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Study counts cost of passive smoking in UK

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Strong argument for banning smoking at work has emerged from calculations suggesting that passive smoking might kill two or more employed people every working day in the UK and one worker or more in the hospitality industry every week. This is the first estimate of the extent of harm to hospitality workers from passive smoking.

In all, 617 deaths were attributable to passive smoking at work in 2003—up to a fifth of all deaths from this form of smoking among people aged 20–64 years—54 of which were in long term workers in the hospitality industry, half in pubs, bars, and nightclubs. Passive smoking at home accounted for 2700 deaths in the general population aged 20–64 and 8000 in the population aged ⩾65, it was also estimated. Uniformly smoke free environments and a drop in smoking to prevalences in Australia would eventually abolish deaths from passive smoking at work and cause deaths at home to drop by a third, it was calculated.

These findings were based on population attributable proportions of likely deaths from passive smoking, calculated from data in national UK databases on causes of deaths, employment, household structure, and prevalences of active and passive smoking in adults.

Smoking is still permitted in some workplaces, and making hospitality venues smoke free is contentious. Industry opponents cite infringement of smokers’ liberties and a resulting downturn in trade. Studies have shown no evidence of this, and the current estimate of avoidable harm to workers strengthens the case for a ban.