Press Release

Statement from the office of CMO on smoking in workplace ban

From January 2004, smoking will be prohibited in all places of work to protect employees and the public from exposure to the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke.

Reducing the enormous burden that tobacco places on the health of the people of Ireland is one of the top priorities for the Minister for Health and Children and the Chief Medical Officer. About 7,000 deaths in Ireland each year occur as a result of smoking related illnesses. The core issue is the protection of the health of employees and the public from exposure to toxic environmental tobacco smoke. The prohibition on smoking in the workplace is a proportionate and balanced measure to deal with the substantial risks that arise from environmental tobacco smoke.

Some of the effects of environmental tobacco smoke include

  • Passive smoke exposure increases the risk of stroke by 82%
  • Exposure to passive smoking in the workplace increases the risk of lung cancer by up to 40%
  • Exposure to passive smoking in the workplace increases the risk heart disease
  • Exposure to passive smoking in the workplace increases absenteeism, visits to the doctor and the need for drug usage
  • A non-smoker living with a smoker has a 25% increased risk of lung cancer and a 30% increased risk of heart disease
  • Standing in the path of a smoker or their cigarette or being in a room in which there are smokers means being exposed to at least 50 agents known to cause cancer and other chemicals that increase blood pressure, damage the lungs and cause abnormal kidney function.

The inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke is a significant health risk and is a major cause of preventable illness and death. It contributes to cancer, heart disease, strokes and many other diseases. There is no safe level of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and ventilation systems do not provide for adequate protection.

The damaging effects of tobacco smoke on human health are indisputable. There is consensus within the international scientific community and the World Health Organisation that environmental tobacco smoke kills. It contains more than 50 known carcinogens. The deliberate exposure of workers and the public to harmful levels of any other known carcinogen in the workplace would not be countenanced.

Exposure to passive smoking in the workplace significantly increases the risk of lung cancer and of stroke. These health risks cannot be left unchallenged. Inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of ill health which is preventable

Some industry sectors are calling for compromise and I refer specifically to the hospitality industry. What compromise can there be in this area of public health? The Minister cannot compromise on the health and safety of workers in the hospitality industry or discriminate in favour of workers in other sectors.

Cigarette smoke circulates freely and is hazardous to smoker and non smoker. Dedicated smoking rooms are not a practical measure, as workers would still be required to service and work in these areas, thus putting their health at risk. The evidence is that ventilation systems do not provide adequate protection to workers and the public against the hazards of environmental tobacco smoke.

The recommendation made to the Minister is that exposure to the hazards of tobacco smoke can best be controlled by banning smoking in places of work. The prohibition on workplace smoking will provide equality of protection under public health law for employees and the public.

Most people don´t smoke and most smokers regret starting and want to quit. Tthe primary reason for quitting is concern over the serious health effects. Environmental tobacco smoke is a real and significant threat to public health. Providing for a clean healthy working environment free from toxic tobacco smoke is a positive move with positive health benefits for all concerned.

The Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin T.D., also today reiterated that there are no grounds for the recent conjecture that there will be any negative economic impact to this ban and that such speculation is not supported by any evidence. This is a health issue and the licensed trade should be considering the 70% of customers that do not smoke that may be attracted into their premises, due to the smoke free measures.

The fact is that despite a similar ban in 1995, in restaurants, and in 1998, in bars in California, revenues within these sectors have continued to rise. By the end of 2001, revenues from bars and restaurants had jumped from $25.5 billion to $36.8 billion (44%), with an increase in the number of pubs and restaurants operating since, and despite, the ban. Recent figures from New York also show that there has actually been an increase in employment in the hospitality industry sector in the aftermath of the introduction of a smoking ban.