Bronchitis victim inhaled fumes from 150 cigarettes daily: Barrie Clement looks at Veronica Bland's fight for compensation after an illness linked to passive smoking

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The Independent Online
VERONICA BLAND started work at Stockport council in 1979 hoping that she had seen the end of smoke-filled offices. It was not to be.

Her colleagues puffed away at cigarettes and over the years her health deteriorated, she told a London press conference.

Three women who worked within a few feet of her smoked between 15 and 20 cigarettes a day and did not take seriously her protests that it was affecting her health. Managers made sympathetic noises, but refused to move her.

Stockport council, however, has now paid her pounds 15,000 compensation in an out-of-court settlement. Nalgo, her union, was preparing litigation under health and safety legislation which obliges employers to provide adequate ventilation.

Seven years after joining the council, she became ill and underwent an operation after developing chronic bronchitis. Doctors removed blockages in her sinuses, but within a week of returning to work, she was 'as bad as ever'.

'I joined the council in the hope that I would be working in a non-smoking environment but I soon became ill, suffering from sneezing, coughing, streaming eyes and then bronchitis,' she said.

'My GP referred me to all kinds of consultants and I eventually needed an operation.' She said she saw little point in complaining to the smokers because they would only think she was being awkward.

'Before I was ill, I was fairly active. I had a beautiful soprano voice and used to sing throughout the day. I still sing but not to the same quality.' Miss Bland, who now works as an information officer in the council's smoke-free education department, warned reporters that she could only talk quietly and would start sneezing and coughing if anybody lit a cigarette.

She said she feared at one stage that she might have to retire because of her illness, and suffered regular coughing bouts. She was exposed to passive smoking until a no-smoking policy was introduced in 1990.

Between 1988 and 1989, when she worked in the school meals section, she sat close to seven workers who constantly smoked. She estimated she inhaled smoke from 150 cigarettes each day.

She said she had received regular treatment from her doctor for the effects of passive smoking since 1980.

Although there had been some improvement in her condition since 1990, her symptoms worsened if she was exposed to cigarette smoke.

Miss Bland is a member of the Maia Singers, an amateur group in the Stockport area, and has sung solos with them throughout Europe. She said that she rarely goes to the theatre now because, although smoking is often banned in auditoria, people smoke in bars and she is afraid that a coughing fit would interrupt the performance.