ASH and Thompsons’ Tell Employers: Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned Over Secondhand Smoke

Monday 12 January 2004

ASH News Release: Embargo: 00.01hrs Monday 12th January 2004



ASH and Thompsons’ Tell Employers:

Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned Over Secondhand Smoke


The hospitality trade faces a rising threat of legal action from employees whose health is damaged by secondhand smoke, after a new tie-up between health campaigning charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK’s largest personal injury and trade union law firm Thompsons was announced today.


ASH has sent a registered letter to all the UK’s leading hospitality trade employers, 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. ASH and Thompsons intend to use the letters in any future court cases as evidence that employers have been fully informed of the issue.


ASH and Thompsons are also planning further steps to encourage employees who believe their health has been harmed by smoking in the workplace to seek legal advice on making a claim for compensation. These will be announced shortly.


The ASH letter to hospitality employers points out that “Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide. The US Environmental Protection Agency has classified environmental tobacco smoke as a known human (class A) carcinogen. The immediate effects of inhaling secondhand smoke include eye irritation, headache, cough, sore throat and nausea. Exposure for just 30 minutes to secondhand smoke has been shown to reduce coronary blood flow. Long-term inhalers of secondhand smoke suffer an increased risk of a range of smoking-related diseases…


Because of the widespread publicity the scientific evidence on secondhand smoke has now received, it is our view that the date of “guilty knowledge” under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has passed. Indeed, we believe that employers should have known of the risks by the early 1990s at the very latest. Therefore, in the event of claims for compensation for health damage, employers will be expected by the courts to know of the health effects of exposing employees and others to secondhand smoke and to take reasonable steps to eliminate it.”  [Full text of the letter is available from ASH].


Intake of passive smoke in bar staff in the course of their work can be two or three times higher than that arising from living with a partner who smokes. Living with a smoking partner is known to increase the risk of lung cancer by 20-30% and of heart disease by 30%. Secondhand smoke is also a major trigger of asthma attacks.


ASH has criticised the Government for its failure to follow the example of New York, California, Norway and Ireland and ban secondhand smoke in the workplace, including pubs, bars and restaurants. Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, called for legislation on the issue last July. He has been backed by the Presidents of the all the UK’s Royal Colleges of medicine.


Last week, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell announced that she would be calling in hospitality trade employers for a further attempt to encourage them to take voluntary action to improve provision for non-smokers. To date fewer than 30 pubs in the UK are fully smoke-free, and although some major restaurant chains – such as Pizza Hut – have now banned smoking in their premises, others – such as Pizza Express – continue to permit it. Ms Jowell’s announcement also implied that employers could meet their obligations by segregating smokers into special areas or by introducing expensive ventilation systems, despite the fact that such measures will not properly protect vulnerable employees.


Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH, commented:


“The time is long past when employers should have known that secondhand smoke is bad for their staff, and bad for the general public. To make quite sure that they understand this crucial point – and the rising threat of legal actions that they now face – we have sent all the UK hospitality trade’s leading employers a formal registered letter. This spells out the science on secondhand smoke, and the law as we and Thompsons understand it. We will shortly be announcing further moves to encourage employees whose health has been damaged because their bosses allowed smoking in the workplace to begin legal actions for compensation. If employers will not act from conviction or common sense, and if the Government still refuses to legislate, then the issue will be forced to a head in the courts.”


John Hall, solicitor at Thompsons added:


“Smoking in the workplace should have ended years ago.  Bosses are no more entitled to allow smoke in the workplace as they are to allow asbestos or coal dust. They need to give the order to stub out or they will face the growing threat of legal action. This is about taking steps to stop injury and avoiding future legal action by protecting the workforce from a deadly substance. If employers continue to do nothing then they will leave themselves wide open to compensation claims and they will have no one to blame but themselves.”


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Contact:                       Ian Willmore (ASH)           020 7739 5902 (w) 07887 641344 (m)

                                     John Hall (Thompsons)     020 7290 0059 (w) 07970 251 262 (mobile)