Britain’s workers demand the right to smoke-free workplaces: Government inertia hits two year mark.

Saturday 05 October 2002

ASH news release:  Embargo: 00:01 Saturday 5 October 2002
Britain’s workers say their right to a smoke-free working environment far outweighs the right of people to smoke.

The six to one ratio in favour of this basic right is revealed in a new survey for Action on Smoking and Health and comes on the second anniversary of Government receiving formal advice from its own health and safety experts to control passive smoking at work – yet two years on no action has been taken. [1]

Passive smoking is an established cause of cancer and heart disease and affects numerous respiratory conditions, as well as creating discomfort and nuisance that affects welfare. [2]

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

“Two years of Government dithering hasn’t changed people’s basic understanding that they have a right to work in a smoke-free environment. Ministers are so out of touch with workers and so keen to please big business that they kicked the proposal into the long grass hoping it would go away.”

More than 2,000 people were screened in the BMRB poll [3] which showed that of those expressing an opinion, a huge 85% support proposals that would mean no employee is forced to breathe in other people’s tobacco smoke against their will.

Of grave concern is the fact that when asked about the situation in their own workplace, one in nine (11%) staff said smoking was freely allowed in all areas – equating to more than three million people across the entire workforce. [4]

Said Ms Williams:

“The population understands that passive smoke kills yet millions are being put at risk. This survey reflects the widespread view that it is simply unacceptable to force people to work in smoky conditions if it can be avoided. Our respondents are sanctioning the fact that Government should be putting the right to a safe and healthy working environment before the ill-founded complaints of others about smoking restrictions being an attack on their freedom.”

The current situation nationally is that of those employees who were aware of their company’s policy, just four in ten (40%) said they benefit from a complete smoking ban at their workplace, with a similar amount (42%) working where smoking rooms are still provided. Workers in pubs, bars, restaurants and the construction industry are most likely to be exposed to passive smoke.

The new figures show even smokers themselves accept that their right to smoke disappears in the workplace with almost two thirds (62%) of current smokers agreeing in principle with workplace restrictions.

Ms Williams added:

“It is an absolute disgrace that despite robust evidence and counsel from its own advisors, Government continues to show utter contempt for the three million people who face a daily assault on their health due to passive smoke exposure.

“Indeed they have capitulated to a tobacco industry which is desperate to avoid any measures that would reduce smoking and hence their profits.

“People clearly believe they have a right to a safe working environment and if Government isn’t prepared to uphold that right by way of the ACoP then maybe we need a law to preserve it. We want to see this issue properly debated in Parliament by MPs – many of whom we know are in favour of restrictions – with a view to introducing legislation that would give workers the protection they crave.”

The TUC has also added its weight to calls for the ACoP to be implemented. Health and safety specialist Owen Tudor said:

“The health and welfare arguments for protecting people from passive smoking at work are compelling and well established. Many of our union members represent the people most affected by passive smoke – those employed in pub, bar, club and restaurant sectors. Without the ACoP they have little protection.”




Notes and links:

[1]        The Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) is designed to clarify how the existing Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 relates to passive smoking. Government committed to looking into the issue as part of its Smoking Kills White Paper in December 1998


Following an extensive public consultation the draft ACoP was formally recommended to Ministers by the Health and Safety Commission on 5 October 2000, a month after the Commission first announced that in its opinion the ACoP was the best method Government should employ to tackle passive smoking at work

[2]        In addition to receiving advice from the HSC, Government’s own scientific advisers – the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health – have also recommended to Ministers that the ACoP be implemented. In its 2001 report the Committee said:

“SCOTH members recommend that further steps need to be taken to provide protection from the health hazards of ETS for both smokers and non-smokers in leisure and work situations. The Health and Safety Commission’s recommended Approved Code of Practice is a reasonable measure and in members’ view is justified on public health grounds.”

[3]        BMRB Access Omnibus of 2,028 adults aged over 15. Fieldwork conducted between 12 and 18 September. A more detailed summary of the results appear on the next page of this release.

[4]        Labour Market Statistics from ONS give the employment rate for May to July 2002 as 28.51 million.



Marsha Williams (ASH)                        020 7739 5902               (ISDN available)

Owen Tudor (TUC)                               020 7467 1325



Key findings from a survey of 2,028 adults aged over 15 by BMRB.

  • Of the total sample, 1,284 respondents were currently working.
  • 11% – or one in nine employees – work in places where smoking is freely allowed in all areas – equivalent to three million workers.
  • Of those in work, 36% smoked and 64% were non-smokers.
  • Only four in 10 (40%) workers benefited from a complete ban on the premises.
  • A further 42% worked where smoking is allowed in designated areas.
  • Of those that expressed an opinion, 85% agreed – the majority “strongly” – that the right to a smoke-free workplace far outweighed the right to smoke during work hours.
  • Respondents in social grade D are more likely than the national average to work in an environment where smoking is freely allowed in all areas. Men were more than twice as likely as women to work somewhere where smoking was allowed throughout.
  • By contrastrespondents in social grades ABC1 are more likely than the national average to work in an environment where smoking is completely banned on the premises. Smoking is nearly 10% more likely to be completely banned on the premises in the South than the North (North = York/Humb, North West, North and Scotland. South = London, South East and South West. )
  • Workers in Education, and the NHS were most likely to work where smoking was banned, whilst those in the construction and pub/bar/restaurant/hotel/catering sectors were most likely to be exposed to passive smoke while at work.
  • More than twice as many people smoke (65%) who work where smoking is freely allowed in all areas compared to only 27% of people smoking who work in an environment where smoking is completely banned on the premises.
  • More women (76%) than men (66%) agree that the right to a smoke free environment outweighs the right to smoke during work hours.
  • And you are most likely to agree with that statement if you are over44, orin social grade AB or you work in Education or the National Health Service.  And you are more likely than the national average to agree with the statement  if you live in the South East.