Passive smoking at work damages lung function – government must stop dithering on worker protection

Thursday 16 August 2001

ASH press release


Embargo: 00:01 Thursday 16th August 2001


Passive smoking at work damages lung function – time to end government dithering on protection for workers


Non-smoking workers exposed to passive smoking at work suffer up to 10 percent reduced lung function. A study of 300 employees in Glasgow showed that exposure at work was more likely to cause loss of lung function than exposure at home or in public places.  <spanstyle=’text-decoration:none;’>[1].  Lung function is a measure of how much and how quickly air can be forced in and out of the lungs.


Clive Bates, Director of ASH commented:


“There’s no justification for non-smokers suffering damage to their ability to breathe while they are at work.    People have a basic right to work in a healthy environment and that means they shouldn’t have to work in a room full of smoke.


“There are still about 3 million non-smokers who are continuously or frequently exposed to tobacco smoke at work, and employers cannot shirk the legal obligation to protect the health.


“This study should have employees that allow smoking around non-smokers consulting their lawyers. Unless they have a good reason to allow it, they are almost certainly breaking the law. [2]


This adds to the large volume of evidence showing that second-hand smoke exposure also causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and a variety of non-fatal illnesses – as well as being an irritant and distraction [3].  


ASH once again called on the government to advance the long-delayed Approved Code of Practice on passive smoking at work. [4]


“The government committed to improve conditions for non-smokers at work in its 1998 tobacco policy but hasn’t managed to do anything but argue, delay and fudge.Meanwhile people are getting sick and employers risking legal action.


“Giving people a right to clean air is part of Labour’s public health policy, but as soon as the first businessman objected, they went soft on it.


[1] Environmental tobacco smoke and lung function in employees who never smoked: the Scottish MONICA study Occupational and environmental medicine 2001; 58: 563-8 [View PDF]


[2] The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 2(2)(e) places a specific duty on the employer in respect of employees: “to provide and maintain a safe working environment which is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work”.  See ASH guide.


[3] See ASH passive smoking page:


[4] See ASH workplace menu:



Contact Clive Bates: 020 7739 5902 (office) 0776879 1237 (mobile).