Legal advice: Smoking to be banned in the UK?

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Related tags: Public places, Smoking ban

With bans on smoking in public places all the rage, will the UK be the next country to follow?By Rebecca Caws of thePublican.com's team of legal...

With bans on smoking in public places all the rage, will the UK be the next country to follow?

By Rebecca Caws of thePublican.com's team of legal experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson.

Calls for a ban on smoking in public places have been renewed after new research revealed that 49 hospitality workers in the UK die every year from passive smoking. More recently, Tony Blair has stated that a total ban on smoking in public places would be a suggestion in the Public Health White Paper due this autumn. Mr Blair said that another option was for local authorities to be given the power to decide how to deal with this issue.

There have been many reports of parts of the world where bans have already been imposed. New York smokers are bemoaning the fact that they can no longer go out to have a good time in Manhattan and there are furious debates raging between the smokers and the anti-smokers.

A ban on smoking in restaurants and bars has recently been imposed in Norway, while Sweden and the Netherlands are set to follow suit within the following year.

Closer to home, a ban has been applied in Ireland and according to a recent article in The Times, the majority of Irish people seem to support it. The same article reports, however, that some smokers have been desperate enough to cross the border to frequent pubs and bars in Northern Ireland - where the ban does not apply. Is this an indication of the future for the UK?

Much depends on whether we get legislation imposing a nationwide ban, whether the decision on smoking in public places is left to local councils or whether there is continued self-regulation by the industry.

If a ban is imposed across the nation, it is likely that smokers will go to pubs with beer gardens or be seen nipping outside periodically for a nicotine fix. Crossing the border to find smoke-filled bars is less of an option for British smokers as a trip to France, Belgium or Holland is hardly practical for a Friday night out.

If local authorities are left to deal with this issue, it is possible that smokers would be drawn to the nearest smoker-friendly county to indulge the habit.

If campaigners fail to push smoking restrictions through Parliament, will the pub industry continue its effort to introduce no-smoking areas, efficient ventilation systems and voluntary smoking bans?

There is another angle to consider: the possibility of passive smoking-related litigation. One of the arguments used in favour of a ban on smoking in public places is that it would prevent those working in the public places from suffering the alleged effects of passive smoking while at work.

While employees are exposed to the effects of passive smoking they may be encouraged to hold their employer responsible for damage to health. But how likely is it that this will happen? So far, the only case in England has been a complaint from a non-smoking secretary for being forced to work in a smoke-filled office.

The judge in this case held that the secretary's employer had breached a duty to "provide employees with an environment which is reasonably suitable for the performance of their contractual duties".

It is questionable whether this could successfully apply, for example, to a member of barstaff who was aware when accepting the position that the working environment was likely to be smoke-filled. If this sounds alarming, consider the position in Australia where a restaurant operator was held to have caused a non-smoking customer's asthma attack by exposing her to tobacco smoke. If this is the shape of things to come, we must not only keep up with our rights and obligations and those of employees, but also with the latest medical research.

Related topics: Legislation

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