Secondhand Smoke: Time for a Law

Tuesday 25 November 2003

ASH News Release


Immediate Release: Tuesday 25th November 2003


Secondhand Smoke: Time for a Law

ASH today warmly welcomed the call by the presidents of Britain’s Royal Colleges of medicine for a legal ban on secondhand smoke. The call follows press reports that the Government is reluctant to follow the example of Ireland, New York and elsewhere and introduce a ban on smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places.


A letter from the Royal Colleges published in today’s Times points out that “passive smoking causes an estimated 1,000 deaths in adults each year and causes cot death, asthma, lung infections and middle ear disease in children”. Secondhand smoke contains highly toxic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic and ammonia. Yet at least three million employees are still regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace. Most restaurant chains and almost all pubs continue to permit smoking on the premises.


Smoking bans have already been introduced in New York and California, and are imminent in Norway, Ireland and the Netherlands. But Health Secretary John Reid was recently reported (e.g. in the Observer of 16th November) as preferring a “voluntary approach”. A draft Approved Code of Practice under the Health and Safety at Work Act was produced by the Health and Safety Commission in 2000 but progress has stalled after opposition from the tobacco lobby and hospitality trade. EU Health Commissioner Byrne has also called for secondhand smoke to be classified as a workplace carcinogen in European law – a move which would simply recognise in law what is already established scientific fact. But the UK Government has yet to give a view on Mr Byrne’s proposal.


ASH Director Deborah Arnott commented:


“We warmly welcome the call by the Presidents of the Royal Colleges. Legislation to end employees’ involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke at work is long overdue. Children also need protection when they are taken out to restaurants and other public places where smoking is still permitted.


If the Government has rejected calls for a new law, then it must spell out what exactly it does intend to do about the problem. To rely on ‘voluntary action’ without clear timetable targets and Government support would be to fail those whose health is threatened by secondhand smoke and to abandon a vital weapon in the armoury of tobacco control.”


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Contact:       Ian Willmore or Amanda Sandford  020 7739 5902


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