Smoking in the workplace: Government procrastinates while workers die.



Friday 26 July 2002

ASH news release: Embargo: 00:01 Friday 26th July 2002
Scientists have today made the most compelling argument yet for smoking to be restricted in workplaces – yet on current form it would be no surprise if government ignores the advice.

Making workplaces a smoke free environment would not only prevent thousands of deaths caused by passive smoke exposure, but also have a significant knock on effect in terms of overall smoking prevalence in the UK, say the Californian based research team in an article for the BMJ. [1]

Marsha Williams of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH, said:

“Government should see this study as manna from heaven because it shows how smoking can be tackled cheaply and effectively. They have backed themselves into a corner by putting the invented concerns of the business community about unnecessary regulation over and above the clear risks to health from passive smoking. If ever there was a way out of the mess they have created, this study is it.”

ASH is critical of Ministers for using delaying tactics for almost two years after its own health and safety advisers [2] recommended an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) be implemented back in September 2000. The ACoP would effectively ban smoking in the majority of workplaces, thus protecting the estimated three million non-smokers who currently have to involuntarily breathe in other people’s tobacco smoke while at work. [3]

“Based on government’s own figures, this study shows stopping smoking at work has the potential to save 92 lives a week because of the knock-on effect of reducing smoking prevalence. [4]

“Ministers have been consulting and consulting on this issue for month after month after month. Surely even the most hardy Whitehall opponents of the ACoP wouldn’t be stupid enough to look  this gift horse in the mouth and ignore a policy change which saves lives?”

In the Smoking Kills White Paper of 1998 government set a target to reduce the number of smokers by 1.5 million by 2010, in effect reducing overall prevalence rates from 28% to 24% of the population in that period.

Said Ms Williams: “It’s simple – introduce the ACoP and we would be a lot closer to those target figures a lot quicker. It’s time for government to stop posturing and to start to protect people – smokers and non-smokers alike.”

There is already considerable backing for the ACoP within the two houses of Parliament. As MPs broke for the summer recess some 72 backbenchers had signed an Early Day Motion calling on Ministers to take the harm caused by passive smoking seriously and implement the Code without delay. [5]

And in the Lords, Health Minister Lord Hunt was tackled by Peers earlier this week about the ongoing delay to measures that would protect non-smokers from environmental tobacco smoke at work.

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Notes and links:

[1] Effect of smoke-free workplaces on smoking behaviour: systematic review BMJ Volume 325, pp 188-191.
BMJ editorial by Professor Robert West

[2] The Health and Safety Commission announced the ACoP was the best way to tackle workplace smoking on 5 September 2002.

[3] Results of a MORI poll conducted for ASH in March 1999.

[4] Government has projected the proposed advertising ban would cause a 2.5% reduction in consumption, leading to 3,000 lives per year being saved in the long run. The BMJ study suggest a 4% reduction – 4 divided by 2.5 x 3000 = 4,800 lives per year in the long run, or 92 a week.

[5] EDM 1621 – Smoking in the Workplace.

[6] Hansard report of the debate in the Lords.