Smoking ban has bosses fuming

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT PLANS to outlaw smoking in the workplace were criticised as "interfering" and "heavy handed" last night by employer and tobacco- industry representatives who argued that voluntary agreements were already working well.

The ban, reported in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, is one of several measures proposed by the Government in its White Paper on Smoking and Health, publication of which has been delayed until next month because of sensitivity over its contents.

Environmental health officers and workers would enforce the ban by suing employers who failed to create smoke-free environments.

However, the Government's attempts to avoid accusations of nannying by allowing employers to set aside special areas for smokers has failed to win over opponents of tighter legislation. "This is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," said Keith Gretton, manager of science communications at British American Tobacco. "We understand that passive smoking can be very annoying and that segregation is completely appropriate, but I don't think the Government has a role here."

While accepting that non-smokers in a predominantly smoking office may find it difficult to complain, he said a ban would be an "interfering" and "inappropriate" way to deal with the problem. "People who work together are perfectly able to come to their own arrangements," he said.

Health and Safety legislation on ventilation currently covers the issue of smoking in the workplace, but the new code would ban smoking in enclosed spaces. It would not apply to prisons and psychiatric hospitals and proposes segregated areas for pubs and clubs.

A spokesman from the London Chamber of Commerce said small companies would have difficulties providing separate facilities for smokers, and it would be difficult for workers to prove their employers had been negligent.

He said: "The whole issue of smoking in the workplace is potentially very divisive. Most non-smokers do not like to see a Stalinist approach to smoking and the Government needs to recognise the rights of smokers, as well as non-smokers, instead of being heavy handed."

John Carlisle, director of public affairs at the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, said he believed the Government would introduce a new code of practice rather than an outright ban in the "interests of good working relationships".

But Clive Betts, the director of Action on Smoking and Health, said people working in smaller companies often found it difficult to exercise their rights, particularly if their boss was a smoker.

He said employees had to resort to claims of constructive dismissal or attempt to sue for damages for harm caused, a course that was extremely difficult to prove. "Clear and enforceable codes would make it unlikely that workers would need to sue because they would be able to approach their local authority," he said.

The US tobacco industry and eight state attorneys-general at the weekend finalised a proposed $206bn settlement of smoking-related health claims. The deal could become the largest-ever settlement of a civil lawsuit.