Debate & Discussion: Ban smoking in the workplace

Submitted by AWL on 22 July, 2005 - 5:38

Carrie Bickers (letters, Solidarity 3/76) criticises the government’s proposed ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces on the grounds that it is a poorly disguised way of “compelling the individual smoker to give up”. From the fact that the proposals would not affect smoking in private homes she leaps to the bizarre conclusion that they make no attempt to protect people from passive smoking.

She is right that a side effect of the ban will be a reduction in “industry volume” and an increased quit-rate. And she is right to be suspicious of what looks at first glance like another infringement on civil liberties by a right-wing government.

However, there is much more reason to be suspicious of the tobacco industry, the most vocal (and often the most subtle) opponents of the proposed legislation.

The pro-smoking lobbying group Atmosphere Improves Results (AIR) (which reveals little about its funding sources, but whose policy suggestions are uncannily close to the tobacco industry line) is attempting to persuade the hospitality industry that any ban would see a huge decrease in business, despite empirical evidence to the contrary.

Three independent studies with no links to the tobacco industry found that in UK pubs that have already banned smoking, business had either increased or remained the same (details available from Hazards, online at

There is of course a place for making more help available to those who want to stop. But there is also a case — one which we must not neglect — for ensuring that conditions in the workplace are as safe and healthy as possible. Evidence was released at the 2003 TUC conference showing that each year 1,200 people in the UK die due to passive smoking at work.

We should give our unreserved support to all measures which protect people at work.

Passive smoking is only one of the dangers that they face — and perhaps not the most severe — but nonetheless it is a risk that can be reduced.

Rather than being too draconian, the government’s proposals do not go far enough. Marsha Williams of Action on Smoking on Health has accused the government of “putting the inflated concerns of the hospitality trade and small businesses ahead of the very real health impact of passive smoking.” An unpublished HSC study claims that up to 2,340 lives a year could be saved by outlawing workplace smoking, with a total saving to government (including the NHS) and business of up to £21 billion. I fail to see a case for socialists who put the “right” of the tobacco industry to make a bigger profit before the right of a low-paid and often un-unionised bar-worker to a safer, cleaner and more pleasant workplace.

Josh Robinson

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