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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Killer on the Loose: An ASH special investigation into the threat of passive smoking to the U.K. workplace


• An estimated 12,000 U.K. nonsmokers die annually from secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure at home, at work, and in social venues. In fact, SHS pollution now causes as many deaths annually as did the great London Smog 50 years ago and triple the annual number of road deaths from traffic accidents.

• Within the at-work category, data is sufficient to calculate risks for three subgroups: about 900 office workers, 165 bar workers, and 145 manufacturing workers are estimated to die from passive smoking each year in the U.K. That’s more than three deaths a day in these three categories alone.

• For manufacturing workers, three-fold as many are estimated to die from passive smoking than work-related deaths from all other causes. 17% of bar workers are estimated to die from passive smoking at current exposure levels. The SHS-caused deaths among office workers adds an estimated 9% to the total occupational mortality from all causes in all occupations.

• Recent U.S. and Canadian measurements show that during smoking, secondhand smoke accounts for about 90% of the fine-particle air pollution levels and 95% of the airborne carcinogens in hospitality venues.

• Under the hospitality-industry-sponsored Public Places Charter on Smoking, which promotes ventilation as a control for secondhand smoke, it is estimated that five of every 100 bar workers would die from workplace passive smoking, yielding 66 deaths per year.

• Engineering half-measures, proposed in the Charter, were evaluated by modelling and compared with air quality measurements in Canadian and U.S. venues. These methods clearly show that the Charter-specified air exchange rate would create an air pollution hazard, violating the daily U.K. air quality standard for particulate air pollution by three-fold.

• Attempts to control the toxic and carcinogenic properties of secondhand smoke by ventilation are futile, requiring tornado-strength rates of air flow.

• The intent of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which places a general duty of care for employers to provide a safe working environment, is not being satisfied for passive smoking. Without an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) or legislation to ensure smoke-free workplaces, nonsmoking workers will continue to die needlessly.

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