July 24th, 2007 by Jurga Galvan
The smoking debate continues to roar with both sides having equally valid arguments, however with the UK becoming ever more smoke free, what impact will this have in the offices around the country? A brief history on smoke free laws may help to see where the very issue has come from, and what ignited the nation in public area bans.
In 2004 the Scottish government was trying to reduce tobacco smoke in an attempt to improve their air quality, in doing so they emphasised their public smoking and passive smoking figures which clearly showed an increase in air pollution. This in turn led to a debate with a staggering 80% of respondents willing to back a public smoking ban. A bill was passed in 2005 which proposed banning smoking in public places which was then enforced in 2006. With the Scottish success, the rest of the UK is following suite, Wales was smoke free on 3rd April 2007, Ireland began their ban on 30th April 2007 and England will introduce and enforce its ban on 1st July 2007.
But what the bans don’t cover in great detail is exactly how offices are affected by this ban. Simply put an office is a privately owned space and shouldn’t be affected, however, there is a large population of non-smokers in a regular office which quickly changes the rules. Because an office is by its very nature an enclosed public area, it falls within the bans very strict rules and guidelines.
An employee or customer on the premises caught smoking will be handed an on the spot fine of £50, and if the business owner allows them to smoke they will be handed a nice £2,500 fine for their trouble. Any business not displaying the now legally required no-smoking signs will be given a £200 fine and more if it goes to court.
It would seem to the smoker that the world has gone mad, but statistics show that smokers are a dying breed (no pun intended).
The amount of smokers has fallen steadily over the last 2 decades, 27% of the population were smokers in 2000 as compared to 40% in 1978, with current figures showing a further decline still. Those in manual employment are more likely to be smokers, 31% of smokers are employed in the manual labor sector compared to just 23% in office jobs based on 2000 figures. The figures also show that premature death is 5 times less in men with manual jobs rather than a professional career. This is shown to be due to passive smoking in enclosed spaces, the office cigarette room as an example, where the smoker is inhaling over 350% more harmful tobacco fumes containing toxins.
These figures are taken from the department of health and also show that business owners are more likely to employ a person based on their social behavior, initially smoking. This could be due to businesses having larger costs for any fines, or not needing to make specific changes to signage or precautionary measures for smokers, however a recent poll would suggest otherwise. Figures taken from the DTI poll on business employment trends show that business owners are nearly 8 times more likely to employ a non-smoker as they require less attention to craving breaks, are generally in better health and tend to be better presented on a regular basis with no odors.
To conclude these figures, business owners are more likely to reduce, or ban entirely, smoke breaks when the law comes into place in July. Your rights aren’t being violated as you are still given the same rights as a non-smoker, with the same break times. After all it’s entirely your choice what you do with your breaks, they are effectively your time, so a quick pop outside for a smoke isn’t off the cards entirely, you just need to pace yourself. There may even be scope to making an agreement with your employer to further split up your break time into 15 minute chunks, although you must still make time to eat, this is a legal requirement of your employer.