Children seek to sue parents over passive smoking

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE who believe their health was damaged in childhood by passive smoking have begun taking legal advice about suing their parents.

Lawyers say that a flood of legal claims - against employers and tobacco companies, as well as parents - is likely over passive smoking, following the success of Veronica Bland, 36, who last week won pounds 15,000 damages from her employers, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. Sitting near seven chain-smokers for 14 months permanently damaged her health, she said.

Charles Hopkins, a barrister employed by Leigh Day and Company, a firm involved in anti-smoking litigation, said he had already had several preliminary inquiries from people who wanted to sue their parents.

And last week the Legal Aid Board decided to grant help to a Midlands office worker planning to sue her boss for damage arising from other people's smoke.

The new case, which has not been publicised, is being brought by a woman in her fifties who claims she developed asthma and bronchitis after working in a smoke-filled office for five years.

Her solicitor, Robin Lewis of Bindman and Partners, said the board recently turned down legal aid for 20 active smokers who wanted to sue tobacco companies for damage to their health. Ms Bland did not receive legal aid because she fought her case, which was settled out of court, through Nalgo, the local government workers' union.

Mr Lewis knew of only one previous case where legal aid was granted; but the case, initiated four years ago, was dropped. 'Getting legal aid shows the direction in which the climate of opinion is going,' Mr Lewis said.

Lawyers said yesterday that children who have grown up in smoking households and believe that their health has been damaged by their parents' tobacco smoke, could sue their parents.

According to the Health Education Authority, almost half of all children under 10 - a total of 3.7 million - are exposed to smoking in their homes. In 13 per cent of households, only the father smokes, in a fifth only the mother smokes, and in 16 per cent both parents. 'There is compelling evidence of a link between parental smoking and serious respiratory illness in infants,' the authority says. In older children, 'the evidence strongly suggests passive smoking is responsible for chronic middle-ear disease and for the aggravation of asthma.'

It is now generally accepted that about 1,000 people in the UK die each year from passive smoking, 300 of them from cancer of the lung, the rest from heart disease, bronchitis, asthma and other smoking-related diseases. The chances of dying from passive smoking are about one in a thousand over a full lifetime, or, in any one year, about one in 80,000.

It is a less common cause of death than flu, road accidents, leukaemia, or accidents at home and work, but a more common cause of death than railway accidents, being hit by lightning or suffering from radiation from a nearby nuclear power station.

Passive smoking also exacerbates most respiratory conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis, and increases the likelihood of glue ear in children. Scientists claim that it is responsible for a quarter of all cot deaths.