Killer on the loose – new research reveals that passive smoking at work kills three people every day.

Tuesday 08 April 2003

 ASH, TUC, CIEH news release – Tuesday 8 April 2003

Every year 1,200 people in the UK (three a day) die due to passive smoking at work, according to ‘A Killer on the Loose’, [1] research published today (Tuesday) on the eve of a major conference on workplace smoking. The TUC, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) conference (Wednesday) will call on the Government to implement a legally binding Code of Practice for workplace smoking, proposed over two years ago by the Health and Safety Commission.

The research, carried out by expert on second hand smoke James Repace, reveals that in the UK around 900 office workers, 165 bar workers and 145 manufacturing workers die each year as a direct result of breathing in other people’s tobacco smoke at work.

The figures show that there are three times as many deaths a year from passive smoking at work as the total number of deaths from workplace injuries (295, 2000 – 2001). Previous research has shown that three million people in the UK are exposed to second-hand smoke while at work.

James Repace said: “More people died in 2002 from passive smoking at work in the UK than were killed by the Great London smog of 1952. This study shows that previous research has seriously underestimated the number of people killed by second-hand smoke at work.”

Speakers at the ‘Don’t choke on the smoke’ conference will call for the Government to implement an Approved Code of Practice which would clarify how existing health and safety law applies to passive smoking, effectively banning smoking from the vast majority of workplaces. The UK is lagging behind other countries in this area and lawyers at the conference will warn that employers could face lawsuits if they fail to protect staff from passive smoke.

Amanda Sandford of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH said: “The Government’s failure to tackle passive smoking in the workplace is scandalous. How many more lives are going to be lost before they act? One death caused by passive smoking is unacceptable but more than 1,000 a year is a disgrace and for every day’s delay the Government has deaths on its conscience.”

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary Elect, said: “Ministers should stop defending the fug-filled snugs of Britain’s pubs, which are proving fatal for bar staff and putting off possible customers. The Code of Practice is sensible and pragmatic, and it’s backed by unions and employers. It will protect the rights of non-smokers and smokers alike, and will end the uncertainty about where employers stand.“

Brian Hanna, President of CIEH whose members (health inspectors) would enforce the code in service sector workplaces – such as offices, hotels, pubs and clubs – said: “Environmental Health Officers acting in their health and safety enforcement capacity want to help protect workers vulnerable to passive smoking, but they need the Government to provide them with the right tools to do the job. Relying on weak voluntary arrangements will simply not have the desired effect.”

Notes to Editors:

  • [1] ‘A Killer on the Loose’, An ASH special investigation into the threat of passive smoking to the UK workforce.
  • The ‘Don’t choke on the smoke’ conference hosted by ASH, TUC and CIEH takes place on Wednesday 9 April, 9:30am – 4:30pm, TUC Congress Centre, Great Russell St, London, WC1B 3LS. There will be speakers from the hosting organisations and others covering the issue from health, science, legal and political perspectives. As well as workshops on the practicalities of preventing passive smoking at work.
  • Advances on passive smoking at work around the world have been closely followed by Risks, the TUC’s weekly safety bulletin, ‘Passive smoking: all around the world’ is available on the TUC website:
  • A Code of Practice could save Government and Business £21 Billion. Source: The Independent (19/3/03)
  • Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West, has tabled a 10-minute rule Bill to make all restaurants and cafes smoke-free, to be debated on Monday 14 April.