Right of Reply: Simon Clark

Following our report in increasingly stringent measures being taken against smoking in the workplace, the director of the pro-smoking pressure group Forest puts the case for the smoker
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The Independent Culture
JUST AS the right to breathe "clean" air in a modern, industrialised society is a fallacy dreamt up by anti-smoking campaigners, few smokers now believe they have a right to smoke at work. Most accept that a smoky environment can annoy colleagues and that restrictions are, on occasion, perfectly reasonable. What they do not accept is unfair discrimination, social engineering (endless rules designed to make them give up) and the highly contentious suggestion that, by smoking, they are damaging the health of others.

Of course, private companies have a right to choose a smoking policy that best suits their business, but let them do so without being misinformed. Take passive smoking, designed to demonise smokers and coerce employers into banning smoking at work. Even the World Health Organisation has admitted that the increased risk of non-smokers getting lung cancer from passive smoking is not "statistically significant".

As for the threat of legal action by employees, the Health and Safety Commission recently declared that proving "beyond reasonable doubt that passive smoking is a risk to health is likely to be difficult, given the state of scientific evidence". In the UK only two cases have come to court; each time the plaintiff has lost.

More alarming is the threat to jobs, with some companies refusing to employ smokers and others threatening instant dismissal should they be caught.

According to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, "an employer's duty is to ensure the welfare of all his employees", which presumably includes smokers. A total ban on smoking should therefore be a last resort, not a first option. Alternatives, after all, include smoking-areas, better ventilation and air cleaning systems. The question is, do employers want to accommodate or discriminate - and will government give them the choice?

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