than 600 deaths each year across the UK. 
For comparison, the total number of fatal accidents at work from all causes in the UK in 2004/5 was reported by the Health and Safety Executive as 220 .
ASH is warning that only fully smokefree workplaces can now provide employers with legal protection against future claims for compensation. It would also improve the health and productivity of the workforce: smokefree workplaces are known to be a major factor in encouraging smokers to quit and this could have a major positive impact on business. ASH intends to keep a formal record of this letter and its recipients, which we will make available to any future claimants in court cases for compensation.
Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH, commented:
“It is past time for every employer in the hospitality trades to realise that fully smokefree workplaces are both necessary and inevitable. Some big pub chains, for example, have made real and welcome progress. And more and more restaurants are smokefree throughout. But too many employers are still exposing their staff and customers to the health damage caused by secondhand smoke – and running serious legal risks as a result.
The only real defence for any employer against the rising threat of legal action is to go fully smokefree. The sooner the Government decides to drop its unjustified exemptions for some pubs and clubs and introduce simple and comprehensive smokefree legislation the better.”
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- “Estimate of Deaths Among Adults in the United Kingdom Attributable to Passive Smoking”: BMJ/2004/227587, by Konrad Jamrozik MBBS DPhil FAFPHM MFPH ILTM, Professor of Evidence-Based Health Care, University of Queensland.